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Rising

Book review by Bhaskar Parichha

Title: Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India’

Author: Kiran Manral

Publisher : Rupa Publications

Several books have been brought out on Indian women, coinciding with International Women’s Day this year. These books, in their own style tell the story of how women have shattered glass ceilings and have ventured into what had been perceived earlier as ‘men’s domains’. 

In today’s India, women exercise their right to vote, contest for Parliament and Assembly, seek appointment in public office and compete in other spheres of life with men. This inclusivity shows women enjoy more liberty and equality than a hundred years ago. They have gained the freedom to participate in affairs of the country, whether it is science, technology, finance and or even defense.


Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India by Kiran Manral looks at what moulded these women: the challenges they faced, the influences they had, the choices they made and how they negotiated around or broke boundaries that sought to confine them, either through society or circumstances. The book is an ode to inspirational women who transformed India in a variety of ways. It is a chronicle of valiant achievers and also a depiction of stories about those who swam against the tide. 

From diverse backgrounds and different generations, they have risen through sheer grit, determination, bolstered with passion, and are, today, names to look up to, to be mentioned as examples to the next generation, giving them courage to reach out to their dreams. From politics to sport, from the creative and performing arts to cinema and television, from business leaders to scientists, legal luminaries and more, this book features the stories of these much celebrated, fabulous women: Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, Fathima Beevi, Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Sher-Gil, Amrita Pritam, Sonal Mansingh, Lata Mangeshkar, Anita Desai, M.S. Subbulakshmi, Harita Kaur Deol, Madhuri Dixit, Bachendri Pal, Rekha, Chhavi Rajawat, Karnam Malleswari, Shailaja Teacher, Hima Das, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shakuntala Devi, P.T. Usha, P. V. Sindhu, Ekta Kapoor, Kiran Bedi, Mary Kom, Menaka Guruswamy, Tessy Thomas, Aparna Sen, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and Gayatri Devi, among others. 

Mumbai- based Kiran Manral is a writer, author and novelist. In previous avatars, she has been a journalist, researcher, festival curator and entrepreneur. A recipient of  multiple awards such as the Women Achievers Award by Young Environmentalists Association in 2013 and the International Women’s Day Award 2018 from ICUNR, Kiran has authored  a couple of fictions and non-fictions too. Her interests are eclectic. 

Writes Kiran in the introduction: “Every story is replete with takeaways, lessons to be learnt, not just professionally but otherwise too. These women have lived life on their own terms, becoming a beacon of hope to many others, women and men alike. If after learning about these inspirational women, a young girl, anywhere in the country thinks to herself that could be me! 1f she can do it, so can I, this book would have served its purpose.”

About Fathima Beevi she writes: “Even before the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ entered common parlance, we had a female judge in the Supreme Court already smash it. With a quiet efficiency that defined her career, on 6 October 1989, M. Fathima Beevi became the first female judge in the Supreme Court, a position she held till her retirement on 29 April 1992.For all her achievements, she remains an enigma, shunning the spotlight and living a quiet life in her hometown post her retirement. Her photographs show a determined expression: her head firmly covered with her saree’s pallu, spectacles lodged on the bridge of her nose and her matter-of-fact demeanour.” 

Written in a crispy style loaded with factoids, the book makes for an enthralling read. The story of Hima Das — who rose from obscurity to international acclaim, a journey that took her from a small village in Assam to the podium of international athletic meets — is as absorbing as realistic. 

 “There’s an iconic photograph that encapsulates Hima Das. Her eyes are twinkling with joy, she’s holding the Indian flag aloft behind her, an Assamese gamusa (a piece of red and white cloth, a cultural identifier) draped around her neck. It had been a long journey from the muddy fields she started training in back in her village near Dhing, in Assam. Back then, she ran barefoot. Basic running shoes was an indulgence, branded shoes were a dream. She ran first for her school, then her district, and when she reached the state level, she got her first pair of real sports shoes. They were an ordinary pair of running shoes, but she wrote ‘Adidas’ on them, along with its logo. One day, she would be able to buy herself a pair of Adidas shoes. Years later, Adidas would name an entire line of shoes after her, but she had to earn that, through struggle, sweat and blood.’ 

On 31 August 2019, Amrita Pritam was commemorated by Google, her centenary birth anniversary, with a doodle. It wrote: “Today’s Doodle celebrates, one of history’s foremost female Punjabi writers, who dared to live the life she imagines.”

