Unbound is a collection of some of the most significant writing by Indian women over the past two thousand years. Divided into eleven sections, it encompasses writing on various aspects of life: spirituality, love, marriage, children, food, work, social and individual identity, battles, myths and fables, travel, and death. While many of the pieces are commentaries on the struggle that women undergo to overcome obstacles—social and political—all of them showcase the remarkable creative ability of the writers.
Selected from hundreds of novels, memoirs, essays, short story collections and volumes of poetry that were either written in English or that have been translated into English, the pieces in this collection include the most distinctive and powerful voices from every era.
There are verses from the Therigatha, written by Buddhist nuns (circa 300 BCE), and writing by poet-saints like Andal, Avvaiyar, Lal Ded, Mirabai; modern classics by writers like Ajeet Cour, Amrita Pritam, Arundhati Roy, Attia Hosian, Bama, Bulbul Sharma, Irawati Karve, Ismat Chughtai, Kamala Das, Krishna Sobti, Mahasweta Devi, Manju Kapur, Mannu Bhandari, Mrinal Pande, Nayantara Sahgal, Pinki Virani, Qurratulain Hyder, Rashid Jahan, Romila Thapar, Sarojini Naidu, Saudamini Devi, Shivani; and powerful new voices from our time like Arundhathi Subramaniam, Nilanjana Roy, Nivedita Menon.
Profound, exhilarating, haunting, angry and meditative, Unbound is a collection that will shatter stereotypes about women’s writing in India.
‘Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing’ is a great compilation of writings of Indian women writers, some of whom are quite famous, some contemporary, and some neither (and hence were unknown to me).
The book is a small window into the vast volume of work of Indian women writers. In the excellent introduction to the collection, the editor Annie Zaidi says that the work was daunting and she worked under a severe space constraint. There are over a hundred individual pieces of writing (including fiction, non-fiction, and poetry) in all.
She has divided them into eleven categories. At the beginning of each category, she mentions whose works have been included and why. There is also a detailed list of the writers and translators at the end of the book. She admits that the choices were subjective and that the collection is not comprehensive.
Zaidi has researched far and wide, collected information, and given it a logical structure, with clear rationale. From whichever angle you look at it, her work is commendable. Researching, reading, categorizing, and selecting works for this anthology, spanning 2000 years and so many languages, must have been a mammoth task.
Besides, even now, women’s writing is a topic of debate and controversy—many don’t recognize it as a category and some regard it with disdain.
I admit that I did not like some parts of the book. The styles, times, themes, and genres are so varied that it is sometimes hard to understand the logic behind the inclusion of certain pieces.
I put the book away many times but always returned to it. This is one of the reasons why it took me over ten months to complete it. Another reason is the small printing, which made reading quite difficult.
However, I am sure there is something for everyone in the book. It introduced me to so many writers and books. As an Indian woman, I could relate to some of the writings. Some of the short extracts are lovely. Some are inadequate and dissatisfying.
Either way, they can make you curious enough to find the books and read them in full. Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it wholeheartedly.