Poignant... If I have to use one word to describe these stories – it has to be ‘Poignant’.
Webster defines Poignant as: painfully affecting the feelings : deeply affecting : designed to make an impression : pleasurably stimulating : being to the point Being a collection of Short Stories it could be either of these defining characteristics, but what if I say each story is poignant. They are real, affecting, apt and touching. Women are real, their stories are real, their narration is real. Each story affects you deeply and you develop a deep respect for the women in the stories, the women who wrote them and the women gender in general. These stories are not only a collection of stories by women writers in India, they recognize their efforts, they show glimpses of the life of an Indian woman, they ode to their simplicity and underline their greatness. With this book I not only discovered the wealth of women literature but also the wealth of Indian women authors and their works. Ambai and Mahashweta Devi were two such discoveries.
As to the list of my favorite stories.. Where do I even start... ‘Rudali’ (also made into a movie) shows two poor women in a rural world who make their money and livelihood by crying and wailing at the death of the rich landlords – a real portrayal of survival in a devious social structure plagued by poverty, feudalism and male domination. ‘A movement, a folder, some tears’ three women fighting against the world – but what do you do when you fight against your own. ‘Teaser’ a depiction of shallow male chauvinism treating women as mere objects. The narration is refreshing and eye opening as it tells the story not from the viewpoint of the sufferer but that of the inflictor. ‘The Story of a Poem’ showcases the dilemma and duality of lives - a woman verses a wife/a mother – do these social roles mean one gives up their dreams as a woman. Many other stories left a deep impression and I think I have listed almost all of them and the ones I have not are great too ‘A Large Girl, ‘Cast-offs’ and ‘Spartacus and the Dancing Man’ are some of them.
In the context of this book I want to discuss something else – something this book got me thinking about - FEMINISM - What is FEMINISM? What does it mean for me? Its been debated for long but it leaves me confused everytime. Does it mean fighting for women rights, giving voice to women issues, equality for women, a mission against dowry, female infanticide, wife beating, child marriage, and many other social discriminations against women. Is Feminism what they publish in newspapers or speak about in rallies or public meetings. Is feminism about beating men at their own game, being stronger and more independent than them, is it about proving our supremacy or superiority over men.
A lot of us since childhood have heard our mothers and aunts telling us how girls should be subdued, how they should know household work, they should oblige and serve their men, how they need to be strong to bear children, how they need to maintain the honor of their men and families, how they have to ensure homes are clean and there is always hot food laid on the table. Even today we hear, oh I can’t do this am a girl, oh I can’t live alone, travel alone, be alone as I am a woman, oh I have to take a setback in my career for motherhood or marriage. What if I leave my marriage or refuse to have children for my career – is that feminism? What if I refuse to serve food or clean my home or follow my husband – Is that feminism? What if I join a group of women, and spread awareness on women rights, take steps to stop female infanticide, child marriage, dowry, - is that feminism? This is not about Feminism or womanhood, all these things are not gender issues, it’s about individual rights. So what is Feminism.. what does it mean for me?
I cannot say for others but for me the core of feminism lies in essence of one's individuality - essence of being a woman. Just because I am a woman, I don’t need privileges, I don’t want you to open doors for me, or pull chair for me to sit, I don;t want you to reserve seats or quota for me, I don’t want to bear children for reproduction or extending families. Yes I am a woman, but I don't want to hear – how much I have achieved all this as a woman, or how I can’t do that as a woman. Whatever I do I want to do not because I am required to do, but because I want to do. Being a woman should not be an advantage or a disadvantage. It is not a role or a duty or a standard. I want to explore myself to the limits of my potential, being a woman need not be a hindrance or a platform. I am proud of what I am – whatever gender, whatever religion, whatever age, whatever background, I am a proud person. Feminism is not about uplifting woman, its about being a woman - a proud woman.
So do read... all those who are proud to be a woman or who are proud of their woman...