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Published on January 16th, 2014

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Review: ‘The Diary Of A Reluctant Feminist’

This book is, without doubt, one of the most awful books to come out at the start of this year.
by Vrushali Lad | vrushali@themetrognome.in

Not all books one reads are good reads. Most of them are average, even tedious reads. But then you come across a book that is so bad, so futile, that every other bad book you’ve read in your life actually shines brighter in comparison.

Bhavna Bhavna’s The Diary Of A Reluctant Feminist is one such book. A look at the synopsis promised several good things, which prompted me to start reading it in the first place. The excerpt on the back cover goes thus:

‘The problem in my struggle for a divorce was in the small print – as with everything in my life it read “subject to my mother’s permission.” And since my mother was never going to allow me to divorce I was relegated to being an armchair divorcee…So I decided, after two years of being separated, to stop waiting for my parents’ elusive permission, and to take the initial steps in the painful journey myself. In this process, I was also branded a “feminist”, which in their view was marginally worse than being a “terrorist”…’

So far, so good. The problem actually began when I started reading it.

The problem with the book is: the whole book.

What could have been a (as promised by the publishers) “profoundly funny chronicle of a young woman’s attempt to get divorced…” is anything but. If anything, it is a whiny, outrageously cliched, lacking-in-the-essentials kind of book, with extremely lazy storytelling. In fact, subject to a few revisions and rewrites, this book could have been a bit closer to what it actually aims to be.

So the author brings out the entire jing bang of a large Punjabi family – a domineering matriarch heading the household, her obedient sons and their wives and children, how the arranging of marriages is a competitive sport, how traditions and customs set by the family’s elders are unquestioningly followed even after the elders’ deaths, how individual wishes of girls and women are never important, but the men get to exercise their rights, and so on. Unfortunately, the story does not rise about these elements at all.

I’m not saying nobody will like this book, it may find its fair share of admirers. Why I am not one of those admirers is because when I read a book, I want to be told something I don’t already know. I don’t mean I should be told an entertaining account of the Higgs Boson, for instance, but when I pick up a book about a woman wanting to tell her overbearing Punjabi family that she wants to get a divorce, I want to be a told the story that makes me 1) Sympathise with the protagonist, 2) See the (promised) hilarity in the several (often banal) exchanges between the woman and her strict parents, 3) Feel the woman’s tension as she tries and fails to save her marriage before deciding to separate from her husband, and 4) Most importantly, find a non-cliched representation of a loveless relationship of the kind we see often in the till-death-do-us-part milieu of Indian marriages.

Instead, all the reader gets is a series of cliches thrown at him one after the other, in a rambling account of the protagonist’s increasingly failing marriage, how her opinion has never been solicited even on matters affecting her life, how her family and indeed, all of society, gangs up on her once her singleton status is established, and how nobody gives her a chance at doing good for herself. Well, boo hoo. What is even more annoying is the sweeping assumption that this is what all girls in large Punjabi families go through – I’m not saying these things don’t happen, but since they do happen fairly regularly, what is the point of telling us just that? And while we’re on the subject, when will be stop caricaturing Punjabi families in this fashion? Aren’t there good, wholesome, uncliched stories about Punjabis to be told at all?

In short, I do not recommend this book at all. If you still want to read it, knock yourselves out here.

Rating: 1.

Rating scale: 1 = Awful; 2 = Slightly rubbish; 3 = Tolerable read; 4 = Good; 5 = Paisa vasool

(Pictures courtesy www.flipkart.com, www.theatlantic.com)

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