The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

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All about Leaning Towards and In

I held of writing this review for practically 2 days because I did not want an outpouring of knee jerk reactions, especially since the subject of the book hit really close home. I am talking of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean in – Women, Work and the Will to Lead. I know this book is the latest “in” book and I had for some time avoided reading it, primarily because, I do not like Management and Leadership yada yada yada books and secondly, I was convinced that Ms. Sandberg’s work could not possibly compare to feminist writings of Gloria Steinem, Emma Goldberg or even a Virginia Woolf. I did not believe that what these women had already written could be overridden and what could Ms. Sandburg possibly write that was original? However at a recent corporate event, I was given this book as a corporate gift, in fact it was given to all women participants and on the way back from work, out of curiosity, I began to read the book.

My assumptions were not wrong; this book is hardly literary or even scholarly. It is a Cosmopolitan to the Room Magazine. Like Cosmopolitan, every one’s heard of Lean In and like the Room Magazine, very few people have actually read The Second Sex, or Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellion. Those who have read any of the academic feminist authors will agree that Ms. Sandburg’s work lacks depth; it’s very narrow in scope and enumerates the challenges faced by a very narrow specific group – primarily white, educated (Ivy League educated) of upper class background. True feminist challenges are far more complex – women around the world have to struggle and overcome challenges with security, survival, socio-economic opportunities, just to reach the plateau from which Ms. Sandburg begins her hypothesis. She talks of supportive partners and bosses who will be open to communication – but for these to happen, there are certain “givens” which she assumes; partners who are not chauvinists and are not violent; bosses who do not indulge in sexual harassment or other discriminatory behavior. Her road ahead for equality and leadership is based on all things being equal and in equilibrium.

Having said all of this, I must acknowledge a deep respect for the home truths that she brings out if we reach that plateau or if things are in equilibrium. There is no getting away from the fact that women today in a corporate environment continue to be discriminated against and the “glass ceiling” very much exists. The leadership gap, which she succinctly points out, exists and I am in completely in agreement with her that unless women take up more and more leadership roles, the road to corporate equality will not be built and we will fight the same battles our mothers and grandmothers fought. Her understanding of corporate dynamics is par excellent – she writes that men are promoted basis potential while women are promoted basis past accomplishments; she dryly states that men are allowed to focus on their achievements but women are expected to be loyal to their organizations and leaders. She speaks of how professional ambition is expected out of a man, but is considered a non-complimentary trait among women. The women who has career aspirations is considered “too aggressive” , a “bit political” or “difficult or worse, much worse “a feminist” (Shudder! Shudder! Horror! Horror!!). I was absolutely bowled over when she wrote about work –live balance, an oft-repeated jargon of the corporate world. She is the first senior leader, regardless of gender, who points out the inherent dichotomy of the term – “Framing issues as work-life balance – as if the two were diametrically opposed – practically ensures work will lose out. Who would ever choose work over life?” She makes an extremely valid point about women “keeping their hand up” because inherently it’s men and not women who put themselves forward, and in the absence of raising the hand, even managers with the best of intentions miss out. She bares the fact out that women are emotional and cites the example of Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, who believes that women cannot help but care when attacked and they should react accordingly and feel anger, sadness associated with such criticism and then move on. She lambasted the popular myths of Mentoring and Having it all – she categorically states that the new culture of seeking mentor may not be the best way to go – usually, mentoring refers to a senior person seeking and talented junior employee out and guiding them along the path. It’s not having an hour-long in-depth conversation. She also brilliantly calls out that no woman can do it all – it’s just important to get it done. I am absolutely floored by the fact, that she notices that single woman as well women married with children need a home life. It is important for the single woman to have a personal life as much as a married woman, may be in the end so that she herself can meet someone and get married and become the married woman with children herself. In the end, there are two very important things that she states, one , men also need to lean in as the women and become equal partners at home and at work and secondly women themselves need to band together to promote their cause and celebrate their success!

