Some people question the need of having only one day as a celebration of women hood while it is an year round issue. To add perspective, one day allows us to focus our energies and attention to feminism in a way that cannot be achieved every day. It gives us a platform to reach out with renewed vigor and share knowledge, to educate as many people as possible. More importantly one day gives us an audience, ready ears who today will take notice of what needs to be said. Towards this endeavour, Pagdandi Book Cafe celebrates the better half with ’10 Must Read Women Oriented Books’ every male and female must read. Biased towards Indian stories we hope they will inspire, encourage, give strength and educate. On with the list in no particular order:
10. My Story – Kamala Das
The book, with 50 chapters, follows Aami’s (Kamala) life from age four through British colonial and missionary schools in Calcutta where she had to face racial discrimination; through the brutal and indulgent relationship with her husband; through her sexual awakening; her literary career; extramarital affairs; the birth of her children; and, finally, a slow but steady coming to terms with her spouse, writing, and sexuality. Das recounts the trials of her marriage and her painful self-awakening as a woman and writer. The book was originally published in Malayalam, titled Ente Katha. The book evoked violent reactions of admiration and criticism among the readers and critics. It remains to date the best-selling woman’s autobiography in India.
9. The splendour of silence – Indu Sundaresan
When Sam Hawthorne, a twenty-five-year-old U.S. Army captain, arrives at the princely state of Rudrakot in May of 1942, it is on a personal quest to find his missing brother. But Sam’s mission is soon threatened by the unlikeliest of sources — he falls hopelessly in love with Mila, daughter of the local political agent. And Mila, unexpectedly attracted to Sam, finds herself torn between loyalty to her family and the man she loves.
A sweeping and poignant story of forbidden love, The Splendour of Silence opens twenty-one years later with Olivia, Sam’s daughter, receiving a trunk of treasures from India, along with an anonymous letter that finally fills the silences of her childhood. She finally learns the heartrending story of her parents’ passionate and enduring love affair — throwing them in the path of racial prejudice, nationalist intrigue, and the explosive circumstances of a country on the brink of independence from British rule.
8. Pinjar – Amrita Pritam
Pinjar is a 1950 Punjabi novel written by noted poet and novelist Amrita Pritam. It is the story of a Hindu girl, Puro, abducted by a Muslim guy, Rashid whose parents refuse to recover the defiled girl when she manages a run to her parents from Rashid’s home. Pinjar is believed to be the best literature written with backdrop of Partition of India. Amrita Pritam was a Indian writer and poet, who wrote in Punjabi and Hindi. She is considered the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, and the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language, who is equally loved on both the sides of the India-Pakistan border.
7. The Help – Kathryn Stockett
The help is a 2009 novel by American author Kathryn Stockett. The story is about African-American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960s. In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope,The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t.
6. Yajnaseni – The story of Draupadi – Pratibha Ray
The story of Draupadi, one of the most fascinating characters in the Mahabharata. Strange as it may appear, Draupadi, the most accomplished heroine of the Mahabharata, happens to be the most suffering, sacrificing, and yet the most misunderstood character from the epic. Though counted among the five supremely virtuous women, honoured as pancha sati in mythology, the name Draupadi still bears stigma and is often contemptuously uttered by people in society as the woman who brought about the greatest war of all times.
Pratibha Ray makes a determined effort for a portrayal of the epic character and brings to the surface the broader and deeper aspects of Draupadis mind that lay submerged in the majestic sweep of the grand Mahabharata. The novel won her the Bharatiya Jnanpiths prestigious ninth Moortidevi Award in 1993.
5. That long silence – Shashi Deshpande
Jaya’s life comes apart at the seams when her husband is asked to leave his job while allegations of business malpractice against him are investigated. Her familiar existence disrupted, her husband’s reputation in question and their future as a family in jeopardy, Jaya, a failed writer, is haunted by memories of the past. Differences with her husband, frustrations in their seventeen-year-old marriage, disappointment in her two teenage children, the claustrophia of her childhood—all begin to surface. In her small suburban Bombay flat, Jaya grapples with these and other truths about herself—among them her failure at writing and her fear of anger. Shashi Deshpande gives us an exceptionally accomplished portrayal of a woman trying to erase a ‘long silence’ begun in childhood and rooted in herself and in the constraints of her life.
4. Red Tent – Anita Diamant
The Red Tent is a novel by Anita Diamant, published in 1997 by Wyatt Books for St. Martin’s Press. It is a first-person narrative that tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph. She is a minor character in the Bible, but the author has broadened her story. The book’s title refers to the tent in which women of Jacob’s tribe must, according to the ancient law, take refuge while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts.
3. I know why the caged bird sings – Mary Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the 1969 autobiography about the early years of African-American writer and poet Maya Angelou. The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma. The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of 17. In the course of Caged Bird, Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice.
2. Choker Bali – Rabindranath Tagore
Chokher Bali, literally Sand of the Eye, equivalent to eyesore, is a Bengali novel written by Rabindranath Tagore in the early twentieth century. Binodini is a convent educated young widow left to her own devices when her husband dies soon after they are married. As was the custom in those times in British India, she returns to her village and lives there for a couple of months until she accepts the invitation of Rajlakshmi to live with her and her son Mahendra (who had rejected a former marriage proposal with Binodini) in Calcutta. He is newly married to Ashalata (a naïve, gentle girl), but soon begins to feel a strong attraction for Binodini. The story details the relationships of these three and Mahendra’s best friend Bihari as they deal with issues like distrust, adultery, lies and problems between them. Tagore elaborately records early 20th-century Bengali society through his central character, the rebellious widow who wants to live a life of her own. In writing this novel he exposes the custom of perpetual mourning on the part of widows, who were not allowed to remarry and were condemned to a life of seclusion and loneliness. It is a melancholic, stirring tale of the deceit and sorrow that arise from dissatisfaction and sorrow.
1. Lihaf (The Quilt) – Ismat Chugtai (Short Story)
The quilt deals with a lesbian encounter within an all-woman setting (Zenana) in a traditional Muslim household. Narrating the story of Begum Jan, Ismat Chughtai raises this question of sexual discrimination with frankness in the social consciousness. Ismat was leveled with charges of obscenity for this story and she was summoned by the Lahore court in 1944. Chughtai chose to contest this case instead of apologizing and won it.
That’s it folks. Any books you feel should be in the list? Please mention them in comments.
Credit: Wikipedia, Goodreads, Museindia and Amazon.