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What They Don’t Tell You About Women in Mythology!

Step into the captivating world of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain lore with Sati Savitri by Devdutt Pattanaik where women rewrite the rules and redefine their destinies beyond patriarchal norms. From ancient scriptures to modern-day interpretations, Pattanaik offers a fresh perspective on liberation, revealing how patriarchy and feminism have coexisted throughout history.​

 

Read this exclusive excerpt to dive into the feminist side of mythology like never before!

Sati Savitri
Sati Savitri || Devdutt Pattanaik

***

Images of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, are often placed in libraries, right next to the board that says, ‘silence please’. No one notices that the goddess always holds a musical instrument called veena (lute) in her hand. The irony is lost on many who look at sacred images without actually doing darshan.

 

Darshan is the act of seeing that generates insight and results in reflection. For example, the sight of the veena grants us some insight into the human ability to make music and musical instruments, and this makes us reflect on how music made by humans is different form the music made by birds. The music of birds is specific, to enable survival. It is designed to attract mates and draw attention of fellow birds to food or predators. Human music, on the other hand, is not necessary for survival. But it adds beauty to life and makes us wonder on the meaning of existence, by making us aware of various rhythms and emotions.

 

Unlike other goddesses, there are not many stories about Saraswati. She is more the embodiment of a concept.

 

Saraswati is draped in a white sari indicating she has distanced herself from the materialistic world, represented by colourful fabrics. While Lakshmi nourishes the body with food, Saraswati nourishes the mind with knowledge and the arts. Lakshmi’s wealth is contained in a pot; Saraswati’s knowledge is expressed through words, through songs, stories and music, dance and arts. In Jain art, the more austere Digambar monks compared Saraswati to a peacock while the white-clad Shwetambar monks compared her to a goose (hamsa). In Indian folklore, dancing peacocks attract rain clouds, while hamsas are able to separate milk from water, like fact from fiction.

 

▪️ The peacock links Saraswati to art, dance, music, theatre and entertainment.

 

▪️ The hamsa links Saraswati to ideas embodied within, and communicated through, sounds, songs, stories, songs, symbols and gestures: the knowledge of maths, science, literature and philosophy.

 

Saraswati is therefore linked to both, the peacock like courtesans as well as the swan-like philosophers. In modern society, the courtesan has been erased from history; her contributions to the world of art appropriated by men.

 

In popular Hindu mythology, Saraswati is called the wife of Brahma. But she is also called the daughter of Brahma. This can be confusing. The confusion comes from our failure to appreciate that mythology is metaphorical. Gods and goddesses are given supernatural forms so that we appreciate the idea, the symbol and do not take things literally. That Saraswati is shown with four hands, and Brahma with four heads, is the clue provided by the artist that these figures embody ideas, not entities.

 

Human ideas are complex. Words are often not enough to communicate an idea. We need grammar. We need sentences. We need punctuations. We shift from prose to poetry, we use music and melody, even gestures and symbols, to communicate subtle refined ideas. Language has metaphors where known words are used to explain and elaborate unknown ideas and inexpressible emotions. Still ideas resist transmission. What is conveyed by the source is not received by the destination.

 

To communicate Vedic ideas to people, the sages decided to compose stories. Ideas then become characters. The relationship between ideas is communicated through relationships among characters. Characters have gender, and so the relationship between ideas ends up being expressed in sexual terms. When the characters are gods, indicated by their supernatural form, they serve as metaphors. They are vehicles for ideas that resist simple communication.Veda, which means knowledge, pays a lot of attention to reality that is visible and reality that is not visible.

 

▪️ Food is a reality that is visible. It is visualized in female form as Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. The name Lakshmi is derived from ‘laksha’ which means target.

 

▪️ Hunger is a reality that is invisible. It is visualized in male form as Indra, the master of paradise, where all fortune is cornered.

 

▪️ The name Indra is derived from ‘indriya’ which means sense.

 

▪️ Indra chasing Lakshmi is then a metaphor for hunger chasing food. Indra rides elephants. The aroused, excited, uncontrollable elephant in the state of masht is how the poets describe Madan, or Kama, the god of uncontrollable craving.

