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Posts from the ‘Gender’ Category

A Room of One’s Own…..

My February’s selection for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge was, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I know I have mentioned this previously, but here is one author who actually intimidates me and as a result, I have not read one of the foremost, literary geniuses of 20th century! Back in 2016, I finally mustered up the courage to read To The Lighthouse which blew me away and I vowed to read more of Ms. Woolf’s works but it took me two more years to finally get to her writing again and this time as I went with one her most sought after non-fiction writings!

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I am not sure how other folks have written a synopsis of this amazing work, which says so much and yet cannot be captured in a 4 line summary! The essay kicks off as Ms. Woolf explores the subject on which she has been asked to provide a lecture on – Woman in Fiction! She asks what the title in itself means – women and what they like? Women and fiction they write or the fiction that is written about them or how all these three elements are intrinsically linked to each other! From here on, she goes to explore the writings by men on women and why women have not left money for their daughters to help them find a room of their own where they pursue their art? She draws out parallel’s in form of fictive sister of William Shakespeare who despite being equally imaginative and gifted may not have ever had a chance like her brother because of financial and social limitations which would have either driven her to an early death or confined her to the borderlines of society condemned as a mad woman! She then moves on to examine the history of Women writing from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen to Bronte Sisters to George Sand and her own contemporaries like Rebecca West who are often cast as undesirable beings because of their abilities and intellect! She show how small this history is and yet how one generation of women are indebted to her previous generation for the relative creative freedom, that she has received, because of the efforts of her predecessor! She also visits the fact that men authors often neglect the relationship between two women themselves unless it is in relation to a man! She closes her essay with asking more women to take up writing so that they are able to bequeath a better inheritance on their daughters than the one they received themselves!

To begin with, once again, I am not sure why I waited for ages, literally, to read this work. It would have been great to have appreciated the brilliance of the prose and deep and sometimes disquieting thoughts of this book much sooner than 2018! Anyhow, I am glad I finally did read this work and needless to say, have found so much to like about it! I know this has often be slotted under a feminist work, but I cannot help but think this is so much more. This book tells women, what they know but in way forcing them to see it in the glaring sunlight. It brings consciousness and awareness to women about their plight and the kind of legacy we have been handed down to what will hand down. What really stuck me is that while Ms. Woolf was very optimistic about the future of her daughter’s in a 100 years’ time; today, 100 years later, her essay is still relevant as ever. While we really do have more options, things have not changed much  – West was decried as an errant feminist because of her abilities. Today in our much evolved language a woman is called “bossy” if she displays initiative and ambition; while the very same qualities are applauded in man and shows him to be “hungry for success!” Goes to show the more things change, the more they remain the same. But more importantly, something that really spoke to me in contrast with other gender politics writing was its ending – there is no “down with men” war cry, but rather a strong push to women, to pull their lives up so that they can better their and their daughter’s lot!

100 years ago, Ms. Woolf exploded to give us so many things, and I know I will revisit again and again to take up one kernel and explore it end to end before moving on to another idea. One of best thought provoking books I have read in a very long time!

A big shout to Adam for hosting this great event, which finally giving a chance to read authors and books that I should have read long back and without this challenge would not have gotten to even now!

The Ocean of Tales

Yet another post that should have seen the light of the day earlier, atleast 19 days earlier. But then life continues to be challenging and we flow along as well as we can with the changing of the river course! Anyhow, late last year I had signed up for the the The Official TBR Challenge 2018 hosted by Adam at The Roof Beam Reader; and as part of the challenge, I had committed to reading 12 books through the year, that have been on my TBR the longest. The first book in this series was Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva, translated by Dr. Arisha Sattar.

Way back, as kid growing up in early 1990s, before cable and satellite television invaded Indian homes, most of us relied on the state funded Television channel for our information and entertainment. While options did seem limited, the quality was excellent and way better than what we are served today. The news was accurate, up to date and independent of any political influence; and the entertainment was top notch, comedy, drama, romance, all served with quality and sensitivity! One of the series that made an incredible impression, was this series of unrelated stories from what I now understand as ancient India. There were stories in stories, of princes and priests, of jackals and lions which captured an 8 year old’s imagination. My father told me that these stories had been taken from a book called Kathasaritasagar by Somdeva and it took me yet another 26 years before I actually found the book and read it cover to cover!

