Category Archives: essays

Read 2 of 2022. The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle by Meena Kandasamy

The Orders Were To Rape You by Meena Kandasamy

Title: The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle
Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publisher: Navayana
ISBN: 978-8194865445
Genre: Essay, Nonfiction
Pages: 104
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book is in part an essay, a memoir of some sort – a dialogue with oneself, and also a collection of resistance poems by female guerrillas and militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. It is a narrative of three Tamil women – tigresses – the wife of an LTTE fighter, a female combatant from the LTTE, and of the author herself.

What set out to become a documentary by the author, ended up becoming an essay of gruesome experiences recounted by the two survivors of war. Meena met them in Malaysia and Indonesia, in 2013, four years after the war had ended.

This book is so much more than this. It is about Kandasamy’s “childhood history of adulation and fangirling over the Tigresses”, leading to questioning all that is fed to people in the guise of news, and only one narrative being told. I think this is what actually led Meena to tell stories that were not told and to give a voice to ones that didn’t get one. It is also about genocide of the Tamil Eelam people – of the involvement of India in this, the violent aftermath and the camps. It is about the rapes of women – the brutalities, the wounds that never heal, the scars that don’t appear, and the trauma that never goes away.

The second part where Meena shares poetry of the tigresses, is more of a call for rebellion in one way. It looks at poetry by women as a way to fight back, to resist, to fight over and over against the status quo.

For me the narrative of the Tamil Tiger’s wife was most powerful and resonated so deep. It is very disturbing but needs to be told. It needed to be told in the manner Kandasamy says it – cutting no edges, hiding nothing, revealing it all for the reader.

Are these women victims or survivors? I kept asking this question to myself long after reading this text. I am still wondering. Also, the relationship of these women with Kandasamy is something I would want to read more of. The reluctance they had initially to speak with her and the opened up. What led to that? What sort of an ally one has to be to be able to evoke that? The lived and complex realities of Tamils, Tamil women, and more so Tamil women combatants in Sri Lanka through this essay will certainly give rise to much needed discourse, and we need more of those. There is a lot to unpack, a lot to take in through this slim volume of suffering, fight, and the road to liberation that is always long and hard.

Books and Authors mentioned in The Orders Were to Rape You

  • Nimmi Gowrinathan
  • Lovers and Comrades: Women’s Resistance Poetry from Central America: Edited by Amanda Hopkinson
  • Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forche
  • Mariana Yonüsg Blanco
  • Sandra Ramirez
  • Commandante Yesenia
  • Tichaona Nyamubaya
  • Lorena Barros
  • Aida F Santos
  • Anna Swir
  • Captain Vaanathi
  • Nibha Shah
  • Captain Kasturi
  • Adhilatchumi
  • Lil Milagro Ramirez
  • Poem 278 by Kakkaipatiniyar Naccellaiyar
  • Purananuru
  • Poem 112

Read 267 of 2021. These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days

Title: These Precious Days: Essays Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0063092785
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember reading my first Ann Patchett novel in the year 2011, and that changed so much about the way I used to live. Bel Canto did and still does so much to me not only as a reader, but also as a person. I am of the firm belief that if certain books have the capacity to do that, then they must be kept close for the entire lifespan.

Having said that, I started devouring everything that Patchett had written before Bel Canto and in the coming years after. This is mainly about her fiction. Now about her non-fiction. The essays mainly. She writes the only way she knows and wants to perhaps, with utmost honesty. This is what I feel every time I read her – a sense of deep honesty. “These Precious Days” her latest collection of essays made me feel just the same and more.

When Patchett speaks of her three fathers, you are moved to tears, because you are reminded of your own father and men who are father figures in your life. When she speaks of literature, you are tempted to pick up her favourite reads. Patchett has a deep sense of friendship, so of course she celebrates some of her friends in this collection. She speaks of her mother with fondness and wit. The title story of the collection is about her acquaintance with Tom Hanks, and the long-lasting beautiful friendship she shared with his assistant Sooki who was battling pancreatic cancer.

Patchett’s writing is without pretension and that’s what makes it not only relatable but also empathetic. Her writing style is her own – it is enchanting, real, glorious, and unafraid to go into deep corners of the mind and heart and present life the way it is – unpredictable, constantly evolving, and mainly lived through memories.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Night in Gethsemane - On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati

Title: The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal
Author: Massimo Recalcati
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions, Europa Compass
ISBN: 978-1787702592
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Betrayal. The word conjures so many emotions in us. Anger, melancholy, a sense of loss, of love lost, and even pity. Massimo Recalcati’s brilliant short book, “The Night in Gethsemane” is a book about Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and Peter. Of how Judas arrives with armed men in the olive grove, abandoning Jesus with a kiss. It is the time of being forsaken not only by the ones dearest to him, but also by his father, his God. This is what this short gem is about.

At the same time, it will also make you see and realize and think upon your betrayals – the ones you’ve been guilty of, and the ones done to you. But it is also about suffering, and who is there when we hurt the most. Who is there in our most painful moments? Who was there for Jesus, son of God? How did he fall and more than anything else how did he survive the fall?

While Recalcati looks at Jesus as son of God, of someone Divine, he also looks at him as human. All his emotions are analysed. The prophecy of Jesus being betrayed – when he said that someone close to him will betray him at the last supper. That’s when it happened, right after. Of the different natures of betrayal of Judas and Peter. In all of this we as readers are exposed to the loneliness of the human experience. When one is betrayed, how does one feel? It is as though the person enters an abyss of loneliness that is difficult to get rid of. Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian is as always to the point, exercising great brevity, and nuance. The Night in Gethsemane is all about questions of the ordinary, brought to light through the extraordinary. A great feat.

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace Title: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
Author: David Foster Wallace
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316068222
Genre: Non-Fiction, Speech
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear.

This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century.

I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to.

David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout.

I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”