The Usawa Newsletter October '23

    Claudia Goldin

    “I have always thought of myself as a detective”, said economic historian Claudia Goldin in an interview soon after being informed she had won the Nobel Prize for Economic Studies. “I do my detective work with archival documents, with large amounts of data. The point of being a detective means that you have a question. And the question is so important that you will go to any end to find an answer.”

    The question that Claudia Goldin set out to answer was women’s participation in the labour force, how it has changed with time and the factors that determine it. At the time when Goldin started her research, it was assumed that there was a positive co-relation between economic growth and women’s participation in the workplace. By examining historical data, she found that labour force participation actually dropped drastically after the Industrial Revolution when workplaces shifted from the home (or close to the home) to factories.

    By comparing labour force participation for different cohorts of women, Goldin confirmed what was already known- that even when women entered the labour force, they dropped out after marriage and childbirth. Further, she found that when women tried to re-enter the labour market after their children were grown up, their options were restricted by educational choices they had made 2 decades previously. This, she showed is a vicious cycle, because educational decisions are taken assuming that women will not work after childbirth, and the same decisions later prevent them from participating in the labour market.

    Claudia Goldin correctly identified the easy availability of contraceptive pills as one of the major reasons behind the entry of women into professions like law, medicine and economics that required extensive professional training. However, here too, she identified a distinct wage gap between men and women of similar age, education and productivity, which she explained as being on account of the fact that salaries are often determined based on the perception of how long a particular employee would remain with the firm. Since it was assumed that women would drop out after childbirth, salaries for women were pegged lower than those for men. Even women who continue to work after childbirth lose out on both career progression and earnings, because greater responsibilities at home make it hard for them to be constantly available and flexible to the demands of the employer.

    Though Goldin does not offer any solutions, in the words of economist Randi Hjalmarsson, a member of the Prize Committee, “her research allows policymakers to tackle the entrenched problem.”

    The Nobel Prize is awarded for big ideas and for long-term change. By awarding the Nobel Prize to Claudia Goldin, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has put gender inequity in the labour market in the spotlight. The first solo female winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Science has identified the obstacles to gender equity. It is now upto policy makers and corporates to remove them, so women’s labour is finally acknowledged and rewarded.

    Natasha Ramarathnam works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional writer, she constantly worries about ensuring her teenage sons grow up to be feminist men. She defines herself as a dog lover, a tree hugger, a coffee addict and a handloom enthusiast

    JON FOSSE, The Other Name for prose

    Story is metaphor for life and life is lived in time” – Robert McKee

    Time that very much stills yet flows through the writing of Jon Fosse. A playwright and translator, Norwegian author Jon Fosse has proved his mettle, time and again through exemplary writing whether it was for plays, essays or various novels.

    I came across his work for the first time when he was longlisted for the International Booker Prize 2022. His Septology series is one of the most notable works which now has been widely read and appreciated across the globe.

    He wrote his first novel, Red, Black, in 1983, followed by the Melancholy series, Aliss at the Fire, and Septology to name a few. Eventually, he started scriptwriting for plays, mastering that skill and how. Some of his expansively scripted plays, as said by him, have been written in a night.

    “The Other Name”, “I Is Another” and “A New Name” are the intricately designed pieces of the Septology trilogy, each forming the philosophical & theological extension of the other. The series interweaves the life story of Asle, a staunch, rosary-bearing Catholic, whose thoughts keep meandering from the outside world to the inside. The plotless narrative is more like an assembly of dots, dots for the readers to connect. Pictures created by these dots will be your own creation, which can be colored as you want them to look viz. you want red for love or red for religion, grey for belief or humanity etc.

