There are some subjects on which hundreds of books can be written and yet, there will always be something new to say. Leadership is one — there must be easily thousands of books on the subject. Similarly, the everyday struggles that women face — even those from privileged backgrounds — have spawned a whole genre of books.
Former news anchor Shaili Chopra, and creator of the platform, SheThe People.TV, is in a good place to train her lens on this subject. And she comes up with refreshing new perspectives. Her platform launched in 2015 has been doing women related stories, both video and text, and is Asia’s largest women’s channel.
But while the stories from SheThePeople.TV have provided learnings, Chopra’s book draws from plenty of other sources — her own life, the people she has interviewed while she was a news reporter, friends, family, women in beauty parlours, women who do housework, girls from remote villages who are challenging convention, and so on. It is also backed by strong, authoritative data from World Bank, McKinsey, IndiaSpend reports as well as Indian government sources.
Breezy, chatty style
It’s an easy to read book — written in a breezy, chatty first-person style. It brings together very real stories of women around us and their changing circumstances. It talks about how girls are raised versus boys. It talks about the work women do — visible and invisible.
It talks about women’s health and the way they have to stay silent and grin and bear things like period pain. It talks about marriage and the saas-bahu relationship. It talks about the sex life of women and lack of equality between the sheets. It talks about women and their equation with money.
Through hundreds of stories and anecdotes it highlights all the niggling problems women face. But it also celebrates the wins — big and small. The way women are breaking free by seizing opportunities where they can, by making bold choices.
The chapter on single women is especially wonderful as it brings to us the voices of those who opted not to marry and “settle down” and are helping change perceptions. No longer is the unmarried state something to pity, but seems enviable. As familiar social media face Harini Calamur, who lives with her dog Cookie, says, singlehood is “the exuberance of being yourself”.
Many of these stories fill you with joy and inspiration — especially those like that of Pragnya Ganesh Lohan in Raigad, who is the district’s first woman carpenter and shut down the doubters in the village over “girls can’t do this”. Or the way Shweta Katti who grew up in a Mumbai brothel, managed to get a scholarship from New York’s Bard College and pursued her education dreams against all odds.
It’s a book full of conversations. And from these conversations you draw insights — many of them brilliant. For instance, Ruchi Pradhan, who has been setting up small businesses, tells the author that her money is her own money. The insight is that it’s not money that women are after when they set up small units, but it’s the independence and self-confidence that it brings them.
The idea behind the book, says Arora, is to focus on how women can build a sisterhood to support and understand each other in a judgment-free way, thereby lifting themselves and others to the next level. Sometimes all it takes is the girl sitting on the next chair in the airport waiting lounge to do that.
And the book ably fulfils this promise. Through hundreds of stories, it brings us an understanding, an empathy, a deep sorrow, and a sense of anger on what all women have to put up with, even as it instils a fierce pride at how we are managing to forge ahead, break free of conventions, despite all odds. It’s a book that not only all women should read, but also all men.
Check out the book on Amazon.