INDRANI RAIMEDHI speaks to The Thumb Print webzine on her book “My Half of the Sky”
What inspired you to work on this book?
I am an Assamese, belonging to one of the major states of North-East India. And yet, we are more or less invisible to the rest of India. We are treated with indifference, ignorance and nowadays, outright hostility. We have been in the news for all the wrong reasons – insurgency, bomb blasts, ethnic violence, reprisal by armed forces, extortions. Through my twenty-five years of a journalist, I have come to know many remarkable men and women who are scripting success stories in various fields. There were positive life – affirmative stories that were just waiting to be told. Again, I wanted to convey what it was to be a woman in this part of the world. Through a blend of facts and story-telling, I wanted to present an engrossing narrative celebrating the indomitable spirit of womanhood. The stories of these twelve women are unique. At the same time, they are also universal, in that they can create empathy in any reader.
Where would you place Northeastern women on the social ladder when compared to the rest of India?
The Northeast woman cannot be fitted into any stereotype. Fortunately, women here enjoy a greater degree of freedom and equality than her counterparts in other parts of the country. They contribute substantially to the economy and do have some say in the matter related to community life. But long years of unrest have cast a shadow. Countless women have been widowed, raped, have lost their homes, children. They have had to build up their lives from scratch. Many women in the insurgency ridden states suffer from psychological illness. Many others have been trafficked to other parts of the country
How did you pick these women you have profiled?
If there was one thing I was determined to have in my book, it was variety ………… So, from an elephant catcher to a film director, a blind teacher to an anti-witchcraft catcher, I had a dozen remarkable women and their narratives. Secondly, I have attempted to choose women whose stories are full of struggle and drama. My real life characters have battled seemingly insurmountable odds and emerged winners in the true sense of the word.
What were the challenges involved while writing this book?
There were several challenges in getting this book together. As a full time journalist with The Assam Tribune, I could meet the women, do research and the actual writing only in the evenings. Secondly, though I made the effort to represent all the states, I was unable to do so. Thirdly, I had a very difficult time interviewing the women because all of them were very busy and could not give me enough time. Their interview sessions were spread over several months. Lastly, these were very personal stories and I had to establish a measure of trust behind the women opened up to me. For this, I am deeply grateful.
Do you agree that it is a valuable addition to literature on the Northeast?
At the risk of sounding self congratulatory, I believe this book is a valuable addition to literature of the North East, as described so by the eminent journalist B G Verghese, who has written the Foreword to the book. It is a chronicle of contemporary history. Through the prism of these twelve life stories, the reader gains a perspective of the region and its concerns. Women readers, I believe, will understand the true nature of empowerment. I hope all readers will be inspired by it. It is my humble endeavour to take the North-East to the rest of India and the world.
Do you think the common people of Northeast India, especially its women are eclipsed by the mainstream Indian media?
The women of North-East India are visible to the rest of India through two perspectives – either as a triumphant Mary Kom or as a rape victim in Delhi. Because so little is known of our region, it naturally means that our women remain faceless and unheard. My books tries to break this silence.
Which characters in your book inspires you?
All the twelve women in the book have inspired me in many ways. Compared to their struggle, the odds they have faced, writing about them seemed a relatively easy process. Having known them intimately, I feel proud to be a woman.
How is this book different from your previous works?
This book is my first book of non-fiction. I have used the tools of creative non-fiction to tell real stories. The book is a blend of reportage and creative story-telling. It has been a truly fulfilling experience.