Sunday, March 31, 2013

Beyond The Blossoming Fields

Beyond The Blossoming Fields is an awe-inspiring story of one woman’s struggle to overcome gender inequality and senseless stereotyping.

Beyond The Blossoming Fields is a novel based on the remarkable real life story of Japan’s first officially certified female doctor of Western medicine. Originally written in Japanese by Jun’ichi Watanabe, it has been translated into English by Deborah Iwabuchi and Anna Isozaki. 

Ginko Ogino comes from a respectable family. The novel is set in the 19th century and as is customary to those days, she is married off in her teens. Unfortunately, she contracts gonorrhoea from a wayward husband and puts up silently with her suffering for several months. Without advanced medical care, her condition worsens, until finally one day, she can no longer bear it and she leaves her marital home. 

On the advice of her childhood mentor, she proceeds to get treated by a doctor of Western medicine. Sadly, there aren’t any female gynaecologists around in Japan at that time. Any woman who has had to endure a gynaecological exam would readily vouch that it is hardly something that one looks forward to. And for a young girl who has grown up in a secluded and protected environment to be subjected to an invasive, personal examination by a brusque and clinical doctor, is beyond dreadful; especially because it isn’t her fault that she picked up the terrible disease in the first place. 

The trauma that she undergoes during the course of her treatment, spurs Ginko on. She embraces the idea that she would one day become a doctor. For a woman to wish to be educated and to work as a doctor in the conservative and patriarchal society of the 1800s was definitely no joke. Even today, there are girls all over the world who are denied the right to education. One can then imagine how challenging it must have been for a woman to aspire to become a doctor during Ginko’s time.

Fighting a restrictive society which is impassive to her fate and is impervious to change, Ginko faces frustration, ridicule, contempt and even threats on the path of her dreams. One cannot help but be amazed by Ginko’s spirit and determination as she struggles to achieve her goal. From having to use the male restroom in college since there are no female restrooms, to running from pillar to post in the hope of being allowed to sit for the medical licensing exam, and being humiliated for being “just a woman” who thinks too much of herself, Ginko faces all her tribulations with a single-minded sense of purpose. 

Although I cannot claim to have undergone such harsh challenges as Ginko, as an Indian woman reading her story, one can still very well understand and identify with her struggle to prove herself. As it is the case with many translations, the prose is somewhat stilted at times. Nevertheless, Beyond The Blossoming Fields is an inspiring read indeed.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Henna For The Broken-Hearted

Henna For The Broken-Hearted is an autobiographical modern day love story of Sharell Cook, an expat living in India.

I had been meaning to read Henna For The Broken-Hearted for quite some time and finally managed to get my hands on it. To begin with, I really like the title of the book. I think it is so poetic – and also, aptly captures the spirit of the story in just a few words.

Henna For The Broken-Hearted is narrated in first person. It tells the story of how the author led a seemingly complete, but apparently empty, life in Australia. Faced with some life altering changes, Cook decides to volunteer in India – where she rediscovers life and love, and in the process, herself.

As I started reading Cook’s description of herself, I thought, “Oh that sounds so much like me!” For instance, she says, “Despite what some would call an idyllic childhood … I grew into a shy, closed and introverted teenager … used to spending time by myself among nature and absorbed in books.”As she goes on to explain her career choices and other expectations from life, I was hooked.

But of course, that is really where the similarity ends, for I am no white woman trying to find the true meaning of her life while struggling to accept India’s idiosyncrasies. And that is where I have a problem with this book. Although the premise of the story – the search for love and peace – is universal, the story itself isn’t. I am assuming that the target audience of this book is predominantly foreigners. A lot of everyday, common things which the average Indian needs no introduction to, are described in detail. Even the prices of stuff is first mentioned in rupees and then duly converted to dollars. Hence, at times, I wanted to just skim over the oh-so-familiar details of Ganesh Chathurthi and arranged marriages. 

The book does give one an insider’s perspective of life in India – as Cook eventually settles down in Mumbai – but it is also peppered with the typical clich├ęs about Indians; how we don’t stand in queues, how we push and shove in crowded places, how everything is plagued by bureaucratic red tape, how we make a fuss about grand weddings, how we wobble our heads and so on. Yes, yes (and I’m wobbling my head here), we know all that. Now can we move on?

But, apart from the done-to-death details about India, Cook’s story is a remarkable one indeed. One definitely has to admire the fact that she was brave enough to venture into India at a time when she was down in the dumps in her personal life. Afterall life in India is far from easy and needs a lot of “adjustments”, especially for those who come from orderly and follow-all-the-rules countries. Even many Indians like me, who get used to a comfortable lifestyle, would find India quite demanding, regardless of whether we love the country and consider it our home or not. 

I felt sorry for Cook, when she found herself in an Indian style squat toilet, clueless as to how to proceed! In her initial accommodation, when she is kept awake by an army of mosquitoes, I was reminded of my recent trip to Chennai; unable to sleep because of incessantly swatting mosquitoes that no amount of Odomos or Good Night could drive out, I indeed found myself longing for the cozy comfort of my bed in Dubai for a long and restful sleep!

