In So Many Words: Women’s Life Experiences from Western and Eastern India, edited by Aparna Basu and Malavika Karlekar, Routledge, Rs. 475.
Of an entirely different genre is In So Many Words: Women’s Life Experiences from Western and Eastern India. Again set in colonial times, this book zooms in on the experiences of eight women through their own jottings; some autobiographical and others mere diary meanderings or letters.
Seeking to add to the growing corpus of texts that make up feminist studies, Aparna Basu and Malavika Karlekar claim to have tried out a new style of writing. Each of the eight women profiled are introduced to the reader by scholars familiar with the subject and then “her voice takes over”.
Most of the women — with probably the sole exception of Kalpana Dutt (Joshi), courtesy her revolutionary stint — are not particularly well known. Do any of the other names instantly ring a bell: Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, Sailabal Das, Vidyagauri Neelkanth, Anasuya Sarabhai, Li Gotami, Shakuntala Paranjpye and Monica Gupta (Chanda). But, each was quietly exceptional in her own way and — pardon the cliché — unsung heroines. Sarala Devi was among the first women political leaders in the freedom movement and prepared the scores of much of “Bande Mataram”, Vidyagauri was one of the first two women graduates of Gujarat and spoke up for women’s equality, Anasuya was the founder of Majoor Mahajan (the Ahmedabad textile workers’ union) and Shailaja was the first woman to ride a bicycle in Poona and went on to pioneer family planning.