Review: The Diary of a Reluctant Feminist

BY Shriya Garg IN B, Satire, Women's Fiction NO COMMENTS YET

By Bhavna Bhavna. Grade: B

The problem is we’re stuck in a limbo. Between the old and the new. Between Bharat and India. Between the aged and the young. The generation gap is a mile long, with us not approving our parents, and our parents not approving us. And both of us feeling we’re right. The Diary of a Reluctant Feminist echoes this discord that every middle class child brought up watching America and the Evil West feels, especially in every conversation with her family.

The Diary of a Reluctant Feminist

“The problem is the small print in my struggle for a divorce, as with everything in my life, it always reads subject to my mothers permission and since my mother was not going to give me permission to divorce in a hurry, I was relegated to being an armchair divorcee. But Indian parents will never voluntarily give their children permission to get divorced or have a live-in relationship or conceive a child by any means other than Immaculate Conception which, of course, would only take place after the child is married. So I decided, after two years of being separated, to stop waiting for my parent’s elusive permission and to take the initial steps in the painful journey myself. In this process, I was also branded a feminist, which in their view is marginally worse than being a terrorist.”

The Diary of a Reluctant Feminist is a profoundly funny chronicle of a young woman’s attempt to get divorced as opposed more by her own parents than her in-laws and her ex, she struggles to explain the flimsy grounds of incompatibility to her disapproving, old-fashioned, middle-class Punjabi family. Warm, humorous, sad and wise, this is a book for all those who have ever dreaded telling their parents an uncomfortable truth about themselves.

The novel(-la), yes you guessed right, is a diary. If I am not wrong, it’s the author’s personal account of her divorce, labelled as fiction to make it less uncomfortable for her friends and family. Bhavna tries to air her grievances against the whole perception of women in the society, the concept of marriage, and more importantly, a woman’s right to die-force (divorce, to be technically correct, but we all know how us Indians find it synonymous with death).

As the blurb promises, she does hit some high notes in her trademark tongue-in-cheek humour, taking us deep into her psyche and making us shift uncomfortably on the couch. Us Indians have some strong notions on how we like our women, who’re invincible but pushovers, tough-as-nails but soft. Yup, all at the same time.

…I never even thought of checking to see if there was someone else in my husband’s life. I was so busy looking inward and finding new and innovative ways of blaming myself for either failing to be the stoical Mother India of Indian wife (who could fix everything, even her marriage), or the long-suffering Sati Savitri type (who could silently bear all pain with a brave smile) that I didn’t even think that someone else could be partly responsible for the sad state of affairs.

Bhavna makes a powerful argument, laying the facts straight in her candid, acerbic tone, which stops just a shade short of sounding whiny.

Her husband is ready for the divorce. She is ready for the divorce. One would think that should be enough. But her parents, and the rest of her extended family isn’t, and she discusses the myriad ways this disapproval permeated her daily life.

It soon became apparent that the general consensus was that as long as I stay married, I was perceived to be ‘good’ and the moment I strayed from the prescribed path and wanted to separate and God-forbid, divorce, I became ‘bad’. With so much stress, panic and desperation to stay in  a marriage, I started wondering if I had any value at all without a man in my life. I felt like an object. My feelings, my needs, and my aspirations – nothing seemed important or of any value. In fact, every thought or emotion that didn’t compel me to stay in my marriage was universally belittled and scoffed at.

All this is what works for it. But what does not work is that this is not a novel. It would have worked better as a Sunday column in the Lifestyle section, or as a long piece in a magazine. Attempts have been made to elongate it, adding unnecessary check-lists and little limericks at the beginning of each chapter but they just add words, not meaning.

Yes, the emotions showcased and thoughts voiced are excellent, and mention-worthy but still not happy with the overall package.

This post was written by

Shriya Garg – who has written 198 posts on Vault of Books.
Reader. Writer. Dreamer. Admin.
Caffeine junkie. Book smeller. Addicted to my laptop. In love with fictional characters.
College student. Aspirant Chartered Accountant. Proud member of the Harry Potter generation. Possibly thaasophobic. Whovian, with a highly inappropriate sense of humour. And the happy owner of five cats.

 • Facebook  • Twitter