Sunday, January 2, 2022

Book Review: Write in Power: An Anthology of the Personal and the Political

 I bought Write in Power: An Anthology of the Personal and the Political in October 2021, after watching the beautiful webinar organised for its launch. It was a book I simply had to read, also because I had recently read Vijaylakhmi Harish's brilliant book, Strangely Familiar Tales.

When I browsed through the index, once I had the book, I was pleased to see some familiar names, of women I 'knew' on Facebook, Srishtaa Aparna Pallavi, Hema Gopinathan Sah, Anjali G. Sharma, (whom I have had the pleasure of meeting). Their poems are powerful and hard-hitting.  I quote from Hema's poem,  A Prayer For/To Everywoman:

There was a body I was born with, this body, though, I have earned.                                                         

I am not pretty. I am beautiful.

In another powerful poem, she writes

Do not insult these hands that wear bangles.                                                                                              

Upon them you are held.

It is hard to do justice to this book without writing about each and every chapter. Let me mention a few themes off the top of my head: a voluntarily child-free woman ponders the impending loss of her uterus, in a chapter that is both moving and hilarious. A visually impaired woman recalls the agony that was her schooling. A neighbour attends a memorial service at the home of an elderly mashima who seems deeply unloved and unmourned by her family. An accidentally pregnant woman is brow-beaten by several gynaecologists who disagree with her request for an abortion. A widowed mother goes to buy gold jewellery for her daughter's wedding, in a chapter that speaks volumes about the treatment and status of widows even today. A woman whose husband's criminal activities endanger her life and well being. A Dalit woman's agony at the death of her auto-rickshaw driver father's death. A member of the minority community decides to emigrate, sacrificing all his childhood dreams and aspirations. A community where young girls fake possession as Devis. A girl is fat-shamed by her so-called well-wishers. The difficulties of coming out as queer, not just to family and friends. The beautiful chapter called Meditative Monsoon Recipes for Healing Chronically Ill Queers. There is much much more, as well as powerful poetry, wonderful art.

It is a book that shakes you out of ignorance and complacence. It is an education in empathy, brilliantly and beautifully written, curated, and edited. I conclude with an excerpt from the editorial team:

The Hidden Pen Collective seeks to amplify writings from South Asia, from the margins imposed by caste, class, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. For aeons, our stories have been set aside, our voices have been silenced, and we find in the 21st century that we are still struggling to be heard.   In this compelling anthology of fictional and non-fictional prose, poems, and art, we present the writings of twenty-four writers and artists from an inclusive spectrum of human experience. These perspectives speak to the intersections of the personal and the political creating a space for discussion and change. We find our power in our traditions, or by breaking those traditions. We look outwards for love and acceptance, or to our own selves because we are all we have. Our stories - rebellious, accommodating, loving, suffering, defeated and in victory - declare our essential power.

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