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January 25, 2012 / subramanyam

A calendar too crowded :: A review


          I did not know what I was getting into when I started the book “A Calendar too crowded”.  Written by Sagarika Chakraborthy,  this book is a collection of short stories and poems which speak about the problems and issues of today’s women.  In this book the author questions the conventional thinking and the estabilished beliefs about women and their role in the society.  Some points made by her look very valid but some of the stories have a very strong feministic touch and I found it tough at times to proceed with  the book.

What I liked in the book ?

          There are some stories which I liked very much, The one that appealed the most to me is “selling a body to gain a mind ” was beautiful, the way the author presented the mother –daughter bond and the determination they display in fighting one of the menaces engulfing us is very good.  This story might alter one’s views on sex workers.  The other stories that left an impression on me are “Knowledge beyond the printed letters” (this story tells us about the essence of education— a very beautiful one ) and “Living by the double edged sword”.

          I also liked the narration style in some of the stories, the author has done a good job when it comes to style and presentation of content.

What I did not like ?

          The strong doses of feminism, though there were some stories that were balanced enough,  I felt there was a strong dose of feminism in others.  I donot know how an average girl would respond to it, but it might drive the menfolk away from the book. 

          Yes, there are problems, there are differences in the way a boy and girl are being viewed by the society. Yes, there are problems, there are differences in the way a man at work and a woman at work are percieved, but then things are evolving and I strongly believe that a radical view towards any sex is only going to damage things further, if the intent is for a better society the view and the thought process ought to be inclusive.

          I have got to differ with the author on the subject of adoption, in one of the stories the couple have got part ways due to this issue. In the story the wife does not want to bear a child but she rather wants to adopt one. The husband says no and they part their ways.  I am not against adoption, I do support adoption but that should happen with the consent of both the partners, if a woman does not want to bear kids for the sake of her career or some thing else, it is always advisable to bring this discussion upfront (before marriage) so that they both enter the wedlock only when their opinions match.  I felt blaming it all on the husband was not correct, I felt he is justified when he wanted to have a  child from his wife.

          I might disagree on the dressing part again , but I think I have debated enough of it already in one of my previous posts hence I am not bringing it up here again, the conservativ person I am,  I cannot still accept the idea of not changing the surnames after marriage, surnames indeed a bigger relavence and meaning and unfortunately today we see an increasing breed of women not willing to change their surnames.

          The author has drawn from some of the hindu epics, I felt there was a misunderstanding somewhere. I believe there are some misgivings as to understanding of the epics is concerned.  One should not see everything from a single viewpoint, I felt the author was looking at epics also from a feministic view.  

          For example, in one of the stories the lead is inspired by “Shikhandi”, if you look at the character of Amba(Amba later becomes Shikhandi) in Mahabharata, you would understand that her’s was a case of misplaced priorities, She loved Salva raja, but she did not tell it before Swayamvaram, she was confident that Salva will win the battle at the Swayamvaram.  On the contrary Bhishma (on behalf of his younger brother Vichitravirya)wins the Swayamvaram and upon hearing to  Amba (she tells Bhishma that she loves Salva), Bhishma leaves her and tells her that she free to marry whomever she wants. Now, when she returns to Salva Raja, Salva also rejects her saying he lost the battle and she belongs to winner not the loser(as proscribed in the rules of Swayamvaram). Now,  she comes back to Bhishma who again rejects her marriage to his brother on the grounds that a King should never marry a lady who has her love and affection for another person.  Then Amba goes on tapsaya and gets the boon to become a Shikhandi and dislodge Bhishma.  In this story, I strongly feel it was Amba’s mindset and misplaced priorities that brought her to the condition where she was left in the end.  Her anger on Bhishma is also uncalled for, her father declared the swayamvaram and Bhishama participated in it. She should have expressed her love to her parents before, incase they did not listen and all the mess was because of that decision from her parents she should have been angry with them or with Salva for rejecting her choices, what has Bhishma got to do with all this? All the while he stood by his Dharma and it was Amba who messed her life up. 

          I did not like the lead of a story drawing inspiration from this sort of a lady, if she was looking for a self confident woman from Mahabharatha, there are n number of women like Sakuntala, Kunti, Satybhama etc… I did not know why author picked up “Shikhandi”. The very reason I dwelled so much on this point is that we should not present epics and religious literature with wrong interpretations to generations that follow.  One ought to be cautious while drawing from epics, its better to sit with some verified and tested authority before drawing from the holy books. Otherwise, we might endup committing bigger mistakes than the ones we can imagine.