    Just like Septology, Fosse plays with time and his method of continuous narrative in Aliss at the Fire. The ebb & flow of the plot can be measured through the various pawns he lays down on the chessboard. Each move on this chequered board cascades through contemplations about Art, Religion, Silence, Stillness, Darkness, delving deeper and deeper into faith

    Author interviews are the best way to understand the thought process behind the book. Out of many authors that I have read, Fosse’s clarity has always intrigued me. Quoting one of his interviews, he says

    “To write what I myself have experienced doesn’t interest me at all. I write more to get rid of myself than to express myself. It is the creation of a new universe, characters, moods, a story, a specific way of writing, which is interesting to me. And if I manage to write well, I bring something to this world that wasn’t there before. And that is also completely new to me.”

    Fosse’s writing feels nothing less than assembly of poems. The never-ending loop of small sentences leading to longer ones makes for a perfect play area for the author. The engrossing narrative & absence of full stops all across the Septology might just make you forget to breathe once in a while. Hence the claustrophobia of his characters starts resonating with you as a reader.

    His writing style has a juxtaposition of repetitive lines with that of fragmented sentences. I think these are his tools to bring out the hauntingness of the text. There is a sense of urgency in his writing & quick shifts from present to past & back that don’t let your attention shift even for a minute.

    One of the most appealing aspects of his writing which I feel the common audience will connect to is how beautifully he describes nature and its compartments. In Septology, he has immaculately painted the beautiful Norway and its fjords

    In general, talk about Faith, religion and subjective propensity have a high susceptibility of being borderline preachy but his work makes none of it.

    “I just keep the mistakes and let them be wrong, because it’s often the mistakes that eventually lead to something right” – from I Is Another

    In hindsight Fosse’s writing style might not appeal to all sets of readers. His plethora of work is not easy to understand and sometimes plotless narratives can also get daunting. I think to love and understand his work you need to be in the right frame of mind.

    The Nobel Prize for Literature 2023 awarded to him celebrates his imperfect characters and staunch readers


    My alma mater was books, a good library…. I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.”

    Malcolm X


    This quote perfectly sums my past, present and future. Curiosity is to Human as Fickle is to Life. The only constant being Knowledge, which will help you learn, Unlearn and Relearn. Hence I love to read range of books from Fiction to Non Fiction, from Historical Fiction to Autobiographies, from Romance to Real life challenges. I generally post my book reviews on Social media sites (@rendezvouswithbooks) and enjoy a Tome as much as a short story

    -Bhavna Joshi

    Extracts from My Body Didn’t Come Before Me: Poems

    Follow-up appointment

    I had to spell it—h o p e l e ss n e ss
    had to hiss my tongue twice, had to pronounce

    right, had to say other words—tired empty hollow
    like a bottomless bowl of brass, embossed,

    till I tasted the bitter melt of Escitalopram
    on the lilt of my tongue standing in front

    of the pantry at work; till smiling good morning
    colleagues watched my eyebrows knit but didn’t

    ask what is this medicine? I had to hear it
    from the lady doctor, wise in her metallic zipper

    coat, saying let us not taper anymore.
    Had to hear my name—Kuhu—had to whisper

    Kuhu down my throat, had to rub my palm in circles
    around my navel, had to feel the bed flatten

    underneath my spine, had to hear her say—Kuhu
    you take care of yourself.


    My first blood was brown like poop
    gone wrong. I didn’t understand my bum
    and why the poop kept falling out.

    I took to eating more rice. Still the goopey
    brown. Flecks some days, then a snail.
    Enormous. I’d come home and bend over the sink,

    scrubbing with a brush. The white bristles
    turning to mud. For four days I took extra bloomers
    in my school bag, didn’t breathe much

    on the bus back, gripped the seat
    when we crossed over speed bumps.
    On the fifth day, I showed two snails to Mum.

    She stuck in a little white pad,
    gave me a stack of old newspaper, and said,
    don’t drop them in the toilet. Then she opened

    the Illustrated Human Body
    and with her right index finger, she traced
    what I didn’t think could exist inside me.