 

▪️ Shiva who burns Madan then embodies the mind who controls craving. Shiva also beheads Brahma’s fifth head that sprouts as he chases Saraswati. Here, Brahma views Saraswati as entertainment to be consumed, rather than knowledge that will help him evolve.

 

▪️ In wisdom, Brahma realises that the point of creation is to feed the other. Animals eat and are eaten, but humans need to feed and be fed. This applies to food, as well as power, as well as knowledge. Saraswati created must be given away. In the process we gain insight and reflection.

 

Male forms are consistently used to depict mental states:
1. Brahma for craving
2. Indra for insecurity
3. Vishnu for empathy
4.Shiva for indifference
5. Kartikeya for restraint
6. Ganesha for contentment

 

Female forms are consistently used to depict material states.
1. Kali for the wild
2. Gauri for the cultivated
3. Lakshmi for resources
4. Saraswati for communication
5. Durga for battle
6. Uma for household
7. Annapurna for kitchen
8. Chamundi for crematorium

 

Why are male forms used to depict the invisible reality of the mind and female forms for the visible reality of matter? The reason is relatively simple if one appreciates the male and female anatomy from the point of view of the artist and the storyteller, who carry the burden of communicating Vedic ideas.

 

***

Get your copy of Sati Savitri by Devdutt Pattanaik wherever books are sold.

Listen up! Celebrate Women’s Day with these Must-Hear Audiobooks

Ever wondered what tales of resilience, courage, and empowerment lie within the lives of women worldwide? Dive into this handpicked selection of audiobooks, each offering a unique perspective and insight into the remarkable contributions of women from all walks of life. Let’s embark on a journey together to honor their strength and celebrate their stories this International Women’s Day!

 

Sita's Ascent Audiobook
Sita’s Ascent || Vayu Naidu

Sita has been sent to Valmiki’s ashram at Rama’s command never to return. This extraordinary novel is her story, she who as much as Rama, is at the heart of the Ramayana, one of the greatest living epics. It is also the story of Lakshmana, crushed by guilt on Sita’s abduction of Soorpanakka shocked at Ravana’s being struck by love, alien to the rakshasa’s code and of Rama’s turmoil when confronted by public gossip about Sita, his beloved wife. Through the remembrances of these and other characters, Sita comes alive as a figure of womanhood.

Inspired by myriad age old and culturally diverse retellings, Vayu Naidu creates a rich, deeply moving and original work of fiction. Sita’s ascent illuminates the physical and emotive landscape of a woman in exile, who crosses the desert of loss and ascends the abyss of abandonment with the power of love that transforms the narrators and the listeners.

 

The Force Behind the Forces
The Force Behind the Forces || Swapnil Pandey

Who continues to pay the costs of war long after our soldiers are gone?

There are many stories of courageous heroes at the borders, but how much do we know about the women standing strong behind them?

The Force behind the Forces is a collection of seven true stories of eternal love, courage and sacrifice. Written by an army wife, Swapnil Pandey, this book brings to light moving stories of unimaginable valour in the face of broken dreams, lost hopes and shattered families. It proves that bullets and bombs can only pierce the bodies of our soldiers, for their stories will live on in the hearts of these brave women forever, women who have dedicated their lives to the nation, without even a uniform to call their own.

 

Common Yet Uncommon
Common Yet Uncommon || Sudha Murty

Meet these people: Bundle Bindu, so named because he likes his truth with a little embellishment, Jayant the shopkeeper who doesn’t make any profit, and Lunchbox Nalini, Sudha Murty herself, who brings her empty lunchbox—to be filled with food—wherever she goes!

Written in Sudha Murty’s inimitable style, Common Yet Uncommon is a heartwarming picture of everyday life and the foibles and quirks of ordinary people. In the fourteen tales that make up the collection, Sudha Murty delves into memories of childhood, life in her hometown and the people she’s crossed paths with. These and the other characters who populate this book do not possess wealth or fame. They are unpolished and outspoken, transparent and magnanimous.