I work for one the biggest Fortune 500 conglomerates and I can truly say that my organization is an equal opportunity employer and truly promotes and respects women. There are stringent laws on sexual harassment with an HR team which has a hawk eye focus and an independent authority to make sure there are no powerful influences distorting truth. I have colleagues and bosses, who openly declare that women make better employees. Yet despite all this, I know it’s not a level playing field and unconsciously there are actions which bring the glass ceiling up all around us. The very fact that “Lean In” was given to only female managers is a case to the point. When Zig Zigler writes a leadership book, everyone gets it, but” Lean In” is for women?????This is a management book for both men and women, but because the tag line has women in it, it is instantly branded as a women leadership self – help book. I have seen men who have been guilty of some really bad indiscretions, being promoted, while the women with great results, flawless execution are told to improve their “peer management” skills. A colleague of mine is aggressive and a go getter – guess what happens? Promotion. I have another colleague who is aggressive and a go getter and this one is told to be more “sensitive” and less “aggressive” – I leave you to guess the gender of both. Time and again, I have been told that I am a “emotional” creature and this is a disruptive quality in my career progression – well I am a woman and I am wired to be emotional and I am going to be emotional when someone critiques my work because it’s my hard work, my sweat, my sacrifice of my Ph.D, which keeps getting prolonged because I spend 16 hrs plus at work, so yes, I am going to be emotional about it!!

So where does it all end? I don’t know – I am too small a fry to real solve the big problems, but a nano step can be a move in direction, when men read a “Lean In”

 

A Universal New Zealander…..

I just finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s The Collected Stories and I am sitting in awe….there is no other word except awe! Actually I take that back, I am in awe and at the same time kicking myself for being stupid – why the hell did it take me soooooooooo long to get around reading her work????? I remember trying to read her works, way back as a teenager, and then I do not know what happened!! Where the hell did I pick up the idea that she was of the Kate Chopin (The Awakening makes me want to never ever awake!!) Or my bigger reading albatross Virginia Wool (Shudder! Shudder!! One day I will bravely tread those choppy waters, but not now!) While it is true that Katherine Mansfield did interact with Virginia Woolf and was for a time a believer of Fauvism, her writings are her own – original, poignant and completely realistic.

The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield is an all-embracing assemblage of her short stories, including – Bliss and Other Stories, The Garden Party and Other Stories, The Dove’s Nest, Something Childish and Other stories and In a German Pension. This collection also contains her unfinished stories. How do I describe out nearly 100 short stories, which are my favorite? I just love them all – I love Bliss for its heart wrenching end, the broken pieces of illusion; I love The Garden Party for it generosity and sensitivity and I felt such sadness for the The Daughters of the Late Colonel, for their servitude, for their devotion and lack of independence. I love all the stories of the German Pension and though Katherine Mansfield called those stories “immature’, I loved the irony and the subtle mockery of mankind and its pretensions. Stories like Je ne parle pas français and The Dolls House made me cry, especially the latter for its brutal portrayal of weakness of men and women and the pain they inflict on innocents because of their own failures! I absolutely admire the way she speaks of children and their loneliness or attachments or fears, whether it’s the Prelude, or How Pearl Button was Kidnapped or The Little Girl! I cannot decide, I like all her works!

How do I define her work? I can only use adjectives …ok maybe some verbs! Her language is sheer poetry, whether describing a new house or the sea. It evokes such wonderful imagery in the reader’s mind and some of my favorite passages are of her nature descriptions, especially of New Zealand. Her stories are however anything but colloquial or restricted in New Zealand; though they are based in as far flung locales as New Zealand, France, England and Germany, her stories are universal. Her portrayal of marriage, both good and bad kind is real and hard-hitting. Despite being a “bluestocking” , she gives a very rational portrait of men and women, though being a woman, she does bring out the various nuances of a woman’s character far more adeptly than her presentation of her men. Her women are all kinds – brilliant, loving, sparkling, lonely, independent, deprived, unkind, courageous and humorous. They are extremely humane. Long back I had read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex where she said that only three female authors have explored ‘the given’ – the disproportionate struggle for women to seek what is given for men – education, economic power, political platform; the three woman who have managed to question this were Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. I now understand what Simone Beauvoir meant; Mansfield through her stories constantly challenged and questioned the unequal struggle that women had to go through for those basic things in life, which men so easily took for granted – independence, economy and security. But to call all Mansfield writing as feminist is a narrow and unidimesional categorization that is absolutely inaccurate; while she wrote a lot about women, she also wrote about things like love, relationships and some marvelously succinct and astute insight into the lives of children. It’s a tragedy that she died so young, for even her unfinished short stories had such promise of richness.

