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Book 24: Men explain things to me and other essays by Rebecca Solnit

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This book , by Rebecca Solnit, an American feminist writer, has seven essays, which deal with mansplaining, misogyny, patriarchy, class warfare and gender inequality.  ‘Mansplaining’ is a term used to denote a phenomenon in which, characteristically a  man, inspite of having limited knowledge of a subject, explains it to a woman in a patronising tone. Rebecca Solnit is credited with the invention of this terminology in her essay, ‘Men explain things to me’, which is the first essay in this collection.The author begins this essay on a lighter note, where she narrates her experience with an older man who had the audacity to explain to her about her own book! I am sure majority of women would be able to recollect at least one instance of mansplaining in their lives. Many a times I have had the fortune/misfortune of listening to older men(Of course, non- medicos) expound confidently about the nuances of medical science without giving me the consideration that I have invested half of my life time in studying medical science!

The author begins the second essay, ‘The Longest War’, stating the scary statistics of reported rape ( 1 every 6.2 minutes and one in five women being raped in her lifetime) in the Unites States. The author methodically examines, puts forth facts and brilliantly argues about the gender difference  which exists in perpetrators of violence. She writes, ‘Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender’. One of my friends was under the false impression that rape incidents in USA would be much less because casual sex is available in plenty there! What she failed to realise is that, it is not due to scarcity of sex or supressed sexual need, that men end up raping women.(Or else,why does marital rape happen?) Rape, in reality, has got nothing to do with sex but is a despicable and violent display of power. So even if casual sex is freely accessible, men who are inherently violent and consider women as second class human beings, will end up forcing themselves on them, be it inside or outside a household. It was shocking to realise that, world wide, women between 15 and 44 years of age are more likely to die because of male violence than because of illnesses or traffic accidents. Rebecca Solnit points out the fact that more deaths have happened in USA due to violence on women  than terrorist attacks and no one declares a war on such valiant display of power. She concludes the chapter by praising Indians for staging large scale demonstrations in 2012 for  New Delhi rape case and there by projecting it a human rights issue rather than another stray event. (This is the only point on which I disagree with her!)

The third essay, ‘World collides in a luxury suite’, draws a parallel between the ‘stronger’ countries looting the weaker ones and stronger men ill treating women.  In the essay titled, “In praise of the threat’ she discusses what marriage equality really means. She asserts that it was the feminist movement which enabled same sex marriage become a reality by transforming a ‘hierarchical relationship into an egalitarian one’.

The fifth essay begins with the description of a painting by Ana Teresa Fernandez which portrays a woman hanging out laundry; a woman who exists and is obliterated at  the same time. The author intelligently uses this painting to talk about women who have been obliterated from family trees, denied family names and sidelined by patriarchy.

In her essay ‘Woolf’s darkness’, Rebecca Solnit writes about the writings and philosophy of Virginia Wolfe and how she has drawn inspiration from them to write. She contemplates about  the tyranny of the quantifiable , ‘where something that can be measured always takes precedence over what cannot’. I realised that the urge to acknowledge only things which can be quantified has in itself become an accepted way of our life and culture. ‘Wolfe gave us limitlessness, impossible to grasp, urgent to embrace, as fluid as water, as endless as desire, a compass by which to get lost’, she concludes.

The last essay is titled ‘Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force’. The author firmly believes that feminism has not lost its purpose and now has evolved into something wider, encompassing human rights , environmental rights and a deeper enquiry into men. She hopes that more men would read and understand feminism because it not only liberates women, but rather liberates everyone. History teaches us that ideas which create a revolution will never die even if the end point of a revolution is not seen in the immediate future.

Men, if time permits, please read this book; at least the title essay. You may get a better idea about what infuriates a woman.

And all women and people with ‘more interesting genders’ out there, grab hold of this book and relish every single word; you will not regret it.

Convinced that ‘Misogyny, like racism, can never be adequately addressed by its victims alone’,  I earnestly wish for a day when more men would not hesitate to identify themselves as feminists.

