While internationally, there are books galore celebrating women friendships in fiction, there seems to be a distinct invisibility of female friendships in Indian books. Why?
Our friends form a very important part of our lives. Starting from school to college to work places to bonds formed due to shared interests, female friendships blossom like wildflowers in the many nooks and crannies of an Indian woman’s life. Yet, when we look at Indian writing, why do we find so few books celebrating this pure bond of friendship between women?
Female friendship is not a common theme in our movies as well. Though you will find movies celebrating bromances, female friendships are coming up only in recent times with movies like Queen, Cocktail, Aisha, and Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani.
Currently, Indian publishing houses are having a busy time churning out books by both established and emerging authors. We do have an impressive lineup of books involving strong female protagonists, however, in most cases it is their relationships with males that is explored in the story.
Why are Indian authors not too keen on exploring female friendships? Is it because Indian society expects a woman’s life to revolve around her family once she gets married? She is expected to be a good wife, a good mother, and a good daughter in law, but never a good friend. In fact, it might even be frowned upon if she focuses on her friendships post marriage. Sure, a woman is allowed to be friends with her husband’s friends’ wives or maybe even other female relatives but it is more of a social interaction than friendship in the truest terms that is expected of them.
It is indeed tragic that our literature, that mirrors society gives us an indication of how friendship is not expected to be an integral part of an Indian woman’s life. Yet, human beings, irrespective of gender, crave companionship beyond the usual familial ties. Friends don’t judge us, are patient listeners and are our partners in crime. True friends are a strong pillar of strength during our dark times. We truly hope that the importance that friends hold in women’s lives is explored more in Indian literature in the future along with the changing times.
Currently, there are just a handful of Indian books on the theme of female friendships. Let us look at a few that I know – I did search for more online, and found them to be extremely difficult to find!
Anita and Me by Meera Syal deals with Meena, a nine-year-old Punjabi girl, who resides with her family in the British village of Tollington. Caught between two cultures, Meena prefers the British way of life over her parent’s Indian heritage and idolizes the blonde and sassy girl, Anita. They are still young girls, as yet not significantly touched by the forces that compel grown Indian women – and is also written by a writer residing in the UK.
Pure Sequence by Paro Anand explores the friendship between a group of middle aged women while they are stepping into a new phase of their lives. This might be the one book that I think comes close to pure women friendships in fiction in the Indian books I know.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Sister Of My Heart revolves around two cousin sisters Anju and Sudha, who are apparently very different, but are the best of friends since their childhood. Though their friendship is broken over time and both drift apart after marriage, they come close once again after tragedy strikes them. This beautiful novel celebrating friendship and courage spans across India and America.
Finally, Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair deals with a group of Indian women in a train’s compartment talking about their respective lives and the complexities of their relationships and delving into the age-old question of whether a woman needs a man to feel complete. This novel, however, is more accurately about a group of ladies who meet in a train by serendipity, and exchange confidences, rather than their actual friendship.
At first glance, writing on female friendships should be as natural as that on relationships like love. Then, while love and its various aspects are being done to death, why not friendship between two women?
If we look at the movie Queen, we observe a natural bond forming between two apparently different women. The similarity between them is that neither thinks they need a man to feel complete. In today’s time, the Indian mindset about marriage is slowly changing. There are an increasing number of women who think that they don’t need to marry just because of societal pressure.
There are women who are happily single with their big circle of friends and acquaintances. Why can’t we explore such stories more often in Indian literature? Also, if we look into some of the most popular books on female friendship across the world, we’ll see that in many cases, the ladies themselves might belong to disparate backgrounds and are brought together by a twist of fate or by some common interest.
The bond of friendship that forms between them as a result is as strong as a traditional marriage, in some cases. The women look out for each other and are ready to go to any extent for their girlfriends. Let’s explore a few memorable books on female friendship from beyond India that one must definitely read.
The first one that comes to my mind is The Invention Of Wings By Sue Monk Kidd. Inspired by real life events, this is one of my favorite books of all time. The lives of Sarah Grimke and her slave Handful and the lives of their respective younger sisters are filled with adventures. Despite life threatening road-blocks, they “invented their wings, not so much in spite of these things, but because of them”. With the main theme as slavery in South Carolina during the 1800s, this book also explores the status of women, their fight for empowerment and justice and the issues will seem relevant even today.
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help deals with three women from different socio-economic background coming together in 1960’s class ridden Mississippi. They want to cross the lines drawn around them by their society and hence come together to undertake a risky project.
The Joy Luck Club By Amy Tan revolves around four Chinese women, who’ve recently immigrated to San Francisco in 1949. They form the Joy Luck Club and are united in their grief and hopes. Amy Tan explores the deep yet complicated bonds between friends, as also between mothers and daughters through this novel.
The well known classic, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott will warm the cockles of your heart with the portrayal of the four March sisters and their mother’s lives and the strength and humor with which they tide against poverty while the father is away during the Civil War. These sisters are more than just four women with blood ties – they are the best of friends.
In Khaled Hossseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns Mariam and Laila are two women who have very different life views and are divided by a wide gap of age. A twist in fate and the war brings them close. The beautiful bond that forms as a result leads them to change not the course of their own lives but also those of their future generations.
Finally, you should explore the young adult series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. A group of teenage girls form a sisterhood calling it the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Thus begins the journey of a pair of old pants and the most remarkable summer in all their lives – the series is 5 books long, and holds the reader in thrall.
These books are just the tip of the iceberg and there’s a huge list of books on Female Friendship on Goodreads for you to explore, and the majority are international publications.
With the changing socio-economic scenario in India and with the progress of feminism and women’s emancipation, we can hope that literature will also reflect the changing times and explore female friendships in detail. Till the time that happens, we have to satisfy ourselves with books from outside India.
Do add your recommendations – what are the books on women friendships that you have read?
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