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Crisp, clear and courageous is one way to describe Ismat Chughtai’s writing. Penguin Evergreens have brought out a collection of short stories by her in a slim volume titled: The Quilt: Stories by Ismat Chughtai. A member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Ismat was a bold Urdu writer whose stories were often a frank examination of women’s issues along with many several other topics such as Partition and the fight for independence. This collection includes a good range of her stories showing her deft writing skills and her eye for emotional detail. Much can be lost in translation but that will not deprive the reader from enjoying these short stories. The title story very cleverly implies and hints at homo eroticism. Quit India is surprisingly not the run of the mill story about freedom struggle but quite a sensitive portrayal of an Englishman in India and how he finally quits India. Here she uses that very slogan quite wittily to show the English soldier in a different light. The Mole and The Homemaker explore female sexuality. Mother-in-law shows the much stereotypes saas with all her whims and fancies sans the evil tag. Roots deals with the sad ache of Partition and how it tore apart communities.

With a collection of 10 interesting stories, this book is quite a good way to get a quick introduction to Chughtai’s work and gauge the vast range of the topics she dealt with. Its a quick and thoughtful read; one that will take you on a ride from the nightmarish fright of a child under the quilt to the frustrated and deranged painterly efforts of Choudhry; from the bylanes of the then Bombay to all across the seas to England. While on that journey, you can if you pay enough attention, just get a subtle glimpse of the orthodoxies that run women’s lives, of the pain, struggle and love of ordinary people.

To explore further,click here to check this useful website dedicated to her works.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a poignant, personal story penned beautifully by the author, Azar Nafisi, about her own life during the revolution in Iran, her own touching memories, her remembrance of these times interspersed with the books she taught in her classes in Iran. An engrossing book, a moving story that provides a glimpse into not only the political turmoil in Iran but the torment and anguish experienced by Nafisi herself and many of her students.

The story begins with Nafisi’s formation of a secret class that studies literature, discusses it and puts those stories into the context of their lives. The members were chosen by Nafisi-all were females, former students who showed great interest and enthusiasm about literature. The narration then reverts back into the past, recording Nafisi’s early days, first in the U.S. and then when she returns to Iran-the beginning of strife, dissent and the eventual establishment of the revolution over the country. In this way, the story gives the reader a more intimate glimpse(although a one sided glimpse) into life during those times-an intimacy that no reporting could ever hope to accomplish. The novel ends with Nafisi going back to the U.S. with her husband and two children, leaving behind her secret classes with whom she had so personally become involved, yet persistently aiming to cherish those beautiful memories even after she leaves Iran.

As the title suggests-‘Reading Lolita in Tehran-A Memoir In Books,’ its a memoir but not just any memoir but rather a memoir that looks at her life through the lens of several literary books penned by Nabokov,Austen, Fitzgerald and James. Therefore, one condition for readers of this novel is that they should have a passion for literature, to comprehend literature’s ability to help people deal with their real life and gauge its shortcomings, only then will he reader appreciate the books and understand why Nafisi so effortlessly mixes her real world with that of the literary. Otherwise the book will appear like a sordid literature class, which is not Nafisi’s intention. Having read the books by the aforementioned authors will further widen the reader’s understanding of the interspersing of literary and real lives that Nafisi had incorporated in the book. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is not just about her students, her secret classes and her life but also about how literature affects them and how it enables them to know each other and their lives better, allows them to live more freely etc.

The book also helps us to know the different views people held about the Islamic Republic of Iran, about the revolution, about the veil, about Ayatollah Khomeini etc. These opinions could be interpreted anyway that the reader wishes them though some are heavily colored by Nafisi’s own judgment. For example,initially, there is a constant repetition of the curtailment of women’s rights specifically of  being forced to wear the burkha/veil/chador. Nafisi mentions it in almost every sentence which is unnatural, almost like the publisher forced her to perpetually put them in along with her story so that it not only enlarges their suffering but also reinforces the West’s idea of how backward Islam is and how it must go and save these women from such atrocities. Its only later on that such repetitions reduce, that she begins giving concrete reasons for her defiant opposition to the rule forcing her to wear her veil. It is only then that the reader can see a broader context to the whole issue.  Nafisi was clearly against the totalitarian regime that the revolution ushered in that clamped down on women’s rights as well as freedom of expression and this is manifested in the book lucidly.

The parallels that Nafisi manages to make between their life in Iran and the great literary works shows her unbridled passion for literature. The novel is thus in parts a story narrating the author’s personal life before, during and after the revolution and in parts it is like a literature class fascinating in its own rights for it broadens the reader’s horizons of great works of English literature in an Iranian context.

Reading Lolita in Tehran‘ is a mesmerizing recollection of a life steeped in the love of literature and in inculcating and encouraging that love in other fellow students, in making others including the readers, see that literature’s role in real life is far more valuable then we believe.

Ever wondered how a child reacts to violence? What are the effects of cruelty, brutality on a child’s mind? His/her psyche? How it scars them? What they think of it ? How they interpret it? Ok..now you must be wondering why I am babbling child psychology cum emotional talk in a book review blog. But don’t worry I intend to write a book review only which will partially answer a few of those above seemingly unrelated questions. So what’s the book? Is it a psychology book? Or a EQ book?

Taken from mouthshut.com

Definitely NOT! Its a fictional novel produced by an astonishingly talented writer. The book’s name is ‘Ice-Candy Man‘ or ‘Cracking India’ written by Bapsi Sidhwa.

