Earlier this month, I read my work in public for the first time. It was a short personal essay, and I suspect I read faster than I should have. My voice was warbly and my hands were shaking the entire time. It was more exciting than I imagined it would be. Of course, it helped that two women in the audience came up to me after, to tell me they enjoyed my essay, and another person complimented my outfit. I can’t say if I will be reading again anytime soon, but it’s good to know this is something I can do.
If you are here looking for book reviews, I am not going to disappoint you. I haven’t been reading as much as I would like – isn’t this always the case though?
The Untouchables by Narendra Jadhav
This is the story of three generations of a Dalit family, and their struggles to make their way out of the caste system. Born into a Mahar family, a caste that is given the most menial tasks in every village, the author’s parents go through many trials as they raise a family in a society that is hostile in both direct and indirect ways. The author’s father lived during Dr. Ambedkar’s time, and was a follower of Babasaheb’s teachings, even attending the mass conversion to Buddhism.
It is worth noting how much better the situation of the Dalit man was/is in comparison to the Dalit woman. It is also interesting that the author’s daughter, with a cosmopolitan upbringing, did not know about her caste until she was twelve years old, when a teacher asked her if she was the Dalit scholar Narendra Jadhav’s daughter.
Here is a line from the book: “It is an unfortunate truth of our society that whatever heights a man might scale, his caste is never cast off; it remains an inseparable part of his identity. … Only the type of humiliation changes.”
I agree with this. While people make proud claims that they don’t believe in caste system, a closer look at their lives (or even their social media presence) will reveal their caste biases. People are quick to react with contempt when talk veers to caste based politics, or they like to declare caste exists in the past/in villages, without sparing a thought to how much irony is contained in that moment, or how their lack of self-awareness betrays their prejudices and ignorance. Maybe they speak in politically correct ways and do not think of themselves as casteist, but they are experts in micro-aggressions and unnecessary feelings of superiority, or acquiescing to practices that are rooted in discrimination.
Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
This is a graphic novel that tells the story of Clementine through her diaries. Clem is a high school student, an anxious teenager discovering herself and her sexual identity. She falls in love with the older and more confident Emma, who is an art student in a relationship with another woman. We follow the tumultuous relationship of Clem and Emma, as they work through many issues: Emma’s other lover, Clem’s refusal to embrace who she is, Clem’s parents throwing her out of the house after finding out the truth about her, infidelity and insecurity. Clem’s best friend is Valentin, someone who is comfortable in his skin as a gay man. Clem can also be who she wants to be, but she is constantly pulled in many directions.
The novel is tragic, almost melodramatic (Clem gets very sick and eventually dies). But it is an accurate description of how all-encompassing love can be, especially to an adolescent trying to understand herself. Clem is overwhelmed by love, by desire, by her identity, and the novel succeeds in communicating her pain to us, even if we may never experience it ourselves.