More girls than boys go to school in India now and result unsurprisingly is that India now produces more female graduates than male graduates. As a result, women in India are increasingly writing bestselling books about the lives of Indian women. Nilanjana Roy’s article two such recent books.
First up is Shrayana Bhattacharya’s “Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence”. Ms Bhattacharya, an economist at the World Bank, published this genre defining bestseller in 2021. Ms Roy writes: “I loved the fact that Bhattacharya, an economist who works with the World Bank, chose to explore the hidden longings and loneliness of women (often within marriage and the supposedly intimate structure of the Indian joint family), and women’s quest for romantic as well as economic freedom. The book was in part inspired by research that Bhattacharya conducted back in 2006, when she used conversations about favourite film stars as an ice-breaker for her surveys, and this line of inquiry has provided a common thread for her research over the past 15 years…
As Bhattacharya explained to me via email: “In one of the most masculine economies in the world, where elite upper-caste discourse tends to insist that most Indian women do not want to work outside the home as they prefer to nurture families at home, I realised that the quest for financial independence unites a diverse swathe of young women.””
The second book is Mansi Choksi’s “The Newlyweds” – a book which details unconventional romantic liaisons in modern India. In Ms Roy’s words: “…Choksi unpacks the challenges and aspirations of three couples who fall in love, breaking rigid inter-caste, inter-faith and gender norms. Monika and Arif cross Hindu-Muslim barriers, Reshma and Preethi pretend to be sisters in order to live together, while Dawinder and Neeti, from different castes, run away to escape the displeasure and reprisals of their families.
As Choksi writes in her book, these personal choices are often taken as affronts to the established social order. “We derive our identities from the groups we belong to; our daily lives and our politics are arranged around them. When young people choose their own partners, we threaten order with chaos.”“
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