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For Women’s Day, we asked our authors for one book (some chose a poem; some several books :)) by a woman-author that has influenced them heavily, or shaped their thinking. We’ve got some lovely books to read up on:

Parvati-Sharma

“Everybody’s Mother” by Liz Lochhead, is a lovely, scathing poem for those (writers particularly?) who consider their mothers with angst alone. Everybody’s mother, ‘Always never/ loved you enough/ or too smothering much’; and ‘Naturally/ she failed to give you/ Positive Feelings’, but still… ‘Nobody’s mother can’t not never do nothing right’. It’s a closing argument that’s stayed with me since I read it, and if it didn’t change my life, it certainly changed my perspective, and may well have contributed to the spirit of mutual tolerance with which my mother and I relate to each other.

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Only the Soul Knows How to Sing and Tonight, this Savage Rite — both by Kamala Das. As a teenager, I read these poems and I knew for the first time that the incredible head-rush of feelings, sadnesses, betrayals–literally everything has (and can) actually be captured in words. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy–because, until then, I did not know that prose could be so poetic, that story-telling could be so explosive. Or that a writer could be so strong–Roy did not go on to tell more stories, she started calling out the state for its big dams and nuclear bombs–and I realized how powerful words (and the person who uses them) could be.

There’s one book that I cannot recall the name of—had short stories by Indian women, must have been a Kali for Women publication, paperback, and I read that when I was 12 or 13 and I actually realized I was *fucked* because I was a girl–story after story was how depressing it was, how women were treated badly, how they were sad and oppressed and alone and so on. That had a profound impact too.
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I started reading The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend when I was 8 or 9. I remember my mother saying I was too young to read it — that of course ensured I read every page twice in case I missed anything. It is the first book that made me laugh with tears and the first that broke my heart. I’ve never been more immersed in the world of a character.
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Strictly Personal: Manmohan and Gursharan, Daman Singh’s book on her parents, Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gursharan Kaur, throws light on the untouched and unspoken aspects of the reticent former prime minister’s life. Dr Singh’s story is an inspirational story, an example of the post-1947 Indian dream and Daman does full justice to the subject without being emotional. To my mind, that is a very hard thing to do while writing about your parents and I rate her very highly for doing it objectively.
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The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. When read at an innocent age, Howard Roark’s anti-establishment struggles to maintain his individuality and artistic vision leave a lasting idealism for objectivism. Doubly so for me, as at that young age, I was delighted to know that I shared my birthday with Ayn Rand. Much later, I kept looking for its symbolism in characters like that of SRK in Mohabbatein with lines like “… I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”
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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that changed my life. This was my true introduction to reading and therefore writing. The story piqued my interest in ‘coming of age’ stories and pushed me to come up with one of my own.
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I would choose Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This story of an orphan who takes her circumstances head on and refuses to be cowed down by them whether at Lowood school or later at Thornfield, when in the employ of Mr Rochester became my first feminist manifesto of sorts. Jane was defiant, knew her mind and spoke it. And most importantly, she was not a simperingly coy, breathtakingly beautiful heroine. She was ordinary, she was every woman. And she was fierce.
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Although I absolutely love Indian authors and usually lock myself and read every time Jhumpa Lahiri comes out with a book. I have to say, it’s J.K. Rowling that has truly inspired me. Besides weaving her magic, (quite literally) she taught me you can write about all the wonderful things in the world, even if you have lost your mother, had your first baby, gotten a divorce and live in a basement.
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Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was a coming-of-age novel in more ways than oneI read the book when I was ten years old and Jo March became my role model. The “subtle” lessons within the pages taught me the importance of love, family, individualism and fuelled my passion for writing.
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A book that has been a huge influence on my thinking in recent times is Susan Vreeland’s biography The Passion of Artemisia, the story of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi who, when raped at 17, painted her most famous artwork, Judith Slaying Holofernes, depicting herself as Judith and her rapist as Holofernes. Artemisia used her art to exact the justice that was denied to her.

 

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