What I said
I would like to begin by acknowledging:
- The traditional owners of the land on which we’re gathered here today, and elders past, present and emerging.
- All elders from the diverse communities present here today
- Three very special elders from my own family: my father who believed ‘girls can do anything’, my maternal grandmother and grandfather: all of them shared experiences and insights that I found invaluable when crafting this book. I should add though this is a work of fiction, the only real people are the historical ones who pop up from time to time.
What the book is about
The book is about an era of Indian history – 1900-1947-which has long fascinated me and was the time period of my Ph.D. thesis. This is when the Indian national movement for independence gained momentum and ended in India becoming independent. It was also the era of increased momentum in social activism which underpinned post-independence social reforms.
Both these movements gave rise to India’s first wave of feminists in India often called national-feminists as their work for equity occurred within the broader context of India’s independence movement.
I have also included a third dimension, which is the everyday lives of women within both their families of birth and their families of marriage and their relationships with others from a different ethnic, religious and socio-economic background and the changes that took root in this period.
For this generation of women all three dimensions were inextricably intertwined.
Much of this action is seen through the thoughts and experiences of twins from a middle-class Bengali Hindu family– Mukti and Lila, and a young English girl, Elizabeth who becomes their friend.
Born two and a half minutes apart, Mukti and Lila think and act in different ways as they grow up. Mukti longs to move beyond the complex family structures, and have the same opportunities as the men, while Lila is a poet and dreamer who hasn’t quite worked out what she would like her destiny to be. Their close relationship is like the rose with its thorn ‘Roses are like life- they sweeten the air and our lives but they could not survive without the thorns to protect them’. I’ve left it to the reader to decide who is who.
Elizabeth is also torn between her father’s affection for India and Indians and her mother’s dislike of all things Indian and strong desire to return to England. Elizabeth too wants to move beyond the constraints imposed on English women in that time.
Why did I write the book?
The reason for writing this book is simple: to add to our store of hitherto untold her stories. When I was doing my research in India, I found all the information was about the high flyers.
I felt it was important to tell these herstories which are not well-known in India and even less well-known in the West. As I said in the prologue ‘There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…’ for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives”. Their lives and stories will be blown away by the wind unless I and my sisters record and share them with all who care and love’.
Writing this book was also another way to contest widespread perceptions among many Indians and also Westerners of all Indian women as being oppressed and unable to be agents of change for themselves and others and to present some positive role models for our younger generation. It is important for everyone to have some role models who look and speak like them and whose reality approximates their own.
The book is also my way of seeking to establish cultural connections between my country of origin, India, and my country of settlement- Australia that goes beyond cricket and curries.
It provided a way to explore some themes which are universal – struggle, betrayal, love, growth as a person- though I acknowledge there are differences in context within and across communities and nations.
I believe the differences spark our interest and imaginations.
The commonalities emphasize our collective humanity and strengthen our interconnectedness.
That is all from me.