Sohaila Abdulali Posts

Book Post 24: 6 – 19 January 2019

Every Monday I post some of the books I have received in the previous week. This post will be in addition to my regular blog posts and newsletter. Today’s Book Post 24 is after a gap of two weeks as January is an exceedingly busy month with the New Delhi World Book Fair and literary festivals such as the Jaipur Literature Festival.

In today’s Book Post 24 included are some of the titles I received in the past few weeks as well as bought at the book fair and are worth mentioning.

21 January 2019

“No Touch” A picture book on child sexual abuse ( CSA)

Not a day goes by without the morning newspapers reporting the horrendous sexual attacks upon children. It is frightening and deeply disturbing. In a manner of speaking CSA ( child sexual abuse) has replaced the news about dowry deaths which used to fill the papers in the 1980s.

It becomes extremely difficult to discuss child sexual abuse particularly in a society like India where any conversation remotely linked to sex is considered moral taboo. It is not uncommon to hear of young couples getting married and clueless about how babies are born! In such a scenario teaching a child to recognise and articulate uncomfortable scenarios which are probably in the purview of CSA becomes challenging. Hence a picture book like No Touch published by Scholastic India is relevant and useful.

In fact an innovative way of getting this book read has been by having copies of the book dropped off by book fairies on the Delhi metro.

Child sexual abuse is absolutely horrific and what is truly alarming is the perpetrators are mostly known to the children abused. There have been many concerted campaigns such as this animated video on child sexual abuse made in English and Hindi by CHILDLINEIndia. In 2014 noted filmmaker Pankaj Butalia published Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India with the hope to open this conversation outside of the specialized, academic circles. Another brilliant attempt was made by Scholastic India author Ken Spillman in his short story “A bubble of shared knowing”. After the December 2013 dastardly act of raping a young girl in Delhi the conversations about child sexual abuse and rape opened up and for the first time these filtered into public spaces and collective consciousnesses. As a result the case of writer and rape survivor Sohaila Abdulali who had been gang-raped in the 1980s began to be discussed once more. In fact she was brave enough to write about the incident in an NYT article “I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t” ( 7 Jan 2013). A few months later she co-authored a forceful article in the Guardian asking for children to be made aware of rape and sexual assault, the discourse must be brought home. ( “To protect our children, we must talk to them about rape” 26 April 2013).

No Touch a picture book is a step in the right direction. The book needs to be read, shared and disseminated widely. These difficult conversations must be had in every household and schools.

No Touch published by Scholastic India. Hb. 2017 

3 August 2017 

Novoneel Chakraborty “The Stranger Trilogy”

Amazon homepage on 6 June 2016 shows Novoneel Chakraborty’s book being amongst the top 25 bestsellers.

Novoneel Chakraborty is a successful commercial fiction writer who is known for his psycho-sexual or romantic thrillers. He is now a screenwriter for television too. He began writing in 2008 but since then has had phenomenal success with his books. He obviously has a knack for knowing what the readers/market desire and caters to it exceptionally well. His books are selling extremely well as testified by Amazon India’s banner on their homepage in June 2016.

His “Stranger Trilogy” consists of

 Marry me, Stranger;

All yours, Stranger

and Forget me not, Stranger. These are being sold as a boxed set.

This trilogy has been creating a buzz for a while. The stories are written in first person by the protagonist Rivanah Bannerjee and have a lot of sex. The stories are ostensibly about the mysterious identity of a stalker who regularly sexually assaults Rivanah and she assumes its her boyfriend. The trilogy comes across as very uneven writing. The sex scenes are written very confidently and quite bold but always seem as if they are strongly influenced by international thrillers. It would not be so evident if it were not for the “bridges” between the sex scenes that is actually the narrative. It crawls like a typical contemporary Indian novel written in English which relies considerably on mundane conversation. There is little in terms of psychological thriller that makes these stories distinctly their own except for the mysterious identity of the stalker and reasons for stalking. A blue-blooded psychological thriller is packed with details, working in layers and the suspense building slowly and steadily sometimes even with multiple perspectives embroiling the reader into an emotional space that teeters between empathy and curiosity and horror. Unfortunately “The Stranger Trilogy” does not quite meet the mark.

It is also distressing to discover that a book written in the first person by a woman incorporates the male fantasy gaze “appreciating” if not at times fantasing about the sexual acts that would otherwise be seen as a rape. It is disturbing to have such literature being published and obviously rapidly finding a readership/market because somewhere it is catering to these bizarre fantasies. In terms of creative licenses every author has the freedom of expression to write on any subject they like and in any manner. But this? Given the current scenarios of the horrific rapes and stalkings that are constantly being documented in India. Who can forget the rape of the young girl in December 2013 or the recent one in Kerala of a Dalit girl in April 2016?  Alas these two young women did not survive the horrific assaults. In 1983 Sohaila Abdulali had written about her experience of being gang-raped in Bombay and the article was published in Manushi. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1r9YCMH In the past few weeks two very powerful posts by rape survivors have gone viral on the internet. They are extremely moving for the manner in which these women have survived their assaults, had the immense courage to write about the experience even though it must have been very painful to recall details and put it down in words. The first is by Jessica Knoll whose debut Luckiest Girl Alive smashed all bestseller charts for its story. (Reese Witherspoon has optioned the film rights.) Weeks after the book was published Jessica Knoll wrote this article in Lenny Letter  for the first time acknowledging being gang-raped as a teenager. ( http://bit.ly/1UCLhGR ) On 4 June 2016, the rape victim of a Stanford swimmer read this letter out aloud in court after the rapist was sentenced to a mere six months in jail because a longer sentence would have “a severe impact on him,” according to a judge. The letter was published on Buzzfeed. (http://bzfd.it/213lAkL ) And who can forget the Steubenville High School rape case on the night of August 11, 2012, when a high-school girl, incapacitated by alcohol, was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by her peers, several of whom documented the acts on social media. The news exploded on social media creating a cyber-storm across geographies with widespread condemnation.

