Category Archives: feminism

Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Glamour Industry by Manjima Bhattacharjya

MannequinTitle: Mannequin: Working Women in India’s Glamour Industry
Author: Manjima Bhattacharjya
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN:978-9385932229
Genre: Gender Studies
Pages: 216
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Can fashion and feminism ever go hand in hand? Hard to think of them together, right? Like the perfect bedfellows, isn’t it? And yet, lo behold, “Mannequin” by Manjima Bhattacharjya marries them and how! We are, in my opinion, quick to judge the fashion indsutry, without knowing its ongoings or caring to know about it. And the brunt of it all, whether you admit or not is borne by the women in the industry. Bhattacharjya through this book reflects on feminism and the beauty business and this is done purely through first-person narratives, insider stories, histories that have been buried long before and heavy research and subtext.

“Mannequin” looks at the 70 billion dollar industry at home and what it does and doesn’t do for the women who work in it. The recognition they deserve and do not get most of the time. Bhattacharjya with a very detailed view, traces the history of the fashion industrt – the role of women when it started in the 60s to what it is now and frankly as a reader I felt, not much has changed. The industry sadly still objectifies women instead of seeing and acknowledging their agency and talent.

At the heart of the book there are uncomfortable questions for sure but it is also a personal account of the author, the industry and its women. The writing at no point is pedantic. Yes it is data heavy but that is alright. The narratives and stories are told humanely and that is what is needed.

What role does fashion play in the entire feminist discourse? Does it have a role at all? What about the industry? What do the men of the fashion industry think? The author raises questions and answers are given – maybe not all the time but most of the time with solid research to back. “Mannequin” is the kind of book we always needed and finally got it.

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Foxy Aesop: On the Edge by Suniti Namjoshi

Foxy Aesop Title: Foxy Aesop: On the Edge
Author: Suniti Namjoshi
Publisher: Zubaan
ISBN: 978-9385932427
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Suniti Namjoshi’s books. They are not what you expect or have been conditioned to expect and that’s the primary reason I love what she writes. Her works are heady, over the top, campy even, but above all honest and feminist to the core. She doesn’t mince her words and that’s the only way to write in my opinion. “Foxy Aesop” reminded me of her Fabulist Feminist tales, but more than anything I was drawn into her world so strong that I just didn’t want it to end. Her world is weird (and all weird works for me in more than one way), intriguing and mind you she is one writer who will not let you have it easy. Her prose evokes thoughts but naturally and that’s that.

“Foxy Aesop” to me was everything rolled into one – a fantastical story, a story so quirky that I laughed straight out loud in so many places, a satire as well – something that crescendos into something unusual, only leaving the reader with the hope that she will write something similar. “Foxy Aesop” may suggest that the book is about Aesop, but it is actually about Sprite, a fabulist from the future who transports herself to the century of Aesop and that’s where the book begins. Aesop, on the other hand is busy writing his fables and trying to make ends meet. The book is about fables at the core – what they do to the moral fabric of our society and do they play any role in it at all or not. Sprite and Aesop make for delightful characters in this fantastical piece by Namjoshi.

Namjoshi’s writing is irreverent and that is another quality I love about her prose. She has literally taken the concept of fables and turned it on its head. She makes you rethink and evaluate those morals all over again in light of our world and what we think of them at all – if we do that is.

“Foxy Aesop” is a book that is witty, unusual, full of quirk and life. Suniti Namjoshi has done it again, as always, and not just in storytelling but creating it in a dimension probably unheard of to many. Read it for its fabulousness. Just go read it.

The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca

the-house-of-bernarda-alba Title: The House of Bernarda Alba
Author: Federico Garcia Lorca
Publisher: Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 978-1848421813
Genre: Drama
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time, I have wanted to watch Rukmavati ki Haveli – a film by Govind Nihalani (which is now up on YouTube). I think it was the allure of the name – a very strong and heavy fisted name – Rukmavati ki Haveli – a daunting name at that and it was only recently (two years ago) when I realized that it was based on a play by Lorca, whose poems I had read earlier and was fascinated by them.

I did finally get to reading “The House of Bernarda Alba” and I was hooked from the first scene of the first act. From what I have heard, it is also Lorca’s longest play and boy was I glad that I read it. It is an easy play to read, but of course, however, what stays with you after you’ve finished the book is unsettling and disturbing if nothing else.

The play is set in Spain, in the house of Bernarda Alba (the titular character of course), along with her mother, the maids, and five daughters who she controls with a vengeance, to the extent that she can also control their hearts. All of this takes place in time of mourning, when they are locked at home and not allowed to step out. It is a quick read, but it is very precise and cuts right through to the reader.

