The Sanskaari Girls Book Club is a space for curious feminists to explore a range of readings in a safe, supportive and diverse setting. The club is led by young Indian feminists who are excited to challenge their biases, explore what feminism means in their lives and learn from others. ‘Sanskaari’ is a Hindi word often used to encapsulate a number of so-called desirable qualities in a woman. It can be translated as traditional, well-behaved, conservative and more! We are obviously using the name sarcastically as we are anything but well-behaved! We had our first meetup in November 2018 and have had some really insightful conversations till date. This is a list of all the brilliant, feminist, South Asian and provocative books we read this year:-
The Fabulous Feminist
Sunita Namjoshi’s The Fabulous Feminist is a collection of works ranging from her writings in 1980s, classic feminist fables, poetry, prose and coming up to her latest work all published by Zubaan. Namjoshi has been considered in her work to be playful and challenging the strict confines of society from sexism, racism and homophobia. Namjoshi also has been described throughout the decades as a lesbian feminist writer, who famously on her sabbatical in England in the late seventies discovered that other feminists exist–and her a shared process of thought ensued. Her novels reflect her sensibilities through satirical tales and vivid narratives. Arundhati Subramaniam succinctly states that ““Namjoshi is a fabulist who is never preachy.”
The Liberation of Sita
The Liberation of Sita is a retelling or the very first telling of the epic Ramayana through the gaze of the female characters. Written by C.Vijayashree, T. Vijay Kumar and Volga, the story revolves around Sita, abandoned by Rama goes on a journey of self-actualisation. The female characters of the epic–Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya— are all vital figures in Sita’s journey.
Cyber Sexy by Richa Kaul Padte is essentially a book that takes a deep dive into how pleasure is reflected online and the intersection with the role of women in these industries. The non-fictional work is filled with anecdotes and is brilliantly provocative. Karuna Nundy, advocate, says about the book “In an original voice truly her own, Richa Kaul Padte echoes the storytelling fluidity of Judy Blume. With obscenity laws and morality keepers at one end of the porn wars, and some feminisms at the other, this is the provocative book you didn’t know you needed”.
The Doodler of Dimashq
The Doodler of Dimashq is a story of ‘Ameenah’, a young girl residing in war ravished Syria. Her narrative arc is heart-breaking and as war is at her doorstep she is forced to get married and become a wife and moves to an unknown city as a result. Her doodling acts as a coping mechanism which she values most and keeps it hidden away from the world. Written by Kirthi Jayakumar, an activist, artist and writer from Chennai captures the tragedy of war.
The Mistress of Spices
Written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, an Indian-American author and poet, The Mistress of Spices with it’s elements of magical realism and fantasy tells the story of Tilo, a young woman with mystical powers born at a different age and time. The immortal Tilo moves to Oakland where she opens a spice shop and falls in love with an American man named Raven against the wishes of the deities.
Do you Remember Kunan Poshpora?: The Story of a Mass Rape
The novel is a book by five Kashmiri women Essar Batool, Ifrah Butt, Samreena Mushtaq, Munaza Rashid and Natasha Rather who extensively investigate the night of a mass-rape of over 70 women by the Indian Army in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in 1991. It is also a personal account by these women who examine injustice, stigma and the harrowing impact and consequences of trauma.
The Widows of Malabar Hill
Written by Sujata Massey, the main protagonist of this novel is Perveen Mistry, an Oxford educated woman who has just became one of India’s first female lawyers and who also handles the will of Mr, Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim man who is succeeded by three widows. As she goes through the will she is stricken by the peculiarity of the nature of inheritance that the widows have forfeited. As a result the three widows have no money and live in purdah–ultimate seclusion. As the narrative builds more darker aspects come to light and tensions turn horrifyingly vindictive and it is up to Perveen to uncover the truth and ensure safety.
Meena Kandaswamy’s Ms. Militancy is an experimental collection of poems subverting and exposing conventional poetry norms. The use of language is sharp, definite and metaphoric and also involves an assertion of gender, caste and de-mystifies many conventions of hegemonic language
Cobalt Blue is a novel by Sachin Kundalkar and was published in Marathi initially. Kundalkar wrote began writing the novel when he was 20 and finished it when he was 22, the novel follows two siblings who fall in love with the same man. The novel is highly symbolic, an exploration of homosexuality and a testament to memories of heartbreak.
An autobiography by Bama and translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom, Karukku is a story of how Bama, the pen-name of a Tamil dalit woman who transforms her life while meditating on her childhood and subsequent arrival at a convent she had been a member of for seven years. The experience of being a Dalit women is explored vividly in the novel and the politics of it is integral to the narrative of Bama’s life. The novel is also not linear in its narrative and skips and jumps to various parts of Bama’s life, from being Dalit and a Christian and the inescapabality of identity.
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Manogni Thyagaraja is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.
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