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Kathasaritasagar literally means Ocean of Stories was written in 11th century by Somadeva as the offering to Queen Suryavati, the consort to King Anantdeva, who ruled all of Kashmir, the northern most state of India. However, the tales are in itself older than 11th century and have been handed down orally, until Somadeva collated them together for this collection. Interestingly, the intent behind this effort was to divert the Queen’s mind even for a while, from the worship of Shiva and acquiring learning from great books!

The Book opens by Goddess Parvati, asking her consort, the supreme God Shiva to tell her a tale, that has never been heard before! As Shiva narrates the tales, they are overheard by one of his attendants, who latter narrates them to his wife, who happens to be Parvati’s doorkeeper! The doorkeeper then re-tells the story to Paravati, who is enraged at the audacity of the attendant and curses him to be reborn as a mortal Gunadhya, where he will remain, until he spreads the tale far and wide! Gunadhya thus eiled from heaven writes his tales Brhatkatha,(The Great Story) the collection of 7 stories and presents it to the Satavahana King who rejects it as inferior work. Scorned and dejected, Gundhaya begins to burn his stories and all but one are destroyed before a heavenly Prince named Naravhanadatta rescues the document.When the Satavahana King here;s this, he is entranced and asks that the  manuscript not only be persevered, but the story spread far and wide!  Thus begins the stories of Kathasaritasagar with beautiful maidens and their fearless lover, of jackals to advise the lion kings, of Brahmans who covet power, stories of statecraft and intrigue, of love and friendship, peopled with kings, mendicants, aesthetics, merchants, princesses, prostitutes, drunkards and gamblers, all who come together for a rip roaring adventure in ancient India!

To begin with, this book, unlike any other work in Sanskrit literature, does not provide any moral judgement; in a unique stand  of each to his own, this book talks of everything under the sun, from infidelity to greed to intrigue and it simply tells the tale. Women are crafty, so are men, but there is no moralizing in these stories! In yet another departure from standard Sanskrit texts. it does not talk about spiritual well being and the need for austerities to attain Nirvana; instead it delights on all earthly pleasures of love and generosity, of power play and intrigue and all earthly emotions! The tales despite being set in an era more than 2000 years ago, retain a sense of universality, with human interactions and emotions being as relevant today as 2000 years back! There is an element of what-happens-next that keeps the reader on the hooks and keeps the page turning! There is some timeline confusion, Nandas, the rulers of 300 BCE India, interact  with Rig Vedic Aryans, the latter preceding the Nanda’s by 1500 years! But considering the time it was written in and the oral narrative sourcing of the tales, such confusion is understandable. One thing that stood out starkly, as a commentary on Indian society is the status of women and those deemed as lower castes in Hindu society. Written in 11th century, it comes out clearly, while women were considered to have fulfilling lives only as wives and mothers, the reality is different – they had affairs, they remarried and even controlled property and finances in the absence of their husbands.  There is also immutability and fluidity in the caste system, the lower castes mingle with the higher castes and even compete for same rewards! Therefore, in yet another testimony that original Hinduism was a liberal institution, changed beyond its original complexion by zealots and subsequent invasions, which narrowed the position of women and lower castes and turned them into oppressed beings!

To end, this is one brilliant book, that needs to be read by anyone interested in India and her history and culture, that also just happens to be an all out entertainer!

Help Needed…

I know I have been more often than not missing in action lately and I know many of you are wondering what the hell happened here…let me just start by saying, NOTHING even remotely exciting. As I had predicted at the beginning of the year, it is a BRUTAL work year and while I am extremely blessed to have an awesome team and a wonderful leader, it is still work and it’s getting crazier by the minute! Therefore when I finally get some time, which is far and few, I am too busy playing reading catch up and then there is simply no time left to post about what I have read! However I am trying to find a balance and hope that I will back to my normal weekly posting self soon!