Kiran says in her book: “In her writings and her life, she leaves behind a legacy for women writers in India which urges them to defy social constructs and constraints, challenge them, and to live and write as she did — unencumbered.”  

The book about thirty most successful women makes for an interesting read.It is a glorious tribute to the womenfolk who have shattered all maximums and have spurred others to claim individual space.

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Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of UnbiasedNo Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

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Review

Silence between the Notes

Title: Silence between the Notes – Anthology of Partition Poetry

Selected, edited and introduced by Aftab Husain and Sarita Jenamani

Book Review by Namrata

Despite being more than seven decades old, Partition continues to be raw and unflinching. Endless books and movies have tried to capture its pain and enigma and yet there seems to be so much more that needs to be told about that one incident that changed so many lives, forever.

Silence between the Notes is an anthology of Partition poetry which includes contributions from Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, English, Hindi, Bengali and Kashmiri languages. It is a unique collection as this is the first book which is extensive, representative and inclusive of it all. Selected, edited and introduced by Aftab Husain and Sarita Jenamani, this anthology promises to bring forward the voices which had perhaps got lost somewhere in all the noise that followed Partition.

Sarita Jenamani is a poet based in Vienna who writes in English, Hindi and Odia, her mother tongue. A general secretary of the Austrian chapter of PEN international, she is also the co-editor and publisher of the bilingual literary magazine Words and Worlds.

An eminent name on modern Ghazal poetry from South Asia, Aftab Husain writes in Urdu, English and German. His poems have been translated into many languages. Apart from being a member of the Austrian chapter of PEN international, he is also the co-editor of the bilingual literary magazine, Words and Worlds.

When India was declared independent, the joyous news was also followed by the sad news of Partition of India into two countries, India and Pakistan. What followed was mass migration of lakhs of people as Muslims in India migrated to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan migrated to India, all in a hope for better tomorrow. Nobody knew how this supposed call for betterment led to so much blood shed on both the sides that till date, the cries and blood stains can be heard and seen.  Was it religion or was it politics, no one can say! All one can say is that the wound is too deep for even time to heal it.

My soul quivered at the sight of human blood, spilled here and there

Like beasts, men madly roamed at city’s every thoroughfare.

(‘The Partition’, Maikash Ambalvi)

Picking up gems from different languages ranging from Urdu and Kashmiri to Bengali and Sindhi, this collection of ninety-one poems is a heart-wrenching read. One cannot read this collection without feeling that pinch in their heart and sensing a lump in their throat on this poignant portrayal of the incidents that happened before, on and after Partition. The beauty, irrespective of the language they were written in and despite being translated, leaves one unnerved.

With works of stalwarts like Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Amrita Pritam, Agha Shahid Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Keki Daruwalla and many others featured therein, these poems are strung together with the thread of hope binding them. Taking us through the conflict they witnessed, heard or experienced, the poems in this collection make you witness the trauma inflicted upon through Partition. One can almost hear the sobs and feel that fear undergone through these pages.

Even in some of the darkest stanzas it is difficult to miss the tiny glimmer of hope in the hearts of the poets. Like that ladies who tied pillows on their waists and stomachs to protect themselves, or the one where they talk about how trains arrived at stations but the names of the places had been changed, leaving them unidentifiable. These poems talk endlessly about kind neighbours who took them in and protected them or that random stranger who had offered them food. There might be pain in their words and through ink, they might be giving form to their blood and tears shed at that time. However, their voices are trying hard to hold onto hope.  As Sarita Jenamani’s poem, ’70 years later’ begins,

‘August is the cruelest month

It drags us

To a butchery

Plastered with mirrors-

Mirrors of the ancestral rage’

And ends with,

‘August in a month of monsoon

And monsoon brings

A maze of hope’

If someone were to ask, whom did the Partition benefit, there would be pin-drop silence in response. This is the same eerie silence that reflects out in the title of the book ‘Silence between the notes’. Each poem, each stanza, every word is followed by a pause which is reverberating with questions but sadly, has no answers. This silence is also reminiscent within the moments when the reader pauses reading the book briefly after finishing one poem, just to regain composure and start reading it again.

Today, almost seventy years later, we are still at a point where the harsh memories of this incident have chained us and sadly, there are times, when we see the signs of it reoccurring around us clearly pushing us further down the abyss. The only thing that helps us stay afloat is that we have hope, for a better tomorrow, for a kinder world and for humanity to prevail above it all.

Namrata is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at privytrifles@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.