These rape cases highlight the horror of the act and that sexual assaults are a serious crime. Cultural collateral such as book products are an integral part of a complex social ecosystem. Presuming such stories exist as standalone entities meant solely for entertaining is unacceptable. These acts may be the fantasy of many and products peddling such sexual fantasies sell well even in the book market but The Stranger Trilogy is irresponsible publishing especially by a reputed firm.

Novoneel Chakraborty The Stranger Trilogy Random House India, Gurgaon, 2015. Pb. pp. 250. Rs. 175 each. 

6 June 2016

 

 

Child sexuality

Child sexuality

Dark Room, Pankaj Butalia“A discussion of childhood sexuality is further complicated by our definitions of the very term, childhood. When does it end? Is a sixteen-year-old a child? The contemporary world brackets adolescence within childhood rather than as a phase of preparation for adulthood. By attaching adolescence to childhood we absorb into childhood a time which is sexually potent and where sexual energies are more overtly manifested, setting up a disciplinary framework shaped by a specific ordering of our social codes. Contrast this, for example, with the sexual practices of many tribal communities, which build into their social and celebratory practices a way of recognising and sanctioning sexuality among the young.” p. xxx, “Introduction” by Dr Shalini Advani, Dark Room

Dr Advani, in her powerful introduction, “Childhood Sexuality: History, Memory, Mythology” to Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India dwells upon the silences that govern sexuality in children. All though research shows that children as young as four year olds are curious about their bodies. In fact in an essay published by Lauren A., discussing her experiences as an undergraduate student who is also a sex-worker, mentions that “when I was 5 years old and beginning to discover the wonders of my body, my mother, completely horrified.” ( http://m.xojane.com/sex/duke-university-freshman-porn-star?utm_medium=facebook ) At least Lauren A. is truthful about her experience. In 2010, Tehelka published an article about sexuality amongst urban schoolchildren. http://www.tehelka.com/sex-lies-homework/

Pankaj Butalia’s Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India is one of the first publications of its kind in India that hopes to open this conversation outside of the specialized, academic circles. It needs to be discussed, work has to be done in the family domain since most of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known to the victim and inevitably related. This collection of eleven stories, he says, “is a modest effort to put together intimate accounts of sexual episodes from childhood”. But he does recognise that ” For adults, it is …a delicate balance that has to be negotiated. On one hand, parents need to give their children space and not inhibit the natural progression they need to make in the development of their sexuality. On the other hand, they need to be extremely careful that their children do not transcend boundaries of what could be called age-appropriate behaviour.” It is a courageous attempt to put this volume together since many of the people interviewed preferred to remain anonymous; yet it is a book to be read.

The Bad TouchThere are many stories about children and sexuality, most of the time it is focused upon child sexual abuse. There are many CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) survivors who are beginning to write and share their experiences. Organisations like RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), based in New Delhi, are doing phenomenal work in this area. Payal Shah Karwa has recently published a collection of true stories called The Bad Touch that includes contributions from Harish Iyer and filmmaker Anurag Kashayap.  Everyone else chose to write under pseudonyms. It is a disturbing and traumatic book to read. There is an incredible amount of pain shared. What horrifies one is the manner in which children are preyed upon and sexually abused. Recently Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s daughter, wrote an open letter about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a young child. http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/01/an-open-letter-from-dylan-farrow/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body . There will be innumerable stories like these, but it is crucial that they are shared. It is the creation of common pool of knowledge and awareness. 

A couple of years ago NDTV had a programme on CSA. It was a brilliant conversation on the topic of CSA. More importantly it focused upon boys and girls, otherwise much of the conversation seems to focus upon girls. Whereas boys are equally vulnerable. Unfortunately I am unable to locate the link to it.

Last year too, a short clip on CSA went viral on Facebook. It was brilliantly made. Once again I am unable to locate the link.

Let's Talk About SexMany times the best way to teach children about sexuality and help them in protecting themselves is via literature. Walker Books has three titles, classified according to age ( 4+, 7+ and 10+) called Let’s Talk About Sex. These are useful introductions to children and even an excellent guide for parents/educators in giving the child sufficient information appropriate for their age.  Years ago, I also read a lovely picture book by Sohaila Abdulali on good touch and bad touch. Unfortunately it is not available in print. Otherwise it would be a wonderful resource tool to have. Finally, Ponytale Books published Lighthouse in the Storm, a collection of 24 stories written by members of the AWIC Book Therapy Project. In it there is a story by Ken Spillman, ” A bubble of shared knowing”, a chilling story about sexual abuse.Lighthouse in the Storm

Pankaj Butalia Dark Room :Child Sexuality in India HarperCollins Publishers India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 180 Rs. 350

Payal Shah Karwa The Bad Touch Hay House India, New Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 208 Rs. 299.

Lighthouse in the Storm AWIC, Ponytale Books, New Delhi, 2012. Pb.pp. 230 Rs. 225

24 Feb 2014