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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

SHAKTI: STORIES OF INDIAN WOMEN IN SA (article first published : 2007-09-27)

Shakti, compiled by Alleyn Diesel, is a collection of fascinating stories from Indian women living in the Pietermaritzburg area of KwaZulu-Natal. It acknowledges South African Indian women who are discovering and defining (and redefining) what it means to be a woman in past and present South Africa. It gives recognition to women who have all shared a local history in very different ways. The word ‘Shakti’ means the power or energy of women and, in this compilation, the energy of every woman who shares her story is ardently expressed.

The book exudes femininity and all that is prescribed to femininity. Each account starts with a photograph of the woman telling her story; bordered with beautifully feminine design. Accompanying each photo is a short history of her life, allowing for further knowledge into the lives of observant South African women. Each page number is accompanied with a tiny flower embellishment, just a little feminine touch that adds to this insightful read.

The book is categorized into two parts: first, eighteen stories titled Women in the South African Indian Community and second, accounts from another five women in a section titled: Hindu women worshipping the goddess in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the preface, Alleyn Diesel states: “I do not wish to speak ‘on behalf of’ anyone, but merely to provide a platform for the women’s voices to heard…” (vii, 2007). This platform presents vivid images of the lives led by Indian women, in the past and their constant adjustment to the present. In these individual accounts of local Indian women, whose ages range from 27 to 86, their weaknesses and strengths are eloquently laid bare, providing the reader with an understanding of the vital role local history has played in who they are today.

The women’s stories highlight the current and past concerns of Indian women in South Africa. They carry fascinating connections in terms of what it means to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, teacher, friend, woman and human being. The thread that effectively holds the stories together is the ‘awareness’ that these women bring to their own environments in relation to being a woman living in the South African Indian Community. It explores how community, apartheid, patriarchy, religion, spirituality and culture play a part in their daily consciousness. Also presented is a compelling insight into Hindu rituals and how women have found a way of integrating them into their lives.

It is a ticket into the lives of Indian women in our local context accurately portrayed. A few examples of the journeys offered in this compilation include meeting the Queen of England; living as an Ambassadrice in Morocco; the life of an activist; becoming a Hindu priest; and heartfelt stories of marriage, love and coming-of-age.

Shakti shows women who are taking responsibility for their lives and their histories, and in doing so aims to empower the reader by identification. Fittingly released in August, the month dedicated to women and women’s issues, SHAKTI: Stories of Indian women in South Africa certainly thrives to empower women using the tool of story-telling. An exciting and insightful read for any who wishes to understand, be empowered and learn from a sincere view of local lives! – Shika Budhoo




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