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From actor Deepika Padukone to botanist Janaki Ammal, 51 real stories brought to life by 51 women artists

Tanvi Dubey
6th Feb 2019
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'The Dot That Went For A Walk' is a new book that shares snippets of inspiring women of India in the past 200 years, from household name Deepika Padukone to lesser-known icons like feminist economist Devaki Jain.

Gender roles start manifesting early on. Blue for boys and pink for girls, Barbie for the girls and GI Joe for the boys. And then the ideal mould a woman has to subscribe to. Even the stories we were told while growing up reiterate that women are supposed to fit the glass slipper. They are to be petite, delicate, and dependent - the classic damsel in distress, be it Cinderella, Snow White or Rapunzel.

L-R: Aditi Mittal, Rani Lakshmibai and Deepika Padukone

We have all grown up on a heady dose of these fairy tales as children. Many of us grew up in families where our mother did not pursue a career, and it was okay for a majority of women to not hold career ambitions or a job. While we always had inspiring women to look up to, only a few made it to the fore: women like PT Usha, Kalpana Chawla, and Kiran Bedi showed us how we could survive and thrive in what was still a man’s world.

However, things have changed in the last three decades. Today, more and more women are working and making their mark, and becoming role models - at home, on social media, TV, and on the global stage as well. From Oprah Winfrey to Michelle Obama, from Malala Yousafzai to Sudha Murty, from Kiran Mazumdar Shaw to Arunima Sinha, they dazzle us with their brilliance, courage, and gumption. Every day more and more women are breaking the bonds that have held them back and chasing their dreams and pushing boundaries, even in the face of discouragement and bias.

But women, especially girls, are still plagued by unrealistic beauty standards, slut shaming, sexual harassment, and the general evils of patriarchy. So what can we do to change the way young girls perceive themselves? One way is to go to the root of the problem; catch them young and give them different perspectives, and show them it is fine to be different. That we are all not cut from the same cloth.

It is with this thought that three women--Lakshmi Nambiar, a gallerist, and a partner with a VC firm, Reema Gupta, who heads Centre for Learning and Management Practice and Corporate Relations at ISB, and Sarada Akkineni, Technical Director at Blaze Automation, an IoT company--joined hands to curate a collection of stories of inspirational women, titled The Dot That Went For A Walk.

L-R- Sarada Akkineni, Lakshmi Nambiar, Deepika Padukone, and Reema Gupta
L-R- Sarada Akkineni, Lakshmi Nambiar, Deepika Padukone, and Reema Gupta

The book, a collection of 51 stories with accompanying illustrations, covers 200 centuries and includes stories of Indian women, some of whom may be familiar to many, such as Deepika Padukone, and other lesser-known but equally important historical figures like Rani Lakshmibai.

Deepika Padukone, but more

The idea behind the book for the trio came up when they asked their kids and their friends about their female role models, and watched them struggle to come up with names. When we probed further they could only come up with people in entertainment and sports. Sadly, the boys could not even name a few. We knew that Indian women role models couldn’t be such a finite set. When we started researching Indian women role models, we found a treasure trove of artistes, musicians, scientists, sportspersons, leaders, and the list goes on. Together they tell the story of the last 200 years of this country,” they say.  

The aim of the book is to change the perspective of women as weak beings and to reach out to children with their inspiring stories. “Children generally have an affinity for heroic tales. Traditionally, heroes have been men who go on adventurous journeys, fight demons, and rescue princesses. Sadly, this is the same narrative reflected even in our movies and other popular media. We are inspired to tell real stories of real women who have been their own knights in shining armour,” the women quip.


ALSO READ: How Kalpana Chawla’s enigmatic legacy paved the way for Indian women in science


Of possibilities and perspectives

The title of the book is inspired by artist Paul Klee’s famous line, “Line is a dot that went for a walk,” from a poem. The curators say, “The Dot represents each of these inspirational women, and the unique mark they have left through their work and their life. Dot also represents a world of possibilities, and when it goes for a walk can create a line, a circle, endless patterns.”

The back cover of the book has Klee’s poem to inspire children to think on similar lines and trigger their imagination.

All the 51 women share a common thread - they have all taken up causes and dedicated themselves to it. The curators Lakshmi, Reema, and Sarada themselves, inspired by their mothers, wanted to create stories that inspire the next generation to dream big.

They feel the book is also about community building since they brought together 51 well-established and aspiring women artists and illustrators who add colour and perspective to the book. The list includes Indu Antony, Jenny Bhatt, Nafisa Nandini Crishna, and Reme Chopra. Each has used a medium and style of her choice and comfort.

However, the book is just a “tip of the iceberg”, the curators feel. As they note in the book, the overall aim is to “ build on this conversation and engage with our readers to identify local heroes who question conventions, celebrate uniqueness, and elevate aspirations. We believe that exposing both genders to women role models will help build a more gender equal society.”

The book is a good collection, an Indian version of the much loved and popular Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, and my favourites are three women I didn’t know much about but loved discovering their stories - Dr V Shanta, Chairperson of the Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai, Mira Kulkarni, Founder of Forest Essentials, and feminist economist Devaki Jain. It is a reminder that I may not have had many role models growing up, but today’s mothers and daughters have a pool of unique stories to take inspiration from to take the dot for a walk and create their own unique stories.


ALSO READ: How the love for Bollywood led this American to create Aza Comics, a women-only superhero universe


 

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