Category Archives: Feminism

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

So, this book has turned out to be quite different from what I was expecting, at least from what I was expecting from Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert became famous for her book Eat, Pray and Love, which also inspired a movie starring Julia Roberts. Having watched snippets of the movie, I never really felt like reading the book as the story did not seem to appeal to me. However, this book is quite different from Eat, Pray and Love and The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert traverses a different genre altogether. Releasing tomorrow, the book is a delight for readers who are philosophizers at the same time, or just like ‘thinking’ about different things.

soat India

Image Source: Bloomsbury Publishing

The protagonist in this book is Alma Whitaker.  Alma is an independent, intelligent woman. Born into a family whose fortunes were built because of botany, Alma’s curiosity is encouraged as a child. She is let loose in the family estate and her five year self goes about collecting botanical samples and studying whatever she can find. There is no topic on which Alma does not have an opinion. However, she is still not quite free as she rarely ventures out of her home. Later, she remains at home because of a sense of duty towards her father, after the death of her mother.

Alma is a brilliant character. There is no question to which Alma does not want an answer. She spends her time in the most productive manner (although missing out on some of the things that life has to offer) and she is mostly self sufficient. Her entire quest seems to be the pursuit of knowledge. It’s like how she says towards the end of the book “All I ever wanted was to know this world”.

When it comes to the book, it revolves around some theories. One of them is the theory of the German mystic Brohme as illustrated in his book ‘The Signature of all Things’. His theory states that God created everything in nature, leaving behind his trace on everything, to show mankind how it can be used. That is why plants resemble some parts of the human body and how they are beneficial for the human body is indicated by the same.

Another theory is the theory of Natural Selection (yeah, the Charles Darwin one) wherein there are strong creatures and there are weak creatures. The fittest survive and hence, everything has to adapt to stay alive.

The author pits the two theories together, both of them belonging to opposite schools of thought and serves a philosophical treatise on nature, mankind and the pursuit of knowledge. Yet, Alma is not satisfied with both explanations. The book neither attempts to answer a specific question nor take a stand. But what it does is offer possibilities, of how the logical and the illogical can both co-exist. Sometimes, there are just no explanations offered by nature and we are free to derive our own reason (or lack of it). But what is important is the pursuit of knowledge and the happiness that its pursuit can give to a person.

I am not sure whether this is a feminist novel although the main character Alma is one. I love how she is so self sufficient and yet so aware of her body (even though she needed to have let herself loose a little bit more). At the same time, Gilbert steers clear of some of the controversial aspects of Darwin’s theory. There are some feminist school of thoughts that do not quite like evolutionary psychology (since it stresses much on man and woman being essentially ‘different’ and hence, not equal, along with giving justifications for promiscuity and the ‘rape gene’). However,  it is fascinating how Alma refuses to accept things on face value and goes down to the depth of everything. She comes to conclusions based on science and logic and can’t help but try to account for things in nature that do not seem to have an explanation.  However, she admits that there are some things that can’t be explained. At the same time, she is very much humane in the way she is aware of her bodily needs and her need for love and affection.

The book is fiction and philosophy, both rolled into one. The writing style is interesting and retains a style typical of that period of time. However, it is also contemporary at the same time. Please read this book if all you expect from the book is that it makes you think.

About the book: The Signature of All Things | Elizabeth Gilbert | Bloomsbury Publishing | Fiction | 499 pages | Rs. 599

Note: I was provided with an advanced uncorrected proof of this book by the publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Lady, you’re not a man !

I finished reading ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ by Apurva Purohit, on a journey back from Mumbai.

20130809090632_book cover - hi-res

Image: Source

I went to Mumbai as I was one of the 25 shortlisted persons for Bloomberg TV’s show ‘The Pitch’. The fact that I didn’t make it to the top ten meant that I did not have a return ticket planned and paid for. There was also the possibility of staying an extra day in Mumbai, the next day being a holiday for ‘Rakshabandhan’. It also meant a chance to meet up old friends, make some new ones, spend some time watching the waves lash on to the shore at Marine Drive,most importantly a break from the ‘adult’ world that I suddenly felt thrust into, after my post graduation, which sometimes felt a little stifling after all the freedom I got at MICA. Hence, I was looking forward to spending time in Mumbai. Mumbai, that supposedly safe and sound place. The city that never sleeps.