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Book 23: Human Acts by Han Kang

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“Soundlessly, and without fuss, some tender thing deep inside me broke.Something that, until then, I hadn’t even realised was there.”

This was the experience of Han Kang, the author of Human Acts, when she saw a photograph of a woman whose face was mutilated in the 1980 Uprising in South Korea. I am blatantly borrowing her words to describe what befell me while reading ‘Human Acts’.  This book unveiled that delicate and vulnerable slice of my mind, buried deep inside, about which I was unaware and unperceptive till then.

Han Kang is an acclaimed fiction writer from South Korea who has carved her own secure place in World  literature with her book, ‘The Vegetarian’, which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. Even though she had authored many books in Korean language, The Vegetarian was her first book to be translated to English by Deborah Smith, followed by Human Acts. I can still vividly recall  the heavy heartedness and choking I endured while reading The Vegetarian.

Human Acts will not only asphyxiate you, but will leave you bruised, beaten, humiliated,tortured and suffocated to such an extent that, many a times, you will end up wishing for death, which is a blessing compared to suffering. ” If life was the summer that had just gone by, if life was a body sullied with sweat and bloody pus, clotted seconds that refused to pass, if life was a mouthful of sour bean sprouts that only served to intensify the hunger pangs, then perhaps death would be like a clean brushstroke, erasing all such things in a single sweep”, thought a character in this novel, who survived the brutality of the state military.

The political background of this novel is the Gwangju uprising in South Korea which happened in 1980.(2 years before I was born).When President Park Chung- hee (Father of President Park Geun-hye, who was the first woman President in South Korea and ruled from 2013 to 2017) was assassinated in 1979, there was widespread social and political unrest in the country. Then his close aide,Chun Doo-hwan, seized the military power and began to intervene in the domestic activities in the country. Once the previous President’s rule ended, pro democracy movements gained wide support with a rampant demand for newer reforms and to end the existing martial law. This resulted in anti martial law demonstration in May 1980 in which more than ten thousands of students, professors and common people took part. In response, Chun Doo-hwan used his forces to suppress this mass movement and extended martial law to the entire nation and ensured press censorship. Innumerable people including university students were killed, went missing or tortured in prisons.(There is a disparity in the figures provided by the rulers and foreign press sources). Civilians in Gwangju took arms and tried resisting the military troops from entering their city but could not withstand the barbaric and cold blooded counter- attack  for long.

This book has 6 chapters, each chapter being a sort of ‘psychological autopsy’ of a character. All these characters are linked to each other in some way or the other and are affected by the Uprising. The narration style varies from chapter to chapter without affecting the pace of story telling. In the first chapter, the narration style used is ‘Second person’ . This chapter is about a 15 year old boy, Dong-ho, whom the author addresses as ‘you’. He was trying to search for his missing friend in the municipal gymnasium where dead bodies were stacked. The second person narration used by the author makes it impossible for us to escape the situation and emotions of this character. Dong-ho lingers till the end of the novel, though we come to know of his death in the second chapter .By the time we finish reading the novel, Dong-ho becomes an integral part of our system and all those who knew him become part of our own memories.

Both first person and third person narration follow in the subsequent chapters.  Han Kang uses words to create images that will imprison your consciousness and consume every bit of yourself. If a novelist is able to implant a character from an unrelated and unfamiliar  life situation in your mind, make that character grow in you and ultimately consume you, then the job of the novelist is done. Han Kang has done her job exceptionally well; I cried multiple times, shedding tears/blood for all the people who inflicted or succumbed to human violence.

