Tag Archives: feminist

The Crooked Line by Ismat Chughtai. Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi

413WM8yVqeL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: The Crooked Line (Tehri Lakeer)
Author: Ismat Chughtai
Translated from the Urdu by Tahira Naqvi
Publisher: Feminist Press
ISBN: 978-1558615182
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translation, Feminist Literature
Pages: 393
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When I got to know of Women in Translation month toward the end of July, I knew that Chughtai would have to be one of the authors that I would read. Chughtai is something else. I can never use the past tense for her, because she lives on and on and on through her works no matter how cheesy it might sound to you. I recall the first time I had heard of that name and most people in my college only associated her with “Lihaaf”, her most popular short-story on love between women. But there is a sea of work that Chughtai wrote and while most of it is fairly popular, it isn’t as famous as her short stories. Her novellas, novels and even her memoir, Kagaji Hai Pairahan (loosely translated to a life of words) are stunning. Everything she wrote will go down in history.

My relationship with Chughtai’s works is of fierceness. I always associate the word fierce with her and her heroines. Their inner lives as captured by her remain as probing and mysterious as they were when first published. There is no recipe for emancipation in her books. Her heroines don’t try to break free from their worlds in ways which are extreme, but work around them. I don’t mean this as a good or a bad thing, it is just how things were then, when Ismat Appa was growing and observing the world of women around her.

“Tehri Lakeer” one of Chughtai’s most autobiographical work (translated wondrously by Tahira Naqvi as “The Crooked Line) tells the story of Shamman and her world, the women in her family – from her mother to her sisters and cousins, to her time at a boarding school and experiences there and how she grows into a woman on the brink of India’s independence, at the same time fighting her inner battles. “The Crooked Line” is about Indian women living in purdah (the world Shamman is born and grows into in the first part of the book) – her Amma who is callous enough to let Shamman being taken care of by her sisters. Her Bari Appa (oldest sister) who is a premature widow and uses this to her advantage time and again in the family. Her cousin Noori who very early on understands how to wield power over men. Chughtai’s characters may appear weak and subdued but don’t be fooled. They are strong and yet know when to appear weak.

The world of purdah disappears as Shamman grows up, with its own set of rules and it all comes down to how women control men around them. Shamman, now educated sees herself different from her family and is almost alienated by them. She doesn’t even understand her place in the modern world and is somewhat stuck in a limbo. Ismat Chughtai’s characters are also known to traverse paths of identity confusion more often than not. Be it Masooma (from the novel of the same name) or even Bichchoo Phoophee, they are always stuck, always searching and breaking paradigms in their small ways. Shamman does the same and is seeing the world change drastically – be it through her friend Alma, who has a child out of wedlock and is unable to love it fully or abort it – or through Bilqees, the femme fatale who uses men and is always surrounded by them, without knowing if she loves them or is just using them.

This is also a constant in the book – women who are neither here nor there. Women who were in purdah had no control and women who have the freedom don’t know what to make of it. In all of this is Shamman’s role as a headmistress (which reminded me so much of the Brontë sisters) and her relationship with the gossiping colleagues to her own sexuality as and when it blossoms, Chughtai’s feminism is not contained or a listicle of sorts. It is the kind of feminism that questions and makes you very uncomfortable while asking those questions. She isn’t apologetic and neither are her characters. Tahira Naqvi’s translation from the Urdu is top-notch as she keeps all phrases and words intact, where they should be. There is also a glossary behind for those who might need to refer it. This was perhaps the last Chugtai book that I had left to read. Knowing me though, I will go back to her works, almost every year. She was truly a woman of gumption and it reflected in her writing all the way. Read her. Breathe her works. And I would be very envious of you, if you haven’t read her at all, because there is so much there for you to read and adore.

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Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit Title: Men Explain Things to Me
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Haymarket Books
ISBN: 9781608463862
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 130
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Rebecca Solnit takes the topic of feminism and women issues by the horns and tells you all about it, without mincing her words. “Men Explain Things to Me” was on my bookshelf for quite some time. I was a little hesitant to read this because I thought it might be too preachy, but when I did get down to reading it, it broke all my misconceptions.

