My Book Review of ‘Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India’

Rising – 30 women who changed India – a non-fiction title by Kiran Manral and published by Rupa covers the inspiring journeys of 30 Indian women from various fields who blazed a trail for others to follow. Manral has allocated a chapter for each achiever, and she has meticulously listed all her references from secondary research at the end of each chapter. A few of the achievers have been interviewed as well.

In the Introduction, Manral says, “The aim of this book is not to eulogize these powerful women or to put them on a pedestal. They probably wouldn’t care for something as pedestrian as pedestals anyway; they shine wherever they are, regardless of spotlights. The aim rather is to tell their stories, through what we know of them, from information available in the public domain or from first-hand accounts given by those who were gracious enough to spare some time to tell us about their journey.”

Book Cover

The women featured include Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, M. Fathima Beevi, Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Sher-Gil, Amrita Pritam, Sonal Mansingh, Lata Mangeshkar, Anita Desai, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Harita Kaur Deol, Madhuri Dixit, Bachendri Pal, Rekha, Chhavi Rajawat, Karnam Malleswari, Shailaja Teacher, Hima Das, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shakuntala Devi, P.T.Usha, P.V.Sindhu, Ekta Kapoor, Kiran Bedi, Mary Kom, Menaka Guruswamy, Tessy Thomas, Aparna Sen, Kiran-Mazumdar Shaw and Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The first woman to be featured in the book was Sushma Swaraj – the former minister of External Affairs in the Narendra Modi-led government. She was also the former CM of Delhi and former Lok Sabha Speaker.

I was particularly inspired by the chapters on Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Pritam and Anita Desai, literary luminaries who have won major national and international awards for their pathbreaking work.  Of Mahasweta Devi at the Jaipur Literary Festival, Manral says, “The speaker was Mahasweta Devi – author, iconoclast, social activist; the labels didn’t really matter.”

Of Amrita Pritam, Manral writes, “In her writings and her life, she leaves behind a legacy for women writers in India which urges them to defy social constructs and constraints, challenge them and to live and write as she did – unfettered.”

About Anita Desai, Manral writes, “With her immense body of work, she remains firmly one of the most powerful voices in post-colonial Indian writing in English.”

“Every story is replete with takeaways, lessons to be learnt, not just professionally but otherwise, too. These women have lived life on their own terms, becoming a beacon of hope to many others, women and men alike. If after learning about these inspirational women, a young girl, anywhere in the country thinks to herself, ‘That could be me! If she can do it, so can I, this book would have served its purpose,” says Manral towards the end of her Introduction.  

I recommend this book to young women who aspire to follow the pathbreaking women before them who have earned a place in India’s history in the fields of politics, sports, acting, art, writing, painting etc.  

You can buy the book here.

This review is powered by the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Interview with Author Ranjani Rao

  1. Your memoir “of divorce and discovery” will be out soon. Could you tell us more about the book?

Rewriting My Happily Ever After is a true story of a three-year period of my life. At that time, I had walked out of my marriage of sixteen years. Despite being brought up in Mumbai, having an advanced degree and having returned after spending fourteen years in the US, I had always lived in either my parent’s or husband’s house. Moving out was a major decision which required me to learn, unlearn and relearn many things while I figured out my new life as a single parent. My book covers my journey to independence.

2. What prompted you to write this memoir?

I wrote this memoir for three reasons

  1. To stop hiding my pain
  2. To seek closure
  3. To help other women who may find themselves at the same crossroads as me.

Going ahead with the decision to divorce is not a trivial one for women who live in a culture that looks down upon a ‘broken family’. Even women who are financially self-sufficient or have family support prefer to live in a unhappy but familiar state instead of finding a happy life outside of the known boundaries of their life. I wanted to share my thinking process and the coping strategies I used to figure out my new life.

3. How long did it take for you to write this book? Could you tell us more about your journey?

I procrastinated for over ten years but began writing earnestly in Jan 2021. I wrote for 50 minutes every morning before my workday began. It required commitment, discipline, and some suffering to bring the book to life. Some days it was difficult to relive those painful memories of the past but the greater goal of connecting with readers made me keep going.

4. This is your fourth book. How has the experience of writing it been when compared to your first three books?

My earlier books were compilations of short stories (Negative Space) and essays (No Longer NRI and Train Friends). Those were easier to put together because they were written as standalone pieces around a theme.