Han Kang , as in her previous book, The Vegetarian, explores human violence; be it violence to self, body or others. Only when adversity strikes us, we will realise how much of humanity is actually left in us. Han Kang wonders,”Is it true that human beings are fundamentally cruel? Is the experience of cruelty the only thing we share as a species? Is the dignity that we cling to nothing but self-delusion, masking from ourselves this single truth: that each one of us is capable of being reduced to an insect, a ravening beast, a lump of meat?”If  you read newspapers daily and follow what is happening around us, I am sure you would have become a victim to this question sometime or the other. The nature of the question is such that, even Han Kang fails miserably in providing an answer.

The epilogue of the book is about the author herself reflecting on the  Uprising and the impact that it had on her.  She was 9 years at the time of Uprising. In the epilogue, fiction seamlessly connects to reality where  we come to realise that the author and her family were the previous tenants of the same house where Dong-ho lived later. Han Kang’s  family was able to escape to Seoul just before the uprising began. She writes,”Gwangju’ had become another name for whatever is forcibly isolated, beaten down and brutalised, for all that has been mutilated beyond repair”. Yes! We encounter many situations in day to day life which can be summed up by this single word, “Gwangju”!

The genius of Han Kang lies in the fact that she could weave a flawlessly incredible work of fiction based on pure historic facts doing justice to history and the art of story telling alike.(Many writers stumble here!) In the process, she never failed to capture human emotions which is the crux of Human Acts. If you are interested in history, in understanding the evolution of violence and response to violence in human beings and do not mind being punched, smothered and bruised by words, then please do not hesitate to  procure this excellent work of fiction by Han Kang.

Book 22: This house of clay and water by Faiqa Mansab

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“As a child, laughter is all you need as proof of happiness. As a child you don’t know there are so many different kinds of laughter—like different varieties of birds. Some are flightless.”

This debut novel, ‘This house of clay and water’ , by Faiqa Mansab, has many such original and intelligent remarks which would make you think and reflect deeply at the pathetic and real state of  human minds.

About the author:

Faiqa Mansab is a Pakistani author who obtained MFA in creative writing from  Kingston University, London.  Her thesis, which was written for the course, formed the basis for this novel, which was initially rejected by many publishers in UK and USA before getting published finally by Penguin Random House. She currently teaches creative writing in Lahore and is working on her second novel.

About the book:

The story is about the lives of two women, Sasha and Nida, in the city of Lahore.

Sasha is a woman who  takes pleasure in defying religion and patriarchy.  In the beginning  she is introduced as somebody who lives life on her own terms. But as the story progresses, we shockingly see a Sasha who changes and becomes religious and God fearing, resigning to her fate of being stuck with a ‘boring’ husband and feeling guilty for her past actions. Change in her personality happens after a personal tragedy strikes. Women, irrespective of whether they are in New Delhi or Lahore, are taught to feel guilty for living a life of their choice.

Nina, Sasha’s friend, is educated, philosophical but with orthodox beliefs somehow feels that Sasha should not be leading a ‘carefree’ life. But later you find Nida listening to her heart and ending up having a love affair with Bhanggi who is a person of third gender. As the story evolves we see the change in the attitude of these two women who are friends.

Why I enjoyed this book:

The foremost reason is that this book depicts the life of women in Lahore; the same city from where I have a new friend! (Of course I do it both ways: Sometimes I find a friend first and then try procuring books written by authors in that person’s country; sometimes I read books by authors from a different country and then try making friends from that country!)I am convinced that  borders(at least the ones in your mind!) can be obliterated by books.

May be for a person from Lahore,  this book could appear superfluous but for an outsider like me, this book provides a decent  chance to ‘palpate’ the pulse of Lahore city.

Across borders, state, thoughts and aspirations of women remain pretty much the same.

In this era when many Indians yearn for a war to ‘teach’ Pakistani people a lesson, when a cricket match between the two countries simulates a war like situation and when no scope exists for any dialogue between the two countries, I feel the only way to arrest the spread of malicious thoughts, is to promote cross-border literature and art. I still believe that writers and artists can do what rulers cannot.