In the end, all I can say is that one cannot truly describe Mansfield and do justice to it. One has to read her work, sit back and savor it and only then does her brilliance completely sink in!

A humongous Thank You to Dr. Joan Bouza Koster, for reintroducing me to Ms Mansfield in the best way possible!!

All The Grand Ladies….Please Stand Up!

I know March is the month of well…so many things (Remember Ides of March!!). It is also a month that celebrates Women and their empowerment. Yup! I am talking about March 8th – International Women’s Day. Now I am not a bluestocking feminist, though I have read all my Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem; but I am somebody who is inherently conscious of the fact that all the privileges that I enjoy and things that I take for granted are there for me because, many years ago, many women and a significant number of men stood up and said – hold it! That’s wrong and we need to change it! There were innumerable sacrifices along the way and many suffered so that I and all of us could breathe freely. While the glass ceiling continues to exist and each day a woman has to fight to protect herself – physically, emotionally and mentally; there is no getting away from the fact that we are in much better place than our grandmothers or even mothers! Whether it is education abroad or a tour of duty to a violent war-torn location or even a night out with the girls, we are able to do this and much more because, in our past there were women who stood and fought so that their daughters could have better lives.

Therefore for the month of March, I propose something unique; I would urge all my readers to share with other and me, stories from their families, of men and women who rebelled and went against the then social norms so that our lives would be vastly improved. It could be your grandmother or your teacher or your neighbor or just somebody you had heard off. The unsung heroes who did their share and more, but were never recorded in the history books; yet as their inheritors we know, the battles they must have fought and won!

I would request all my readers to go back and search their family troves for tales which would show us how small actions lead to big results. This is part of our history, our identity and we owe it to all our ancestral warriors to not only keep their memory but also share it to make the world a better place.

Please send your stories to cirtncee01@yahoo.com, along with a brief on yourself and I will publish the same on my blog with your credits the very next day. This is an event that I plan to host through this month, so send me your entries! The idea is to share and make people and ourselves aware of the change that so many had people sought around the world!

Do not worry too much over the length (either long or short) of the entry; the story and not the paragraph is important.

I will kick-start this event by sharing a tale from my own family trove, which I will post in my next post.

Until then, I leave you with anthem from my mother and aunt’s graduate school days, which they said inspired them and which they played for me when I barely of an age to understood what it meant!!!  But now, I have to agree with them is the best anthem ever for all women, all over the world!

 

 

Copyright : You Tube and Helen Reddy

Ladies Choice…

I just finished reading a New Yorker article by Laura Hemphill, Why Women Should Skip Business School.  On my very first reading of the article, it left me bristling and the feminist inside me, that rarely comes out, (Feminism and Post Feminism is all very passé! ) kind of exploded.  Ms. Hemphill, herself a survivor of mad-bad world of Wall Street and now an author (She has written a book on a young woman’s survival in the financial world called Buying In – “In” seems to be in; remember Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg!) makes some sweeping assumptions. Though she backs it up with enough data sources, one cannot help but get irritated with the constant chorus of the article – business school is extremely expensive and women don’t make much of it since they by mid 30s, they have a home life to address. Therefore cost benefit analysis shows that women should in fact use the two years to advance in their career instead of opting for Business School.

