Slanted perspective with contradictions galore

 How do marriage, motherhood and society work itself into a woman’s success? These are questions that Gita Aravamudan, in her book, Unbound: Indian Women @ Work, seeks to answer. Does she answer them? You will have to read and find out.

Unbound, a collection of experiences of working women, analyses the nature of success that women in India aim to and have achieved in this day and age, and the obstacles they face in the form of “glass ceilings, glass escalators, (and) glass ladders”. Primarily about women engineers, IT and call centre professionals based in Bangalore and the other south Indian cities, it also covers domestic helps, hairdressers, entertainment and media professionals.

Filled with quotes of personal incidences faced by the women interviewed, the author makes her presence felt with occasional interventions with her perceptions. Language and structure seem to have stepped into the sidelines arguably out of choice. This could be because the author expected the narrative and the framework of her argument to magically render an attractive structure to the book, which is sadly not the case. While there is logic to the order in which stories and interviews appear, there is no charm that holds the book together. Moreover, the outstretched manner that the author uses to link the stories is haphazard and tiring to say the least.

There are many problems I have with this book. For the amount of effort it must have taken the author to collect the scores of featured interviews and data, this book loses its credibility by its sheer inefficiency of analysis. The author banters on with her perceptions using insensitive language like “ranted an irate blogger”. Here is another line, “Shefali (of kanta laga fame) in real life was as far removed as you could get from the girl in the video. She was a bright and pretty girl from a simple middle-class family…” The insinuations that line makes are, in my opinion, an antithesis of what the book professes to stand for. Unbound has a generous smattering of such lines.

One of my other issues with the book, which could possibly be explained away by the brilliant research term “convenient sampling”, is the fact that most of the women interviewed are Bangalore (or south Indian city)-based or friends or family of the same. The @ in the title could perhaps help justify the focus on women working in IT-related fields. Women bankers, lawyers, government employees, driving school teachers and others seem to be non-existent or not facing professional dynamics at all. The distant, yet, distinguishable stench of male bashing pulls Unbound down the sensibility chart.

Having said all that, this is the book to pick up if you want to read stories of strife undergone by women of this generation while standing up in a ‘men’s world’. Sexist as it may be, all the flak cannot be heaped on the author, as most of the incidents are quoted. As the blurb reiterates, these are stories of “real women”. Maybe, perhaps “real women”  living in the “real world” do lead sexist lives, though my guess would be that they couldn’t care less about their gender in their rush to make ends meet.

With a little more focus, this book could have turned itself into an ingenious dwelling on the lives of women in new age India. But, it sadly teeters into a slanted point of view of outdated feminism, coming from a heavy baggage of social norms. The best that I am able to say about this book is that it is a definite movement away from the second wave of feminism with its universal and singular ideologies.

Unbound: Indian Women @ Work
Gita Aravamudan
Penguin
2010, pp 213
Rs 250

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