 

 

Book 21: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness Arundhati Roy

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This was a book I had been waiting to read, long time before its release in June 2017. As soon as I started to read, somehow my initial enthusiasm was lost. My mind invented ‘n’ number of reasons to stop reading; but eventually with sheer perseverance(I lack perseverance for everything in life except reading!), I completed this novel. In one word if I am asked to sum up my experience, undoubtedly I  would say ‘disappointed’!

The plus points:

  1. Of course,  I have no argument about the command that Roy has on English language. She can effortelssly weave words into something beautiful and divine. One of my friends rightly pointed out, “When it comes to Arundhati Roy, language behaves like a dog wagging its tail obediently.”
  2. The attempt to view the political events that happened in India through the eyes of a third gendered person can be considered as a  novel approach.
  3. Certain aspects of Roy we see in the character Tilo, makes that character endearing. Tilo, since she had elements of truth in her, was the only character in the whole book with whom I could empathise.
  4. The courage that Roy demonstrates by using an unconventional narrative style to tell a story which is dear to her heart, is praiseworthy.  Narration proceeds from third person in the former half to first person in the latter half.
  5. This is a political novel and reflects the bold stand Arundhati Roy has taken on various issues prevailing in our country over the last 20 years.

The minus points:

  1. Simply put, the book was not readable. What I mean to say is that, the flow of narration is lost in the events described and the characters are drowned in the situations portrayed. Plenty of soulless characters who were mere spectators to the events described could be found on almost every page.  It took a lot of effort on my part to maintain that momentum required  to complete a novel.
  2. I felt as if the characters were created for the sole purpose of revealing the political stand of the author. I agree personal is political and vice versa. But I firmly believe that fiction involves creation of the highest order. During the process of creation, if the spirit is lost, then everything would appear to be artificial. Every creative process should retain life or else it would become intolerable, miserably failing to evoke the empathy of a reader.
  3. I felt that the author failed to penetrate the mind of any character beyond the superficial level.
  4. After reading, you would easily be able to sense a scarcity of imagination in the entire novel and plot.  Definitely this story deserves to be told in a better manner.
  5. Excesses do not make a good novel. (Nobody would want to read a newspaper again in a novel. )

This is the review that took the longest time to write( in 2017). I realise that you need to ‘experience’ a book, to  critically review it. Sadly, Arundhati Roy whose pen I thought was mightier than all swords, failed to create even a small ripple in my mind with The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness.

Book 20: Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation: Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex. Olivia Judson

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It was on May 31st that a Senior Indian Judge, on the last day of his office, made an unscientific and ridiculous comment about peacocks being  ‘celibate’ birds and peahens getting pregnant by drinking peacock tears. There was a lot of media outcry on this issue criticising and ridiculing the Judge, which I did not believe to be a constructive approach. Other than giving unwanted publicity to such outrageous and foolish remarks, that ruckus did not serve any purpose.  Amidst all the hues and cries, some sane and sensible person wrote a post on Facebook suggesting that it was the right time to ‘re read’ the book, ‘Dr Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation: Definitive guide to the evolutionary biology of sex’ by Olivia Judson. Even as a Medical Genetics professional, I was not aware of this marvellous book written by a trained evolutionary biologist and this created an ‘insecurity’ in me, prompting to order the book and start reading it without any further delay.

For those who do not know Olivia Judson, she is an evolutionary biologist and a science writer ( Someone whom I aspire to be!) with a Phd from the University of Oxford, currently working as a research scholar in Imperial college, London. In her early career as a science writer in The Economist, she wrote an award winning article ‘Sex is war’ which served as the kickoff  for what ended up as her first book, ‘Dr Tatiana’s Sex advice to all creation’, published in 2002, winning the praise of critics for being ‘witty without losing scientific temper’.

Olivia Judson deserves special appreciation for the choice of her topic for study, evolution of sex, which I think is intriguing to researchers and lay persons alike. The book is written in the form of letters by different animals to a sex expert and agony aunt,  Dr Tatiana, who takes times to understand their issues and gives witty answers and solutions in the light of evolutionary biology.

