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October - November 2009
Strength of a woman!
Stephen P. Huyler’s book Daughters of India: Art and Identity is a beautifully presented bouquet of portraits of Indian women, unravelling their astonishing strength of character and spirit, without being monotonous
India is a country which surprises all with its contradictions. It is a land where the woman is worshipped as Kali, Lakshmi, Durga and Shakti , yet is subjected to heinous acts like female foeticide, dowry harassment, physical abuse and sometimes even denied basic rights like education because of rigidity in certain social set ups. Yet, with all its contradictions, India is a country which celebrates the strength of its women and is grateful for the harmony and balance they bring to its social and cultural set up.
The book Daughters of India: Art and Identity by cultural anthropologist Stephen P. Huyler presents the stories of 20 females, of all age groups, settled across the length and breadth of India (and even abroad). The book acquaints us with the lives and art of these women, their struggles and their indomitable spirit. These are the women who represent the essence of being an Indian woman—projecting strength within even when they are seen as weak on the outside. Their circumstances may not always be rosy, but their willingness to face the challenges is unique. They will be the harbingers of change while preserving the traditions, and even break the moulds when required.
The author presents to the reader a kaleidoscopic view of the life of an Indian woman. “They are everywoman”, as the book proclaims. With each engaging narrative, without even being remotely feminist, the author introduces us to women who are leaders, mothers, entrepreneurs, preservers and crusaders of change. Of varied social backgrounds, cultures, religions and beliefs, these women are bound with the common threads of their art and the desire to usher in change. So we have six-year-old Padma (from Tamil Nadu), eager to learn the art of Kolam from her mother, and we have Minhazz (from New Delhi) who is devoted to protecting the rights of folk artists.
The book upturns the Western perceptions of Indian women as victims and beautifully showcases their irrepressible spirit and strength of character. The author proclaims in the Introduction that the book “makes no attempt to hide these inequalities”. It tells things as they exist but also brings to the fore the fire that burns bright in the eyes subjected to these inequalities. In that way, it is an honest book. That which is conveyed through the narrative may be a poor woman’s worries about having given birth to a girl child and the monetary problems that will eventually arise to arrange for her dowry, yet it is infused with the positive resolve of the same mother wishing to educate her girl so as to ensure a change in circumstances when she grows up.
The book also brings forth the talent, knowledge, understanding and skills (as a photographer as well as a narrator) of Mr Huyler. The excellent pictures depicting the colourful art from Rajasthan, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and several other states, leave you gasping for more.
You must buy it if you are curious about Indian art forms, care for issues related to women and relish excellent photography. The book will match your expectations.