Category Archives: Women Writers Reading Project 2021

Read 203 of 2021. Are You Enjoying? : Stories by Mira Sethi

Are You Enjoying?-Stories by Mira Sethi

Title: Are You Enjoying?: Stories
Author: Mira Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-1526643957
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

With the onset of the lockdown last year, my mother and I watched Pakistani serials. We were reeling under the influence of Dhoop Kinare watched years ago and thought that Pakistani serials would be made the same way – with nuance. We were mistaken to a large extent. They were just like the K serials of India, barring a few. The same old upholding of values, same old serials seeped in patriarchy, the same old stories of sacrifice and love.

Why do I speak of these serials? Because Mira Sethi’s collection of stories set in Pakistan are refreshingly different and real unlike these shows. Or maybe these shows are also real, each depicting their own universe of events, and the truths that reside in them.

Mira Sethi’s collection of six stories and a novella is not only extraordinary but also immensely detailed, with an eye for pointing out the quirks, eccentricities, and to a large extent satirical. These stories are the much-needed representation we needed of the country. Maybe some of them even made me think of Zoya Akhtar’s movies. They seemed to be set in the same milieu. The rich with their immense set of problems, insecurities, constantly finding ways to escape what is being served to them by life or by fate as a consequence of their deeds (maybe). Whether it is a man who is recovering from his divorce and falls in love with a neighbour in “Mini Apple” or a young actress who wants to make something of her life in “Breezy Blessings”, or even if it is the matriarch in “A Life of Its Own” (which is in two parts) – all of them are struggling with something or the other – their lives are no different than what you and I live. Sethi draws from people she knows, irrespective of whether rich or not. The stories matter and they speak for themselves.

My personal favourite was Mini Apple till I read “Tomboy” and fell in love with the story. The understanding between the friends Asha and Zarrar, as they get married and continue living, hiding their sexuality from society at large, spoke volumes to me as a gay man living in India. We think we have managed to break free, but have we really?

Mira’s stories constantly defy, they are thinly veiled in wit and humour, sometimes even to make a point, but mostly these stories reveal the human condition and the spaces we inhabit. These stories could be set anywhere in the world, but Mira’s Pakistan is the modern country we need to know of – its contradictions, the complexities, the night life, the lives that are not supposed to live to the fullest, and the constant battles of power and desire. It is the Pakistan that speaks volumes, if you read carefully between the lines.

On the surface these stories look simple but let them not fool you. They are anything but easy. They are an easy read for sure, but their impact lasts longer than you think it would. Sethi’s writing is brazen, feisty even, it is refreshing and more than what you have already heard of it. It is a collection that has rightfully earned every bit of praise. Read it.

Read 202 of 2021. Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro. Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro

Title: Elena Knows
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Translated from the Spanish by Frances Riddle
Publisher: Charco Press
ISBN: 978-1999368432
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 173
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Elena, all of sixty-three years old, knows that her daughter did not die by hanging herself. She knows there is more to it and wants to find out what happened to Rita. Why do they claim that Rita hung herself in the church belfry? How could that have been possible since it was raining that night and Rita would’ve never gone out in the rain as she was petrified of lightning? Elena wants answers about her daughter’s death, and no one is willing to help her. She is determined to find the culprit. Even if it means she has to venture out and journey through the suburbs of the city, to call on a favour from a woman named Isabel, who she and her daughter met twenty years ago. Even if it means that she has to do this as she suffers from Parkinson’s – the disease that will not let go of her and will obstruct her search to some extent. What happens next is what the novel is all about.

Piñeiro is well-known as a “thriller” or “crime” writer in Argentina and even around the world. Elena Knows, according to me is a good start to get to know her writing and fall in love with it. I’m surprised that with almost four books translated in English, Piñeiro is still not that well-known. I hope that changes when more people read Elena Knows.

Elena Knows is so much – a detective novel, a woman dependent on her disease to make all basic decisions – that of walking, turning her neck, seeing someone, and even sometimes breathing. It is a lucid and most disturbing commentary on mother-daughter relationships, and what happens when the child becomes a caregiver. It is also about the role of the government when it comes to providing medical care to its citizens – the red tapism, the bureaucracy, and the narrow-mindedness of it all. The book is political. It is about the agency of women and who controls their bodies. Piñeiro doesn’t hesitate to show society the mirror and make them realize what they stand for or not.

The plot unfolds in a day with clearly marked sections – Morning, Midday, and Afternoon – the times that are governed by Elena’s medication schedule. If she misses this, she will not be able to function. She will not be in control of her body and has to follow the schedule. This is another important element of the book. Let me also add here that Elena is not a likeable protagonist. There are shades and layers to this character and that’s what makes her also so endearing to some extent. There is no maudlin expression of her coping with her disease. There are facts, there are emotions, and sometimes the two converge most beautifully in the book.

Elena knows is so much more and I am stunned at how Piñeiro managed to say so much in such a small book. At the same time, Frances Riddle’s translation is on-point and makes you wonder what it would sound like in Spanish. The sentences gleam and I often found myself underlining passages.