Henna For The Broken-Hearted, is somewhat similar in theme to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. But I enjoyed reading Eat, Pray, Love more than this book. It could be because, Eat, Pray, Love takes us to Italy and Indonesia, apart from India, and since I am fascinated by both these countries, I found them exotic enough. Another reason I think Eat, Pray, Love, is better, is that although telling a personal story, it somehow managed to look at the bigger picture in the larger scheme of things. But Henna For The Broken-Hearted, is an intensely personal story, which focuses almost entirely on the author’s ups and downs. Although, the author’s courage in sharing her innermost fears and thoughts are to be admired, why would anyone want to wade through nearly 300 pages of a book detailing the nitty-gritties of a random stranger – especially if you already know how it all ends, since the author is quite popular in the blogosphere as she runs the Diary Of A White Indian Housewife site? In that sense, I felt that something was missing from Henna For The Broken-Hearted. A good read – but going beyond the personal, would have made it a great one.

Monday, March 4, 2013

9 Life Gyans @29

These days, everyone seems to think that they’ve attained nirvana. The kind of people who spout “life truths” and the kind of gyan that is being lapped up by one and all led me to believe, that I too can spout my own version of life’s “hidden truths”! After a decade of disastrous decisions, surely I can do this, no? Since I’m turning 29 today, I thought of sharing 9 lessons learnt from my not-so-short life! So here goes nothing!

1) Never say never: Many of us, including yours truly, do this. When we witness someone doing something which we opine is outrageous, we are prompt to judge and say, “Oh I would never do ___!” But do we really know that for sure? What makes us so confident? Have we gone through the same situations and emotions that the person in question has? If we were in that same position, God only knows what we would do. Several times, I’ve been quick to say Never! Only to discover a little way down the road, that I spoke too soon. So, let’s not be quick to jump to conclusions – and then find that we have to eat our own words.

2) Love yourself first: I am not asking you to be selfish – but a little self-centeredness is really not a bad thing. Love yourself, treat yourself, pamper yourself, indulge yourself, celebrate yourself, improve yourself – because the most important person in your life is you. And if you don't love yourself first, you can not love anyone else truly.

3) The truth is you only have you to depend on in this life: Yes. Parents, teachers, spouse, friends, colleagues, pets, neighbours, strangers – everyone will come only so far in life. Beyond that, you have only yourself. But, you have you – and that is the most important relationship of all. Nurture it.

4) Get to know the guy/girl before marrying him/her: I don’t have anything against arranged marriages and of course know a lot of happy couples who’ve had arranged marriages. Nevertheless, if possible, try to have a “love” marriage. And I am not talking about the typical Bollywood type of love marriages – boy meets girl, Bam! Cupid strikes, they fight, they cuddle, they sing and dance, they beat up some villains, they get married and live happily ever after. No sir. Spend time with each other, do things together, discover each other’s positives and negatives, learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, grow together, share your thoughts and interests, talk, laugh and cry together, become friends, go on dates, travel together, volunteer together, watch movies, listen to music, read and discuss, fight and makeup, be there for each other, give it time, atleast a couple of years – and then, if you think that you want a lifetime more of the same, then get married. Of course, I agree that it is not possible to know everything about a person but atleast you’ve laid the foundation for a solid relationship, that is meant to last through thick and thin.

5) If it doesn’t work out, it’s ok: Sometimes – well, who am I kidding – most times, life doesn’t go according to our plans. At the risk of sounding cliched, there are no guarantees in life. People disappoint us and we end up being hurt and angry. Let it be. Cry your eyes out, mourn for a while, be glum and dejected and mope around eating tubs of ice-cream. But, move on, after a while. If it is meant to be, it will be; else simply let go. Don’t waste your time, energy and emotions on would-haves and could-have-beens, but don’t regret the experience either. The fact is, every person we meet in our life, teaches us something – about ourselves, about life. Learn from it. Smile and get on with your life. Don’t let bitterness pull you down and make you cynical; open yourself to new experiences.

6) Travel: I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Travel truly broadens your horizons and gives you a new perspective. Travel as much as you can, and see yourself in a new light.

7) Live by yourself: atleast for a couple of years. Fend for yourself, do chores, run errands, pay the bills, wash your clothes, cook your meals, clean your bathroom – learn to be self-sufficient. It doesn’t matter if it was your dad who was doing all this earlier; it doesn’t matter if someone else will do it for you later. Atleast, you will know that you can do all that – and much more – if the need arises.

8) Earn: I believe that every woman should have worked for atleast a short while. Relocation, marriage, kids or other such responsibilities or even lack of interest might not allow you to continue to work. But atleast for a short while, go to work – meet new people and keep learning. Save some money – just for yourself.

9) Have a hobby: So many people complain that they feel bored when they are by themselves. But practically speaking, no one is going to be with you 24/7. That is why it is essential to keep up a hobby – anything which interests you. Don’t give it up – it will sustain and refresh you.


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