I’ve been extremely lucky with the reading endeavour that began in earnest, earlier this year. Lucky, being the operative word here, because timing seems to be at play. Funemployment, for one, is a blessing when trying to get back on the reading bandwagon. Events in my life are creating large pockets of time that allow for leisurely reading over many hours (all that travel, all those plane rides, and that one long day-train). And you know what happens, right? The more you read, the faster you get. So quite contrary to my estimated a-book-a-month goal, I am steadily finishing a book a week, almost. And while that is probably no biggie by itself, I’m feeling pretty pleased at being able to pick up something new every 7-8 days. Which brings me to two absolutely fantastic books I just read finished.
Both about women, mothers, womanhood and the like.
Both brought back vivid memories of the various women I have known through my life.
Both made me long for my mother.
Both so good that I want to buy multiple copies of them and distribute them to special women in my life.
Of Mothers and Others; stories, essays and poems, edited by Jaishree Misra
When I heard that this anthology — a collection of stories, essays and poems — is Zubaan’s publication for Save The Children, I didn’t expect much more than yet another hollow construct filled with NGO-speak about the plight of the Indian girl child. And frankly, two years of working with one of India’s oldest and so-called leading NGOs in the space, I am quite cynical when it comes to big, monolithic, corporatized organisations in the public sector. Especially given the extent to which I have seen them thoughtlessly brandish the words girl child and sensitizing citizens and protecting rights, as if they are magic spells that can miraculously turn the situation around.
I’m honestly very tired of reading about the same truths and statistics about the girl child and how inefficient we are in doing anything worthwhile to change her life around. I’m sick of reading the same stories, that never seem to change. Maybe two years at the hands of aforementioned client has turned me cold. But I didn’t expect too much from this book. However cynical, I was over the moon when I heard about it through a friend who has contributed to it. I bought it for her, I bought it because I was genuinely happy and wanted to support her success. And when I opened it and began to read it, I realised I couldn’t have been more wrong about its contents. Because over the next two days, I ravenously raced through its 21 stories, each unique, each talking about a different aspect of motherhood, each enjoyable and totally engaging. Save 2, or maybe 3 stories that went down the typical NGO-sob-story route, I was extremely happily engrossed in the variety — whether they were the short stories, the memoirs or the non-fiction essay riddled with painful statistics. From a daughters perspective, to a grandmotherly love; from a mothers longing for a daughter and getting a son, to the trepidation a woman about to adopt goes through; from poetry to a piece on Bollywood’s quintessential Maa and how she has changed over the years — this anthology intelligently covers the whole spectrum, and includes facets of motherhood you probably have never thought about.
This one is worth a read. I know I’m going to be buying my mother and my grandmother a copy each. Ordinarily, I’d say borrow it, but I’m going to go ahead and say buy it. Do it for the girls.
How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
Yes, a little late in the day, but that’s one more tick off the list. For someone who has always shied away from calling herself a feminist, this book — part memoir, part rant, part diatribe, but 100% essay on the state of modern feminism — had me going Heck, I am a feminist, alright! right after the second chapter, when I read these lines:
Here is a quick way of working out if you’re a feminist. Put your hands in your pants.
a) Do you have a vagina?
b) Do you want to be in charge of it?
If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist!
With her own zany, totally OTT, crazy way, Caitlin Moran settled it for me. Just that simply. And really, this could not have come at a better time for me. Now, is as relevant as it has ever been, for us to stand up and be feminists. Because it is not about burning our bras, male-bashing, traipsing around unwaxed (though, should you want to do that, that’s fine too — there’s a chapter in the book about it, that I loved!) dressed like men to prove some lofty point. It is not about showing the world what you are, but more about looking in, understanding yourself and boldly accepting who you are in all your bleeding, furry, shabbily-dressed, hormone-ridden self. It is about knowing that none of that can make you less of a human being, than the opposite sex.
The best part of the book, for me, was its simplicity. Moran articulates the most common thoughts that each of us have had, at some point or the other, but failed to acknowledge, understand and articulate. With extreme wit and classic, almost-forgotten Brit humor, she asks some very important questions; some of my favourites being Why are women always asked when they’re going to have babies? Why should women do botox, wax their legs and get Brazilians? How can you tell when sexism happens to you? All relevant, yet coloured in subtle shades that are hard to decipher in real life. Questions that Moran raises, ruffles up, lashes out on and does it in a way that is so far from the boring old language of outrage that we’re so used to hearing. She is funny, sarcastic and original.
Some of my favourite chapters, topics that really spoke to me, were 12: Why you should have children, 13: Why you shouldn’t have children and 15: Abortion. Touching, kind of heart-wrenching, very eye-opening, and gave solidified so many of my own thoughts on why VC and I have chosen to keep babies for later, or maybe even never.
The book had me glued. The more I read, the more I wanted. I had to literally peel myself away from it to tend to life, you know — cook, clean, work, bathe, stuff like that. Ironic, as it may see, it took a book on feminism for me to see a new facet of what being human is. I don’t mean to shift focus form Moran’s magnum opus, but by the end, I was left thinking, yes, this is about being a woman, but what it really is about, is being a better human being. And then she said this, and nailed it for me.
So, in the end, I suppose the title of the book is a bit of a misnomer…I thought I wanted to be a woman…But as the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human. One of ‘The Guys’. But with really amazing hair.
I’m tempted to say this is the best book I’ve read this year. But I’d be lying. It’s probably the best book I’ve read in the many years gone by. I am almost tempted to go back and reopen it and start reading it all over again. But more people need to read it, and I am passing it on.
If you haven’t already read it, go out and get yourself a copy. This one is a keeper.