Anyhow some urgent help is required which brought be trotting back to this post. I have always wondered if there was anyway I could do a little more than, you know make a rich company richer and in recent years I have been very fortunate to not only be led by some amazing woman, but with promotions, I have started the process of mentoring some wonderful talents. Many of them also happen to be women and as I mentor more and try and help them, I realize that despite all their advanced degrees and relatively successful positions, many of these extremely talented woman struggle with self confidence and putting themselves out their and just simply  knowing their self worth. As I try to help navigate this journey of self confidence and leadership development I often naturally quote books and authors as illustrations. As the process grew, many of them expressed an interest in reading books again (Yes…some of them have not read anything remotely intellectual since college and some, HAVE NOT read anything at all!) Thus evolved the idea of small book club focusing on women and gender issues and corporate leadership. Naturally because I spoke the most I was tasked with the honor of compiling a list and here is where I am stumped!

There are many many books of leadership and women in leadership and coaching women for leadership and yada yada yada! But I do not think that focusing on leadership or the management aspect alone will lead to a whole rounded and a more deep level development, so I am trying to find books between that and you know hard core Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem, for which I know these readers are not ready yet. So what I want is an intelligent, relatively deep insight into women and leadership. Do you know how many books I could find? NONE!! And no while I think Ms. Sandberg had many valid things to say, her book is epitome of deep thoughts!

So help….tell me what all would you read or ask your peers to read in similar circumstances? I need all your suggestions and I am open to modern/historical/fiction/nonfiction….all genres! So tell me and tell me all!

The Great Day…

As many know, on 8th March diligently I do a post dedicated to Women’s Day. Mostly I review fictional characters who are the very role model of strong women and so forth! However today I wanted to take a bit of a different route and instead share a factual tale. It is a true blessing when you have a sisterhood of women, supporting and cheering you through the journey called life! This becomes even more precious, when your boss and peers are women, who also are part of you sisterhood. And all of this becomes exceptional when they sit nearly 28000 km away from you.

I know I have been raving about my long hours recently as well some personal stuff that I am working through. Recently another friend and peer, of mine. CM, visited our US headquarter on a business trip, where she met my boss , AB and my peer, AG. They sent a whole truck of gifts for me, but what was perhaps the most wonderful gift, was a handmade mascot that they created for me for”the project” that is taking 28 hours of my 24 hours . Knowing how stressed out I was, they spent a lot of time in this cheer-me-up mascot, so that when I feel down, I have a pick me near me. CM on returning told me of the kind of hard work that AB and AG had put in to make that mascot and after a bit of nagging, AG put down the story for me. I present the same, deleting out the specifics.

Here’s to the two brilliant woman, who truly inspire and uplift other women!! Thank You for being such an awesome cheering squad!

CM arrived in sunny state of _ US, to spend some time in the  _ Center. Little did she know, she would be a part of a grand plan to transport the Mascot back to its PMO Owner India. On the morning of March 3rd, 2016; AB and AG thought of a genius plan to give life to the Mascot of “the project”. Before they set out to collect the materials needed, they assessed if the fuzzy cactus was the optimal platform for the mascot. AB said, “I like the concept of the fuzzy cactus because it is a true representation of the tool itself.” AG replied, “I agree! But what should we make it out of?” They both thought about it for 23.4982 seconds and all of a sudden you could see the invisible lightbulb appear over their heads.

Off they went, down the stairs, past the cafeteria, through the turnstiles in the breeze way, out through the perimeter gate and across the street to Ml’s Craft Store. There they collected all the necessary materials and scurried back to their desk to begin the operation.

Gloves, check. Paper as a barrier, check. They were ready to rock and roll. AB began applying the green coats of paint to the wooden body until the optimal coverage was reached.  Next came the full assembly process. AB yelled, “Green Body!” AG handed it to her. AB yelled, “Flower Pot!” AG handled it to her. AB yelled again, “Super Glue!” AG handed it to her.

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Next came the facial recognition of the mascot. AG asked, “Is this a happy mascot or a sad mascot?” AB confirmed, “Definitely a happy but goofy mascot.” So they continued the assembly operations with an image in mind.

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AB and AG stood back and reviewed the mascot so far. Scratching their heads they said in unison, “Time for the fuzzy part?” Turning towards each other they yelled, “Yes!” and high fived. So off they went, adding more and more fuzzies all over using clear nail polish until the desired amount was added.