Their stories are tales of unvarnished humans, with faults and big hearts.

Testament to the unique parlance of a small town, Common Yet Uncommon speaks a universal language of what it means to be human.

 

Tomb of Sand
Tomb of Sand || Geetanjali Shree

In northern India, an eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband, and then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention–including striking up a friendship with a transgender person–confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.

To her family’s consternation, Ma insists on travelling to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.

Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.

 

The Kargil Girl
The Kargil Girl || Flt Lt Gunjan Saxena, Kiran Nirvan

In 1994, twenty-year-old Gunjan Saxena boards a train to Mysore to appear for the selection process of the fourth Short Service Commission (for women) pilot course. Seventy-four weeks of back-breaking training later, she passes out of the Air Force Academy in Dundigal as Pilot Officer Gunjan Saxena.

On 3 May 1999, local shepherds report a Pakistani intrusion in Kargil. By mid-May, thousands of Indian troops are engaged in fierce mountain warfare with the aim to flush out the intruders. The Indian Air Force launches Operation Safed Sagar, with all its pilots at its disposal. While female pilots are yet to be employed in a war zone, they are called in for medical evacuation, dropping of supplies and reconnaissance.

This is the time for Saxena to prove her mettle. From airdropping vital supplies to Indian troops in the Dras and Batalik regions and casualty evacuation from the midst of the ongoing battle, to meticulously informing her seniors of enemy positions and even narrowly escaping a Pakistani rocket missile during one of her sorties, Saxena fearlessly discharges her duties, earning herself the moniker ‘The Kargil Girl’. This is her inspiring story, in her words.

 

Happy International Women’s Day!

Battling Infertility and what they don’t tell you

What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing in My Vagina? is a witty, moving and intensely personal retelling of Rohini’s five-year-long battle with infertility, capturing the indignities of medical procedures, the sting of prying questions from friends and strangers, the disproportionate burden of treatment on the woman, the everyday anxieties about wayward hormones, follicles and embryos and the overarching anxiety about the outcome of the treatment.

 

Here is an excerpt from the chapter where she first encounters a lemon squeezer.

 

I heard of ‘artificial insemination’ for the first time in a Malayalam movie when I was eight or nine years old. It was Malayalam cinema’s cult classic Dasharatham (1989), which was so ahead of its time that even now I am not sure if its time has come. A leading mainstream actor, Mohanlal, plays a rich, spoilt man-child who decides to act on a whim and have a child through surrogacy. He finds a desperate woman who needs money for her ailing footballer husband’s medical treatment and agrees to rent her womb. They draw up a contract, turn up for the procedure, and fifteen days later she is pregnant! No failed attempts, cancelled cycles or any other complications. With this movie lodged in my brain for reference, I thought fertility treatments were an easy-peasy lemon-squeezy affair. To be fair to the movie, it is not about infertility. It’s about a healthy, fertile couple who use artificial insemination for conception. It may well have happened that quickly and effortlessly in real life too. But the movie glosses over the unseemliness and hardships of the treatment. For those who have seen the movie, I hate to burst your bubble. Welcome to the world of ART.

I began our first IUI in July 2011 with the earnestness of a debutant, expecting early and prompt success. I had not dealt with sickness or physical incapacity in any significant manner until then, being blessed with a constitution that rarely fell prey to illness. I sailed through ten years of school without any noteworthy episodes of fever. My haemoglobin level typically hovered near the fourteen mark. When Ranjith caught the swine flu, despite my being in close contact with him my natural immunity provided the necessary shield against the deadly virus. My good health was my secret pride and I had taken it for granted all my life, expecting the body to tag along in whichever direction I pulled it. Therefore when we started treatment I anticipated the same level of responsiveness and performance from it. But for the first time, my body, specifically the reproductive apparatus, proved to be a terrible let-down, insolently ignoring my instructions.