The characterization is flawless – especially Adella (the youngest daughter) and Bernarda as the unrelenting matriarch. The themes of madness, loneliness, yearning, oppression, the changing political landscape of Spain and in that the changing landscape of the Alba household (the juxtaposition is superb) are deftly handled by Lorca. The context of 1930s Spain and its tumultuous landscape is so evident as you read the play – religious, spiritual, traditional and modern merge and the future of the characters hangs in a melancholy balance.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanah-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, Vintage
ISBN: 978-0307455925
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 588
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I did not know what took me this long to reread this book. I remember reading it in 2013, when it was published and I promised a friend that I would get back to it soon – reread it that is. I reread it this month, after three years and was stunned yet again, just as I was when I first read it.

How do you describe a flawless novel such as “Americanah”? How do you review it? How do you describe your feelings to people as you read it, with a hunger and also knowing that you must starve yourself for it, should it get over too soon? While this book is about race at the heart and core of it, it is also a lot more than just that. May be this will be a good start to letting you know more about the book. I for one was riveted. My mind is still reeling from the characters, their lives, their perceptions, opinions, views and how it feels when you are almost an alien in another country.

“Americanah” is fodder for the mind, heart and soul. It may sound cliché when I say this, but that’s what it was for me. It is the story of two Nigerians, each trying to find their place in the world – from school to college to working in countries that they have experienced only in movies, comics, books or TV shows. There is certain neatness to the writing – it is neither convoluted, nor simple at the same time. It deals with issues; it feels personal at the same time and an all-encompassing read.

“Americanah” – the title is a Nigerian word used to describe someone who has lived abroad for so long, maybe particularly in America that they no longer understand the nuances of being Nigerian. They speak American and eat that cuisine. They are alien to their people once they are back and somehow that is the case with Adichie’s characters as well.

Ifemelu – a bright and sharp observant girl, lives her life in Nigeria, goes to America and is in for a rude shock – where race, hair and the way she is plays a major role than she thought it would. The story of Ifemelu is about her trying to fit in and then realizing that America was never for her. She sees America through her journey and life in Nigeria and is constantly on the lookout for more. Her relationships in America are not as fulfilling as they were back home with Obinze (her former boyfriend). He was the love of Ifemelu’s life before America seeped into her bones and flesh. We see love being central to the story and yet it is so distant for the two of them – things change drastically in the course of this book.

Adichie makes her characters like you and I. There is so much of everyday reality that it is heartwarmingly overwhelming. The legacy of slavery and black people and non-black people issues are at the core of this fantastic book. We see how Obinze’s life carries out in London which is very different from that of Ifem’s in America. The common thread is that of feeling like an outsider – like you will never belong.

The secondary characters in the book are not just props – they do, say and add so much gravitas to the entire narrative. From Ifem’s boyfriends and friends to Obinze’s mom and then the reaction of friends and family when Ifem is back from America – to a Nigeria that is very different from what it was when she left it a long time ago.

Ifemelu is more than just an interesting character. To me she embodied a lot of issues, confusion, heartache and more. Obinze on the other hand has so much to say and just doesn’t. Adichie has him restrained to some extent. The blog by Ifemelu on racism called “Raceteenth” and the posts in the book are insightful and brilliantly written. Maybe at some point, being a minority group, we all go through the same kind of racism (or do we?) and that’s why I could relate more to it being a gay man.

“Americanah” is a read not to be missed out on. At any cost.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate
ISBN: 978-0008115272
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essay,
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We are conditioned when we are kids. Everything that becomes a part of us is because of our childhood and it is these core ideas and values that are difficult to let go off. No matter what you do, they remain with you, for almost your entire life. Genders, sexuality, equality, respect, dignity then just don’t remain words – they manifest and come alive. These are words that hold so much meaning – they did as we were growing up and more so now. When there is no gender equality, and you have it easy by the virtue of just being a man, then you will not know what the woman feels or what women go through in general. Only because you have not faced it.

Honestly, I was of the opinion earlier that there are a lot of “armchair feminists” doing the rounds online and offline, but I think that what Adichie says in this short book – an essay of forty eight pages makes so much sense – yes everyone should be a feminist, because it is much needed.

Adichie’s essay in the form of a slim book “We should all be Feminists” is a primer to have with everyone. Everyone must read and try and follow whatever they can from it. Adichie speaks of what feminism means today and that is the thread of the entire essay.

She speaks of the blatant discrimination in the Nigerian society and while reading it, you can sense that it is the same worldwide. How women get paid lesser, how they are told to serve men, how a woman is conditioned to be a wife and a mother and a man, the householder so to say. Adichie from her life anecdotes and of others’ makes pertinent points when it comes to a world that is clearly biased.

I have often heard people who are uncomfortable with the word “feminism” and this book also touches on that. Adichie with her wry wit goes on to explain how we need words such as “feminist” or “feminism” till the time there is gender discrimination. I am completely in awe of her ideas and I honestly believe that it will take all of us to make a change happen. Let people speak. Let both women and speak about issues and rights. It is time that it becomes a collective battle and not just one versus the other, because it was never like this.

To end this review, all I can say is that everyone must also read this book, whether the majority part of the society or minority. We also need more books such as these – free-thinking people who present ideas in linear and lucid ways to help us understand what the cracks in cultures are and just how we can actually save ourselves from ruin.