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After adding the final touch of a mouth, they both looked at the mascot, tilted their heads to the side until AG said, “He is cute. He has a weird resemblance of George Washington, but I like it!”

AB probed, “Well do you think it is time to name him? What shall we call him?” AG thought a moment before speaking, “What about Prometheus?” AB replied, “What the heck! Does that have anything to do with “the project”?” AG advised, “I don’t know…I guess Prometheus was the protector of mankind so isn’t that like “the project” and it starts with ‘Pro’?” They both went back to thinking of a name. Then it came to them, “let’s call him ‘H’ they agreed.” AG started on the letters and started from the center to ensure perfect symmetry was achieved while moving to the right. AG thought to herself, Wow this looks great! She continued now from the center to the left. AG pulled the marker away from the flower pot to admire her perfect penmanship. Frightened, she said, “OMG AB I messed up!” Instead of writing there was no H and she instead had created a whole new word! AB busted into laughter. Tears ran down her face as AG began to laugh as well. After a full 60 seconds of laughter they both said, “Well! this will be his name since we cannot erase marker.”

So, ZZZZZ was born instead of “the project”.

AB said, “I love how cool he looks”, touching his fury little head. And then with a blink of an eye, Mascot was accidentally bummed and was falling slowly, rotating over and over until he made contact with the carpeted floor. There he lay with his body separated from his flower pot and his flower pot cracked in 3 different areas. In slow motion, AB reached down and picked him up and they both had gears turning in their head thinking What are we going to do? AG said, “We do have some super glue, I think that will work! Engineering at its finest, we fix things!” Within 28.76501 seconds, it was back in full form.

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AB said, “You know, his pot actually looks like it has some real character now!” They both sat back and admired Mascot. Then something crazy happened! Mascot came to life!!! He said, “Hey AB! Hey AG! Can I borrow your cell phone? I would like to take a selfie of myself to send to my friends.” AB and AG looked at each other timidly and handed Mascot the phone.

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Next, AB and AG packaged Mascot up for his trip to India and they said their goodbyes as they wiped away a few tears.

Remember, when things get tough with “the project”, just look at the mascot. He also had some struggles along the way but with a little super glue and ingenuity, he still was ok and made it to his final destination. Which will be the same for our project journey.

I have no words to describe how touched I am. The kindness and their support is beyond comparison and they both truly represent the strength and the generosity of women!

I would like to end with a big shout out to all my women readers/blogging gang and all those brilliant, and wonderful men, who enrich our lives every day!’

Happy Women’s Day you all!

Something Old & Something New

And no, I am not getting married and anyway in a Hindu wedding, there would nothing old and all new! But at the very onset, I digress! The plan originally was to post about The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, but something has been brewing in my mind for sometime and it finally being put into motion!

Many of you may be aware from my About page, that outside of Reading like no tomorrow and writing constantly, the other ruling passion of my life has been Traveling. I was travelling since I was 3 months old and have always been wanderlusting as far back as I can recollect. The prize for doing well in school was books and a new place to visit. Money for meagre paychecks were added/deleted/divided in an effort to buy all the books in the world and explore some new part of the world!Planning vacations, besides adding to the To Read list in my GoodReads has been and is a major way to de-stress. However despite all the energy and efforts spent in traveling I rarely if ever posted on my adventures, and what I did was a cursory overview more to give everyone a chance to see why I was away . Somehow I could not seem to bring in the very personal touch in my travel writings as I did on my book reviews. So I held on and then recently, an idea stuck me – I wanted to start website on Women and their Travels.

Now, I think most of you would agree with Mark Twain when he wrote that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” But in the context of women traveling, it becomes especially important – it provides  a time for the woman to discover herself , her true identity and instills in her the confidence that if she can do travel to a new place without the patriarchs of her life, she can do practically anything. Women traveling on their own or with a bunch of other women is one of the most empowering experiences and it is these experiences and adventures I wanted to share. I have the extreme privileged and honor of travelling with some of these amazing women over the last couple of years and their stories of being caught all alone in the middle of nowhere in Columbia or traveling alone to the heart of Iran with a 3 year old in tow is not only an exciting adventure, but truly liberating and empowering!

