Book Review: An Unsuitable Woman By Shinie Antony



Genre: Anthology

Publishers: Rupa Publications

Price: Rs. 195/-  ( I got the book for review from the publisher)
Behind the Book

‘The unsuitability of the unsuitable woman is legend.

The unsuitability of the unsuitable woman is that she is a woman.’

Weaving together the narratives of non-conformist women from real life with those imagined, An Unsuitable Woman introduces you to the everyday heroines in the Indian society confronting patriarchy.

This book includes seventeen inspirational and touching contributions in the form of prose and poetry, from writers like Anand Neelakantan, Madhavi Mahadevan, Sukla Singha, Humra Quraishi and Mitra Phukan, among others. It offers fascinating glimpses of everyday rebellion against patriarchy by a handful of women—from Amrita Sher-Gil, the rebel artist to Leila Seth, the first female chief justice of a state High Court, and to Social Activist Chandraprabha’s unassailable belief in her reforms; the legendary Nangeli who severed her breasts to assert her dissent against an unjust social order to Jahnavi Barua’s nameless protagonist who renders all social stigmas.

Plunge into the world of these ‘unsuitable’ women and partake of their undaunted spirit.

About the Author

Shinie Antony is an award-winning writer, editor and columnist. She has written seven books, including Barefoot and Pregnant, The Orphanage for Words, When Mira Went Forth and Multiplied and A Kingdom for His Love. She has also compiled the anthology Why We Don’t Talk. Co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival, Shinie won the Commonwealth Short Story Asia region prize in 2003 for her story A Dog’s Death.

With an immensely powerful preface, this book is promising. The poem which begins with,

“You have met her…The woman who laughs loudly, says all the wrong things, gets away with murder.” 

These lines made me think of a lot of things. For starters it reminded me of all the times I was told how my behavior was un-womanly. After spending all these years trying to figure out the perfect womanly behavior, I am glad to have finally read this work that spoke to me in many ways. It told me, I am not alone and that I need to celebrate who I am rather than trying to reduce myself to carbon copies of others. Eighteen poignant, powerful and evocative pieces in the book make it a brilliant read. It is difficult to pick favourites out of these; hence I will try to write a little about what each one of these made me think:

1. Untitled by Mani Rao – “Gut wrenching” is the word that came to my mind when I read this poem. It is deeply moving and disturbing at the same time. One line that haunts me till now is, 

“You look for too much explanation. I can go back to fetch a better memory. 
And I can recur if you wish.” 

It is as if the darkest thoughts have been captured on the paper. They might not make an appeasing sight to look at, but their tenderness cannot be ignored.

2. Meenakshi by Anand Neelkantan – When the best mythological writer of the country pens something down you know for sure it is nothing less than a masterpiece. Here the author narrates an exchange between Meenakshi and Sita just before Laxman is about to take Sita back to Ayodhya. Mythological stories like Ramayana and Mahabharata have always been about the heroics of the men. But I am glad there are some authors who are trying to change that by writing brilliant retellings with women characters in the focus. This touching piece shows the deep understanding and bonding a woman forms with another despite the circumstances around them.

3. Sher-Gil-My inspiration by Anjolie Ela Menon – As an artist Anjolie Ela Menon has considered Amrita Shergill as her inspiration. She dedicates this piece to her and writes how her whole life is worth idealizing. Considered to be an artist par excellence, Amrita Shergill’s life has been an enigma. With carefully chosen words and brilliant emotions at play, Anjolie Ela Meno tries to demystify that enigma in those pages.

4. Birdsong by Jahnavi Barua – Award winning author Jahnavi Barua writes an intense short story on relationships. With a tight narrative and engrossing writing, she brings alive the characters vividly. I loved the fact that the protagonist was nameless and yet that didn’t take away anything from the beauty of the story, speaks a lot about how relatable the whole narrative is. The ending took me by surprise and left me thinking about the fragility of human relationships.

5. Aurat Vakil Aayee Hai by Leila Seth - A biographical attempt at capturing the challenges faced by her as she chased her dreams, Leila Seth’s story is inspiring in more than one ways. She goes on to prove that for a woman, it was never easy and maybe it never will be. The point is, are we willing to give in or opt for the difficult route and emerge as winners. Her narrative shows the ugly facet of our society where a woman’s character and profession are considered interlinked. We are given a preset of approved occupations to choose from and dare you think of becoming different from that. Because from there on, you are on your own. Your battle has now officially begun. I found this piece to be immensely motivating.

