I’m taking a detour this March. I navigate my compass from travel towards literature.
Books have shaped my life to a large extent. The power of words and storytelling has seldom escaped me. Of course, such influences are not exclusive for me. As I grew up, my diverse social circle opened windows and conversations to different types of authors, prose, verses and words. And the more I got acquainted with, the thirstier I grew.
This March, I’m sharing some of my favourite women authors whose words have left an impression on me. Either by the characters they created, or by real stories they encountered, or by weaving stories that cover time and space, in various ways they have stimulated my thinking and nurtured life. After all, reading is another form of travelling.
“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
I have to admit, I met her writing only recently. And when I did, I was happily overpowered by it. Known as a feminist and a journalist, Steinem’s writing in Revolution from Within is an unbelievable collection of stories about self esteem. I bought the book because Amazon Store only seemed to only have this book of hers, at the point. But as a proceeded with it, I continued to stay amazed at the stories she shares from her travels and research around the world and how she connects them with thought, relevance and science to self esteem.
Her book, My Life on the Road, is a autobiographical account. She shares experiences, memories and situations as she grows up and moves constantly (her father was an itinerant salesman). In a podcast, she says, “I felt not so safe at home because I was a small person looking after a big one, that is, that my mother was not well and I was often her caretaker. So I felt the world outside the home was safer.”
“Remember that you and I made this journey together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.”
The Namesake introduced me to Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey that has been held together by her incredibly moving stories. As I continued reading her work, I realised it wasn’t the way she wrote or told her stories that haunted me. The female characters that she created were real. Whether it was Ashima’s nuanced individuality or Moushumi’s opinionated ideologies, these shades of character exist in each one of us—in different moderations.
The Lowland, by far, has to be my favourite book of hers. Apart from the strong storytelling, (at the risk of repeating myself) the two women who drive the story—Gauri and Bela—have enamoured me. Gauri is exceptionally self-willed and fierce, so much so that she can be called selfish. On the other hand, Bela is equally strong (perhaps stronger than Gauri, her mother) and yet is self-aware and compassionate. Lahiri’s women characters are usually in sharp contrasts with each other and yet relatable.
Read: Women Adventurers I Know
“In my stories, I have put down everything with objectivity. Now if some people find them obscene, let them go to hell.”
This woman needs no introduction. I chanced upon Ismat Chughtai after reading her contemporary Saadat Hasan Manto. One after another, I read her short stories insatiably. She was the first Indian Muslim woman to secure a Bachelors of Arts and Bachelors of Education. Some of her stories were considered controversial while she largely wrote about feminist politics and female sexuality. Perhaps Lihaaf (The Quilt) is her most famous short story where she explores a homosexual relationship between two characters.
“There are people who leave and people who know how to be left.”
In her Neapolitan series, Elena Ferrante shares with us the stories of her friendship with Lila (who she calls Lina). Seldom have I come across an author who describes women friendships with as much precision and care. While reading her series of four books insatiably, I felt jealousy, relief, deceive, comfort, indifference, hopeful and a host of other emotions, just as I do in real friendships.
“What are men to rocks and mountains?”
When I started reading Jane Austen, little did I understand the layers of society she was unearthing through her writing. It was with time and maturity that I immersed myself in her stories to question norms of society, which are prevalent even today. The famous Pride and Prejudice made me realise the burden of marriage in a woman’s life and Emma introduced me to the power of external validation. My learnings from Austen aren’t limited only to these somewhat negative influences. From Elizabeth Bennet’s wit and clarity to the attachment between sisters in Sense and Sensibility, the women characters by this classic writer continue to teach me something, every time I go back to a book.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive. Writers like Susan Sontag, Harper Lee, Ayn Rand, Charlotte Bronte, J K Rowling, Enid Blyton, Mahasweta Devi, Urvashi Butalia, Indira Goswami, Amrita Pritam, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf have added perspective to my life.
Who are your favourite women authors?