Therefore, I seek an extension  your patronage and ask you to join me in these adventures, which my friends and I share at A Smooth Round Stone! You have always, always supported me in not only visiting my blog, but sharing your thoughts and ideas and showing me a whole new world, I hope you will do the same in this new adventure of mine. Furthermore, I hope you will also share with me your stories – stories of your travel or when you played host to travelers and enrich this humble motley collection of travel tales!

And, thus without any further ado, let’s us travel!

The Lawyer’s Wife

Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll’s House had been one of the oldest TBRs ever. I added it to my list when I was like 17 after attending a special seminar on modern European Drama back in College but for some unexplained reason I did not get around to reading until 16 years later. Why? No idea. All I can say is that I am immensely glad I took part in the 12 Months Classic Challenge, which finally led me to read this drama after all my intellectual and academic fervor that I cannot say has had much tangible results. The brilliance  or lack of it in our modern education system is a theme I rest for discussion another day, and for now move on to The Doll’s House review! Cleo, my partner in all kinds of reading adventures came along for the read and made it a read along – she will be putting up her post soon and you can find it on her website!

The Doll’s House opens on the Christmas Eve with Nora, a young housewife coming back home from a shopping expedition in a happy expectancy of the gaities of the season and the expected good fortune stemming from her husband, Torvald Helemer being appointed a Bank Manager. It is evident that while Nora and Torvald seem to be in a comfortable circumstances, they have reached this status, through much hard work and trimming their expenses and there have been times, when they were in significant financial distress. However they are debt free and while they had to sacrifice much to achieve this status, they have managed to do so without being beholden to anyone, a matter of significant pride for Torvald. The relationship between Torvald and Nora appear to be one of happy contentment; Torvald seems to rule Nora and check her more extravagant tendencies, treating her more like a child, who needs to be alternately petted and disciplined to ensure the smooth functioning of the home and hearth. Nora is completely dedicated to her husband and her home, his opinion of her and her actions are her guiding factors and though there are things which she undertakes secretly from her husband, the primary motive of those actions is to keep Torvald happy. The first act also introduces the audience to the ensemble cast of Dr. Rank a doctor, who is Torvald best friend and has been a companion to the Helemer household for anions. The audience is also introduced to Mrs. Kristine Linde, an old friend of Nora’s, who has come seeking employment from Torvald, since she is now a widow and in financial difficulty and finally Nils Krogstad, an employee at Torvald’s bank, whom Torvald seeks to replace and a man who had committed some misdemeanor in the past but is desperate to regain a respectable footing for the sake of his children. The audience soon is made to understand that about 8 years previously when the Helemer’s were just married and extremely poor, Torvald had fallen gravely ill with the only cure being to take him to Italy for the summer. Being extremely poor, they could not undertake this trip and Nora desperate to save her husband’s live was forced to borrow money from the same Krogstad and she since then has been paying him off through odd jobs. Torvald has no idea that his wife has borrowed money from the man he plans to fire and believes that the money came from Nora’s dying father. Act Two reveals that in a desperate bid to save his job, Krogstad blackmails Nora and asks her to use her influence on her husband otherwise he will disclose her monetary dealings with him including the fact that she had forged her father’s signature on the gaurentee papers – an act she undertook because she wanted to spare her then dying father the agony of her financial and personal crisis. When Nora is unable to convince Torvald to retain Krogstad, she shares her story with Mrs. Linde, who in turn offers to persuade and talk to Krogstad and with whom she was engaged previously. This intervention however comes in late and though Krogstad convinced by Mrs. Linde sends another letter to nullify the harm of the first one which had earlier posted revealing all,  Nora is forced to contend with her husband’s displeasure and face far more hard hitting reality than she could have previously fathomed, forcing her to make decisions she could have never forseen or believed herself capable of making!