    What your doctor will tell you:

    Forty-five degrees to the right. Thoraco-lumbar.
    Cut open. Iron rod. Stitch. Small
    Surgery. Milwaukee. Kuch nahin hota hai. Insert. Spine
    Still growing. MRI. Pregnancy. Girls grow till seventeen.
    Iron. Curved. Rod. Sharma ji hain, vo fitting kar denge.
    No known cause. Stop tennis classes.
    In eight years when she’s twenty. Brace. No
    Known cause. Twenty-two hours. Lacheeli.
    Push ribs in place. Phir vo slouch nahin karegi.
    L6-L7. Bent-back X-ray. Idiopathic. S shape. Take off your shirt.
    Are you wearing a baniyaan? All normal activities. Surgery.
    Bohot ladkiyan aati hain. Aap se bhi chhoti-chhoti.


            The year I decided
    I no longer wanted men,
            my body also decided
    that it did. I could not rub poems
            against my clit. The words melted
    like dead ant heads. Their toes
            curling to the floor. My belly
    grew softer and the button
            hung convex. I plucked wild
    Syngonium from the park’s sidewalk.
            Digging the hardened mud
    with a karchchi. Trying to locate the roots
            whole. In return, the knobbly
    mouths threw up sand
            that clung like diamonds
    to my clavicle bone, shimmering
            with sweat. When I plunged them
    through the mouth of a beer
            bottle, the roots
    contracted into each other
            to slide through its neck
    before bursting forth—boom
            into the vastness
    of its belly. For a second, I thought they
    they were going to open
    into air.

    Excerpted from My Body Didn’t Come Before Me: Poems by Kuhu Joshi. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2023.

    ISB alumni visit the Usawa office

    On 8 October 2023, three ISB alumni visited Usawa. As part of the ISB Alumni Social Impact SIG’s Impact Day Celebrations, alumni participated in alumni-run NGOs across the country.

    Our Editor-in-Chief is an alumnus of ISB. Joining her were Shurti, Aneesha and Avanish. Our Books Editor, Ankush Banarjee attended over Zoom.Trisha Shah and Ritika Saroj represented team Usawa. The attendees participated in a thought-provoking discussion.

    Usawa Translation Grant

    The function of literature is multi-faceted; it is an escape, it is an examination. And in either of its various facets, it disrupts boundaries. To think of literature is to think of a tapestry of words, of letters, of sounds woven with such care and imagination that it transcends geographical boundaries. Literature in translation is not new, what is new is the momentum it has afforded to translators. Translators are creative writers too – it is because of their careful attention that readers are able to inhabit different worlds and tongues. It is in this spirit of recognizing the intricate work that translators do that we at the Usawa Literary Review are pleased to launch the inaugural Usawa Translations Grant.

    The Usawa Translations Grant is an initiative to support the translation of contemporary literature from the present-day countries of Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, originally written in local languages into English.

    It is a literary effort to bridge the gap for as peoples of the peninsula, we share tectonics, flora and fauna, and even histories and cultures, but as neighbours we continue to remain strangers in the face of solid, impenetrable borders.
    Stories, like water can permeate solid boundaries, and poems are able to waft through barbed wires. Such is the power of words that place faith in at Usawa.

    We are proud to announce Ajmal Kamal, who is translating the Sinhalese novel by Kaushalya Kumarsinghe as the first recipient of the grant. He will receive a sum of twenty thousand rupees to aid him in the writing process. The origin story of this translation in progress confirms the premise of the grant; it is a work of collaboration between the author and the translator who only had English as the shared language between them. This tale of collaboration is the essence of the Grant – a metaphor for our times that there is hope despite artificial constructs. A more detailed profile of the translator, Kamal and the author, Kumarsinghe may be found here .

    Winners of the first Usawa giveaway announced

    Usawa celebrated Hindi Diwas by giving away Stree Lekhan Ka Samkal by Rashmi Rawat. The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, DU. She is an acclaimed critic who has two books to her credit: Stree-Lekhan Ka Samkal (Aadhar Prakashan) and Hashiye Ki Awazen (Bodhi Prakashan).

    Read a note from the author here