The procedure itself was relatively simple with only a few key steps. The first step was pills to stimulate my ovaries to release multiple eggs. The second was follicular study. Follicles are tiny fluid-filled balloons in the ovaries that function as the home of the egg. They may expand from the size of a sesame seed (2 millimetres) to the size of a large kidney bean (18 mm to 25 mm) during the course of the menstrual cycle, eventually bursting to push the egg out. The follicles are measured at regular intervals during a cycle to ascertain if they have matured and are ready to release the egg. This is done through a transvaginal ultrasound (TVS).

I was not a big fan of TVS. It involved insertion of a long, slim plastic probe into my vagina and twisting it around to get a close look at the uterus. Magnified images of the uterus appeared on a computer screen. I was appalled the first time when the doctor covered the transducer with a condom and dipped it in lubricating gel, indicating that it had to enter an orifice in my body. I thought that scans, by definition, were non-invasive. It caused some discomfort, but it was not very painful. Eventually, I learnt to relax my muscles and spread my legs far apart to make things easier. I wished I didn’t have to get a TVS, but if I had to then I could tolerate it.

The cycle got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. The first ultrasound showed only one big-enough follicular blob (at 13 mm). The other four or five follicles were too small, indicating they might not reach maturity. This meant I might have only one egg despite taking drugs to stimulate the release of many.

In the next ultrasound, my ovarian plight did not show improvement. The lead follicle was still only at 15 mm (way below the 18 mm mark of maturity) and the others had not grown at all, looking like they were giving up on ovulation altogether.

There were no outward symptoms to show if the follicles were fattening or dying (this is true for most reproductive processes). So at every ultrasound I went in expecting miracle growth, only to be told that my seeds were lagging poorly behind. I felt helpless at the response from my body because there was nothing I could do to expand the follicles. If it were an outwardly manifest condition I could have applied my inner reserves of resolve and determination to improve the outcomes, in the same way that I would do daily exercise and physiotherapy to regain strength in an injured leg. But my action, or inaction, had no bearing on the ungovernable follicles.

We waited a couple of more days and did a third ultrasound. This time the news was worse. The lead follicle had ruptured; it hadn’t waited for the others to catch up or even to reach its own full maturity. There was nothing left to do but to hurriedly put the sperm inside the uterus since an egg (presumably underdeveloped) had arrived and was waiting. The sperm transfer was scheduled for the same day.

what’s a lemon squeezer doing in my vagina | Rohini S. Rajagopal

I rang up my manager and said I would be taking the day off to address a personal emergency. An hour later, Ranjith drove in from his office to give a semen sample. He came in, gave the semen sample and left. He did not stay any longer because he had meetings that could not be rescheduled at such short notice.

I had come to the clinic at eight in the morning assuming I would just pop in for the ultrasound and pop out. An easy day with only the bother of TVS. But when I heard that I would have to stay back for the IUI, I inwardly experienced a mini-heart attack. Early on, while describing the procedure, Dr Leela had mentioned that the sperm would be injected inside the uterus using a catheter. Having heard the words ‘inject’ and ‘catheter’ in conjunction with my vagina, I thought it best to look up the process in detail on the Internet. One of the first search results showed that during an IUI the doctor uses a ‘speculum’ to pass the catheter into the uterus. It was a surgical instrument inserted inside the vagina or anus to dilate the area and give the doctor a better view. I did a quick search on Google Images to know what it looked like. The photos that flashed on my screen sent ripples of shock through

my system. It looked like the stainless-steel lemon squeezer found in a kitchen. It was made of metal and about the same size as the kitchen tool. It had two blades to widen and hold open the vagina and a third handle with a screw to lock the instrument into place.

What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing in my Vagina offers a no-holds-barred view of Rohini S. Rajagopal’s circuitous and highly bumpy road to motherhood.

The story of unapologetic women and their quest for agency

Women Who Misbehave, much like the women within its pages, contains multitudes and contradictions-it is imaginative and real, unsettling and heartening, funny and poignant, dark and brimming with light.

 

At a party to celebrate her friend’s wedding anniversary, a young woman spills a dangerous secret. A group of girls mourns the loss of their strange, mysterious neighbour. A dutiful daughter seeks to impress her father even as she escapes his reach. A wife weighs the odds of staying in her marriage when both her reality and the alternative are equally frightening. An aunt comes to terms with an impulsive mistake committed decades ago.