The book has three main sections with multiple sub headings, which are themselves amusing and thought provoking. The first section is, ‘Let slip the whores of the war’ and deals with various strategies used by the animal world in the war of sex.  Dr Tatiana counsels, “No matter, how good your survival skills are—you can be the champion at evading predators, or have the best nose for finding food, or be immune to every disease—it will all be for naught if you cannot find, impress, and seduce a mate.”  So the eternal war and amazing strategies continue to tantalise us ! In reply to a question posed by a golden potto as to why the penis of her boy friend has enormous spines, Dr Tatiana starts her reply by , “All the better to tickle you with, my dear’ and then goes on to describe the science behind evolution of penis in animals. Her mischievous remark, “By comparison, human penis is dull, notable only for its girth”, makes it hard to suppress a giggle.

In response to a letter by a peacock worrying about not being able to impress peahens, Dr Tatiana talks about the benefits of joining a ‘lek’, which means, ‘a group of males displaying together to get the attraction of females’. So peacocks are not celibate as our Judge believed but instead join a  lek and unashamedly do everything to gain the attention of a peahen.

Dr Tatiana believes that females are body fascists. This is the reason why males in all species have ‘ridiculously long tails’ or ‘fancy headdresses’, countering the argument posed by men in general that males in all species are more beautiful than females. It is essential and mandatory for males to be attractive and beautiful to gain the attention of naturally promiscuous females; or else their genes will go waste.

The second section titled, ‘The evolution of depravity’ , deals with issues related to sexual mating faced by animals ranging from cannibals to animals and birds championing fidelity. Dr Tatiana openly discusses issues of same sex relationship and incest in animal world.

The concluding section titled “Are men necessary”  is the one I loved most. The book ends with a chapter , ‘Wholly virgin’, where Dr Tatiana invites Miss Philodina roseola ( bdelloid rotifer) to her TV show , ‘Under the microscope: the deviant life style show!’. What follows is an uproarious interview of the world’s ancient asexual eukaryotic organism, bdelloid rotifer, which has survived for millions of years without sex and males!

In the last chapter which was informative, riotous and captivating, Dr Tatiana examines the evolution of sex and the advantages and disadvantages a species can have with or without sex. She goes on, “So, men, you’re safe for now. But if you don’t want to be abolished, let me give you some advice. Asexuality is particularly attractive to girls in species where males are lazy and never give a hand with the child care. The benefits of asexuality are greatly reduced if males help out.” I hope more individuals ruminate on the above statement and reflect on what Dr Tatiana really intends to convey. I would recommend this book to anyone who is amazed by the diversity of the world we live in and I dream of a day when this book is taught in schools and media takes effort in popularising such books instead of lamenting on somebody’s stupidity,  so that our future generation would not have the misfortune of listening to unscientific and perverted theories about sex and sexuality.

 

 

Book 19: When I Hit You or A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. Meena Kandasamy

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Real life incident 1:

A 34 year old female enviably lucky enough to have got married to the love of her life, whom she adored as a resolute Marxist intellectual, came home feeling rejuvenated  with her shopping bag loaded with perfumes she loved. These fragrances did not tantalise her husband but on the contrary made him incapable of restraining his anger which was generally directed against the state,government, capitalism or America.  He threw all the perfumes into the dustbin proclaiming  that as a Marxist, he could not tolerate the ‘petty bourgeois behaviour’  of his wife and insisted that she should use only ‘odourless deodorant’ (Doesn’t it sound like an oxymoron?) from that day!

Real life incident 2 :

A 30 year old woman doctor expressed her wish to study after MD before taking up a job because she could not erase her own image from her head, as a faculty speaker in a various conferences. Her doctor husband retorted that he could not wait any longer for her to finish studies because he felt that it was high time she gave birth to his baby. This doctor already had achieved everything possible in his life and now cared only about fulfilling his next highly anticipated role as a father. He did not give any recognition to his wife who was in every sense much more intelligent and considerate than him but could consider her only as another cunt or uterus for sowing his seed.