 Conclusion

          I liked some of the points raised by the author, but they are outnumbered by the number of things that I tend to disagree with the author.  A more balanced perspective might help the author bring the change she intends to bring. Sagarika writes well, she knows her language  and has a remarkable flair that keeps the reader glued to the book.  Her stint at ISB, her education as a lawyer, her expertise on issues like governance would come handy for her in order to project the plight of women better.  I think,  a more balanced perspective and a more inclusive theme would take her places and make her one of the celebrated writers of our era.

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7 Comments

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  1. Pepper / Jan 26 2012 7:17 am

    I appreciate the honesty with which you’ve written this review. I am yet to read the book so I shall refrain from commenting on most of the aspects you’ve mentioned here. A part of me wants to jump to Sagarika’s defense already. Not because she is friend, but because I sense some amount of biases in your line of thought.

    Something you said disturbed me deeply. For starters, “I cannot still accept the idea of not changing the surnames after marriage, surnames indeed a bigger relavence and meaning and unfortunately today we see an increasing breed of women not willing to change their surnames”

    Yes, I belong to that “breed of women”. You’ve made a big statement there, without providing any logical backing or support for your argument. May I ask you why you believe a woman is expected to change her last name while a man gets to retain his? Maybe you can put forth your point of view so that I understand your reasons better.

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    • Subramanyam K.V / Jan 26 2012 10:34 am

      Pepper ,
      Thank you for your comment. I am a person with more conservative leanings and hence my thought process might not go too well with many people. This was precisely the reason I did not want to write a review for this book and informed Sagarika about my choice, but she wanted me write one and I wrote this piece. Some parts of this my review might not go well with many people and I am not really that interested in any argument on these things, for, our thoughts on these issues are heavily influenced by our upbringing and the experiences/situations our lives have placed/offered to us. The irony is that have little control and choice on this stuff. However, as you asked me about the surnames part of it, I am giving some explanation about it.

      Yes, Surnames and Gotra have a bigger relevance which we need to know. In India we have 2 interesting thing which people do when it comes to marriage, 1. They do not marry people with the same surname (predominant practice in south India) 2. People donot marry with in the same gothra. They say marriage with in the same gothra or surname is like marriage between a brother or sister. While most surnames represent the family lineage, or from whom or where the family has come some surnames reflect the occupation of the family.

      O.K, what if the girl chooses to retain her surname and does not adopt the husband’s or husband’s families surname. What will be the surname they will give to their children ? What if their children wish to take up their mother’s surname and not their father’s ? What if they choose to retain both , in these cases we might run into the risk of creating some gener\tic disorders in the society . Any order or institution created by Rishis has its own significance. It is not just a gender issue.

      Basically I treat this surname business as an extension of Gothra system and here is the reason why a wife’s gothra /surname should change after the marriage.

      Chromosomes and Genes

      Humans have 23 pairs of Chromosomes and in each pair one Chromosome comes from the father and the other comes from the mother. So in all we have 46 Chromosomes in every cell, of which 23 come from the mother and 23 from the father.

      Of these 23 pairs, there is one pair called the Sex Chromosomes which decide the gender of the person. During conception, if the resultant cell has XX sex chromosomes then the child will be a girl and if it is XY then the child will be a boy. X chromosome decides the female attributes of a person and Y Chromosome decides the male attributes of a person.

      When the initial embryonic cell has XY chromosome, the female attributes get suppressed by the genes in the Y Chromosome and the embryo develops into a male child. Since only men have Y Chromosomes, son always gets his Y Chromosome from his father and the X Chromosome from his mother. On the other hand daughters always get their X Chromosomes, one each from both father and mother.

      So the Y Chromosome is always preserved throughout a male lineage (Father – Son – Grandson etc) because a Son always gets it from his father, while the X Chromosome is not preserved in the female lineage (Mother, Daughter, Grand Daughter etc) because it comes from both father and mother.

      A mother will pass either her mother’s X Chromosome to her Children or her father’s X Chromosome to her children or a combination of both because of both her X Chromosomes getting mixed (called as Crossover). On the other hand, a Son always gets his father’s Y Chromosome and that too almost intact without any changes because there is no corresponding another Y chromosome in his cells to do any mixing as his combination is XY, while that of females is XX which hence allows for mixing as both are X Chromosomes.