This memoir is my first major book-length creation and took much more concentrated effort. I wrote the chapters as independent pieces and then moved them around to make the narrative cohesive. It required three drafts, a handful of beta readers and a professional edit to bring it to its final stage.

5. How did you gear up to write this memoir?

To be honest, I needed a lot of convincing to sit down and write this book. I intuitively knew that there was a need for such a story to be out there because divorce is a topic that Indians/South Asians tend to brush under the carpet. Still, I was reluctant to subject myself to the pain of reliving a difficult part of my past. But having a decade-long gap between the events described and the writing made it bearable. I am glad I wrote it because the writing was cathartic and also gave me closure.

6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to write their memoir?

I would recommend that you read a lot of memoirs to get a good understanding of the literary form. While there are formulas and standard approaches, you should be clear about the story you want to tell and how you want to do it because after all, memory is subjective and evolving. Just like a fiction writer chooses what to put in and what to leave out, a memoir writer also creates a narrative with very specific and intentional choices about the story and the storytelling, even though the events are unchangeable.

7. How has your background as a scientist helped you in your writing process?

This is an interesting question. As I mention on my website, I observe life carefully, look for signs and trends, verify it with my own understanding and then propose a solution, a suggestion, or an insight. Personal essays come easily to me because of my background because it involves a deep exploration of certain ideas and themes. And although I enjoy fiction, it does not come as naturally to me.

8. Whose memoirs would you recommend to writers?

I have read memoirs by Americans like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Dani Shapiro, Melissa Gouty – I would recommend all of them. Recently I have become very interested in memoirs by Indian writers like Kalpana Mohan, Ashwini Devare and Rohini Rajagopal. I interviewed these three authors on my blog and the discussion was fascinating. I intend to continue the author interview series for Indian memoir writers.

9. Who are your favourite authors and what genres do you like?

My current favorite fiction writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Marjan Kamali. I also read a lot of non-fiction – current read is How to raise a feminist son by Sonora Jha and of course, I’m always on the lookout for memoirs J

10. Do you have lessons to share from your writing journey?

Writing is a means of creative expression. But like all art, it requires patience, practice, and discipline to hone the craft and to go deeper. The learning happens in the doing and gives tremendous personal satisfaction. Being able to share it with others is the other side of the coin which is wonderful but is not the motivation to continue with your work of writing. It helps to keep this in mind.

If you want to write, do it for the right reasons.

Signup for Ranjani’s biweekly newsletter here

My Book Review of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ By Nikhil Pradhan

On Halloween, I’d taken part in a Twitter chat with Blogchatter and was sent this review copy of ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ by Nikhil Pradhan when I’d expressed interest in reviewing it.

The book has been brought out by Harper Black, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. It is categorized as fiction/thriller.

The title ‘Yesterday’s Ghosts’ really caught my eye ‘coz I’m a sucker for anything to do with themes of fragmented memories, PTSD, making sense of the past, etc.

The book is about a band of men who are now in their fifties and sixties who share a secret from their time spent together thirty years ago when they were part of ‘The Black Team’. It is about military intelligence and secret agents.

I liked the format in which the story is told. The story is revealed through a Q&A (dialogue) format between the characters. Instead of simply using third-person narrative or first-person narrative ( which are both done to death), the author has experimented with this way of telling the story, which at first glance looks like a screenplay. Of course, the entire book is not in Q & A format. Some of it is indeed third-person narrative ‘coz an entire book of Q & A might have been tedious. I felt it was well-balanced and worked for me. I feel that in this format, there is more scope for use of dialogue, which can help with “Show, don’t tell.”

The characters were well-etched and interesting.

I liked one bit on page 23, where the author says “ He had a friend once, a copywriter in an advertising firm, who used to go on and on about ‘insights’, about how once you knew, no, understood what people were going through, you could sell them anything- from a needle to a refrigerator’. As someone who has worked in advertising, I can say that this is bang on! Since the author, too, has worked in advertising, in fact, in the same advertising agency as I have( although we didn’t know each other there), it is clear he is drawing from experience.

On the whole, an interesting read.

Who is Akira Yamashita?