“Men Explain Things to Me” is about women and men and how we all are when it comes down to the dynamics between the two. The essays in this book are thoughtful, insightful and reflections on photographs and what is going on in the world, when it comes down to violence against women and making them subversive.

Women face a crueler world. They do and Solnit makes no bones about stating that. At the same time, she presents a world that is ridden with male privilege, misogyny and sexual entitlement, no matter how much we refuse to face it. That is what it is.

Rebecca Solnit looks at incidents all over the world and does so with a microscopic angle. She takes into account the political, sexual and daily work perspectives as well, when talking about men and women.

“Men Explain Things to Me” is quite an eye-opener about the world we live in and it is just sad that even though we know about what goes on, we sometimes turn a blind eye or think that everything is right. I cannot stop recommending this book to anyone. It is meant for us all. To realize what can be saved while we still have time and conscience.

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Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay

Panty by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay Title: Panty
Author: Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay
Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher: Penguin India, Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670087020
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 263
Source: Editor/Publicist
Rating: 5/5

I had a lot of eyes staring at the cover of this book as I was reading it, and me being me, I could not care less. That is all there is to it in our society I think. A word or a picture that titillates to get people to stare and perhaps even pass judgment. “Panty” also did that in a quiet way and I knew I would get the stares as I would remove it from my bag in public and read it with great delight and joy. To me the book was all about shedding inhibitions and being the person you are – or rather trying to find who you are.

“Panty” by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay is a collection of two novellas – Hypnosis and Panty and each of them is all about love, longing and sexual desire that runs deeper than we know or care to admit. The two novellas shook me for a long time after I finished the book. It was not like the way I felt when I finished reading “Abandon” by the same author, but it was bittersweet and I loved the feeling that came over me. I cannot explain it but I will try – the feeling of melancholy, of utter hopelessness and yet so much hope and positivity lined with it. That is what great books do to you.

Hypnosis is about a woman trying to reach into her past, to confront her doomed love affair with a well-known musician by undergoing hypnosis. In Panty, we meet a woman who has moved into a guest house and finds a panty there – it is soft and silky in leopard-skin print (this is the cover of the book – though it is not soft or silky as I would have liked it to be). She starts imagining the life of the woman who must have worn it and suddenly their lives intermingle and reality blurs from fiction.

Bandyopadhyay’s voice is bold. It is unique. It is also raw. It is also a whole lot of other adjectives that people might use for it, but for me it was just honest. It comes from a place that does not believe in hiding. The writing makes you keep turning the pages for sure, but it also makes you pause and think about life in general and also about it – when it falls in love, when it is lusting for a body and when it wants to be consumed, no matter what. I think the book stops being about gender and just is about human experiences.

Arunava Sinha’s translation only makes it possible for readers in English to experience this rich and almost lush piece of Bengali literature. It is for such translations and more, that publishers should take more efforts in bringing this to readers the world over. “Panty” is a book which should be read without fear of being judged or being made fun of. It is most beautiful and stupendous work of Indian literature I have come across in recent times.

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The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I happened to read The Bell Jar for my book group discussion for the month of November and instantly fell in love with the book. More than anything else I think it was Esther and her descriptions that absolutely gripped me from the very first word.

While reading the book, many times I tried to question my own sanity and what I was going through and quite surprisingly this book I felt dealt with so many issues that we all go through some or the other time in our lives. Esther’s struggle with issues and people around her gave me an inkling into what was I facing with people around me. It’s not more of madness than being sane that made me love this book and what it stands for – probably suffocation, probably the need to get away so many times when we are unable to do so. The probability of meeting someone nice and sensitive which never really works that way.

Grappling with oneself and situations can be quite a thing to undertake. Most of the times, many of us choose to push things under the rug without paying attention to our thoughts and problems. Esther on the other hand chooses to look inside and find answers which probably is best summed up in the following lines from the book,

“How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with it’s stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

This quote becomes all the more poignant when one discovers that only a month after The Bell Jar, her first novel, was published, Sylvia Plath took her own life. One wonders if things would have been different had she lived today. All in all The Bell Jar is one of the books in my life, which I will never let go…