Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Calendar Too Crowded - Sagarika Chakraborty

'A Calendar Too Crowded' (189 p, Rs. 295, Niyogi Books) is a book of short stories and poems written by the multi-faceted Sagarika Chakraborty, a student of ISB. Hyderabad. Sagarika is a lawyer, presents papers on corporate governance and such complicated matters all over the world, writes, is a creative artist and salsa dancer and studies at the highly demanding course at ISB. The book is featured to be launched in one of the sessions at the Hyderabad Literary Festivals and there is a reading from it too.

The book is divided into the months, January to December, each month highlighting days that are dedicated to issues concerning women. Sagarika launches head on into a cause she believes in - women and the circumstances that appear to rule their lives, sometimes imposed by society and sometimes by themselves, sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. Each story has a nameless protagonist and the circumstance she is trapped in. There are a few poems as well.

So the stories go - of the prejudices the girl child suffers from the womb to her death, of mothers consumed by their motherhood and losing themselves and their children, widows who are blamed for their husband's death, modern mothers who live life as a reaction to their mothers' lives than a choice of their own, of the caste system and untouchability, of sexual harassment, of prostitutes and their children who aspire to have a life, of women who give birth to girls, of reactions to the death of a forward 'club going girl' who is gang raped, the angst of a born again Draupadi who finds the hypocricy of society unbearably backward, of malnutrition and mothers who have to work for a living, the adopted girl child and her frustration, of quiet women achievers, of geriatric mothers who find love in old age homes, dowry harassment and so on.

Sagarika writes well. She has all the basic qualities of a good writer. She knows and uses the language well, has a flair for writing, writes with conviction and with credibility. She has a vivid imagination, feels deeply for her characters and does her research thoroughly. Her voice is distinct and there is no pretence, and she tells the stories simply - straight from the heart. It is evident that this is an issue that bothers her much, and one hopes that she has been able to rest some of these demons, these doubts and frustrations at these injustices, after writing the book. For one so young, she would hardly be in her mid twenties I'd think, she impressed me with her knowledge and research into mythology, the many references to the Mahabharatha, and more,  spanning into the plight of Tibetan refugees. What struck me as most impressive, was her ability to get into the lives of these women and sound so convincing. To think like a mother, a violated refugee, an old woman in an old age home, a prostitute's daughter, a daughter-in-law in an old fashioned household and so many more characters would have been  difficult for a college going young girl, unless one has met such women or read about them extensively. Even if you did, it still drains a lot out of you to visualise, feel for them and write it all down.

But then Sagarika has chosen the difficult route. In a world where selling chicklit is easy, something which she could easily have written given her age, her ISB days and her considerable writing talent, she chooses to write stark, difficult stories that force the reader to think, to look at oneself. She raises difficult questions that are easier shoved under the carpet. Once she chose this path it was always going to be difficult to find ways of telling these stories differently and making them deliver the message and the desired impact. But that is a choice well-made and I laud her for that - for not having taken the easy route and written a romance set in the ISB for which many top publishers would have queued up for.  After all, there is a market for those kind of books - a vacuous market that one need not pander to, even if it is a large sized one!

The book is intense and drains the reader as well. They are real stories and one can only read helplessly, hoping that the women find their own peace, their own path out of this hole. Sagarika writes powerfully and conveys her point more than adequately and I think she would be a champion fighter for women's rights and causes. I do hope she puts her education, her prowess as a writer, her training as a lawyer and her passion and create something that would provide some direction and help to all the women who suffer namelessly in our societies and homes. I read somewhere that she is compiling some kind of a handbook for awareness about citizen's right and responsibilities - one that is badly needed as most of us don't know either.

On the negatives side of the book, I think the voices get too shrill and rant and rave sometimes. But then, since Sagarika chose to tell the stories through nameless characters, she could not tell this in any other way without making the same impact (and also perhaps, the stories themselves get into your system and you want to look away). I feel strongly that had she put in characters, fictional even, and told the stories through them, it would have left haunting memories. The characters would have brought in a lot of depth, would have told the story themselves and then the voice would have been theirs, different, clear and separate from the author's. They would have brought in their own stories, more facets to themselves.

The stories, powerful as they are already, would have been far more impactful had they had characters and dialogue. In the one story where there are shades of characters, the one of Ammi and Chupki who write letters to one another, this point comes across clearly - the characters can never be forgotten and that story to me, is easily the one I will never forget of this lot, because it aids me visually, gives me a character and a name to hold on to.

But Sagarika is young, and is a far more accomplished writer than I would ever have been at that age and am sure she will produce many more fine pieces of writing in what appears to me a very promising writing career. Good luck Sagarika. I have learnt much for reading your book and I am sure many women would find inspiration to remedy their lives or think differently after reading your book. Hopefully men as well. Here's wishing you and 'A Calendar Too Crowded' great success.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much Hari for the review! :)

Harimohan said...

My pleasure Sagarika. Good luck and keep writing.

Deboshree said...

Interesting review. The stories seem alluring and definitely worth a read.