As a child, Aparna Jain had a beautiful and extensive book collection. And no matter what the story, she always found women to be heroic in their own way. Inspired by the children’s book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, Aparna decided that her book was going to be different because “our stories are not so simple – our landscape is not so simple.”

The 51 stories in Like A Girl are nuanced and span difficult topics – mental health, gender, caste, the devadasi system, etc. – that parents may find to be tough to talk to their children about. The stories unfold chronologically, shifting from female historical figures to women who were part of the freedom struggle to women pioneers to the more contemporary and sportspersons. SheThePeople.TV converses with Aparna Jain about her powerful and colourful amalgamation of herstories and art in the book Like A Girl.

Aparna Jain
Image Credit: Context

Ayesha Broacha, the Art Director on the project, and Aparna put a call out on social media for artists to aid them with Like A Girl and were inundated with entries. They sifted through the artworks, seeking a certain look and style. Ayesha was clear – “Nothing should look like a textbook from an Indian school.” It needed to look contemporary and much like the lauded New Yorker illustrations, but more realistic in terms of faces. A team of 26 female artists brought each story to life with Oxfam India as the Art Patron.

The book recounts the stories of women such as Sultan Razia, Dr. Muthulaksmi Reddi, Amrita Sher-Gil, Indira Jaising, J. Jayalalithaa, Sudha Varghese, Medha Patkar, Bhanwari Devi, Bama, Gauri Lankesh, Tessy Thomas, Irom Sharmila Chanu, Soni Sori, Gauri Sawant, Dipa Karmakar and 36 other trailblazing women. She met 90% of the living women in person. She would interview them, transcribe the interview, write the story, edit and then rewrite. Karthika V.K., the publisher at Context, “helped each story sing”. She would reprimand Jain gently: this is like a wiki entry, this doesn’t seem right, this is all wrong – change it. For the icons who have passed away, Aparna used autobiographies and spoke to their relatives or biographers to record their narratives.

It was difficult for Aparna Jain to write Shah Bano Begum’s story. “Everything that was documented, was only about the case. There was hardly anything personal,” she admits. But the story was very important and the author spoke to Shah Bano Begum’s daughter Siddiqua Ahmed to complete it.

“Meeting these women was incredibly inspiring. When I met Bhanwari Devi, I didn’t sleep for a few days. After I spoke with Soni Sori – it was the same,” expresses Aparna Jain.

Aparna Jain asserts about what change she would like to see Like A Girl make: I actually want a bunch of things to happen and I know I am being super optimistic: I want parents to discuss debate and talk about contentious issues with children. To make them question. To discuss, not dismiss. To encourage, not declare. I want more reading, less media. I want children to be open to more than white-washed stories. I want girls to know women can and have changed the world!”

Feature Image Credit: Ayesha Sood, Context from Westland.

Like A Girl, by Aparna Jain, has been published by Context from Westland. It is priced at Rs. 799, and is available online and in bookstores.

Also Read: On Chand Bibi, From ‘Rebel Sultans’ By Manu Pillai

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