Real life incident 3:

A 37 year old post PhD research doctor, mother of two girls, who was being forced by her mother in law to drink cow’s urine after every intercourse so as to give birth to a baby boy, was grinning at her phone when her female colleague at work sent some joke on whats app. Her husband  who was sitting across, grabbed her iphone6 and threw it on the floor and angrily stamped on it, because he could not accommodate her happiness which was independent of him at that time!

If you still have not lost the ability to draw a parallel between all these events and concur that the well educated women in all these seemingly different situations are abused inspite of the fact that they belong to the privileged class and if you are not someone who berates the suffering of the women irrespective of class, then you would be able to empathise with the protagonist in ‘When I hit you’, the latest novel by Meena Kandasamy. But if you are somebody who is blessed enough so as to have escaped till date with zero exposure to any form of abuse, if you have  lost the sensitivity and clarity of your thoughts somewhere along the way and if your mind is full of nothing but questions as to why these women ‘allow’ themselves to be abused and stay in their marriages, then sorry; this book is not for you! Please do not waste your precious time reading the review or the book.

Though this book is tagged as fiction, the author herself reveals that the ‘novel is shamelessly informed by my own experience’. Most of us would not have forgotten, ‘My Story’ by Kamala Das, which was initially treated as an autobiographical novel and still remains one of the best selling woman’s autobiography in India. But the book evoked enough criticism and unrest that at a later date Kamala Das had to admit there was plenty of fiction in it!  But Meena Kandasamy , being a rebellious and courageous millennial, did not find it difficult to proclaim that it was her own experience as an abused wife, which lead her to write this novel. She has not named the narrator because it could be the name of any woman anywhere. Though the setting of the story is mentioned as the city of Mangalore,  the phenomenon is a universal one, which could happen in  any city in the world, where a married woman is suddenly uprooted from her home town leaving behind everything that defined her till date and is expected to live in the city where her husband works. This story cannot be limited by time, place or person.

The narration begins on a lighter vein depicting the various  seemingly hilarious alternatives of the story, her parents are forced to provide to the society.  The narrator decides that she should not forgo her freedom to tell her story and narrates it in first person in a linear fashion.  As the novel progresses, the pace picks up and  makes us turn the page faster and faster unlike the previous novel by Meena Kandasamy. (I was not able to finish reading The Gypsy Goddess).  I read this novel in one go as the words and images flowed effortlessly one after the other preventing me from putting the book down till I read the last sentence.

The narrator unassumingly takes us through her daily routine as the wife of  a college lecturer, who was a proud Marxist and never abandoned a chance to ‘educate’ his writer wife about the disciplined life a true Communist should live. It is perturbing to see how efficiently her husband used Marx, who believed that oppression of one class by another should not be allowed (men  and women are, of course classes), to oppress his wife. The narrator remarks ,’The institution of marriage itself creates it’s own division of labour’. Even though she had academic qualification, her husband wanted her to do menial jobs like candle making, cashew nut packing or a job at the printing press to ‘declass’ her thoroughly, so that the writer in her will write out of experience and she  ‘will not capitalise on her cunt’, she ‘will be labouring with her hands’.  The protagonist reflects that ‘the job of a wife(that she was doing) is somewhere in the middle: labouring with her cunt, labouring with her hand!’. I have till date, not found any better and realistic description of a wife’s job adorned perfectly by some women!

Meena writes about an incident where the students of the narrator ridiculed her for her ‘untamed’ hair. She gives a plausible historical explanation as to why women with short hair were considered equivalent to having untamed desires and how having short hair  became synonymous with ‘prostitution’. The British Army in colonial India had their own stock of registered women who lived near to the army to ‘serve’ the army men  ‘appropriately’. During those times,  these women were not allowed to sleep with any local because of fear of syphilis and the the British cut the hair of these women short so that they could be easily caught if they were ‘soliciting locals’. Thus women with short hair became synonymous with promiscuity and prostitution.