My first reaction is that she is being extremely narrow in her views; though Finance is a man’s world and there are enough horror stories of women in struggling to gain a footing in this field (that is a whole new post!) there are plenty of women who make it and stay on the top. ( Irene Dorner of HSBC, Edit Cooper of Goldman Sachs, Lara Warner from Credit Suisse etc). While I agree with her that unlike Law and Medicine, a degree from business school is not a pre-requisite to succeed in finance or related industries, one cannot deny that advance knowledge of matter will only help and not hinder. Finally in the era of communication and social responsibility, there are many women who are going full steam in their careers while successfully managing their home lives.

Now after writing all of this, I have to step back and think – I have been working in the financial industry for over 9 years now and have moved from the entry-level to now mid management and have seen how gender opportunities evolve. Though I work for one of the most gender sensitive and sincere organizations, I have loads of friends who belong from this industry of both genders and I have seen the highs and lows of their careers and I have seen how the gender role not consciously but sub consciously seems to affect career choices. Your employer has to do nothing, you will do it yourself!

I have a friend who works in hard-core retail finance – she is one the smartest women I know and her understanding of Analytics and Six Sigma leaves industry gurus gasping for breath. Yet recently, she gave up on a very lucrative career advancement opportunity and instead settled on a relative low-key role because she had a 1-year-old daughter to bring up. She was candid enough to tell me that for the next 7 odd years, i.e. until her daughter is 8 years old or so and her dependency on her mother reduces, my friend will sit tight on the wilderness of career advancement and bide her time out.  She has a husband who is at a lucrative position but travels constantly and therefore she is completely fine with her low-key role where she get a decent remuneration and but most importantly gives her flexible timings and working hours. Career Advancement will come later, much later.  Yet another friend, again very successful and very driven recently declined moving to a new organization that was offering her a better position, a much better pay and benefits because she discovered that she was pregnant. She told me that while her though her current employer did not value her work as much as others, and she had been time and again ignored for promotions, one cannot deny that after working for so long with them she has built up a comfort level and they will be more accommodating of her leaves and other personal needs during the next 9 months than a new organization where she still has to build up her credibility. True, she has to put her advancement on hold for good two years, but at 31, she said her personal life takes priority. These are all examples of women in the fast paced financial industry – even in the more “softer” industries like Art, such choices are being made daily. My sister, a double MFA from University of Boston in Literature and Fine Arts, worked for 8 years in one of the leading Museums where she used to head the Art Restoration department. After my niece was born, she took a complete hiatus from career for good 9 years – true she made that choice willingly and she wanted my niece to have a good home life and not go through some of the downward effects of having a full-time working mother, which my sister and I had ( I never felt there was any downside of having a working mother, but she contends that some of our life choices would have been more thought through if we had more face time with our very kind but always short on time parents). However today when my niece is 12 and quite capable of managing herself, my sister did not go back to the Art field which she loved but instead settled for a teaching job at a Private School since it gave her more time at home and with her daughter.

All of this makes me think that maybe, just may be Ms. Hemphill has a point. She may be right when she states “isn’t the most important thing for a woman to work as hard as she can and advance as far as possible while she’s still in her twenties and her life is as uncomplicated as it’s going to get? That way, by the time she’s a decade or so along, she’ll have more savings, more job experience, and more bargaining power—all of which translate into more options.”  Again I do not want to make sweeping assumptions and there are different stokes for different folks, but there seems to be a significant population of women who attest to the fact that sooner the women get started in their business careers, the better it is.

Does this mean that this is a reinforcement of traditional gender roles?  The man of the house earns the bread and the lady manages the home and hearth? I do not think so; I think this is an over-simplification of the matter. Today most men are equal partners in household chores and managing home front than ever before – these men cook, clean and babysit without qualms and don’t have any inhibition on how these exercises my dint their machismo.  In a nut shell, they are cool with it! The women on the other hand make conscious choices to put their home life ahead of careers.  At the end of the day, they choose to have a baby and bring him/her up, but it was and is their choice. This in itself shows a lot of empowerment and the self-belief to design their destiny. True, it might entail a career step back for a couple of years, but then these women are happy with their decisions.

Last Word – The woman should make her choice that enables her to lead complete and fulfilling lives instead of going  – Shit! I wish…Business School or no Business School!