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Meeting Vasudev Murthy, the author of ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’, at the Urban Solace book club meet was an interesting experience simply because Vasudev has so many interests of his own: violin, teaching, consulting, animal rights, yoga, and travelling (to quote from his twitter handle – @dracula99.) He’s called his blog (http://vmurthy.blogspot.in/), ‘Music Literature Weird Stuff’. Again – interestingJ

So what prompted Vasudev Murthy from Bangalore to assume the Japanese identity of Akira Yamashita to write ‘Sherlock Holmes in Japan’? Vasudev explains that eight years ago he assumed the persona of Akira, which to him is clearly more than a pseudonym. He says the concept of writing as “someone he was not” interested him deeply. He began thinking like Akira, rather than as Vasudev. The blurb in his novel says “Akira Yamashita is an elderly Japanese expatriate from Osaka living in Bangalore. He runs the elite Nippon Star Academy…..his book “sambhar for the Indian soul” was on the bestseller list for years. He hopes to marry an Indian woman who excels in the preparation of that exotic Indian dish and invites applications”.

Quite a creative avatar for Vasudev, who by the way, is very much married. How do I know? I’ve met his lovely wife, who I heard is a tarot card reader.

Vasudev says he enjoyed writing the book, and it made sense for him to envision Sherlock Holmes in Japan rather than in any other place due to his own fascination with Japanese culture. His deep interest in Japanese literature, the fact that the first company he worked with was Japanese, his knowledge of spoken Japanese, and a visit to Japan made Japan the ideal place to set his story. Vasudev says he arrived at the title of the story before he came up with the plot.

The book came about when he wrote the first three chapters and sent it to Harper Collins and hallelujah! they accepted it. To quote Vasudev “I wrote the rest of the book in six weeks in a state of panic”. He says he had three or four key points or milestones in the story and spun the rest around it. For example, he says he simply had to bring in Angkor Wat in the book when he visited the place.

When asked how many of the different avatars in this book had an essence of the author, Vasudev admitted that writers, essentially, talk about themselves. He asserts that every book is a reflection of the author and it’s true with him, too. He adds that he has structured the story in such a way that several of the characters got to tell their version of the story in first person. 

When told that he has been able to retain the style and language of Arthur Conan Doyle, he says he is happy if that has been achieved, and it was probably due to his avid reading of the author’s works, which helped him imbibe the style. However, he is happy to have “smuggled in” his pet themes of vegetarianism, music, and animal rights into the book.

He heaps praise on his editors and says there were some sections of the manuscript that did not come into the book and he was happy to accept the editorial input because he feels it helped create a better book.  When asked about the numerous themes in his book, he says he was “lucky in that the Yakuza is a ready-made theme” and that “it was just a matter of connecting the dots”.  He sure makes it sound easy, but anyone who reads this book will see that a lot of themes have gone into it.

He says he has a lot of different projects cooking with different publishers and he might write a book on “mindless humor” inspired by “the complete chaos and anarchy” that he witnessed at a lit fest recently. Vasudev comes across as a multi-faceted, grounded, and versatile individual with a great sense of humor and all you Sherlock Holmes fans can order his book here: http://www.flipkart.com/sherlock-holmes-japan/p/itmdkv85gnu4zzdd?pid=9789350296691

Happy Reading!

Chick Lit Featuring Megan Crane

I love reading Chick lit. For the uninitiated, that’s fiction targeted at single women around 30 years of age, consisting of a good dose of humor and maybe some romance in it.

“Although usually including romantic elements, women’s fiction (including chick lit) is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because in women’s fiction the heroine’s relationship with her family or friends may be equally as important as her relationship with the hero.”, says Wikipedia.

Of course, I have already read “The Devil wears Prada”, “Everyone worth Knowing” and “Chasing Harry Winston”, by the author Lauren Weisberger. They are classic examples of chick lit.

 One author I discovered recently was Megan Crane. I read her “English as a second language”, which was hilarious, engaging, and kept me company as only a friend could! It also happens to be her first novel.

The story is about Alexandra Brennan, who decides to leave the US and her dead-end job there to study her Master’s in English Literature in the UK. All because her ex-boyfriend said she didn’t have it in her. She makes new friends, adopts a nocturnal lifestyle that involves hanging out at the pub, sleepwalks through classes during the day, draws a motley crew of friends and acquaintances toward her with whom she experiences several misadventures, only to discover that she has found home. What sets this book apart is the author’s AMAZING sense of humour. Each sentence is hilarious. The writing style is light and irreverent. I can’t wait to read her other titles “Names my sisters call me”, “Frenemies”, and “Everyone else’s girl”.

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