And while I was re-blogging a poem called ‘Free’ (oh, the irony!) on this website on Independence Day, a journalist was being gang raped in the city that never sleeps. The fact that she was a photo journalist assumes more importance than the person she is. Why? Because, most of the times, our professions define us, some thing without which we’d be quite lost. Your profession gives you independence and a lot of times, it becomes a quiet source from where to derive strength and confidence. But what if our identity gets lost some day? What to do, if it’s just not safe any longer? Do you sit at home, ‘protected’ ? Of course, that would be an equally foolish thing to do, considering the number of rapes that happen AT home.

This was supposed to be a straight forward review of the book ‘Lady, you’re not a man’ and a Q&A with the author, Apurva Purohit, CEO of Radiocity. However, after hearing the news about the recent gang rape in Mumbai, I guess this has turned out to be something more.

The book Lady, you’re not a man by Apurva Purohit is about how women face a lot of challenges both at home and at work. Prime among them, are concerns of the glass ceiling, stereotyping of women, safety of women in the workplace, handling both domestic and professional life at the same time, etc. Apurva Purohit regales you with witty stories which illustrate her reasoning. Her writing is smart, crisp and funny. She tells you how you can succeed even if there are some odds stacked behind you. It’s also how, as a woman, you need to realize that even men face stereotyping and certain things are unfair to men too.

The book is quite relevant to women like me who are working and especially to others who are  both married AND working. If you take me for an example, I work in the FMCG Industry. It being only 4 months since I joined, I am at a Management Trainee position, at a stage where I am expected to learn the in and outs of the market, work in the same way that my sub ordinates would work, till I am deemed ‘ready’ to be given the responsibility of managing people. It’s not a proper ‘corporate’ job (the definition of ‘corporate’ being a job in an air conditioned office), according to my mother, much to her annoyance. It involves  getting your hands dirty handling distributors, salesmen, store owners every day and not to forget, travelling to all sorts of neighborhoods in Delhi. But wait, I like my job. It’s challenging and I get to see lot of places that I would never normally visit. I am also learning things about marketing and consumer behavior which I never would in a class room. To tell you the truth, I get some kick out of trying to prove that I can do it too, in spite of being a female and hence, ‘the weaker sex’, although it’s a little unfortunate that there’s a need to prove this. (Blah 😛 )

After reading the book, I got in touch with Apurva Purohit by email and asked her some questions. Being a true professional, she got back to a lowly blogger (It’s not like this blog is the ‘Time’ magazine) like me, quite quickly.

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Apurva Purohit

Image: Source

The first question I posed was, “Somehow, at the workplace, I have felt the need to work harder than the men around, as if to prove that women can also be professional. Isn’t it unfair that stereotypes of women ‘not being serious about work’ and only interested in ‘talking on the phone’ exist and we need to doubly work to overcome them?”

Yes, firstly stereotypes do exist and we all have to work hard to overcome them. So the hysterical female boss, the kitty party attending housewife, the over protective mom are images that we need to deal with. Having said that I think society stereotypes everyone , so even men have stereotypes operating against them. I think we just need to recognize that women haven’t been specifically singled out for this dubious honor!”, she answers.

But at the same time, I face a risk everyday (as do so many women), just because of the fact that I am a female and the next person on the street could be a potential rapist/molester (although I do still have more hope from men that not everybody is bad after all).

She continues, ‘I see a lot of women today enthusiastically picking up the gauntlet of entering male dominated industries. Working with the organization to neutralize external negative factors is one way to tackle this issue; so asking for pick-ups and drops to ensure safe travel, ensuring the organization is taking necessary precautions in selecting the right travel partners etc are some of the things women in these industries should certainly push for. I think today there are very few jobs that women cannot do because of physical limitations and those jobs in an innovation or knowledge based economy are becoming fewer in any case.”