      Y Chromosome and the Vedic Gotra System

      By now you might have got a clue about the relation between Y Chromosome and the Hindu Vedic Gotra System

      Y Chromosome is the only Chromosome which gets passed down only between the men in a lineage. Women never get this Y Chromosome in their body. And hence Y Chromosome plays a crucial role in modern genetics in identifying the Genealogy ie male ancestry of a person. And the Gotra system was designed to track down the root Y Chromosome of a person quite easily. If a person belongs to Angirasa Gotra then it means that his Y Chromosome came all the way down over thousands of years of timespan from the Rishi Angirasa! And if a person belongs to a Gotra (say Bharadwaja) with Pravaras (Angirasa, Bhaarhaspatya, Bharadwaja), then it means that the person’s Y Chromosome came all the way down from Angirasa to Bhaarhaspatya to Bharadwaja to the person.

      This also makes it clear why females are said to belong to the Gotra of their husbands after marriage. That is because women do not carry Y Chromosome, and their Sons will carry the Y Chromosome of the Father and hence the Gotra of a woman is said to be that of her husband after marriage. Pretty neat isn’t it?

      All iz well so far, we now know the science behind the Gotra System. The ancient vedic Rishis hence very well knew the existence of the Y Chromosome and the paternal genetic material that was passed almost intact from father to Son, and hence created the Gotra system to identify their male lineages. Lord Buddha for instance belonged to Gautama Gotra which means that Buddha was a direct descendant of Rishi Gautama.

      But then what is the reason to prevent marriages between individuals belonging to the same Gotra? Before we get into that, let us understand a bit more about the Y Chromosome.

      The Weakness of the Y Chromosome

      The Y Chromosome is the only Chromosome which does not have a similar pair in the human body. The pair of the Y Chromosome in humans is X Chromosome which is significantly different from Y Chromosome. Even the size of the Y Chromosome is just about one third the size of the X Chromosome. In other words throughout evolution the size of the Y Chromosome has been decreasing and it has lost most of its genes and has been reduced to its current size. Scientists are debating whether Y Chromosome will be able to survive for more than a few million years into the future or whether it will gradually vanish, and if it does so whether it will cause males to become extinct! Obviously because Y Chromosome is the one which makes a person male or a man. And if it becomes extinct, Biologists are not sure whether any other Chromosome in our body will be able to completely take over its functionality or not.

      And the reason for all this is that unlike other Chromosomes, there is no way for Y Chromosome to repair itself by doing cross over with its Chromosomal pair. All other Chromosomes come in similar pairs and when there the DNA of one Chromosome gets damaged the cell can repair it by copying over the DNA from the other Chromosome in that pair as both the Chromosomes in all other pairs are almost identical in nature. This copying (or crossing over as it is called) also allows different combinations of mix and matches to happen between the genes of mother and father and allows the best of the matches to survive and hence make the Chromosomes stronger as they evolve in successive generations. Even X Chromosomes in female undergo this mix and match since there are two X Chromosomes in women.

      However Y Chromosomes do not have any corresponding equivalent Chromosome in its pair. It can exist only in a XY Combination and X cannot mix and match with Y except for a small 5% of X which matches with Y, while the remaining 95% of Y Chromosome which is crucial in the development of a male have absolutely no match at all!. It is this 95% of the Y Chromosome which is completely responsible in humans for creating a male or a man.

      But at the same time, Y Chromosome has to depend on itself to repair any of its injuries and for that it has created duplicate copies of its genes within itself. However this does not stop DNA damages in Y Chromosome which escape its local repair process from being propagated into the offspring males. This causes Y Chromosomes to accumulate more and more defects over a prolonged period of evolution and scientists believe that this is what is causing the Y Chromosome to keep losing its weight continuously.

      As discussed earlier other Chromosomes do not face this issue because they have corresponding pairs from both the parents and the DNA damage could be easily corrected most of the time by the mix and match process that takes place between the two Chromosomes in a pair. This Chromosomal crossover process eliminates damaged genes and is one of the key processes in evolution of life.

      So to summarize, Y Chromosome which is crucial for the creation and evolution of males has a fundamental weakness which is denying it participation in the normal process of evolution via Chromosomal mix and match to create better versions in every successive generation, and this weakness MAY lead to the extinction of Y Chromosome altogether over the next few million years, and if that happens scientists are not sure whether that would cause males to become extinct or not. And that is because Scientists are not sure whether any other Chromosome in the 23 pairs will be able to take over the role of the Y Chromosome or not. Is there a 2012 like doomsday calendar for Y Chromosome sometime in the future?

      On the other hand, it is not necessary that humanity will not be able to survive if males become extinct. Note that females do not need the Y Chromosome, and since all females have X Chromosomes, it would be still possible to create a mechanism where X Chromosomes from different females are used to create offspring, say like injecting the nuclei from the egg of one female into the egg of another female to fertilize it and that would grow into a girl child. So yes, that would be a humanity where only females exist.

