This collection of short stories by highly acclaimed Sri Lanka author Shirani Rajapakse has touched me and left me with one dire, unanswered question: Why?
‘I exist. Therefore I am’ is written in a very quiet, yet poetic style. For the difficult topic it addresses, it uses no drama and no judgment. The stories tell individual episodes of lives of women in India from all ranges of society, thereby drawing a devastating picture of an entire culture. Even before I read the book I knew that women are not highly regarded and suffer a lot in India. Arranged marriages, infanticide and lack of rights or education were familiar topics. But the depth of hatred running deep in the mindset of an entire people shocked me and left me speechless.
‘Why?’ I asked myself after every story. Why would a mother poison her newborn child, just because it was a girl? Why would a girl spend all of her family’s money just to get a socially acceptable husband? Why, oh why would a woman douse her daughter-in-law in kerosene and burning oil and watch her burn to death? And why are these things not only accepted by the majority, but passed on through generations?
For me, the most striking piece of the collection is the one that gave the book its title. The reader gets to share the thoughts of an unborn girl from first awareness to the point of abortion. As a Christian and a mother of two (I would be highly esteemed in India, having borne two sons!) it is inconceivable how women can be put under so much pressure (by other women!) that they begin to hate that which they are called to love and protect, nourish and raise.
It makes me sad and calls me to pray for a nation hopelessly lost and without love. This is a far cry from Bollywood!
I read the book knowing it was not an easy topic. I’m glad I read it because I cannot close my eyes to the fate of millions, even if they live far away. The author has done a marvelous job in portraying each of the women without making it garish sensationalism. Her calm recounting of facts and feelings make the stories digestible, despite their often cruel contents; and her poetic language give the thoughts and feelings depth and beauty.
In the introduction she states that she has lived in India for eight years, taking the risk of leaving the tourist trails to discover the true heart beating in that big and wildly differing country. I commend her for that and for her aim of raising awareness on behalf of women who are so deeply suppressed they often have no way of standing up for themselves.
I highly recommend this book. It has filled me with gratitude for my own loving family, the respect I am treated with and the freedom I may enjoy every day. I am also deeply grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ, which has given my life purpose and meaning and has established an identity and value as a person that nobody will be able to take from me. I exist. Therefore I am – able to love with the freedom to do so.
My prayers go out to women in India now more than ever.
For the beautiful language used, the touching storytelling that kept me turning the pages and the depth of topic I gladly award ‘I exist. Therefore I am’ a Chatworthy Read badge.
Congratulations to the author!