Archive for the ‘Travelogue’ Category


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)

Alive? Yes. Life? No.

Review of Jangalnama: Travels In A Maoist Guerilla Zone; Satnam; translated by Vishav Bharti; Penguin Books; pp 206; Rs250

– Shana Susan Ninan

Adivasis all over India have many things in common, whether in the jungles of Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka or the northeast. But one characteristic demarcates them from city folk: they are all simple people. And it is this very simplicity of the Adivasis that the politicians and schemers exploit to the core. Satnam, a Punjabi activist and a published writer of national and international issues, travelled across the tribal regions of Bastar at the beginning of this millennium and recorded his first hand experiences of the lives of the tribals as well as the Maoist guerrillas who’ve set up camps in the jungles. The guerrillas comprise mainly of Gondi boys and girls, and a mixture of Telugu and Bangla leaders.

Jangalnama, translated by Chandigarh-based journalist Vishav Bharti, is a dense, heart-touching and authentic series of events that Satnam encounters and lives through for two solid months.

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Rating: 8.7/10 (10 votes cast)