So much has been written and debated about this play, that I am quite at a loss of what to actually say. When originally published, the play created a furor even to the extent that the German production had to amend the ending to suit the sensibilities of the audience then and uphold the image of women as mothers and centers of the hearth! I can understand why there should have been such angst with its publication in 19th century – many scholars contend that this play was centered on emancipation of women, but I cannot help but feel that it was more than an woman’s empowerment concept; the drama in fact seemed to me to revolutionize the concept of an individual, instead of a collective identity of mother/wife. it recognized Nora as a being  and even in the more individualistic 21st century society, this concept of standing on sole instead of clan identity is difficult for many to adjust! But this very stand, revealed in Act 3 made this play a piece of brilliant work for me and put me in awe. The first two acts, I could not abide by much – Nora seemed like a scatterbrain with the best intentions and least abilities to think through the actions stemming from those interventions. I was sick of what would Torvald think, do, react, – yes Torvald, no Torvald and three bags full Torvald. In creating Torvald’s character however I think, Ibsen’s brilliance came forth; its not like you like him, though he seems like a respectable, self made man devoted to his family and friends (his duplicity is not revealed till the end) but you cannot quite seem to like him  – I am not sure if it is a 21st century phenomena but his “skylaring” “squirelling” Nora put in the mind of men who call their partners “honey/doll” etc, which seems to dehumanize these women to fluffy pink icing pastry! The very fact that he wants Nora to be a perfect wife/mother/hostess, singing/dancing pleasing one and all, gives the audience the first glimpse into the “Doll’s House” and the Doll Master! This slow unraveling of what seems picture perfect, is a testimony to the dramatic capability of Ibsen where in 3 acts he reveals all without really rushing the reader. The ensemble cast is quite as brilliant as well – in Krogstad , the audience readily feels sympathy of a man being tried twice for the same crime, especially when desperately trying to establish his credibility for the future of her children. Mrs. Linde’s character is a foil to Nora’s – a sensible grounded woman who has worked hard all her life and now when emptiness seems to threaten to overtake her, she once again seeks work to keep her balance. In terms of plot, I did feel that Act I  was too prolonged and Act III kind of hurriedly reconciled the end, but the brilliance of Act III overpowers all flaws and left me converted to Ibsen.

I feel like an idiot for not reading this work sooner and will surely look up more of his plays!

Celebrating Freedom – The Home and The World Read Along

In the year of 1916, exactly 100 years ago, 3 years since he became the first Non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, one of the most prolific artistic geniuses to come from India, published his extremely controversial and then much contested “The Home and The World“. It was a book that broke the mold and brought out women from the “anter mahal” (the inner chambers where women led secluded lives in 18th-19th century Bengal, albeit with consequences) and put a spin on on the Indian National Movement by defining and defying at the same time what a true patriot is/was. This novel has been since subjected to countless reviews, researches and critiques and has been subject of several dramas and filming, the most popular version being the one directed by Satyajit Ray, another first, the first Indian to win an Oscar!

On Aug 15th. 2016, India celebrates her 69th year of “Independence”; exactly 69 years ago, India regained her independence from the British rule after more than 200 years of colonization and exploitation. This act of regaining independence was the final culmination of the Indian National Movement, which began after the disastrous failure of the  ill-fated attempt of 1857 Mutiny and would ultimately inspire many world leaders in their efforts gain freedom and equality, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Interestingly 2016, nearly a 100 years after Tagore brought the traditional bengali woman to the man’s world in a startling attempt to emancipate women atleast in literature, the first batch women fighter pilots of Indian Air force, take to the sky, in a revolutionary departure from the historically masculine dominated world of military and warfare!

With such changes and events, colliding, it made sense to host a reading event that celebrated the long way India and her women had come along and “The Home and The World” seemed an apt book to do it with. Therefore with all humility and some pride I present “The Home and The World Read Along” for the month of August! It’s short novella, and does not require much time, but stitched together in those 120 odd pages is a story that speaks both of unique historical moment of time and of relationships that are timeless and abound through the ages!

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I already have the honor of having Stefanie and Cleo join me for the event. Ruth also committed to check in and try and fit in with her schedule, and I am hoping many of you will join as well.( Please feel free to share the button above to share the love!) Like I promised Stefanie, I plan to provide an overview of the socio-political events that formed the background of this novel as well a summary of the position of women in India through centuries to help you better understand the book and provide you crucial clutches to navigate the specifics of the novel!

So come on and join us as we travel through time to the coming of age of an old country and her people!

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