The Fabulous Feminista by Suniti Namjoshi

An important figure in contemporary Indian literature in English, Suniti Namjoshi is a writer who has engaged with a wide range of topics, from gender identity to sexual orientation, and cultural identity to human rights. For the first time, “Fabulous Feminist” collects a wide range of her writings, beginning with “Feminist Fables” and including excerpts from “St. Suniti and the Dragon,” “The Mothers of Maya Dip,” and others, including her Aditi series for children. For someone who is a first-time reader, this collection is a good introduction to Suniti’s writing.

In one of the stories, a Brahmin desperately wants a son but is blessed with a daughter instead. Suniti Namjoshi writes, “Though only a woman, she was a Brahmin, so she learned very fast, and then they both sat down and meditated hard.” (Typical father that he is, the Brahmin goes back to ask again for a son, and then Vishnu grants him this wish for a boy child, but not exactly how he wanted or expected.)

Another story is about a woman named Heart (and not the Headless Woman), who spends all her life helping and serving others wholeheartedly. But unfortunately for her, when she goes to collect her pension, she doesn’t get it. “The problem was that she had no head and couldn’t ask.” While in the “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, Suniti Namjoshi writes the lovelorn Beast, not the typical nobleman, but the Beast here is a lesbian.

A lot of her research into society and how it shapes women’s psyches is done through fictional life-writing. Her writing has the brutal wit of Virginia Woolf, the delicate eroticism of Anas Nin, and the kind melancholia of Hélène Cixous. Her writing is entertaining, and she induces a good amount of sarcasm into the lines.

In her beautifully composed and entertaining writings, Suniti Namjoshi cleverly retells fairytales, from Greek and Sanskrit mythology. She stitches the ideas together with her rich imagination and wisdom. She uses language brilliantly and clearly, exposing what she finds absurd and intolerable in modern life.

With insight and wit about power in her writing, her writing and stories also address inequality and oppression. Suniti Namjoshi resists simple binaries, not just around gender but also binaries like us and them, good and evil, right and wrong. In her writing, she plays with the structures of the stories and doesn’t settle for just writing the ‘opposite’ version, like “the girl as the victim becomes the girl as a hero,” instead she ‘complicates’ the situation.

The Fabulous Feminist is a provocative collection, never preachy and never humorless. Anyone who adores feminist intellectual writing is sure to enjoy this collection, which is quirky, funny, and engaging. Available for purchase on Amazon, The Fabulous Feminist is the best one for someone who is a first-time reader of Suniti’s writing.