She is right in what she says. Organizations need to step up the way they treat their female employees and the facilities they provide. And it is probably up to us to demand for them, although in certain cases, it feels stupid doing so. I am not sure whether any grocery shop owner, out of the 20 shops that I visit on a normal day, would take me seriously me if I were picked and dropped at each place. And very unfair to my male colleagues who do the same job and get the same pay. At the same time, I don’t want to be ‘protected’ all the time. Rather than me always worried about how I will reach home late at night, I want the men on the streets to be afraid of me and the police.

My mother has palpitations when she comes to know I am going to come home late. My father conveniently (and very diplomatically) disappears behind the newspaper when we have a fight, as to why I can’t sneak out from work and go shopping with her. She has come to terms with my job now but she is always worried. I don’t blame her but I wish I could allay her fears and wish for a safe place to live and roam around.

My next question is, “Sometimes, parents seem to be the biggest obstacles to a career when they prevent you from doing things which may not be ‘safe’ but are still important for you to do your job properly. How do girls deal with them?”

“I think we all need to co opt our family members into our careers so that they become equal partners in its success and failure . This can happen only if we discuss everything about our jobs with them and ask for help . I see many young girls today don’t want to tell their parents things in a false sense of protecting their privacy and the poor parents are unable to judge what is required to do a job properly . As parents they will worry about safety and such issues especially with girls. It is the women’s job to allay this fear”, says Apurva Purohit.

‘Lady, you’re not a man’ is an interesting and quite apt title for the book. The title feels like an extremely sarcastic male (or female) telling you that you can’t do shit because you’re not a man.

Apurva Purohit explains, “Through this title I am trying to say two things  1 ) I am telling the women that you don’t have to be male like to succeed and 2) I am equally telling society and people who have often taunted women that you can’t do this because You are not a Man, that we women can do equally well just the same.”

I ask her about the hardest part of writing this book. “I have been used to writing a blog which is actually an exercise in saying the maximum in very few words ( 300-400 words) so actually writing a full chapter around one message  which required  more verbosity without becoming boring was the biggest challenge”, she says.

She has managed that quite well. This book says what it wants to say without boring you. There are enough real life stories, in her witty voice, to make you identify with the woman. What I liked most was that she encourages women not to feel guilty about their life choices, whether you are working or not working, having a baby or choosing not to have one, going to the post office party cum networking event or staying home to look after the ‘home’. We are not superwomen and we don’t need to constantly feel bad about not being able to fulfill everybody’s expectations. At the same time, she asks women to behave like true professionals and not expect to be treated with extra ‘care’ something I agree with. How can we expect to be treated as equals if we demand special privileges (passed on as a result of our conditioning in a patriarchal culture) which are not really required?

I tell Apurva Purohit she’s come a long way. To lighten the Q&A, I ask her if there were to be a movie made on her, who would she cast as herself.

She appears to be humble as she says “I don’t think I have come a long way or anything. I got into leadership roles very early in life and as they say you become competent through practice and 10000 hours of doing something.  Having run organizations or departments for the last twenty odd years has made me good at what I do ! I can’t think of  a film being made on something like this but I like the strong Hollywood actresses like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Sandra Bullock .. so possibly them…”

I ask her what she does in her spare time. “I am very  much a homebody and I like spending as much time as I can at home with my family and some very few close friends. I enjoy reading a lot, specially crime fiction which is my passion, and love travelling. My holidays with my family are my one big luxury and I also have a weakness for heritage jewelry.”

This is where I stop talking about ‘Lady, you’re not a man’. Every time there’s a rape, I feel uncomfortable and disturbed. I can only hope that things will be better one day and we won’t have to feel scared most of the time, irrespective of whether we are doing our jobs or having fun roaming around in the streets. At the same time, a salute to all the women who want to make a change by fighting back, whether it is the 22 year old photojournalist or a friend who ‘accidentally’ gives a whack (I am hoping it was at a place where it hurts the most) with her umbrella to the man who passes by and calls her ‘mast’ (nice). Kudos to all the women who brave the streets every day. A change can only come when we go out into the streets instead of ‘safely’ sitting in our homes.