Elena Knows is a book about patriarchy, structures, narrative (italics for dialogues), time, gender, motherhood, illness, and law and what we do with it, as we move on – day to day, hoping for a better tomorrow.

Read 175 of 2021: The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav

Title: The Anger of Saintly Men
Author: Anubha Yadav 
Publisher: Bee Books 
ISBN: 9788194511311
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

There is so much to talk about and unpack about The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav. A book that spans over thirteen years (maybe more), a story of a family ridden with male toxicity, patriarchy, misogyny, and above all the men we raise in Indian families.

Anubha Yadav’s book is perhaps about every Indian man, and not. It is about the men we encounter on a daily basis and their lives – sometimes small, sometimes larger than life itself, their dreams, aspirations, their interaction with other men, with women most importantly as the book progresses, and above all how they constantly view themselves.

Sonu, Anu, and Vicky are three brothers growing up in the 90s. A brand new decade with everything around them rapidly changing. They have moved into their new and last house (no more moving houses) which they name Chuhedani (mousetrap, that they all want to escape but all cannot). This is where they will become men. This is the place patriarchy will sink its teeth in their tender flesh and make them one of its products. The book is about them, their families, their friends, and how all of it is interconnected to how we raise men in sexist societies and what are the consequences. 

Yadav’s book is unapologetic, extremely candid, and an unsentimental look at a typical middle-class North Indian family and what happens to each brother though he is raised more or less the same way. In the course of it, we meet other men – friends, cousins, uncles, grandfathers – and women who are subdued, hidden, and yet always asserting themselves.

Yadav’s writing is clear, focused, and unabashed. There were times it did not seem like a debut at all. All in all, I most enjoyed this short novel, that made me think a lot about our society structures and the spaces we inhabit. The Anger of Saintly Men should be read by all, in my opinion. More so by men.




Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Is It The Same For You? by Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh

Title: Is It The Same for You?
Authors: Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857426963
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 24 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5 stars 

Young girls in conflict zones perhaps face so much more than we know of or will ever know. What do they think? What do they feel? When does childhood end and the reality of being where you are hits you hard? What do governments have to account for then, when innocence is lost way before time? Is it the Same for You in its most raw form asks all these questions, making the reader constantly reflect with every turn of the page.
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Priya Sebastian and Neha Singh take different moments of a young girl’s life in Kashmir and bring them to fore. Amidst all the conflict (political and religious) and terror, the question remains that is it the same for all young girls out there? How is it when their bodies change? The book looks at shards of life – the ones that are rarely come about – when the not so normal becomes normal, when you get used to what you aren’t supposed to get used to, and life is lived just on the sidelines.
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Neha Singh’s text coupled with Priya Sebastian’s most stunning illustrations will constantly haunt you. Each page of sparse text is a story with so many layers and so much to see. The girl who takes comfort in the assumption that maybe this is what it is for all girls over the world and who is to say it isn’t? In one form or the other that is. From one conflict zone to the other. From one state of normalcy to the next. Is it the same for you?

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi. Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman

Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Title: Eve Out of Her Ruins
Author: Ananda Devi
Translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 9789386338709
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women in Translation
Pages: 174
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy for those who live on the margins. It isn’t easy when you are surrounded by poverty and bitterness. How do you love when all you have seen is hate? How do you bring yourself to live then? Eve does that. She lives, on her terms. She doesn’t live, she merely survives, day after day, trying to get out. Hoping for a better future, till she doesn’t. You witness her story, her life, and hope and pray that she is redeemed – that others are as well, that at seventeen and perhaps a little older, they deserve better, but you don’t know how the story will turn out, and where will it go.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is set in Troumaron, an impoverish area of Port-Louis, the capital of Mauritius Island. You see what you haven’t seen or thought of Mauritius to be. There is fear, there is violence, there is sexual assault, the air heavy with stench of yearning to get away, of dashed dreams, and broken hopes.

We meet four youngsters – fighting to survive. Eve, the seventeen-year-old that time forgot to nourish, that kindness overlooked, who moves from one man to another, always looking to get out but doesn’t want to. Savita, Eve’s soulmate in a sense, the only one who loves her selflessly. Saad, who is in love with the idea of Eve – who wants to save her and knows that she will never love him back. Clélio, a rebel waiting for life to happen to him, waiting for his brother to call him to France, waiting almost perpetually.

Through these characters Ananda Devi creates a world that is raw, belligerent, sometimes tender, warily poetic, and even forgiving. The world of Troumaron that is exploding at the seams – waiting to burst with energy that will only ruin these four. Ananda Devi’s characters are similar and so dissimilar to each other. In the sense they are all stuck, all perhaps wanting out, and yet don’t even know it. Her writing hits you hard. The poetry and the prose merge beautifully – they make you imagine as you read – the characters became more real than ever, and their emotions became mine.

Eve Out of Her Ruins is a small book with so much to unpack and undo. The lives of people on the margins, the lives they lead forever fluctuating between hope and hopelessness, brought out beautifully by the translator, Jeffrey Zuckerman. I could sense the French, and the Mauritian Creole rolling off my tongue as I attempted to read it when encountered it in the pages. This is a book that is not to be missed. I urge you to read it. Ananda Devi, we need more writing from you. A lot more.