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Monday, January 30, 2012

A Calendar Too Crowded - Sagarika Chakraborty

A Collection of short stories and poems around the theme of womanhood categorised month-wise.

Simple, Serious


No profanity

Favorite Quote:

Let me start off by saying that I am not a feminist. I have been treated as an equal (if not better) to all my male counterparts at every stage of life and hence haven’t had a reason strong enough to become one. I enjoy taking up the “traditional womanly” roles that the society designates, and am proud to do it well.
But that was not the only cause for my disconnect with this book. While the inequality harping got on my nerves, my primary issue was with the style of writing. Though I look forward to discovering an author’s voice in every book, I wish Sagarika had toned down the annoying one she has shown here – primarily in first person and a tendency to repeat a line or a phrase at the end of every para . She had a great concept – that of categorising the stories by months. I wish she had exploited that and experimented with the style of writing too.
I was ready to give up after three stories. It promised to be a dull, half-baked and poorly researched collection. Grammatical errors only made it worse. The prime example is the very first story, “The gift called ‘Life’”, where the author has written a first-person account of a girl soul narrating her life. Unfortunately, the story is a confused mix of past, present and future tenses. Even if one can get past that, the story focusses on how a blame game is played with a girl child (because of her gender) and some of her gripes are just bizarre. As an example, consider the following line from the story:
“At the age of twenty-six, it was all my fault that many a worthy suitor refused to marry me because of my bohemian lifestyle and because I occasionally smoked.”
Gender has nothing to do with it, but if it is not “all her fault” for smoking, whose fault is it?

The second story was even more incredulous – this time taking stock of a traditional mother of a toddler through the eyes of a pregnant woman. The latter finds fault with the former carrying his bag, holding an umbrella over his head, fanning him, eating late, giving him the ‘good grapes’, letting the son litter the house or waste water, spoon-feeding him, dancing to Bollywood songs, and what not. I have a one year old whose idea of waking me up is to hit me squarely in the eye. Does this mean that he doesn’t “care” for me? It is surprising that she decided to whine about a ten-year old’s behaviour towards his mother (and vice versa), whose understanding of respect or responsibility is sketchy at best. If, however, she had increased the son’s age by fifteen more years, it would have been hard hitting. I wish Sagarika had researched more this subject, or refrained from writing on one she had no experience in. It is easier being a theoretical mother than a practical one.

It is a shame that the first two stories of the book were so poorly constructed, for the rest of the stories are not half bad. The author’s disconnected style of writing did not leave room to form any . However, the topics, the categorisation and in very few cases, the stories make for an interesting reading.
“A life in my Mind”, for example, is the story of a single mother who, through the course of her thought process, starts wondering if she and her daughter are missing a male figure in their lives. The approach was believable and honest instead of preachy, and that was a welcome change.
The poem, “Behind the Whispers”, is very well written. Though rhyming, minimal creative liberties have been taken and the message is well-conveyed. The prose-cum-poem “Of Jatakarmas and Stana Pradhidhanas” is written in a clean and crisp style comparing the lives of a rich and a poor working women and showing the lack of a maternity and child support in both the cases. I was dreading that the author would end up showing how a poorer woman could be a better mother than a richer one, but am glad that she didn’t take the usual route to drive home a very strong point.
“Selling a Body to Gain a Mind” is a unique take on prostitute’s children (though I wish Sagarika had made the child of the prostitute a boy instead of a girl), and could be termed as the most touching story in this collection. “Knowledge beyond the printed letters”, though inspiring, bordered on describing the ideal and non-existent woman. The last story “The gift called nationality”, though interesting in terms of the topic and the approach, falls flat because of the way it is written.

Any feminist would lap it up. It shows how amazing women are and how poorly they are treated by society, parents, in-laws, husbands and random people walking on the road. For a non-feminist (like me) and for men, the negatives are many. However, despite poor research, bad editing and grammatical mistakes, some do make one think – if not about women, then definitely about adoption, single motherhood, respecting prostitutes and saving for old age. Just for that, this book should be given a chance.

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Priya Sreeram said...

yet to read this one and planning to pick it up but I loved your write-up !

Archana said...

Hi Priya, thanks! The book is worth a read for sure, if you can get past some glitches.