I am hopeful of a change. Till then, as my friend Hirak keeps telling me, ‘Chin up, be brave, be beautiful!’

(Beauty is often a reflection of what you are feeling inside yourself, not your face or your figure.)

Note: A copy of this book was provided for review by the author/Rupa publications.

Giveaway: Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker

UPDATE: The giveaway has ended. Here’s the post declaring the winner.

It’s time for another giveaway ! This time, a NEW copy of the book Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker is up for grabs ! Harper Collins India had kindly agreed to provide a copy to a lucky winner on this blog. 🙂

Book Cover

Book Cover

Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker is an exciting book about three courageous women (and no, its not Chick Lit!). You can check out my review here.

Now, coming to the point, to win this book, you need to do TWO things, which are as below:

1. Leave a comment below with your name and email address. Please leave the email id which you regularly use, as I will be contacting you through this email id, if you win.

AND

2. Share this link on Facebook. Click here to share.

Please note that you need to fulfill BOTH of the above conditions to be eligible for the giveaway.

The Giveaway ends on 4th August, 2013 midnight. Also, only residents of India are eligible for participating in the giveaway.

Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker

(Update: Giveaway of this book is currently being hosted on this website. Do check it out here.)

iam redit et

(Translation: Now returns Justice)

-Virgil

This is how the book Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker starts, being the first in the Kali Rising series. What follows is a power packed story of tremendously courageous women who fight to save themselves from an unknown villain.

Book Cover

Book Cover

I read many good reviews of the book and I couldn’t believe my luck when Amazon India had a free e-book download offer soon after. So, download, I did! And after that I had to finish it as soon as I could!

To give a brief introduction about the book, it’s a story of four women (technically, three since I am assuming the fourth one will come into the picture in the book next in the series) whose lives change when they receive a mysterious parcel containing documents that they can’t make head or tail of, at first. Their lives change when they are pursued because of the documents that threaten to damn a powerful business entity involved in trafficking of humans through NGOs.

Some good quotes from the book:

“…because you didn’t simply replace one social system or religion with another, you just layered it on top of the old one, layer after layer after layer, until bits and parts of the older layers peeked out through the new and it all made up the whole.”

“Come on, bitch. Man up,’ she said, then snorted a burst of laughter, spraying mucus from her running nose. Her eyes and nose and throat were all running because of the pain and because she was literally weeping with the pain. She had laughed because of the incongruity of her being a woman telling herself to ‘man’ up. ‘Woman up, bitch,’ she corrected herself. That sounded better. Toughness wasn’t an exclusive male privilege.

 If women can have babies without epidurals, I can fucking walk on a broken foot.”

On the whole, I really liked this book. I am looking forward to reading more books in the series. This also encourages me to check out more books by Ashok Banker. For a change, it’s a book by an Indian author which is not about women having stereotypical roles or professions.

Jugni- A Poem for NaPoWriMo 2013 !

I have never really fancied myself as a poet (okay, little bit, I have 😀 ) but since it’s National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo 2013) , I’ve decided to write a poem each day of April (I can try, at least!). I am no Maya Angelou or Sylvia Plath, but I guess it’s better to write than do nothing at all.

It kinda fits to start my poem writing efforts with one called ‘Jugni’. Here’s my poem but before it starts, I guess a little background information is important. According to Wikipedia

Jugni is an age-old narrative device used in Punjabi folk music and sung at Punjabi weddings in India, Pakistan, US, Canada, Australia and UK. The word literally means ‘Female Firefly’, in folk music it stands in for the poet-writer who uses Jugni as an innocent observer to make incisive, often humorous, sometimes sad but always touching observations. In spiritual poetry Jugni means the spirit of life, or essence of life.

However, I have not followed that narrative device as this poem was written by me after reading this article. Reading this would also help.