 

In this wildly original and hauntingly subversive collection of short stories, Sayantani Dasgupta brings to life unforgettable women and their quest for agency. They are violent and nurturing, sacred and profane. They are friends, lovers, wives, sisters and mothers. Unapologetic and real, they embrace the entire range of the human experience, from the sweetest of loves and sacrifices to the most horrific of crimes.

 

Here is an excerpt from the book, Women Who Misbehave:

 

 

It is a Friday evening, but you can’t head home and settle in front of the TV with beers from your fridge and mutton biryani from the dhaba across the street. It’s already been a long day and doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to ending. You now have to go to your friend’s home for a dinner party. Well, she isn’t really a friend. She is a former colleague, so you can blow it off. But you’re not an asshole, and she has invited you to celebrate the three- month anniversary of her wedding. You care neither for the occasion nor the husband. Still, you board an auto and head her way because you are a good person.

 

The two-storeyed bungalow-style home has a wrought- iron gate and a small garden. It is conveniently located a hop, skip and a jump from the bustling Hauz Khas market. You can’t help being envious. They probably just stand on their balcony and holler for all sorts of vendors to come rushing with platters of pakoras, samosas and hot jalebis straight from the fryer. You, on the other hand, live in the hinterland by yourself because that’s what you can afford on your salary. Which is really why you tip the dhaba boys so generously every time they deliver your order. You cannot risk angering the one source of palatable food in your neighbourhood.

 

You reread the directions your friend texted you this morning. You are to go straight upstairs and neither loiter around the ground floor nor accidentally ring the bell. The husband’s widowed mother lives on the ground floor, and you’ve been warned that she has little tolerance for anyone under the age of seventy.

 

You walk past the tidy square garden until you hit the mosaic staircase. With each step you take, the strain of jazz music grows stronger. The stairs lead you to a heavy black door, and you let your finger hover over the bell. You’re no expert, you don’t know the names and types of woods in this world, but you can tell this is expensive. And you’re happy for your former colleague, you truly are. After all, how many people your age, and with practically the same goddamned salary, get to disappear behind a door like this every evening?

 

You take a deep breath and press the bell even though your throat feels like it is closing in, like flowers whose petals clam up at night. We are done preening for you, sucker! You hear the momentary lull in conversation, but you have already recognized the voices. You quit these people a few months ago in pursuit of a flashier salary, but now you have to spend an entire evening with them. You press the doorbell again. Urgently. As if you are here to take care of serious business.

 

Tanu opens the door, her face awash with happiness. Marriage hasn’t changed her, at least not on the outside. She is dressed simply in her usual blue jeans and a pale T-shirt, her outfit of choice for practically every occasion. She gives you a hug and you breathe in a cloud of familiar smells— lemon verbena soap, sandalwood perfume. Mahesh slides up beside her, his shaved head hovering like an egg over her bony shoulder, his arm possessively gripping her tiny waist. He smiles too and says, ‘Welcome, welcome. Please come in.’

 

Women Who Misbehave | Sayantani Dasgupta

You say ‘thank you’ although you can’t help but think that the deep lines under his eyes and the tight way his skin stretches over his face make him look less like Tanu’s husband and more like a creepy uncle. Somehow, the fifteen-year gap between them is more pronounced this evening than it was on the day of their wedding, when you saw him for the first time. But you were too drunk then, and so all you remember is how after a few drinks Mahesh began telling everyone what he would like to do to every man who had ever hurt Tanu. You had giggled along with the others, but, secretly, you had wondered what it might feel like to be the object of such passion. You catch Mahesh’s eyes sweeping over your black shirt. His gaze doesn’t linger on your breasts—maybe if you weren’t so flat-chested things would be different—but out of habit, you surreptitiously glance down to check that the buttons haven’t come undone.

