When I was first asked to review A Calendar Too Crowded by Sagarika Chakraborty, I was sure I wasn’t going to enjoy the book. Given the recent spate of predictable books by first time Indian authors, I was sure that this was another book that I would add to my own private ‘slush pile’.
However, I was in for a surprise. Not only is A Calendar Too Crowded well-expressed, it is also quite original. The basic concept is this: almost every month of the year, the world celebrates some token Day or the other, in honour of women or as a mark of understanding various female-specific problems. There’s International Women’s Day on March 8, of course, Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of May and Sister’s Day on the first Sunday of August, but there are also lesser known dates for which Hallmark prints no cards: November 25 is Elimination of Violence Against Women Day, September 24 is International Girl Child Day, February 6 is International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation.
Chakraborty’s contention is this: despite being aware of the various problems that plague women, we have actually managed to do quite little solve them. In fact, the author takes a broad, non-gender specific approach and even addresses issues such as nationality, caste, adoption and the emancipation of the elderly. Each of her stories, then, adopts the point of view of a fictitious person, and through his or her (usually her) travails and thoughts, we come to understand a particular problem. Witch Without a Broomstick is about how a young widow finds herself ostracized by society and labelled a ‘witch’ by her in-laws, while in Naked the mutilated corpse of a young women is left with as little dignity as clothes by the end of the story. One of my personal favourites is a story that appears right at the beginning called Finding an Ideal Mother for my Unborn Child, where the author tackles the tendency of Indian mothers to smother their sons with affection and expectations. It is an acutely observed piece; in fact, so acutely observed that the author informed me that she received maximum hate mail for this particular story, as mothers from all over the country wrote in, defending their parenting techniques.
I had only one problem with this book. When I spoke to Chakraborty, she had maintained that she will continue to publish fiction as long as it contained a social message and was thought-provoking. While I applaud the sentiment, I do feel that there are more subtle ways of writing fiction with a social messages. In the stories and poems of A Calendar Too Crowded, the message becomes much bigger than the plot, and for readers like me, who principally look for surprising and challenging stories, that might be a turn-off. It’s not as if books cannot address issues while also remaining faithful to literary principles: novels like The Color Purple, Things Fall Apart, Animal Farm, Invisible Man (the one by Ralph Ellison), To Kill A Mockingbird are all great works of literature, which people read over and over again, because the voices in it are so strong and the characters are so compelling. That doesn’t mean their messages — social, moral or political — get lost.
* I also have a little interview with the author, Sagarika Chakraborty, about being a first-time published author, which I shall post sometime this week. Watch out for it!
- Book Review: A Calendar Too Crowded (crimsonshadows.wordpress.com)
- A Calendar too Crowded (bondwithbooks.wordpress.com)
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