Tag Archives: Reading Women

Read 13 of 2022. Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta . Illustrated by Madhushree

Mobile Girls Koottam - Working Women Speak by Madhumita Dutta

Title: Mobile Girls Koottam: Working Women Speak
Author: Madhumita Dutta
Illustrated by Madhushree
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 9789390514458
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book I would recommend everyone in the country to read at least once before they start speaking of equity. It is a book that will perhaps make it clear of how young rural migrant women work vis-à-vis how we imagine the worlds of working-class women from a privileged vantage point.

How do these migrant women see themselves in the larger scheme of things as they work, day after day? What are their aspirations and how they navigate around them, sometimes negotiating their circumstances? This book was first a podcast, when Dutta, in 2013, a doctoral student went to do her research in Kancheepuram district in Tamil Nadu, encountering five women who worked inside an electronics factory. There she documented the lives of Abhinaya, Satya, Lakshmi, Pooja, and Kalpana – in a single rented room, over cups of tea – chatting and recording the podcast over a year, till the factory shut down in 2014. This book is a collection of those transcripts.

No topic was out of bounds when it came to these women. They spoke their hearts and minds – about reclaiming public spaces, the nature of factory work and how exploitative it is when it comes to women, the fear of losing a job, the differences that work creates between men and women, about economic independence and marriage. In fact, most of them were living alone for the first time – leaving their homes and stepping out to work.

The book also looks at economic policies made in favour of or not for the working class irrespective of gender. Madhumita speaks of labour and its relation to the society at large through these women – most of it was covered in the preface but I could also see glimpses of it in the conversations documented.

At this point, might I also mention the most fantastic illustrations by Madhushree interspersed quite intelligently, throughout the book to state points and to capture the experiences of these women with wit and candour.

Mobile Girls Koottam is a book that reveals a lot – about the nature of work, about the nature of work when it comes to genders and how it then shapes into something else by the end of it, and most importantly it speaks of having a room of your own to be able to think and speak freely.

Read 12 of 2022. Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories by Gwen E. Kirby

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

Title: Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories
Author: Gwen E. Kirby
Publisher: Penguin Books USA
ISBN: 978-0143136620
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories by Gwen E. Kirby places women at the front – in all their glory and agency. It strips the old -age telling of stories from the perspective of men and looks at women telling their own stories, with their voices getting centerstage.

Shit Cassandra Saw speaks of women that keep getting a raw deal. It rewrites womanhood – with a lens of bravery, a sense of flaws that exist, contradictory sometimes, and mostly with empathy and wit.

The Greek goddess Cassandra received the gift of prophesy from Apollo only to find no one believed her visions of the future, only because she refused to have sex with him. Helen of Troy was a temptress, a seducer, because of which the war happened. Women who were accused and hanged because of witchcraft in the 14th century. Women who cross-dressed so they could travel, and so much more.

The stories in this collection focus on women – those from history and those from today’s time and age – bringing out feminism and the weird, along with humour in right doses.

These 21 stories take the reader to different worlds in which women not only have agency, but also reveal the mundane and the predictability of living in a so-called man’s world. Gwen E. Kirby breaks all the stereotypes and categorizations, only perhaps to create some new ones through her stellar storytelling.

The writing is precise, sharp, morbid at times, but mostly wildly unique. Whether it is about protagonists who refuse to be secondary characters or about women who have learned how to tell their stories, Kirby whips up women at their breaking points – all ready to rebel and reclaim spaces. Shit Cassandra Saw is a fine debut collection of short stories that is constantly not only pushing boundaries but also successfully breaking them.

Read 9 of 2022. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Title: Mrs. Dalloway
Author: Virginia Woolf
Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 978-0-593-31180-6
Genre: Classics
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This was my fourth reading of Mrs. Dalloway. The fourth time when I would go back to the book, as if it were the first time, and it would reveal itself a little more, another insight, maybe not, maybe just the usual run-of-the-mill circadian novel that it is, but not monotonous. Never uninteresting, and most certainly never out of touch with the contemporary landscape of emotion and thought.

Mrs. Dalloway is a book about community than just one person. It is about illness, suffering, love, sensations that merge together in sentences that portray that at every page. Clarissa is a protagonist who isn’t likeable and yet you relate, you empathise, you find yourself being a part of her world – and more than anything of the banal every day. Whether it is through the life of Septimus Smith or that of Peter Walsh or even Rezia – who is the most sympathetic character, it is all the every day. A Groundhog Day kind of scenario, but the one that is perhaps bearable, tolerable to read during a pandemic – the prose saves you.

