(Review on request by Author)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sagarika Chakraborty, born in Kolkata, studied law at National Law University, Jodhpur and is currently studying management at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Apart from delving into serious research work, she has also written light fiction and poetry for various online and print media. This is her first book.
"This book is my view regarding each month where a large number of important days are dedicated to women, or life in general where women play a major role. The attempt is to analyse whether it is merely enough to rely on statistics and be complacent in the knowledge that the numbers indicate a better society in the making, or whether there is an urgent need to look beneath the covers and realize that despite all such dedicated days,there are three hundred odd days when there is nothing special that life has to offer. Where each day is still an unending drudgery and where womanhood is cursed and trampled upon."
At twenty-two, a guy dumped me on the grounds that his family would not accept me, since I was of unknown origin. I merely told him that I respected his decision before leaving the place; I was too shocked to say anything more. Later when I told didi about it and cried in her arms, she chided me for accepting such behaviour and letting others walk all over me. She made me understand that I couldn't let him leave before impressing upon him the fact that my parents and I had evolved from Homo sapiens, unlike him who had descended from the family of Canis lupus familiaris (dog)! Trust me, a one-sided conversation had never felt so good!
There are very few authors who weave fiction with reality so dexterously that their book- despite being patently didactic- captures your attention, and keeps you hooked until the very end; and Sagarika Chakraborty is one of them. Here is a writer who boldly- and explicitly- challenges the preconceived notions of a biased, male-dominated society. And what’s more, she does not only question the integrity of men, but also that of the hard core feminists who believe they are establishing their independence and individuality by going against accepted social norms, sometimes at the cost of missing out on some precious experiences of life that are so vital to the emotional, psychological and social growth of a human being. After all, life is ultimately all about the attempt to reach equilibrium.
What is most impressive about the book is the form it’s been written in; it’s a fresh attempt to bring to light the struggles of numerous women throughout the world through anecdotes, letters and poetry. Certain words and phrases are emphasized which tend to haunt one's thoughts, and echo like a refrain in a poem. An overwhelming number of issues, ranging from the plight of a prostitute’s child to that of a woman living in a hospice, have been discussed so expertly; just as one finds the shock, horror or sorrow of the protagonist sinking in, a new chapter begins, with a new social evil that we’re made to acknowledge. Even more remarkable is the focus on little things in life we have complacently turned a blind eye to, as is the importance given to the emotional turmoil associated with a woman’s love life. What’s noteworthy is that someone has actually recognized the staggering impact that requited love- which we rarely associate with the ‘grave’ problems of our society- can have on an individual; indeed on an entire family.
Despite the serious subject matter, the book never blankets you in misery. Some of the stories by different girls and women going through varied experiences have happy endings that will make you smile; there are little nuggets of sarcasm and humor which enrich this anthology, and the first person narrative of some of the anecdotes gets one to truly connect with the character in question. I personally loved Panchaali’s letter to Lord Krishna- this came as a very pleasant surprise; and the references to Panchaali’s life reminded me of one of my favourite books- The Palace of Illusions by Divakaruni. A Calendar Too Crowded is a novel that will touch your heart; it will make you think, and change the way you look at this world.
Swarnali's review is a part of Blogadda's review program
Swarnali Says: As the author says, the book is a collection of stories and poems for each month of the year. These tales and poems are the author's take on those dates of our calendar that are marked to celebrate/remind us of a definite social reality. Be it January 24 marked as the National Day for the Girl Child (India) or be it March 8 celebrating International Women's Day, Sagarika Chakraborty, through her book compels us to ponder over the validity of such days. Does having one day as women’s day means the rest are for men?? I am not sure, yes that is what you are left with once you read the book, it does not provide you with concrete answers, it just makes you question the pre-conceived notions about the role of women and their status.
The best thing about the book is - no character is given a name as “they represent the millions of female voices that they seek to free from the clutches of injustice and oppression” and giving a name to them would make them one Sita or Gita and not the universal woman the author intended them to be. She could be you, your friend, your mom or that woman on the other side of the street. The issues picked up in the book are numerous and there are high chances that every woman who reads it identifies herself with one character or the other or maybe finds a strong similarity with some other woman she knows from very close. With issues like dowry system, the concept of the modern woman, the adoption scenario, prostitution, rape, nationality, puberty, motherhood, female feticide, women’s emancipation, domestic violence, the author hardly leaves any topic untouched, unquestioned and thought over.
I try to take a neutral stand while reviewing, this book turns to be strongly feminist at some points and men may not accept all that the author says. However,a sensitive and empathetic approach without prior biases while reading the book will help the reader understand that the author intends you to think and try to understand the plight of the women around you who are tortured on a daily basis either mentally, physically, emotionally or sexually, if not all of them. Every woman, no matter her nationality or her social status has at least once in her life gone through a situation where she was humiliated or taken advantage of, only because of her gender. Sagarika Chakraborty does not intend to be the champion to the women who are not allowed to fight for themselves, she attempts to bring to us the realities that happen every day, things that we have taken for granted. She puts a finger into our eyes and asks us if we should continue letting this happen or try to make a change.
The tales which were closest to my heart were "Naked" and "Selling a Body to Gain a Mind" . The first one is about the morning when a girl's body is found on the pavement , who died after being gang raped the previous night. The hypocrisy of the society we live in, is clearly reflected when people instead of trying to find the girl's identity and sympathizing for her and her family, blame her provocative dressing and not-so-sober habits of going to a bar to be the reason of her death. The second is a mother-daughter story where the mother, who herself being a prostitute tries everything she can to shield her daughter from getting into the snare of prostitution. The question "why a prostitute is ashamed of what she does all her life,but the society is never ashamed of what it has done to her?" is very thought provocative. This story reminds me very much of an Academy award winning documentary I saw sometime back -" Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids".
Not all stories are sad,some do have a happy ending like "Homecoming" and "Sisters by Choice and not by Chance", indicating that a happy end is possible.This is not a book that you can read over a cup of tea and forget after you get up from the chair, the book and the characters remain in your mind for a very long time. I loved the author's style and the double narrative technique she adopted,some tales in the first person for a direct view and some in the third person for a more impersonal perspective. The book makes a good read and a very good one for a debut.
RATING: 4 on 5 (Both Swarnali and Arpita gave the book a 4/5)
PRICE: Rs.295/- (INR)