6. The nameless relationship by Preeti Shenoy – I have read a lot of works by Preeti Shenoy but she left me speechless with this piece. It looks like a totally different Preeti Shenoy. This short story is very different from her usual writing style and she has carried it off so well. Since time immemorial we have been told to stay away from anything that is nameless. Relationship, things, people and places everything came with a tag. But what if you found something without a tag which was everything that you wanted at that moment. Would you dare to give it a tag? Would you even consider taking it along? This story explores a plethora of what ifs and does it so beautifully!

7. Alias by Madhavi Mahadevan - I really enjoyed this disarming tale on the name changing identities of women. Reading this made me realize there are so many aspects to our life as women that have been taken for granted by us more than anybody else. Reading this was an eye opening experience.

8. The woman with no breasts by Manu.S. Pillai – This story is about Nangeli, the legendary woman who severed her breasts to assert her dissent against an unjust social order. Raw and agonizing this story brought tears to my eyes. History is witness to the number of times we have had to stand up for ourselves and prove a point. I wonder, how many times do we need to do it still?

9. Jamal’s Jaan by Humra Quraishi – Depicting the agonizing difference between love, longing and lust, this story is a heartbreaking read. In relationships, the need, want and desire are not always the same. And that is what leads to most of the misunderstandings. This tale is about one such misunderstanding, about wanting more and feeling dissatisfied. Written in a straight from the heart tone with lucid language, it touches your heart with its simplicity.

10. The “Tomboy” Queen by Jaishree Misra – This piece by the brilliant Jaishree Misra talks about Rani Laxmibai, a.k.a. The Tomboy Queen. Taking us through the various events of her life, the author makes us think that each one of us as a Rani Laxmibai inside her. A tomboy, one who has the valor and the strength to fight for what is right. It is just that we need to know how to channel her properly and at the right time.

11. She by Nandita Bose – Ever been confused about your feelings for someone? This story depicts the confusion excruciatingly well. Yet again the central character has been named Pari and nothing else, lending an authentic tone to the whole narrative. Short, eloquent and impressive this story left me thinking about all the relationships I had ever taken for granted in life and also of the ones where I was confused and it led to a lot of bitterness and hurt.

12. A single mother’s battle by Mitra Phukan – A haunting story about the struggles of a woman as a single parent and the challenges it brings along. I admire the author for dealing with this issue with sensitivity and yet manage to depict the right notes. This one made for a compelling read.

13. Half-cracked by Rachna Singh – I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. It was humorous, pondering and one that was self-introspective in many ways for me.

14. Bossy Pants by G. Sampath – Funny, quirky and witty Bossy Pants by G Sampath is one read that promised me lot of laughs. Like I had written in one of my statuses many moons ago, “Yes, women are born to rule…. Hearts!” this article talks about the “bossy” nature of women and how does it feel to work under a woman boss. This article made me think, are we wired differently? Perhaps yes. What looks as process driven and systematic approach comes across as dominance to others. 

15. A promiscuous witch by Sukla Singha – Short and bewitching this poem was a story depiction of how women are perceived amidst many other superstitions. The question that comes to mind after reading this piece is “Is it right to consider women as inauspicious?”

16. Kerala, perhaps – A self-Obit by Karthika V K – I have always admired Karthika V.K. for her work and this piece of writing by her blew me away completely. She should write more often, clearly in my opinion. This piece is a self-obituary, written with such honesty that you cannot help but smile at the end of it all. Rarely are obituaries written in a manner that they make you smile. But this is the beauty of this piece. Honest and engaging, this piece talks about a life lived to the fullest in every moment and that is the beauty of it.

17. Eating Butterfly by Shinie Antony – What a captivating story! I was surely not expecting that ending. This is one story where a lot has been said and at the same time a lot has been left unsaid, which makes it an immensely evocative read. It is an experience in itself.

18. Bharat Mata, The faceless mother by Josy Joseph – This essay was like an eye opener with all its statics. A befitting ending to a wonderful book, one that makes you think.

In short it is un-put-downable, unmissable, unforgettable and all the things that make it a must read for each and every one out there.
Foodie Verdict

This book is like Chocolate Bhut Jolokia - Spicy, sweet and a combination of all the deadly flavours in the world!

Source: Refining Fire Chiles