 

‘Black really suits you,’ Mahesh says. You laugh because you haven’t mastered the art of accepting compliments. You follow Mahesh and Tanu into the drawing room where a cluster of familiar faces acknowledge you with varying degrees of nods and smiles. It’s a smartly put-together room—stainless steel and white leather, with tasteful accents of bamboo. Two love seats face an enormous couch and the side tables have neat stacks of expensive-looking coffee-table books, lit up just so by stark, Scandinavian-looking lamps. On one of the love seats, Pia and Projapoti are smashed next to each other, gazing into a glossy book of black-and-white photographs of umbrellas. Their romance is as new as it is tumultuous, so you tell yourself to forgive them if they ignore you. But they don’t. Pia looks up to give you a cheery wink and Projapoti, who took you under her wing when you first joined the company, sets downs her drink, stands up and wraps you in a hug.

 

Rani is sprawled on the couch. Swathed in a voluminous pink and red sari, she looks like a porcelain doll. Her eyes are closed; her lips are pressed together. She is the picture of calm, a far cry from the perpetually anxious person she is at work. Auro, the only other man in the room besides Mahesh, is on the other end of the couch. He was hired to replace you, and you trained him during the last week that you were there. But from the cocky, two-fingered salute he gives you, you would think it was the other way round. He slides towards Rani to make space for you on the couch. You sit beside him, and as if to deliberately ignore your irritation, Auro stretches languorously and crosses his long legs at the ankles.

An unforgettable portrait of being impetuous women

Impetuous Women is about women who step across the Lakshman Rekha, whose transgressions fly in the face of the establishment, the patriarchy, often their own families and loved ones. From two housewives who play a potentially lethal game of keeping up to an expert baker who serves revenge with chocolate sprinkles on top; from a stern hostel warden who examines her relationship with the teenagers she must surveil to a grouchy widow shuts out the world; from a couple madly in love and desperate for a bit of privacy to a tender bond between a husband and wife, these stories create an unforgettable portrait of modern-day India and the experiential realities of being impetuous, of being women.

 

Here’s an excerpt from the book, Impetuous Women:

 

I could have moved at that very instant, if I wanted to. I’m a verb after all. But I decided to wait for the right moment. Having been inert for so long, I wanted to savour it. I mean really savour it. So, here I am, narrating the events of the last poetry meeting She-poet ever attended. If I had fingers, I’d rub them in glee! Someone had dropped me during a meeting. Thereafter, unnoticed, I slipped and slid around the table at the centre of the grey conference room, until I finally found a crack in the wood. I remained there, half-buried by a sticky blanket of grey-black erased words, each wrapped tightly in its casing of rubber. I was, for once, watching things unfold around me instead of being in the thick of it. The conference room was inside a squat grey building, which was a cultural centre and library.

 

There was also an auditorium. The other rooms were full of books and magazines, and soft piped music. Bulletins about cultural activities and happenings in the city were tacked on to felt- covered notice boards in the main hall. Everything inside was grey. The walls were grey. The tables were grey. The chairs were tubular steel with grey foam seats. Even the floor was a greasy grey colour. The conference room had a glossy calendar with a blood red arty print. It was the only bright thing in the room. But it was so arty that it failed to make things cheery.

 

It is a funny thing. I must have been in that room dozens of times, before my involuntary and sudden
imprisonment within the table, but I had never bothered to look around properly. I had never truly seen the room and its inhabitants. I had never breathed in its atmosphere, so to speak. But once I was bundled up in the crack, I began to observe people closely. Perhaps that is why I was able to understand her the way others in the grey room never would.

 

She-poet was one among the two-dozen odd poets who gathered in the grey room every fortnight to read
the poems they had written according to a theme chosen in the previous meeting. They assembled at six on the dot in the evening, which was close to dinner time for some of them. I watched them squirm when their stomachs grumbled, and cough to cover up for the sound. The others ignored these un-poetic sounds, and continued with the reading, discussing the merits and demerits of the poems, in soft cultured voices, careful not to irk one another, at least not too much. They reminded me of student ballet dancers doing pirouettes in front of a distinguished surprise-visitor at school.

