A Calendar too Crowded

…by Sagarika Chakraborty.

This debut book is a collection of short stories and poems about Indian women in different stages of their lives and the issues surrounding them. While the book is divided into months of the year that highlight important days (e.g. 1st December: World AIDS day), the author tells us in her introduction that it is not just to highlight the days but rather, “to delve deeper and analyse whether it is merely enough to rely on statistics and be complacent in the knowledge that the numbers indicate a better society in the making, or whether there is an urgent need to look beneath the covers and realise that despite all such dedicated days, there are 300 odd days when there is nothing special that life has to offer. Where each day is still an unending drudgery and where womanhood is cursed and trampled upon.”

The stories, despite being fiction, are probably quite familiar to people who grew up in India. Particularly to women. There are stories about sexual harassment and rape (and how it’s the woman’s fault as always), dowry, domestic violence, the stigma associated with menstruation, female foeticide, and abortion among others. There are stories of young girls dealing with being adopted and widows dealing with the stigma of their status. There are empowering stories about the daughter of a prostitute and a woman observing a mother. There are also stories about women dealing with in-laws, going to extremes in terms of independence and being able to do it all (i.e work, keep house, have kids, be traditional). All in all, they are stories people in India would have read about, heard about or even experienced first hand.

While reading the book, I noticed my views change. There were some stories that totally gripped me and had me nodding all the way through. Naked was by far, my favourite story. I loved the writing and the story and it spoke volumes about Indian society. The poem Can you hear me, Ma? was heart-wrenching and a familiar one. One that probably makes most of us women reading this book born in India feel fortunate that our mothers did hear us! On the other hand, some stories just didn’t grip me. An Equal Friendship which is a letter from Draupadi to Krishna was one that didn’t gel with me. Probably because my memory of the Mahabharata is not so good any more but also because I don’t remember Draupadi as being the strong woman the author has portrayed.Knowledge beyond the printed letter was another that didn’t grip me and felt a bit unrealistic.

On the whole, the book is a pretty good read. I guess most of Indian society is aware about these social evils but doesn’t do much about it. The hope would be that books like these would help give these women a voice and start to change things. None of the characters portrayed in the book have a name and although initially I found it frustrating (despite the reason the author had given), I found myself liking it in the end. Possibly because there is a mentality with people from India to associate stereotypes the minute you hear someone’s name (e.g. north Indian versus south Indian) and not having names meant the reader was unlikely to engage in that association. To sum up, if you are looking to read a book about women from different walks of life in India going through similar problems and trying to manage their lives, then this is the book for you.

I give it a rating of 3.

Until next time,

Cheers!!!