Tag Archives: Zubaan Books

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 218 of 2021. Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem

Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem

Title: Name Place Animal Thing
Author: Daribha Lyndem
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-8194760504
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

On the surface what comes across as very simplistic coming-of-age narrative, and the writing also feels that way, however, a couple of interconnected stories into the book and you see the book for what it is. Name Place Animal Thing is refreshing, has nuance to it, is short in the sense to finish but lasts longer in memory and association, to some extent.

For me, reading this book was an eye-opener, because sadly or rather most unfortunately, we often tend to view the north eastern region of the country as similar when it is not so at all.  Daribha Lyndem’s voice is unique, it is sharp and often meticulous, sometimes also jagged which lends it the much-needed authenticity, but mostly it is empathetic and observant.

Name Place Animal Thing is narrated through the eyes of a child, and subsequently a young woman as she comes of age in the city of Shillong. The book is rife with politics – sometimes too obvious and sometimes subtle, the differences and hostility between the Khasis and the Dkhars (term used for non-Khasi people in the region) and more than anything else I think the role it plays in the narrator D’s life.

D’s life as the book is as well – a collection of vignettes – the kind that shape her ideas, thoughts, opinions, and even emotions. D is constantly questioning the world around her – the differences, the inequalities, the experience of insurgency, the friendships we are allowed to form (the last chapter is particularly heartbreaking in my opinion), and the role memory plays in the entire narrative.

I could almost at some point feel Daribha talking to me face-to-face as I turned the pages. The cultural experiences are explained at length, while Lyndem has also chosen very consciously to not italicise the local words and rightly so. I think the place the book is set in matters so much – the lanes, the neighbours, the emotional state, the mental well-being and in all of this the larger themes of race, class, death, grief, and friendships are weaved in like a charm.

Read 213 of 2021. Intimate City by Manjima Bhattacharjya

Intimate City by Manjima Bhattacharjya

Title: Intimate City
Author: Manjima Bhattacharjya Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-9390514311
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Welfare, Feminist Writing
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that should be read by everyone. It is not only about sexual choices and rights exercised by women, but also about how technology enables that or sometimes not. Intimate City is a fascinating read about the business of pleasure and how that is coupled with the autonomy of the body, in relation to how the Internet has redeveloped intimacies in the times we live.

Intimate City looks at feminism and its understanding in the space of sex work, choice, and agency, all of this playing out in the city of Mumbai. I think Mumbai and its nuances plays out beautifully as another character altogether in this very reflective and profound non-fiction narrative of how sexual commerce comes full circle (well, almost does).

Manjima through her incisive and very detailed writing also looks at patriarchy and the role it plays throughout in the lives of not only sex workers, but also bar dancers, massage boys, and escort girls as service providers. It was for me very interesting as a queer man to see sex politics play out in this industry – with reference to how sexual commerce is viewed by the world at large, about whether it can ever be seen as a “regular” job, and how it all operates offline vs. online.

Intimate City, for some may not be revealing or earth-shattering in a sense. We think we might know it all, till we read something like this, and that’s all it takes perhaps to demolish our preconceived notions about who is paying for sex, and who is getting paid. I repeat, it is definitely a book that is a must-read for all.

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.

Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India. Edited by Parismita Singh.

CentrepieceTitle: Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India
Edited by Parismita Singh
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-9385932410
Genre: Anthologies, Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is always a fantastic idea to be acquainted with a place or places you know nothing about and what better way to get familiar with it or them than books. And what better place to start than home? We do not know Northeast India (as it is known) at all. I know for a fact that I did not know the “seven sisters” till I got to know them but knowing their names and capitals isn’t enough. There is so much more that we do not know. So much that we generalize as we go along and not think twice about it.

“Centrepiece” is an attempt to change that. To make readers in different parts of the country aware of what the Northeast is really. What I loved about this book is that there are 21 women writers and artists who are telling stories, speaking of facts and weaving dreams. This is done in various forms in the book – through prose, poetry, short stories, or even pictures for that matter. In these pieces, the range is so vast and varied that it will sure take your breath away.

What I loved though was the right balance of fiction and non-fiction. An anthology needs to have it all and yet somehow not go overboard with its own content. Parismita Singh has carefully curated this book. The blend of these landscapes with stories told by the 21 women is effortless and sucks you in every narrative. I saw Northeast with its own pair of eyes and honestly it was surprising, shocking and full of emotion at the same time.

Whether there is brewing of rice beer told beautifully through words and pictures (Rini Barman) or carrying of cow dung or just selling everyday products (Gertrude Lamare), or even the feelings when it comes to mothering a child, these women have made it so personal and intricate, that these pieces will just not leave your mind.

My favourite ones were those of weaving fabrics (Shreya Debi and Bilseng R Marak) and the one that spoke of fairy tales. I loved them all and kind of difficult to pick favourites really, but these stood out for me. At the heart of all of this is the fact that gender plays a strong role in this anthology and I loved and appreciated that aspect more so, because I like no one can tell their stories better than women (it is just my opinion).

“Centrepiece” delves into the heart of what it is like to be forgotten and to not let that happen. Stories from each Northeast state, their diversity, their culture and the fact that they aren’t similar at all is portrayed beautifully through great prose and stunning pictures. Every piece in this anthology is making its point with great enthusiasm, sometimes wit and most of all with a lot of assertion as it should be.