Partition was a big blot on Indian history. A lot of books were written during that time that were devoted to the sentiments, pain and grief of the common people. While most Partition literature prominently deals with adult perspectives, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ provides a rare child’s perspective of the Partition. Of course, this perspective is more or less colored by Sidhwa’s adult perspectives and ruminations too but nevertheless the book is essentially from a child’s point of view.

In a nutshell, ‘Ice Candy Man‘ is narrated by a Parsi girl, Lenny Sethi, living in Lahore. She has polio and an Ayah-Shanti-looks after her. Shanti is an attractive female constantly surrounded by a medley of male admirers who are mostly employed in Lenny’s house. Lenny learns about the news of the division, the spread of hatred as they unfold through the events she herself witnesses or hears from adults. But mostly Partition is represented or personified with Ayah’s life. How Partition, how one person’s love for her ruins her life to a large extent is a metaphor for how things turned from bad to worse, how religion got entangled with love during the Partition. Sidhwa has cleverly represented Ayah as the complex inter-cultural and inter religious background of Lahore in the pre-Partition days. Lenny’s thoughts not only reflect her childlike, sometimes confused, innocent perceptions but also depict Partition in a different light. Its gruesomeness is heightened when a child describes it. It seems even more mindless, awful and unnecessary.

Sidhwa’s style of writing can be difficult to digest as it seems desultory, jumping from one topic to another, one time frame to another in a flash. It can appear unconnected and difficult to keep track of but perhaps through this style, she is trying to portray a child’s mind and how rapidly it jumps from one interesting aspect to another. The randomness of children and their short attention span is marvelously portrayed in their writing style.

Ice Candy Man‘ is worth reading. it may be hard to find as it was first published in 1988. But one can easily get it online and if one searches diligently, one is bound to find one copy in some well managed library.

Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ by Zora Neale Hurston is undoubtedly her best known novel. Published in 1937, it is a singular story of a black woman protagonist, Janie Crawford and the significant changes in her life. To write a women centric novel in that era is an achievement worth being entitled to.

The novel starts with Janie returning to her second husband’s town, Eatonville, after having runaway with Tea Cake, a man who was younger to her. The townspeople start gossiping and advise Pheoby  Watson, Janie’s close friend, to find out what has happened to Janie. Then Janie begins telling her story to Pheoby: Janie was married at the age of 16 to Logan Killicks by her grandmother, Nanny, so that Janie could have the security of a home . However, Janie never fell in love with him and ran away with another fellow named Joe Starks. Joe was an ambitious man who made Janie move to a new town called Eatonville where he did all he could to make the town prominent. He brought land, opened a store there and became the mayor. He ordered Janie to take care of the store but Janie was quite unhappy with that job. After Joe’s death, Janie fell head over heels in love with Tea Cake who was younger to her. They both loved each another immensely and moved to the Everglades in Florida. After Tea Cake’s death, Janie returned to Eatonville.

The story goes in good flow. The most positive aspect of the book is Janie’s strong willed characterization. She is not portrayed as a damsel in distress but rather as an intelligent, well minded personality. It is a feminist book that highlights a woman’s thoughts, ideas and feelings as well as emotions and problems. Another plus point of  ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God‘ is the usage of a dialect. Zora Hurston has not used the language which you and I use but the dialect in which the southern blacks spoke. This lends to authenticity to the story(However some readers who are not able to read the dialect may find the story irritating and incomprehensible).

Nonetheless, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is an excellent book, and provides insightful perspective.

It is difficult to describe in words what I exactly felt and thought about ‘A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS‘ by Khaled Hosseini because it was so unique and personal. I will still attempt to write a review on the book. Hopefully it will be useful.

It is one of those rare gem of a book that elicits a thousand emotions-from deep despair to breathtaking bliss to anguish and anger to innocent happiness. This book is simply-and there is no other word for it-REAL.It is not based on a true story but the incidents could and have happened to millions of people in Afghanistan. I really loved this book simply because it is deeply moving and touching and in a sense it is not just a book but a reality-a harsh one- that Afghans faced and continue to face after the Russian invasion in 1979.

The story is about two girls-Mariam and Laila and how their lives intertwined as a result of circumstances. Mariam is a bastard. Her father, Jalil Khan, is a rich businessman in Herat(Mariam’s birthplace) who got his housekeeper(Mariam’s mom, Nana) pregnant. Mariam is conveniently married off in Kabul to a tyrant, Rasheed, at a tender age of fifteen. Laila, by a brutal turn of circumstances, ends up in Rasheed’s house. Initially hostility reigns between Mariam and Laila but gradually, they become close and a marvelous friendship amidst utter breakdown and destruction develops. The end of the story is hopeful, a poignant display of love and survival.

One of the misunderstandings about the books is that it is entirely set during the Taliban’s rule. However, in fact, only a part of the book is set during that time period. The story spans from 1960s’ to the early 200s’. The story, thus provides a brief history lesson of Afghanistan.

For me, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was absolutely flawless. The narrative was beautiful. It essentially deals with the brutality that women face in Afghanistan due to harsh patriarchy. These themes can be relevant among indian readers as even in India, women are still suppressed and denied freedom(although perhaps not at such an extreme level as in Afghanistan).

For many people, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns‘ was depressing because of the sad events. It was painful, yes, and it did leave me shocked at some passages but I did not find it depressing. To only read happy books with cliched and predictable endings is stupid for me because then you are not being aware of the problems around the world. I agree that is is highly emotional, very sad but then it is reality. Countless women have faced and still face such horrors and discrimination in their lives. I was crying throughout the book and I do not think there is anyone who wouldn’t be moved by this singular story.

It is definitely a must read and if you can’t even read it, just think about those for whom it was not just a book they could ignore but life that they faced every single day.

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