A genuine and original observation made by Meena in this book about language and its effect on your life intrigued me. She postulates that ‘what you know in a language shows who you are in relation to that language.’ She writes, ‘English makes me a lover, a beloved, a poet. Tamil makes me a word huntress, it makes me a love goddess’. She further elaborates where she says that the only Kananda words she knew at that time were, ‘haalu’-‘milk’, ‘anda-eggs’, ‘saaku-enough’ , ‘illa-no’ etc which were the words typically used by a house wife. She continues, ‘In this language, I am nothing except a house wife’. I applied this theory to my current situation ,where I know these Telugu words, ‘ jana paranga  jabbulu- genetic diseases’, ‘pelli’-‘ marriage’, ‘entha mandi pillelu -how many children’ ; in this language,I am nothing except a Geneticist!

As the narration progresses, we see the wife who tried different methods(Saamam, Daanam, Bhedham, Dandam) to appease her husband who was not ready to change because his perception and thoughts were altered and resembled that of a criminal.

Saamam (Friendship) : She wore dresses that he liked. She cooked food that he loved. She deleted her Facebook account as per his wish and promised him that she would not  do anything to irritate him.

Danam(Aid/bribe): She did the dishes, cleaned the house, washed and ironed his clothes and waited faithfully for him every evening. She even attempted preemptive sex so as to avoid marital rape later.

Bhedham( threatening/brainwashing): She said she would walk out and inform others about his sadistic behaviour. This did not bring any positive change in him because he adamantly believed that nobody would give any value to what she said.

Dandam (punishment): She stopped responding to him completely.  He  inflicted burns on  himself and physically abused  her forcing her to speak.

All these exemplify the simple fact that however you try to ‘adjust’ or ‘appease’ somebody who abuses you habitually, little is going to change.  It is wise to chose ‘flight’ rather than ‘fight’ in such scenarios. Sadly, hope is the culprit in such situations preventing you from ‘flight’!

The rebel inside the narrator is exposed when she passionately and venomously  wrote love letters to her lovers who never existed and deleted it by evening before her husband came. This reminds me of Virginia Wolfe’s words, “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Her husband took away all her freedom to connect to the outside world by cutting Facebook (but arguing intellectually claiming it to be ‘narcissism ‘ and exhibitionism’), rationing internet, confiscating her email password and deleting messages from Gmail account but he could do nothing to put a lock to her creativity and imagination which in turn helped her to survive and rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Meena Kandasamy’s clarity and truthfulness in narration do not fail to make an impact on you.  She is confident in describing her relationship with various types and kinds of men, including a politician from Kerala. In the West, ‘self analytical confessional writing’ has gained much popularity, but in India, to do something similar to what Meena Kandasamy has done, requires conviction and courage.  I really wonder why everyone is in search of the percentage of contribution of fiction and facts in such a narrative. It is believable and quite scary that such women exist amongst us, unseen and unheard. With the existing statistics of domestic violence prevailing in India, (One in five minutes) there is ample chance that this story can happen to you, me or any woman irrespective of her education, class or colour just because she has a female genitalia.

Even with multiple heart wrenching experiences and imageries, the book concludes on a positive note where the author describes her evolution to a woman who was unknown to herself. Meena concludes,’ I am the woman who still believes, broken heartedly, in love.’ I wish more people read this book and participate in discussion on various issues raised in this book (violence, marital rape, physical abuse, mental torture). I yearn for that world where all  abused women are able to find solace  and  love inspite of  a broken and bleeding heart.