So, then what is Mrs. Dalloway about? A day in the life of someone who wants to throw a party? A day in the lives of people who are as confused and torn apart in a world that didn’t opt to live in?  Why do so many readers, year on year, want to read Mrs. Dalloway? What is it about this novel? Maybe because the characters are flawed and fail constantly. Maybe because it is about younger generations, trying to find a way after the war and not knowing what to do. It is about Clarissa’s regret – of being married to the wrong person and not being able to make the choices she wanted to. It is about declaration of life, and yet ironically not living. It is about how Peter and Clarissa move through the party and the incidents that occur during the course of a single day – merging the past, the present, and the probable future.

The inner lives of characters more than just shine through Woolf’s writing. They gleam, they break apart, and they also reflect the lack of profundity. There is a lot of suffering – some latent and some on the surface, and there is no redemption for anyone. Mrs. Dalloway is constantly asking questions that one cannot answer: Why do we die? Why must we die? What is living? It asks this of a world that is ignorant to them – a world that engages in a party, in life, in the hopeless optimism that life is worth something, only to realize the mediocrity of the living, and even then to turn a blind eye to it.

Read 1 of 2022. Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin. Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin

Title: Winter in Sokcho
Author: Elisa Shua Dusapin
Translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Publisher: Daunt Books Originals
ISBN: 9781911547549
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella, Translations
Pages: 154
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Dusapin’s debut novel is about a young biracial Korean woman living and working in a small guesthouse in Sokcho, South Korea, a beach town that is quite close to the North Korean border. It is almost possible to take a day trip over the border.

The narrator, the woman is unnamed. She has returned to her hometown from her university in Seoul to be close to her mother. She doesn’t know her father as he left before she was born. She works as a live-in receptionist and a cook at the aforementioned guest house and that is when she encounters a middle-aged French graphic novelist, Yan Kerrand, who has come to Sokcho to seek inspiration and work on his new project. He is perhaps old enough to be her father, maybe that’s why the strong feelings she feels towards him.

Nothing happens more or less. Time passes and then there are moments. There is no definitive action and maybe that’s when Sokcho plays such a huge role in the book – the broodiness of the town, the season of winter shining through and looming large on the lives of everyone – right from food consumed to the smells to the octopus to also the constant terror from South Korea, and mainly the isolation.

The protagonist’s relationship with food is the one she has with her life – always thinking nothing is good enough – so she eats and purges it all out. Her physical body then becomes a thing of critique by her mother, her aunt, and even Kerrand to a large extent.

Winter in Sokcho is an unusual book in the sense that it says so much in so little. The brevity of the prose had me from the start. Dusapin conserves her words, using them only if really needed to. Some sentences are staggering – like the one about not knowing the outside world, of just staying in Sokcho and nothing happening there. The translation from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins is sharp and precise.

Winter in Sokcho delivers such a potent story, that you cannot help but think about it later. There is this constant ache that lingers – of lost communication, of expressions that are not understood, and emotions that are better hidden than told. Dusapin’s Winter in Sokcho captures desire, motherhood, life along a border town, loneliness, and above all the need to make sense of one’s surroundings most beautifully, also making us aware of the darkness beneath the surface.

Books/Authors mentioned in Winter in Sokcho:

Guy de Maupassant

Read 237 of 2021. The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi. English Text by Gita Wolf.

The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi

Title: The Women I Could Be
Author: Sangita Jogi
English Text by Gita Wolf
Publisher: Tara Books
ISBN: 9788193448533
Genre: Feminism
Pages: 68
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is hands down one of the best books I have read this year. It is intricate, empathetic, gives a world view in its own manner, feisty, feminist, and above all makes you check your privilege, and look at the world differently.

Sangita Jogi’s mother Tejubehan is an artist herself and has been working with Tara books since a while now. Sangita Jogi brings her own style to the fore. “My women are modern” she says, which is seen beautifully in this book.

The book is divided into sections – modern women, women I could be, roaming the world, appearing in public, good times, and the world has progressed.

Through each section, Sangita Jogi most uniquely tells us about her life, her dreams, her aspirations, how she had to get married early – tradition being what it is, and how she manages to still draw and paint and be her own person.

I love the part when she speaks of her daughter and how she will not be who her mother is. She wants better for her daughter, which she intends to give.

“The Women I Could Be” shows you a different India – of women who have the same dreams and ambitions – yet give in to circumstances and even then, dare to be who they want to. Jogi’s art is stunning, liberating, and makes you want to have it all. I was stumped looking at it and kept coming back to it again and again.

The text is sparse, honest, and hard-hitting. She admits to only wanting to draw modern women – they make her dream big and think even bigger. I guess that’s the power of imagination. Jogi’s women are feisty and fantabulous. Through her art we see how they only want to have fun and be themselves. Through her art, we get a glimpse of the person she is and one can do nothing but applaud her talent and what she stands for.