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Posts tagged ‘Women’s Empowerment’

Losing & Finding During The Great War

Carl Sagan in his essay “The Path to Freedom” co-written with Ann Druyan, said that “Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.” If there is book that stands for understanding the world and a democratic society, then it must be Vera Brittian’s Testament of Youth. This book which has been in my TBR list for many years now and was supposed to be my December Read for The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge 2018; until Jillian came along with her Read Along and her enthusiasm and some amazing pre-challenge activities that tempted me to move this book up in the TBR Challenge pile and start on it on priority!

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Testament of Youth is a memoir of Vera Brittian’s life capturing the years, from 1900 to 1925. Ms. Brittian who would achieve great success with publication of this work, was a nurse, a writer,a lecturer, a pacifist and a feminist and in this book, we get a glimpse of of events and happenings that went into her making of all the above! The book opens with a brief overview of Ms. Brittain’s family history – a well to do, upper middle class family. Her father, a Paper Manufacturer, and her mother a home maker as were most women at that time. Two years after her birth, her brother Edward was born and he would remain her closest companion through the years! The first Chapter captures her growing years and her schooling at St. Monica’s where she was introduced to History, feminism and politics through an energetic teacher. Chapter 2 continues the narrative where Vera describes her “coming out” year and her dissatisfaction with the lot of young women in those days that limited their lives to home and hearth and her battle with her father to go to Oxford University, in an effort to escape such a future and see more of the world. It was during this stage of her life she would meet Roland Leighton, a senior and a close friend of her brother Edward and with whom she would eventually become engaged. Chapter 3 follows Vera’s first year at  Somerville College, Oxford,  studying English Literature as England is drawn into World War 1 and both Edward and Roland and her other close male friends join the army to support the British war effort. As the fighting gets more and more intense and the hope of a quick victory diminishes, Ms. Brittain decides to delay her degree and starts to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. The next few chapters deal with her VAD years, which takes her to Malta and France, her personal struggles and both her own and her peer’s griefs; those who belonged to that “war generation” as they struggle to come to terms with the loss of their youth, idealism and what was supposed to a promising future and finally the deaths of their loved ones! The final chapter of the book, deals with the close of the War, the after effect on the survivors and Ms. Brittian’s evolution as a writer and lecturer, the friendships that helped her heal, her completion of her delayed degree and finally her ability to close the door on the traumatic years and moving on to finding happiness.

There are some very few books in this world, that effortlessly draw you in, force you think and then, challenge you to be a better person. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was one such book and now Ms. Brittain’s Testament of Youth, joins that rank! Rarely does one come across writing that is strong and fierce and at the same time so poignantly heartbreaking; but Ms. Brittain achieves this feat and more. In some of the most powerful prose ever, the author takes us through some of the most transformative events of her life, from school years, to her college life to her engagement and the war and her final evolution as a Feminist and Writer; we are moved as readers, we are concerned at the well being of all involved in the narrative and when we close the book finally, we know we have an obligation to feel grateful, that our generation was spared of the searing pain and loss that our predecessors went through first 100 and then 80 years ago. In yet another marvelous first for me, this is the only memoir I have read, whose writing carries a “what-happens-next” feeling with the close of each chapter. Despite being relatively verbose, the pace of the books never slacks and the reader never feels bored with the events as they come through, one after the other! The characters are beautifully drawn and brought to life by Ms. Brittain and you cannot help but wish that you had known them in person. They are all realistic and wonderful, portrayed without any rancor, even the German POWs or the more difficult Matrons, and mankind is shown in some of its most minute lights, with all the kindness, joy, brilliance, anger and vulnerabilities! This book has often been described as a War Memoir, but I felt that it was too narrow a definition; for this book is so much more – it is a history of things we must never repeat so that lives are not needlessly lost, it is a history of epoch making events in Women’s Movement, it is a story of love and friendships and finally it is the story, that once again affirms that even in our deepest, darkest, most traumatic moments, we are not alone and what we are going through has already been experienced by someone else and from that experience also comes the final assurance, that things do pass and get better! To end, all I can say, is that this book makes us attempt to be more more humane and to read it, is critical in our evolution to be better! Read it!!! Read it now especially in this era of mindless chest thumping overt and agrressive nationalism that goes back in time to distinguish between Us and Them instead of an all encompassing understanding that we are all linked and my brother’s loss is my loss!

P.S. Adam I hope you will forgive the disruption in the order list of my TBR, but this one was just too good to pass up!

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 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!

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