Exploring Memoirs by South Asian Women

A dialogue from one of my favorite movies goes like this, “We forget things if we have no one to tell them to.” As much as I love ‘The Lunchbox’, this line has stayed with me long after the characters leave the screen. It makes me think, who better than a whole array of readers then, to tell your life story to? It’s a renewed chance of looking at your life choices through a different lens and going through the motions of your emotions again. As for the reader, it is all about reading real-life stories just so different from our own. 

The latest International Women’s Day inspired me to revisit some of these life records written by South Asian women from. One might  notice that these books have some recurring themes of exploring oneself, breaking gender, caste and class barriers, racism, prejudice, or finding community and owning your place across borders and language.

My Past is a Foreign Country by Zeba Talkhani

I picked up this read because of its intriguing title and the book didn’t disappoint. It’s interesting how throughout her life, Zeba has been part of a minority whether it was living with her Indian heritage in Saudi Arabia, as a Muslim woman in India, or both these things in Europe. In her memoir, Zeba delves into themes of religion, family dynamics, and the challenges of negotiating identity and gender norms in both conservative and colonial societies. 



Ants Among Elephants by Sujata Gidla

Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla is a poignant memoir that tells the story of the writer’s Dalit family, community and the caste based discrimination they are subjected to. She paints a searing picture of life in rural India, capturing the realities of caste oppression and the effect of social and political trade on her family’s lives. Her story is a documentation of humanity and self-assertion. It highlights the importance of schooling for Dalit children often excluded from existing institutions.



Citizen By Descent by Kritika Arya

Kritika Arya’s labor of love is all things relatable, and sweet and holds a feeling of bitter-sweet nostalgia. The description says it all – Citizen by Descent is a collection of illustrated autobiographical essays exploring the ideas of home, belonging, identity, anxiety, and being a third-culture kid. The uniqueness of the book comes from the fact that each illustration is done by a different artist, from all over the world. It enabled them to add their own voice to the chapters.

While ‘Home Centred’ speaks about childhood memories and how much they can affect us, ‘Rani from Dubai’ is relatable because I spent some time studying in the UK and was always first asked about where I am from. The writer manages to deal with her own anxiety in different tried and tested ways but manages to keep it witty. One of my favorite lines is “The two constants in my life have always been my passport and my anxiety, they have travelled the world with me.” A soul searcher, Kritika’s writing is poignant and teleports you to stand by her with each new curve her journey takes.

Kritika is currently a part of the team making a global documentary about mental health called ‘I Hope This Helps’. I would recommend her book to every third culture reader and anyone else who loves descriptive, autobiographical writing.

My Hair is Pink Under This Veil by Rabina Khan

I know it’s probably not the best idea to include a book that I still have not read, but this memoir is at the very top of my TBR! A story as rebellious as the title, this book looks funny, engaging and tenacious. Rabina Khan is a Bangladeshi British writer and politician who while campaigning for mayoral elections in 2015 was asked by a male voter ‘what colour her hair was under her veil.’ She answered pink and this incident spurred the writing of her autobiographical book where she recounts stories from her childhood and of growing up Asian in a white neighborhood.


Once Upon a Life, Burnt Curry and Bloody Rags by Temsula Ao   

Temsula Ao was an acclaimed writer, community leader and educator from Shillong. Once Upon a Life, Burnt Curry and Bloody Rags is her memoir which she describes as “an attempt to exorcize my own personal ghosts from a fractured childhood that was ripped apart by a series of tragedies… [it] is about love and what it is like to be deprived of it.”  Temsula Ao recounts a difficult life of struggle from a young age, her achievements in education and literature, and is full of valuable insights into her incredible life.



How We Met by Huma Qureshi

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Huma’s other book, Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love, which I read just before this one. This sweet memoir is a recall of how Huma met her partner.  The book chronicles her experience growing up in Walsall, UK, caught between the worlds of her British upbringing and her family’s traditional South Asian values. Despite her dreams of independence and a career in journalism, she feels pressure from her parents to get married. Eventually, Qureshi meets and falls in love with Richard, a white British man who converts to her religion to be with her.



My Story by Kamala Das

Originally written in Malayalam, Ente Katha, ‘My Story’ in English is Kamala Surayya’s (then Das) autobiographical telling of Kamala’s unapologetic and unconventional life. Widely considered a feminist classic and one of the best-selling autobiographies by an Indian woman, My Story also includes her poems to showcase her insightful and often witty poetry. 


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