 

Each poet brought a sheaf of poem-bearing papers. These were distributed to the members present, and extras were put away on one side of the table for latecomers. Some were habitually late. She-poet was one of them. She was late not because she was tardy by nature, but because she hated the city. The language was strange to her, even though they were all from the same country, and the locals treated her as if she was an unwanted foreigner. You could tell by the way she blundered in that she had not come out of her house until it was nearly time for the poetry reading to begin. She was relatively, but only relatively, new to the city. She had lived in a cleaner, quieter place before, another country. She was used to wide expanses of greenery between her and other people. Some water had flowed under the bridge since, so now the ‘being used to’ bit was more of a mind thing than what being used to really meant.
Nevertheless, She-poet remained faithfully wistful about her past expatriate status.

 

Impetuous Women | Shikandin

 

She had spent many years away, and after her return, felt overwhelmed by the blatant consumerism that had mushroomed all over her homeland. The country was now dirtier and more chaotic. She could not bear the sloppiness, the lack of civic sense in her fellow countrymen. It seemed to her that the new-found wealth had taught them nothing good; if anything, the sudden money was making everyone behave worse than ever.

 

She-poet found it difficult to come to terms with those who were less impressed by foreign things, and had travelled to more places in the world than she, without ever having been an expatriate. She was dismayed too, by the poverty on the pavements outside glittering hotels and malls, festering like the weeping sores of lepers. She-poet had many complaints. And though she took care not to voice them openly, her secret privations remained unresolved. And unknown to her, she was observed by others with pursed lips. ‘I remember a land that was poor but genteel,’ she once told the poets, after they had reacted blandly to one of her sugary patriotic poems.

 

A professor of English, sporting a French-cut beard and a thick provincial accent, held up the paper which contained her poem and said, ‘So, according to you, that is the patrimony we deserve after being colonized?’ Before She-poet could think of a suitable retort, a member giggled and said that perhaps she was disappointed because they had progressed so much during the years she had lived abroad. There was a mocking silence as She-poet struggled to reply. The words were half-formed inside her head, but her tongue was too slow to lob them. A silver-haired lady with spectacles so thick that they looked like glass blinkers, and who was the de facto convener of the meetings, looked around owlishly for two or three seconds before reciting an absentee member’s poem loudly. She-poet lost her chance, and inwardly fumed for the rest of the session.

 

Another time, another professor-poet, who, despite having a doctorate in English and being the principal
of a suburban college, could barely write grammatically correct English, annoyed her so much that she didn’t attend many sessions after that. He called himself a poet, wrote poetry and got it published. It was another matter that the books were shabbily printed by an obscure vanity press. Some gossiped that it was his own publishing house, set up to make money off desperate poets. Barely- literate-professor-poet also enjoyed bashing the erstwhile colonizers in his poetry and lectures. Nothing the ex- rulers did was good. But he had taken pains to get his degrees in English literature, albeit from questionable institutes, and had got his first job as a lecturer of English through much palm-greasing and bum-kissing. He was ingratiatingly nice to the other academics in the group. He seemed desperate to cling to a group of poets writing in the English language. The others knew that he had succeeded over the years because of his ability to hobnob with people with political clout, people who could fund and sanction arts grants and awards.

Strong women, behind the scenes

What do the strong women we know, go through to become who they are? What goes on behind the scenes – and what makes a woman strong?

Many of them have fought to bring the world where it is today. And we must continue to be inspired by them so we can continue their paths and legacy’s. Here is a list of books of strong women with strong voices, to inspire you, this Women’s Day

 

Lajja
Lajja by Taslima Nasrin

A savage indictment of religious extremism and man’s inhumanity to man, Lajja was banned in Bangladesh but became a bestseller in the rest of the world. This brand-new translation marks the twentieth anniversary of this controversial novel. The Dattas Sudhamoy and Kironmoyee and their children, Suronjon and Maya have lived in Bangladesh all their lives. Despite being members of a small Hindu community that is terrorized at every opportunity by Muslim fundamentalists, they refuse to leave their country, unlike most of their friends and relatives.

