Her tale, her way
Women are now sharing their personal stories and life lessons in memoirs and self-help guides. Smitha Verma looks at some of the more engaging narratives
When Sohaila Abdulali wrote What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, it was not just a personal story that she had laid bare. It was also a manual; a how-to guide on discussing rape in public. If Abdulali narrated how she survived rape, actor Manisha Koirala chose to discuss her battle with ovarian cancer in the deeply-moving Healed, where she chronicles life beyond the arc-lights.
Women writing non-fiction is nothing new. But in the last year or two, the publishing industry has seen a series of books written by women from different sections of society on subjects as varied as surviving acid attack to life as a 50-year old. These are deeply personal stories; the battles the writers fought and it's straight from the horse's mouth.
Sudha Menon, author of four bestselling novels, believes women should write their stories as it's not just about their lives but also about society and gender dynamics. Menon, whose latest book, Feisty at Fifty, published by Pan Macmillan India, wanted to shed stereotypes attached with women getting old.
So many women have written to me saying reading this book is like reading a part of their life'. And there are so many men who tell me that various chapters in my book reminded them of their wives, says Menon.
OF UNFOLDING STORIES
The many personal stories that are out in bookstores are there for a reason. While some write to overcome hurt (such as Being Reshma by acid-attack survivor Reshma Qureshi), some share how they survived gender-gap in sciences (Inferior by science writer Angela Saini).
Actor Lisa Ray wrote To the Bone to tell the world about her battle with cancer while the lessons learnt from running a business became the narrative for Freedom to Fail by Shabnam Aggarwal. Rashmi Joshi's Here and Beyond offered an insight into depression and abuse, and the subject of journalist Yashica Dutt's Coming Out as a Dalit was caste-identity.
The reason I wrote it was to understand what happened, to figure out if it had meaning, to gain clarity for myself, says Koirala about her memoir. After six years of being cancer-free, Koirala started writing Healed (published by Penguin Random House) and how she handled apprehensions, disappointments and uncertainties that came with the disease as well as the lessons she learnt.
When Dutt decided to write her memoir, it was born out of her desire to bring to light the stories of Dalits. When I read Rohith Vemula's (Dalit student) powerful suicide note, it gave me courage to own my identity.
I realised he was not ashamed of his caste and I shouldn't be either. I realised that as a journalist, it was my job to discuss issues that are not discussed in mainstream media, says the 33-year-old author.
Her book, published last month by Aleph, has garnered much acclaim. Often the book acts as an outlet for the writer to bring out the pain, share it with strangers, and feel relieved.
It was a cathartic experience for me, says Koirala who wanted it to be an inspiring tale as well. I wrote in a way that there could be some lessons for others, I hope my book could be useful to others in difficult times.
THE PERSONAL GOES PUBLIC
Writing memoirs can be a tricky thing. It may involve putting family members in the book, which is a contentious issue. Dutt, in her book, writes how in her growing up years, her mother told her never to reveal her caste. When she chose to go public, it was not just about revealing her identity to her friends but also to strangers.
Until I turned 30, all I had known was this dread of being found out. Slowly, things changed and I arrived at a point where I wasn't feeling shame anymore. It was only pride for my caste, says Dutt, who found support from her parents when she went public. Personal accounts of abuse or fighting depression are never easy to narrate.
The fear of criticism or being judged are predominant. I have exposed myself to judgment/criticism. But living' also teaches you to rise above criticism. Why waste your mental space thinking about who will say what'? quips Rashmi Joshi, who has written about experiencing sexual abuse, relationship angst, depression to tell her readers
how to get out of these situations.
When women tell a tale, people listen. Women have more powerful narratives to share than most men. The rules that are written for her to prove herself as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, daughterin-law, a homemaker, a bread winner and of course a perpetual diva are arduous to uphold.
Their life also, from the beginning, has been exposed to raw emotion, a number of experiences, unreasonable expectations, injustice and discrimination; as a result, they have more stories to tell, says Joshi. Women writers and their work often resonate well with the audience making it a popular genre in the non-fiction format.
It is not easy to write about divorce, death and lost love but all those fears disappeared once I jumped into it, says Menon. Writing about the the lines on her face, self-doubt over sex life and even peri-menopausal mood swings was received with much interest by her readers. And once the stories are out there and the fear of criticism vanishes, it is time for book tours and literary appreciation.
Women's voices need to be amplified beyond the fine print of a book.