      This also explains why Hinduism and its Vedic core regard Mother Goddess or female divinity to be more powerful than all male divinity put together .

      Please let me know in case this argument makes sense . Thaks again for your comment.
      Thank you
      Subbu

      Parts of this comment have been taken from online resources.

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      • Pepper / Jan 30 2012 8:41 am

        Thank you for the very detailed reply. However, I still haven’t understood a lot of things.

        – What happens in a love marriage, or a “choice marriage”? The gotras are not matched in such cases. Why then should a girl have to change her last name? Or are you also against the concept of love marriages?

        – Why is it wrong for individuals belonging to the same gotra to get married? You say it is like marrying your brother or your sister. You have not said why, though you said you will talk about it.

        – “What if they choose to retain both , in these cases we might run into the risk of creating some gener\tic disorders in the society” Not clear. What genetic disorders can result from children retaining both surnames?

        – I know a lot of cases in South India in which uncles have married their nieces, or first cousins have been made to marry each other. So is it okay for people with such close blood relationships to marry when their Gotras are different, even though it has obvious genetic consequences? But it is not okay for two unrelated individuals to marry each other just because they belong to the same gotra?

        – Anyway, I will accept what you say for now. But it looks like the sole purpose of changing a woman’s surname and gotra post-marriage is to track the lineage right? But why can’t it be done by changing just the gotra instead of both? A gotra is less associated with the primary identity of a person than their name. My concern with a woman being forced to change her surname is that her identity is lost/changed. This is not an issue if only the gotra is changed. From what you say, the gotra is sufficient to track lineage and demarcate the boundaries of marriage. So it doesn’t look like changing the surname serves any genetic purpose. If there is some explanation for the surname too, I’d like to hear it.

        – And what if a woman was married to 2 different men (due to death or divorce) and she bore them both sons. Obviously the sons inherit the Gotra and Y chromosome of their respective fathers. But now which one is the woman’s Gotra? As the wife/mother of father/son 1, she should belong the Gotra 1 but as the wife/mother of father/son 2, she will belong to Gotra 2. Both fathers are dead and both sons are alive. Now, what happens?

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      • Subramanyam K.V / Feb 1 2012 1:38 am

        Thaks for Coming Back , Well, nice questions ,

        Coming to the last paragraph,there are some important things here, See, in case of the death of the first husband and she marries a second one and still has a son from the first person , the boy will retain his father’s gothra but I think the mothers gothra will change and and it will not have any effect on the Gothra of the first son. Similarly the second one will have his fathers gothra and the mother will retain her second husband’s gothra only. This is purely my thinking and am not sure f this is what is recommended by the scriptures. In Hinduism we never had this concepts of Divorce and remarriages due to which getting information on this sort of tricky situations is tough. I ‘ll try to find out if we can get any information regarding this .

        Now coming to your identity crisis part for a girl when she changes her surname , I think it has got more to do with personality then identity . We have seen a lot of women who with their talents,virtues and hard work have created and carved a niche for themselves in the society , it did not matter which surnames they carried. Thier identities were not lost, for example no one remember Sarojini naidu was into freedom struggle even before she was married and post marriage when she added naidu (her husbands name) to her name her identity was not lost rather. Same is the case with Durga bai Deshmukh, jhansi ki rani , Kittor rani kannamma, does any one remember their husbands names or lineages no right , not required also , these women were icons and they created their space in the world. So I believe no identity is lost when a surname is changed , instead I am more worried about the fact that incase thier babies wish to pick their mom’s surnames and a generation or two later children marry people with their father’s surname they would be marrying their brothers and sisters creating umpteen number of problems . The reason being a
        same surname would also again track to same forefather.

        Coming to the marriages in south India , I come from South and in this generation we are seeing the effect of such marriages, people are indeed having kids with many genetic and mental illness problems there are campaigns being run to stop these practices. Some say marrying in the family is a relatively new concept that started only some 200-300 years back after the successive attacks by the English. In a madness to protect women from the “white” and to avoid the taxes associated they started resorting to these practices, it is not at all advisable to go for that sort of marriages from a genetic perspective.

        Coming to your question on marriage in a same gotra , yes it is a brother and sister marriage because the gotras come from a set of rishis who were the first persons in that gotra, so it is like he is the fore father for the entire family.

        Lemme know in case of further questions

        thank you

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  2. Scribby / Jan 26 2012 10:00 am

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  1. A very critical take on Calendar Too Crowded (no regrets though!) « Deviant Wave

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