Fiction has the power to make you see, and relate to, things and people you were otherwise blind or indifferent to. As feminism continues to fight the war for acceptance in an increasingly patriarchal world, the power of fiction in spreading its message shall not be underestimated. The following are a few works of fiction by Indian-English authors that every woman, and her allies, must read.
When I hit you, Meena Kandasamy (2017)
A poetic breakdown of toxic masculinity, this novel shows how women are subject to abuse within their own homes are stripped of their autonomy and agency. But, while society expects a woman to tacitly endure her reality, there’s a hard hitting realization that a woman needs to armour up and save herself. Alternately named ‘The Portrait of the author as a young wife,’ this autobiographical tale of domestic abuse and its normalization is relatable to every girl who grew up in the patriarchal world that is India.
Ladies Coupe, Anita Nair (2001)
Finding a common point between a novel and an anthology, this books tells the stories of women across the spectrums of age, class, and caste. The women whom the protagonist Akhila, a 45-year-old unmarried woman in search of an old love, meets in the ladies compartment of a long-distance train journey – each one with a unique, compelling story of her own – are women you meet every day. And that relatability is, undeniably, the core reason for the success of this book – which has been translated into 21 languages.
The Liberation of Sita, Volga (2015)
Translated from Telugu short-story collection Vimukta Kadha Samputi, which won the Sahitya Akademy Award in 2015, this book gives a new perspective on the character of Sita. She meets the forgotten women of Ramayana – Urmila, Renuka, Ahalya, and Surpanakha - through the stories, and the feminist undertones of each story leave a mark on the reader. Not only does Volga introduce these characters as women who have broken free from everything and everyone that held them back, she also enables Sita to relook her own experiences through this sisterhood.
The Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (2008)
One of the rare modern day retellings of the Mahabharata epic from the perspective of Draupadi, this book is undoubtedly among the best feminist works of fiction by an Indian author. Digging deep into a character who is complex and enigmatic, strong yet fragile, this novel reimagines Draupadi’s aches, desires, and follies too.
It even deliberates on her relationship with Krishna, Kunti, and the Pandavas like never before. In surreal language, the stream of consciousness charms the reader into Draupadi’s world – one which redefines love, power, self-worth, vengeance, and truth.
Sita – Warrior of Mithila, Amish Tripathi (2017)
The second book in the three-part Ramachandra series, this novel presents Sita as an intelligent leader, remarkable administrator, and a fierce warrior. The book follows Sita's journey from an abandoned baby to becoming the Prime Minister of Mithila, and later the saviour and leader who will re-establish dharma, peace and order. A thoughtful retake on a character rarely portrayed as one beyond a wife, this book is a must-read for those who love retellings of the Indian mythology which most of us grew up listening to.
(Edited by Varnika Gupta)