Celebrating women's power through extraordinary tales (Books This Weekend) (March 8 is International Women's Day)
1. Book: Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture; Author: Gaiutra Bahadur; Publisher: Hachette India; Pages: 274; Price: Rs. 599
In 1903, a Brahmin woman sailed from India to Guiana as a coolie - the British name for indentured labourers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations in many parts of the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many of the indentured, disappeared into history. Now, in this novel, the author embarks on a journey into the past to find her. Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother's story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on complex lives.
Many were widows, runaways or outcasts who migrated alone in epic sea voyages -traumatic "middle passages" - only to face a life of hard labour, dismal living conditions and sexual exploitations.
This book is a primer on survival, a gripping story of a double diaspora - from India to the West Indies in one century and from Guyana to the United States in the next - that is at once a search for roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity.
2. Book: Women Extraordinaire; Author: Suchita Malik; Publisher: Rupa; Pages: 296; Price: Rs. 295
One story is of Kaushalya, the sole heiress to a large family fortune and a girl who dares to dream and live life on her own terms, questioning every hoary custom and tradition. Kaushalya's life sees many ups and downs - from a fairy-tale childhood in an affluent family to her marriage into a middle-class one; from being a young widow with a child to getting remarried to her brother-in-law. And even as her life runs its tumultuous course, the country and Kaushalya's resilience, and the values with which she lived her life become exemplars for the later generations of women of the family, all of whom look up to her as an example.
The novel narrates the saga of three women of indomitable spirit, all of whom refuse to crumble under pressure or give up in the face of cruel, fickle fate.
3. Book: Aavarana: The Veil; Author: S.L.Bhyrappa; Publisher: Rupa; Pages: 390; Price: Rs. 395
Lakshmi, a rebellious, free-spirited and intelligent film-maker, breaks ties with her staunchly Gandhian father to marry Amir, the man she loves. She even reluctantly agrees to Amir's request to convert to Islam, as a formality, and change her name to Razia. However, she is shocked to discover that her husband is not the open-minded, progressive individual he claimed to be.
For after marriage, Amir takes his family's side in trying to force her to follow the more rigorous tenets of their faith. This sets her off on a personal journey into India's history to uncover the many layers of religion, caste and creed. Her quest leads her to the many parallels in the narratives between the past and the present and she gradually finds that though much has changed in Indian society over the centuries, much remains the same.
4. Book: Courtesans, Bar Girls and Dancing Boys: The Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance; Author: Anna Morcom; Publisher: Hachette India; Pages: 286; Price: Rs. 595
Until the 1930's no woman could perform in public and retain her respectability in India. Professional female performers were courtesans and dancing girls who lived
beyond the confines of marriage, but were often powerful figures in social and cultural life. Women's roles were often also taken by boys and men, some of whom were simply female impersonators, others transgender.
Since the late 19th century the status, livelihood and identity of these performers have all diminished, with the result that many of them have become involved in
sexual transactions and sexualised performances. Meanwhile, upper-class, upper-caste women have taken control of the classical performing arts and also entered the film industry, while a Bollywood dance and fitness craze has recently swept middle class India.
In her historical and on-the-ground study, the author investigates the emergence of illicit worlds of dance in the shadow of India's official performing arts. She
explores over a century of marginalisation of courtesans, dancing girls, bar girls and transgender performers, and describes their lives as they struggle with stigmatisation, derision and loss of livelihood.
(Posted on 07-03-2014)