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Split
Split by Taslima Nasrin 

 

Taslima Nasrin is known for her powerful writing on women’s rights and uncompromising criticism of religious fundamentalism. This defiance on her part had led to the ban on the Bengali original of this book by the Left Front in West Bengal as well as the Government of Bangladesh in 2003. While the West Bengal government lifted the injunction after the ban was struck down by the Calcutta High Court in 2005, Nasrin was eventually driven out of Kolkata and forced to expunge passages from the book, besides facing a four-million-dollar defamation lawsuit. Bold and evocative, Split: A Life opens a window to the experiences and works of one of the bravest writers of our times.

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Dark Holds No Terrors
The Dark Holds No Terrors by Shashi Deshpande 

‘Why are you still alive-why didn’t you die?’
Years on, Sarita still remembers her mother’s bitter words uttered when as a little girl she was unable to save her younger brother from drowning. Now, her mother is dead and Sarita returns to the family home, ostensibly to take care of her father, but in reality to escape the nightmarish brutality her husband inflicts on her every night. In the quiet of her old father’s company Sarita reflects on the events of her life: her stultifying small town childhood, her domineering mother, her marriage to the charismatic young poet Mahohar.

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Lifting The Veil
Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughtai

At a time when writing by and about women was rare and tentative, Chughtai explored female sexuality with unparalleled frankness and examined the political and social mores of her time. She wrote about the world that she knew, bringing the idiom of the middle class to Urdu prose, and totally transformed the complexion of Urdu fiction. Lifting the Veil brings together Ismat Chughtai’s fiction and non-fiction writing. The twenty-one pieces in this selection are Chughtai at her best, marked by her brilliant turn of phrase, scintillating dialogue and wry humor, her characteristic irreverence, wit and eye for detail.

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A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi by Manobi Bandopadhyay

The extraordinary and courageous journey of a transgender to define her identity and set new standards of achievement.

With unflinching honesty and deep understanding, Manobi tells the moving story of her transformation from a man to a woman; about how she continued to pursue her academics despite the severe upheavals and went on to become the first transgender principal of a girls’ college. And in doing so, she did not just define her own identity, but also inspired her entire community.

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Empress
Empress by Ruby Lal

Acclaimed historian Ruby Lal uncovers the rich life and world of Nur Jahan, rescuing this dazzling figure from patriarchal and orientalist cliches of romance and intrigue, while giving a new insight into the lives of the women and the girls during the Mughal Empire, even where scholars claim there are no sources. Nur’s confident assertion of authority and talent is revelatory. In Empress, she finally receives her due in a deeply researched and evocative biography that awakens us to a fascinating history.

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The Inheritance of Loss
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.

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Calling Sehmat
Calling Sehmat by Harinder Sikka

When a young college-going Kashmiri girl, Sehmat, gets to know her dying father’s last wish, she can do little but surrender to his passion and patriotism and follow the path he has so painstakingly laid out. It is the beginning of her transformation from an ordinary girl into a deadly spy.
She’s then married off to the son of a well-connected Pakistani general, and her mission is to regularly pass information to the Indian intelligence. Something she does with extreme courage and bravado, till she stumbles on information that could destroy the naval might of her beloved country.

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Born Again on the Mountain
Born Again on the mountain

National-level volleyball player Arunima Sinha had a promising future ahead of her. Then one day she was shoved from a moving train by thieves as she attempted to fight them off. The horrific accident cost the twenty-four-year-old her left leg, but it never deterred her. A year later, she had retrained as a mountaineer and become the first female amputee to reach Mount Everest. This is her unforgettable story of hope, courage and resilience.

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Millionaire Housewives
Millionaire Housewives by Rinku Paul | Puja Singhal 

Millionaire Housewives tells the stories of twelve enterprising homemakers who, in spite of having no prior experience in business, managed to build successful empires through the single-minded pursuit of their goal, defying all stereotypes. Amidst their varied motivations and struggles, Millionaire Housewives offers valuable lessons for homemakers who want to venture into entrepreneurship.

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