The title of Prerna Bakshi’s book of poetry Burnt Rotis, With Love alludes to one Aniqa, a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan, who was killed by her father and her brother after she failed to make a round roti. In our part of the world, societal roles for boys and girls are segregated and decided right from their childhoods. As Bakshi puts it, “Girls are given dolls, cooking sets as toys to play with, so as to socialise them into their future roles as wives, mothers and caretakers, in ways boys are not. When we get slightly older, we are told by our families, just how important it is to cook ‘perfectly shaped round rotis’, as if the entire family depended on it.”

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Several themes in Bakshi’s book touch upon class, gender, imperialism and violence of the Partition – they relate to a system, a social order which is oppressive in nature. It serves only the interests of the ruling class. She asserts, “For a new society and new order to emerge, the existing hegemonic social system that normalizes the conditions that the disadvantaged find themselves in, has to be overthrown; burnt to the ground (both metaphorically and otherwise)… Mao once said, ‘Revolution is not a dinner party’. Definitely not a dinner party in which soft, fluffy, round rotis are on the menu, ready to be served.

“Girls are given dolls, cooking sets as toys to play with, so as to socialise them into their future roles as wives, mothers and caretakers, in ways boys are not.”

The poet and writer has done her Bachelor of Computer Applications and Master of Computer Applications but she moved away from the IT discipline owing to personal circumstances and her own political ideology. Since then Bakshi has done a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics from Monash University, a degree in Master of Arts by Research (Sociolinguistics) from the University of Sydney, and currently, she’s a PhD candidate at the University of New England.

“I found myself at much peace doing what I do now which is to help preserve, promote and advocate for the rights of local and minority languages which have historically been dominated, marginalized and excluded from the domains of power. My PhD research is on Mewati, a speech variety spoken in Mewat (Haryana). It examines what role, if any, does it play in the education system and what structural forces are responsible for the educational problems in Mewat.”

Currently residing in Macao, Bakshi who had also worked as a translator for the Australian government never imagined she’d be writing a book one day.

She adds, “Sure, I wrote individual poems which were subsequently published in literary journals, magazines and anthologies, but that they’d eventually find their way into my book was not something I had originally planned or was prepared for. But, soon a pattern started to emerge, and I just kept on writing.”

Burnt Rotis With Love
Book Cover of Burnt Rotis, With Love by Prerna Bakshi

The book sheds light on how damaging and counterproductive perpetuation of and adherence to strict gender roles can be to the progress of a society.

Prerna says that the women in her book, are not ‘perfect’, nor are they striving to be one – “They have flaws. They get angry and are not afraid to complain. Neither are they afraid to bite nor are they afraid to burn rotis. But if they do, then they are not apologetic for it.

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My poems are unabashedly political, and in the end, all poetry, ‘all art is political’, as Toni Morrison once said– whether we choose to admit it or not. A lot of my work explores women’s lives, their fears and aspirations, and it attempts to put women at the centre stage, where they are the driving force, which at times, attracts a lot of hostility.  We still live in a world where despite all the progress women have made, any opinion(s) given by them on what constitutes as ‘political’, whether inside or outside the home domain, is still met with a lot of opposition, suspicion and derision.”

“A lot of my work explores women’s lives, their fears and aspirations, and it attempts to put women at the centre stage, where they are the driving force, which at times, attracts a lot of hostility.”

Bakshi, who is quite active on Twitter has had her fair share of trolls and says that she’s gotten used to all the abuse that comes her way. “From having received several rape and death threats to a recent vicious and nasty smear campaign because the trolls on the internet took issues with my take on the current state of affairs, I’ve seen it all. As part of this smear campaign, recently my book came under attack. As part of a well-planned and orchestrated campaign, they downgraded the books of authors, several of whom noted journalists, without bothering to even read their work, simply because they did not like the authors in question. They wrote negative reviews in order to discourage people from buying their books and it was an easy way to bring down the number of buyers. This is not the first time it has happened and it won’t be the last either. It’s just one of those things we have to get accustomed to. The price one pays for voicing their opinion in public I guess, and if that’s the case, then so be it.”

Feminism, as a movement, helps make sense of the overwhelming hypocrisy surrounding us.

The activist recalls growing up and getting involved in heated debates with some of her family members and friends.

She says, “We live in a society which is incredibly hypocritical. Feminism helps you see this hypocrisy better. Like many girls growing up in India, I never heard the word ‘feminism’. It is easier to understand now, why that might have been the case, and what socio-cultural and political forces were responsible for it, but back then, it didn’t seem so clear. The word feminism though continues to be demonized. It continues to be seen as taboo, something that we ought not to say, definitely not out in the open. We live in a society, which continuously tells women that they are not a threat, all while seeing them as one, when they come out together to fight for their rights. We live in a society where marriage is sacred and so is rape within marriage. Marital rape is still legal but that doesn’t shock us, feminism does.”

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