The Maharaja’s Household

The Maharaja’s Household: A Daughter’s Memories of her Father is a unique memoir told from a daughter’s perspective. This non fictional account is about Maharaja Churachand, the erstwhile ruler of the current Indian state of Manipur, told from the perspective of his youngest daughter, Princess Wangol or as she is more widely known, Binodini. It is an informal account, based on her own memories of how she saw her father and also based on stories she heard from people that surrounded the Maharaja.

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Binodini is a humble narrator who admits that the book is not a historical account. The key word to remember is also memoir. She admits often that some stories might not even be accurate and that they are based on stories she has heard from other sources or from her own memories. Continue reading

Zami-A New Spelling Of My Name

What do you do when your life’s story cannot be told within the confines of the autobiographical genre? Its simple, you create a complete new genre to depict your life. Genres are anyway just constructed categories to arbitrarily fit works of literature into water tight compartments leaving no room for them to be seen as fluid, independent works.

ZamiAudre Lorde did the exact same thing when she wrote, ‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name.’ It is an autobiographical text. But she coined the term, ‘biomythography’ to describe the book. In an interview, Lorde herself defined the term as having, ‘the elements of biography and history of myth. In other words, it’s fiction built from many sources. This is one way of expanding our vision.’ Further, Ted Warburton defined it as, ‘the weaving together of myth, history and biography in epic narrative form, a style of composition that represents all the ways in which we perceive the world.’ These two definitions are the best ways to define the ‘genre’ of ‘Zami: A…’

In the book, Lorde examines her life with all its ups and downs by intertwining incidents of her life with elements of the world around her. It is not just a retelling of a life, but a close examination of the life while also intermingling the historical aspects that might have affected her life. ‘Zami: A..” tells the story of a young Lorde who is a child of hard working black immigrants from Granada, living in New York in the 1940s/50s.. The earlier part of the book focuses on her childhood  and teenage years. The book is not the usual run of the mill bildungsroman type but rather a book that fuses the elements of poetry, fiction, autobiography, history and myth to tell an intricate story of her life in New York, in Harlem and later on when she moves to other places like Mexico. Throughout the narrative, Lorde has  juxtaposed the events in her life with significant events of American history such as the Great Depression, the World War II, the independence struggle of the British colonies, McCarthyism, the black freedom struggle etc. It gives you a sense of the larger world and a minute history lesson as well. It enables the reader to put the time frame in perspective. Through the lens of the broader events, Lorde reflects on her life, rethinks her political awakening, her understanding and acceptance of her sexuality, her femininity and her position as a minority in America. Her marginalisation creates in her a political impulse, a need to confront the mainstream hegemony on her own terms. Lorde chronicles her relationship with her family, their growing differences ideologically and otherwise, her numerous relationships with various women, her life in poverty, her life of constant struggle and pain, her close knit group of friends, the close sisterhood she developed as a student which enabled her to become independent and many other things.

Lorde admits in the book that is tough to be a coloured immigrant in Harlem, tougher to be a woman and even tougher to be a Black woman immigrant lesbian. She is a minority in all senses but throughout the book she never allows this to marginalise her further. She finds ways to deal with them and the best way is to accept her individuality. Instead of moping around about her minority status, Audre finds hope in many ways and one of the ways is through her community of female friends, companions, girlfriends, other politically like minded people etc. She never allows any of her pain to close herself to the world but rather reaches out to the world to find people like her and find solace and comfort which helps her to assuage her pain.

‘Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name’ is a tender yet tough look at the trials and tribulations Lorde faces as she grows up and comes into her own.

To read an e-version of the book, click here. 

Sources:

1) http://biomyth.wordpress.com/about/

2)http://www.queerculturalcenter.org/Pages/Gomez/GomezIntr.html

Image:

1)http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/395220.Zami

 

The Awakening

Imagine living a particular way of life for quite some time and then gradually realising how you are actually quite dissatisfied with it. What’s worse is that no one else feels that you should be dissatisfied with that life at all. This discontent seems absurd to everyone else except you. No one quite understands your plight. This dilemma was faced by Edna Pontillier, the protagonist of Kate Chopin’s novel, ‘The Awakening.’ In the novel, she realises that she is nothing other than a role in the patriarchal society of the 1890s’ American South. This perturbs her as she desires to be viewed as something more than just a wife and a mother, but as an individual as well.

‘The Awakening’ was written in 1899 and is therefore a pre-feminist text which means that it was written in an era when the feminist impulse was not as strong as in the feminist era of the 1960s.’ It was therefore quite revolutionary to portray Edna as a woman discontented with her position in a privileged society. Edna is the wife of Mr. Leonce Pontillier who owns plantations and is a wealthy man who leads a life of privilege and luxury which also extends to Edna.  She leads a comfortable life with her children and husband in a friendly neighbourhood of New Orleans. On the surface, there shouldn’t be any problems in the privileged world of the Pontellier. Leonce is the bread winner as he should be and Edna is the care giver as is expected of her. All is going fine according to the dominant patriarchal discourse that clearly demarcates the roles for men and women. However, scratch the surface and Chopin gradually peels away the normalcy of the situation to expose the seeds of doubt and discontent that grows in Edna as a result of a number of incidents in the novel. She comes to realise her individuality and how she is more than a role and a possession. She sees all social ties as confining her to the prescribed roles. To perhaps escape this discontent she tries falling in love with Robert Lebrun, a friend of Mr. Pontellier. However, he is too conventional for Edna’s revolutionary thoughts and rebelliousness. He cannot help her get out of the despondency she faces over her dilemma to break free from her typical roles. Moreover, none of the women characters like Adele Ratignolle, Mademoiselle Reisz etc.  share her sense of discontent. They believe that is absurd to feel that way when one has all the comforts one needs in life. Edna can think of no solution to get past her curiously unique dilemma except one. To find out what it is, go pick up the book and enjoy.

‘The Awakening’ is remarkable in portraying a questioning, rebellious female protagonist who defies the strict norms and rules to chalk her own path out. It is truly commendable given the time period in which it was written to write about a woman’s ‘awakening.’ However, precisely because of that, the novel received a lot of flak from critics which forced Chopin to apologise and this huge mass of negative criticism also crushed her morale to a large extent.

Recently, the novel has been castigated for depicting the ‘awakening’ of only a white privileged woman and ignoring the plight of the countless, nameless coloured working women who made it possible for Edna to lead a privileged life. Edna does not view them as being fellow oppressed women but only as mere servants. They are not even visible to her as individuals. The critics have thus pointed out that the novel is from a white woman’s perspective only and cannot be viewed as representing the plight of all women.

Despite its flaws and its racial bias, ‘The Awakening’ is a worthwhile read which will give the reader a glimpse into the constricted lives of white women in the South at the time.  It is a short read which will hopefully make you appreciate the bold step Edna took in defying the societal norms. It is definitely worth one shot.