I am NOT a feminist: Sagarika Chakraborthy
Sagarika Chakraborty, a lawyer by profession and qualification, published ‘A Calendar too crowded’ in March 2012. This novel is something to which she relates to, something which is very personal and at the same time some universal. All women cry out in pain, scream in silence and speak in emotions, and this ‘woman’ is captured by her in the novel in the form of short stories.

Sargarika talks to Shruti Kedia, in an exclusive interview and gives us a glimpse of her world, her thought process, her stand on the society and her journey towards ‘A calendar too crowded’.

Do we really need these symbolic celebrations of womanhood when we are going to sit back and watch millions of women suffer?

Symbolic celebrations in the form of talks, creating awareness, spreading the word – YES! Saying that, but celebrations that involve me gifting my mother a bunch of flowers on Mother’s Day and the very next day rebuking her for not having made a good dish for lunch – well that is exactly what I condemn through my actions in daily life and my book.

I fail to understand but, why should we sit back and watch millions of women suffer when our democracy gives us the biggest gift of all – the freedom of speech and expression. The pen has always been mightier than the sword and with social media on the rise ignorance should be the next ‘polio’ which we should pledge to oust from the society. The power lies with us – the way we want to utilize it shows where we stand.

What was your underlying thought for writing this book? Any personal experiences which is reflected in the book?

The underlying thought was basically angst and irk for a long time. Being a lawyer I have seen atrocities, both subtle and explicit, being covered by the fourth estate, law commission reports etc. but then what? After a few days of publication they all gather dust in memories and literally – thus I always felt that there’s a greater medium of spreading awareness and shedding light, through stories. For my grandmother always used to say that stories linger on the most in our minds & long after they have been read they smell still fresh.

Yes, almost all stories have a personal connect and are based on what I have experienced or what I have heard from people. A few of them indeed are more personal and are based on the relationships I have shared with various people – my grandmother, my sister, the little child I taught whose mother didn’t want her to become a prostitute like her, to name a few.

Which is your favourite story/ poem from the book? Why?

“When the Ganges ran dry” – is undoubtedly my favorite story (it is filed under the month of March). The entire story revolves around a granddaughter telling her experiences sitting beside her dying grandmother. She is back to her roots after ages and now looking around her changed household she wonders how her comatose grandmother would have reacted had she seen those very changes. Being extremely close to my grandmother the story has not only been written from the heart but also tugs memories of a childhood breezed by. It still brings tears to my eyes as I miss my grandmother recounting the experiences narrated in there.

The characters.. the leading ladies of your stories does not have a name. Was this is a conscious decision? And why?

Albeit, it was a conscious decision and am very proud of it, despite a lot of readers telling me they would have preferred names. I however was always clear that my book will be all about voices. It should encourage the readers to recall a face they have encountered in their lives and connect the voice of the story to that face. So that long after they have read the story, the voice lives on through that face in their lives.

Urban women have been always portrayed in the shades of grey. People claim that women are progressing today, and they are at par with men, as women are now accepted in their working women ‘avtaar’. What do you feel? Have women broken the shackles of the haunting past in a man’s world?

Women – urban or rural, previous generation or us, are nothing but humans and just like our other differently genital’ed counterpart have shades of grey. No one is perfect, every human being comes with their own short comings – so why shouldn’t we? And why this ardent need to project ourselves as perfect angels when in reality we are those who learn through our follies?

Why should our progress be determined by the fact that whether we are “working women” or not– I strongly think that is a wrong parameter! Progress is all about changing mindsets and if mindsets do not change for women in general it’s a black day. Be it stay at home moms or a female CEO, guess the true progress avatar is never referring her as the ‘weaker sex’! With regard to breaking shackles I feel we have taken a step forward but there are forces pulling us backwards two steps for every such a forward footprint. The concept of glass ceiling at workplaces, the attitudes towards stay at home mothers still need a lot of awareness and polishing before we truly arrive.

By the way it’s NOT a Man’s World it’s just a world where we have let the society decide who is to rule. In reality it’s nothing but a jungle where the fittest survive, it’s upto us now to hit the gym

Has education helped in the betterment of the female sex? With modernization and the opportunities while are available today, are women truly in a better position?

If you mean “degrees” by the word education, then let me refer you to a line from the book which I live by – “If education is to sign your name, literacy is to know what it stands for!” Thus I feel that no matter how educated we are on paper, we are not literate till the time we know our rights and respect the rights of those around us. Would you call a female boss who discriminates against her female colleague for the latter smokes as educated? She’s all that you say – modernized, belongs to the era of opportunities yet I would say she’s mentally caught in a worse trap than that construction worker who shares a smoke with her daughter-in-law – for she understands habits!

Thus, I feel it doesn’t matter how educated you are! What truly matters is how literate you are about what the society should entail and what it should not!

In my personal opinion, women are the same in both rural and urban areas. They continue to suffer in silence, enduring the wrath of men in villages and in urban areas, they suffer under ‘sophisticated’ cover-up situations where names are different but beneath the facade things remain the same. What is your opinion on this?

Behind the heaviest curtains lie the greatest of all scars. My story Pandora’s Box (filed under July) is actually a take on all those elite homes that support girl child before the world, but behind the doors there is the harsh truth of craving for the male progeny till the last breath. Thus, what you said is indeed very true.

To cover the down trodden takes no effort for the rickety doors give away the truth easily, the screams that the lofty teak doors hide are but scarier when actually heard!

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Is there anyone who has inspired you?

I am NOT a feminist. I have cried hoarse time and again that I am not a feminist in writing or in thought and my book is all about woman and womanhood. It’s not that I have anything against feminism – I cannot afford to have when it’s a label that no matter how much I have shrugged it off, has found its way to stick to my name! In fact I support feminism, but don’t think I shall consider myself to be one till our society is clear about the definition of “feminism”. Today feminism is all about male bashing – have an advertisement where the husband asks the wife to find him a pair of socks, come out the blog posts on how it is a degrading ad for women – portraying them as slaves etc. To me this sort of male bashing is NOT feminism. Feminism is standing up for women’s rights in all forms, but not taking away her feminity or criticizing the roles she chooses to enter into. Till we arrive at that consensus am happy to stay away from that tag!

My mother and my grandmother have been my greatest inspirations. The former has taught me to have a list of priority people in life and only be bothered about what they think – it has indeed helped a recluse like me become strong and contended in a big way. The latter has shaped my life, people say I think like her, need I say more?

‘Slut walk’ is the current wave which has hit India. Do you support such events?

I do, whole heartedly, but then again I would be more proud if the same continues despite not being supported by the media and being restricted to a day. Through my book I condemn all “date based and single day” activities – for then we look at commercializing them or tagging them for media attention – they then lose their cause, the crux. Everything must have a continuous voice I feel – an impactful start is indeed good but then it is more often a fizzle when it gets too much attention at the start.

After the success of “A calendar too crowded”, we await your next venture; any thoughts on your second novel?

Thank you, for awaiting the next venture, it’s so heartwarming to know that! My next fiction venture is under research and since I spend months researching about stories before I pen them it’ll take some time. Saying that, to give a glimpse it’s about the Indian education system, yet another topic I hold close and have a lot of things to speak about.

This novel is a must read for all. The USP of this novel is the sensitivity with which each issue faced by women are dealt with. From abortion, marital rape to dowry issues, ‘A Calendar too crowded’ is a slice of Blueberry cheese cake which will leave you mesmerized, a tingling feeling of wanting more. A book which is echoes the silence of a women’s pleas, a delight.


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