Book 18: Karukku by Bama

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Let me begin this review by making a confession. I have always been proud of my identity as a feminist, bibliophile and bibliomane.(Please excuse me if my tone sounds overweening!) Inspite of that, all these years why did I not come across ‘Karukku’ written by Bama, a Tamil Dalit feminist writer? This book was first published in Tamil in 1992, but got translated to English by Lakshmi Holmstrom in 2000 and won the Crossword award that year.  Was it entirely my fault that I did not stumble upon her because I was neck deep ‘immersed’ in medical books? Or was it because that the book was not reviewed or popularised in mainstream media due to Bama’s multiple ‘disagreeable’ identities? I wish to believe that my first hypothesis is true inspite of enough evidence in favour of the second one. It was not until last week, when my bibliolater friend-cum-elder-brother figure told about his ‘discovery’ of Bama, that I became aware of the existence of Bama and her autobiography, Karukku. For him, who is an avid reader, interested in history, literature and politics since childhood, it took years to chance upon this book.  He opined that this could be a reflection of the pathetic state of affairs of Dalits and anything concerned with them in our country, whether it is  Dalit literature or Dalit art forms.

Bama is the pen name of Faustina Mary Fatima Rani who is a Dalit Christian from Puthupatti in Tamil Nadu. She is a mathematics teacher by profession, a novelist by passion and an activist by nature. Bama attributes education as the absolute reason for all her achievements in life and emphasises that only through education a change can happen. Bama rose to fame as the first ever Dalit woman writer in Tamil with her book ‘Karukku’, which in Tamil means palmyra leaves with serrated edges on both sides. She has to her credit three other novels, ‘Sangati’ ,’Vanam’ and ‘Manushi’ and many short stories.

In Karukku, Bama attempts to provide us a glimpse of her life as a Dalit girl growing up in a village in Tamil Nadu. Though she was a good student, she never hesitated to do household work or help her mother and grandmother earn some extra money by working in a farm. As a child she failed to understand why inspite of hard physical labour, nobody from her village was able to live like the Naickers who were well off and lived comfortably enjoying the fruits of somebody else’s labor. This book is about her journey spanning over many years of hardship, when she finally realised why it was so.  I am ashamed of myself for having failed to change the conviction of some of my friends who sternly believe that Dalits are responsible for their own ‘pathetic’ state because they are lazy, spend most of their money on alcohol and do not work hard. To wish that those friends would read Karukku would be immature and ridiculous; but I do  hope, at least once in their life time, they find time to listen intently to what people like Bama have to say!

Chimmamanda Ngozie Adichie who is one of my favourite authors, says in The Danger of a Single Story, that there is an inherent danger in reducing human beings to just a single story; by doing so we are dehumanising them. When Muslims are known only by a single story of being religious fanatics and terrorists , when Dalits are described by a single story of being ‘cow eaters’ and nothing more, they are being denied the consideration we all deserve as humankind. In Karukku, Bama introduces us to her people who live like any one of us, trying hard to make a living but yearning to enjoy simple pleasures in life by singing and dancing amidst all hardships. Books like this should be read and taught because they impart a deeper understanding and could make us more empathetic and humane.

Much can be learnt about a society by observing the games children play because children imitate adults flawlessly. Bama remembers their games as children where they did role play as upper caste men insulting Dalits or as men who went for work and came home to beat their wives up! For making such observations, Bama was ostracised by her own people who took time to realise that she was working for their common good. Though she had to pay a heavy price by losing her job and comfortable life style, Bama emerged as a strong woman by taking a decision to leave the congregation where she lived for 7 years because the injustice within the ‘secure walls’ of the convent became intolerable for her. Karukku is also a truthful account of Bama’s evolution as a human being and her sincerity is something which cannot be missed.

With utmost humility I realise that Dalit is a Marathi word derived from Sanskrit word ‘dala’ which means ‘of the soil or earth’ or ‘rooted in the soil’, extrapolation of which could mean ‘ground down’. Irrespective of whichever caste you were born into, if you have ever been subjected to feel unworthy of yourself by anybody( be it society, government, family or friends), then you are a Dalit. I owe it to Bama and her book for this simple realisation which has dawned in me.