A Calendar too crowded (189 p, Rs. 295, Niyogi Books) by Sagarika Chakraborty is a book of short stories and poems touching the different stages of womanhood, its experience and the issues surrounding it. The books is interestingly organised into the months of the English Calendar where for each month there are days set aside to bring attention to the issues affecting women. Sagarika has organised her stories around these days dedicated to certain issues.
Sagarika writes in simple language and the presentation is novel. She is articulate in her expression of the condition and issues around womanhood. The book is a heavy dose of women’s conditions covering most issues concerning Indian women today – female infanticide, domestic violence, conjugal violence and discord, dowry harassment, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, widowhood, immigration, human trafficking and still some more. The characters in her story are nameless and some stories are narrated in the first person format while some others in the third person.
I am excited that a book touching so many issues surrounding womanhood is in the market and congratulate Sagarika on the work.
However, I was not very comfortable with the nameless women. Agreed that the issues dealt with are quite universal and could be affecting a majority of women in the world but having a name would have made the women more human and more real for me. I would have connected with the women in the stories much more. The nameless characters made the stories seem general and though several stories moved me emotionally, (I loved Homecoming) I felt it was a little deliberate. A more detailed description of the context and uniqueness of the lives of each of these women would have enhanced the reading experience for me. I also expected more questioning, analyzing of patriarchy in India. For me this book spoke mainly of the experiences and emotions of anonymous women but did not sufficiently bring attention to the problems with social conditioning of women by patriarchal society. Each story needed more context and a more personalized touch to do justice to the issue and women who experience them.
Some stories refer to Hindu mythological women such as Shikhandi and Draupadi and also Krishna. Though there has been an attempt to be inclusive in terms of socio-economic groups and religion, the book’s characters are primarily privileged women belonging to majority groups. If this book had names or was a non-fiction book, this would not have bothered me so much, but if choosing to keep the women nameless was to universalize the problems then references to Krishna, Draupadi and Shikhandi do the contrary.
For me neither Draupadi, Shikhandi nor Krishna are feminist, in fact I feel Hindu mythology might have strong women but it is far from being feminist at least what has been mainstream interpretation of Hindu mythology. My feminist soul would have liked some more uniqueness, women are all different, the same experience can be lived differently, statistics are indifferent to differences, I like celebrating the differences in women and questioning patriarchal society which categorizes them into, mother, sister and womanhood. I felt this was missing in the book though an attempt was made, it needed more emphasis.
I would recommend reading this book, especially for men and women who might not be acquainted with the issues surrounding women. It gives an interesting insight into the sentiments of women in different life situations in a direct manner. Sagarika Chakraborty Bravo! on this debut. Might you consider developing one of these stories and making it a novel perhaps?