Representing Indian Women – Through the Eyes of a Western Woman

Review of May You be the Mother of a hundred Sons – A Journey Among the Women of India; Elisabeth Bumilller; Random House 1990; pg 306

– Shana Susan Ninan

India got her freedom more than 60 years ago, but Indian women are still shackled by poverty, illiteracy, casteism, abuse, and much more. Elisabeth Bumiller’s May You Be The Mother of a hundred Sons looks at the Indian woman of the 80’s and early 90’s. And after reading it, I realized that even after two decades of publishing this book much hasn’t changed for women living in India. Inequality and disparity flows irrespective of education, status and wealth in women – from those who walk miles to collect water and fodder to those who hold blue collar jobs in metros, the problems faced are not very different. They only vary in degree.

Bumiller has taken pains to travel in India and stay with families, identified as those that represent the sample she’d like to portray. The author takes us through actual events of bride-burnings, instances of Sati, business marriages, abortion, female infanticide and arranged marriages. But on the positive side, she talks about the “liberated” women of India, those that have managed to leave the four walls of their kitchens, and gotten jobs of their own. She interviews many actresses, poets, revolutionaries and similar women.

The fact that the author stays with high caste families in villages she visits tells us how one-sided their stories can be. Not just that, it also keeps away many anecdotes that could’ve been added to the book. And the constant deriding could get on the nerves of many an Indian reader of the book.

It’s sad that even though Bumiller tries to give a wholesome view in her work, she seems to generalise Indian women as Hindu women, probably because her sampling comes from that group alone. Bumiller tries to keep away from the mistakes that American scholar Katherine Mayo made in representing Indian women: generalisations and characterisation in poor light. But it’s sad to notice that Bumiller, too, at times, sticks to clichés, and often only looks at the negative side of the coin. It’s like this – if you go looking for a snake in a burrow, that’s what you’ll find; but if you keep your scopes wide, you might just run into a ferret or a rabbit. Similarly, Bumiller finds, and displays in her work, India’s poverty, casteism, over population, illiteracy and all other problems we face, because that’s what she goes looking for. I guess it would take westerners quite some time, to see beyond the veil.

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Rating: 9.7/10 (7 votes cast)
Representing Indian Women – Through the Eyes of a Western Woman, 9.7 out of 10 based on 7 ratings

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 27th, 2012 at 1:41 pm and is filed under Non-Fiction, Reviews, Travelogue, Women. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. October 27th, 2012 | meriam says:

    very true. indian women have different roles to play unlike tthe counterparts around the world.

  2. October 28th, 2012 | Dolly Saxena says:

    Well, hasnt it been a common practice to malign the reputation of our country, India? I am not surprised at all to see it happen all over again. While there is a traditional side, there is a progressive side too, to the Indian woman, which everyones decides to ignore.I call it a one sided approach and request all to change their partial analysis.
    Having tavelled the world and observed women in most countries, I am proud to say that the women in India are respected in their homes and families when compared to women in so many other countries. They live with dignity and are usually good mothers and good wives, barring some cases. In fact, they are good daughters and daughters in law too, when compared to other women. They try and hold the family together more than others of their ilke.
    I do wish that people continue to write but manage their facts better and more judiciously.

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