JUGNI

She wrote of Jugni

Staring at the

Waves splashing onto

The rocks at Marine Drive

While the clock struck midnight

She wrote of Jugni

Dancing on the floor

With Afrojack and Tiesto

While the men looked on

Some with interest

Some with disinterest

She wrote of Jugni

In her school uniform

And her socks folded

Down to her ankles

Her hair flying

As she rides a Bullet

She wrote of Jugni

Sun bathing at Kovalam

Shooting Pictures at Pushkar

Sitting quietly on Dal Lake

Singing in the streets of Shillong

So rich was her life-box

She wrote of Jugni

Dressed in black

Mourning and marching

With a candle in her hands,

A pain in her chest

And anger in her soul

She wrote of Jugni, yes,

But all she wrote were obituaries.

——

Hopefully, I will come up with more this month for NaPoWriMo. Would love to know how you interpret this poem! Please do leave a comment. 😀

What happens in my room !

WHAT HAPPENS IN MY ROOM…

  1. There is a huge mountain of ice cream at one corner of the room. (No, it’s in boxes)
  2. No, there’s no chocolate, I don’t really like chocolate so much.
  3. I run around naked and there are crazy drunken orgies in my room regularly.

BAZZINGA !

(As Sheldon Cooper would say, and make that expression which I find it difficult to replicate on paper. Also please stop imagining me naked, that is gross!)

Now that I have sufficiently managed to get your attention, let me change the tone of this text to make it impossibly boring. Bwahahahaha.

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS IN MY ROOM

I sit at this desk. It is actually my sister’s. But I have taken over hers. It’s probably an intrusion since everybody deserves to have a room of their own. I don’t really have one. When I wish to watch TV, I go to the living room. When I need to work on my laptop, I sit at this desk. When I want to read a book, I read at the most convenient location depending on the ambient temperature at the location. (Well, it’s torturously hot!). Where do I sleep, you’d ask, if I don’t have a room? I sleep in the guest room. Sure, it’s technically ‘my’ room. But it isn’t. Sure, it has a cupboard full of my clothes which I don’t wear and a cabinet full of my books which should prove that it is actually my room. But I don’t seem to spend time in it. Then how is it my room?

Let me explain. My parents are not heartless ogres that don’t wish for me to have my own room. And I do have one, technically. I am not happy with it, that’s another fact. I did have one before, when I was in school. Then we moved and I went to college and then started working. Now I am again in college and only come home during breaks. So, it’s not exactly practical to make any changes to that room which serves as a guest room. And then when I finish my studies, of course I will be married off.

I couldn’t paint the walls. ‘What would people who come to our house think?’, my mother exclaimed.

Image source: http://furnitureinfoblog.blogspot.in/2010/12/christmas-lights-hazard-safety.html

And then I put some rice lights in the room. I wasn’t really satisfied with them but they were all that was available in the house. My mother looked up at them and made a face. ‘I had them in my college room’, I said in my defence. I had gotten used to them in the room which I shared with another girl. I thought it would be prudent not to mention that my roommate didn’t exactly look comfortable with them too at first (But I think she grew fond of the lights, after a while). ‘How cheap they look, as if you are in a bar!’, she exclaimed (my mother, not my roommate). To tell you the truth, they did. But not in my room at college. I bet the first thing my mother will do when I go back is take off those lights.

Now, let me change the topic and leave you hanging there. Don’t worry I’ll come back to this business again and then this will start making sense. Maybe.

Yesterday, I started reading A Room of One’s Own, an essay by Virginia Woolf.

“But, you may say, we asked to speak about women and fiction- what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?”

So starts the lecture which mainly focuses on: (a) why neither Jane Austen nor Charlotte Bronte could have written the mammoth War and Peace; (b) the fate  of Shakespeare’s gifted (and imaginary sister); and (c) the impact of poverty as well as chastity on women’s creativity. (Lifted verbatim from the back cover)

As I read through the first chapter, I paused and wondered, is this even relevant today? Gone are the days when women weren’t allowed to own property. Gone are the days when women were not allowed to study or did not have access to libraries. Gone are the days when there were no women writers. But I forget. Most women in the country do not get to go to school or study in one of the best colleges like I do. And whether I will do something with my education or happily settle into a life of domesticity is another matter.

Yes, it is still relevant, I decided and I continued reading. I even wondered at one point what was the point that she wanted to make when she went on and on about her life and how she spends the day. But then it seemed as if somebody was silently connecting the dots.

“Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction? What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art?”

So asks Virginia Woolf. I remembered a conversation over breakfast with a batch mate regarding the circumstances that give birth to great writing. My friend was of the opinion that the writer has to be sufficiently unhappy to truly write great literature. And I remember arguing that that was not always the case. Yes, most writers are usually unhappy but not all unhappy people are writers. How is that related to Virginia Woolf? Well, she says that most great authors were educated and came from well to do families. It is only because of their upper class upbringing that they were exposed to an environment that facilitated thinking. However, the same was not true of their female counterparts who did not have access to education and an environment that encouraged their participation. They were primarily dependent on men as there were no sources of income. They were expected to be subservient, as an ego booster for men who revelled in their superiority. Women never had a room of their own, where they could just be themselves and do whatever they wanted, without having to hide, without any disturbance, no child demanding her attention or the maid calling out to fix a problem, no husband demanding servitude. At the same time, there were few women who perhaps wanted to change the status quo. They were happy being dependent on their husbands or men in their society. And that is why Woolf exhorts women to make her voice heard.

Wouldn’t things be different if women had access to an education and great writing, some money of their own, freedom to travel, and most importantly a room of their own? Can you imagine what greatness that could inspire?

And now we come back to my room again. Or the lack of one. There is one room that is all mine. It is waiting for me back in college, waiting for me to paint it a nice disturbing color and hang some pretty curtains. The speakers connected with my laptop would silently emit familiar and melodious sound waves (I mean music, of course). There will be a desk and lot of books. Not to forget the lights. This time maybe I’ll put up some blue ones. No, red has always been my favourite.

Now, can you connect the dots?

Image source: http://weheartit.com/entry/14646286

PUSSIES UNITE !

Why do we always fear the V- word? We call it by different names, depending on the country, culture, language,etc. But never by its name.

Vagina. There, I have said it.

Eve Ensler is right. That does make me feel good.

Today is Eve Ensler’s birthday. Playwright, performer, feminist, activist, all rolled into one and famous for having written ‘The Vagina Monologues’.

There have been certain controversies regarding the incident of the ‘good rape’ used by her in the play. Some feminists have lambasted her for the same with the argument that rape is rape, irrespective of the gender of the rapist. I agree, but in the context of the play, having read only the script, it seemed as it meant something else. Did the girl not realise that this was going to happen. I felt as if she was longing for it, this ‘good rape’ by a woman. And no, I am not justifying rape here.

The Vagina Monologues is all about setting aside our fears and breaking away from years of repression. Yes, it is loud. You may feel uncomfortable with the language but if it had a sober script, would it still remain so powerful? It is about time we talked about such stuff rather hiding behind silly names for the vagina and being ashamed of what essentially makes you a woman.

Some may argue that rape, trauma due to sexual harassment and other associated problems are in no way related to the shame we associate with that female organ. But no, it is. It all comes full circle here. At a young age, we are taught about how one should never talk about your vagina, menstruation, and other ‘delicate’ topics. Chastity, ‘purity’, suddenly, becomes important. In Biology classes in school, the lesson on sexual reproduction is skipped. Boys (and girls too), secretly look at the cross sectional diagram of a pregnant female body. It is natural for boys to do so for the female body is completely alien to theirs. But even girls do so, just because that part of them has been royally ignored by teachers and parents. And just because of the desire to avoid any ‘uncomfortable’ talk. At this age, you are made to start feeling guilty about what is only natural and they are made into taboos. Masturbation, being one of them. And what happens when a women is raped? She hides it. She’s ashamed of herself again. Forget about the other feelings of anger, hurt and pain. Shame destroys her.

To tell you the truth, reading The Vagina Monologues made me go into a power trip. It seemed as if all those pent up angry feelings suddenly wanted to come out. I felt like talking about all that was wrong with the world when it comes to the perception of female sexuality. Does it make a woman or rather the vagina, a victim? It probably does. But isn’t it the truth? The sorry truth?

Like this post, if you agree. Comment if you don’t. Comment even if you do. 😀
And don’t forget to share it. 😛