Fact and Fiction

Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is here in our lives, and not just as a TV show

While we weren’t looking, the book became our reality.

There’s a reason dystopian fiction is so addictive to read. Like a ghost story, or a murder mystery, it draws you in. There but for the grace of God, go I. An authoritarian government, the poor at the very bottom, the rich at the very top, measures that you should be outraged about but aren’t, for fear of retribution, or just plain old apathy. This could be us. This could be us today.

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most quoted examples of this genre, and rightly so. Margaret Atwood, the author, can write circles around anyone else, even when she’s describing female friendship or placing a novel within a novel. But it is Atwood’s dystopia that stands out, whether it’s the more recent Oryx and Crake (climate change in a strange new world) or back to basics, back to the book that defined a female-centric dystopian fantasy: The Handmaid’s Tale.

It seems funny that there was a time I’d never even heard of Atwood, and that it took the urgings of my partner, then in our heady nascent early dating days, to push The Handmaid’s Tale on me, and how when I read it, devoured it, it was an act of falling in love on two levels: one with the man who brought the book to me and the other with the author of this book.

Nightmare come true

Then, I read it swiftly and speedily, as I couldn’t wait to finish and put together the jigsaw. But I re-read it recently, all in anticipation for the television adaptation of the book, and this time I went slowly, and what I read along the way troubled me. Increasingly, the narrative was sounding like a true-life report, something that is actually happening today in India.

The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985. I was four when it came out, and now looking back over the years, the 1980s have taken on a sepia-tinged look. Cycling down alleys, organic food before there were any other options, but 1985 was the year Air India flight 182 was blown up over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all passengers aboard.

It was the year the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was passed in India, claiming that a person suspected of terrorism could be imprisoned without a trial or any formal charges, removing a defence of free speech. In the United States, it was the Year of The Spy, because a number of arrests were made on Russian spies in the US.

Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course [...] but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of them were the men we knew. The news paper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others.

— 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Maid to order

One of the big issues in the fall of the United States as we know it in the book was the loss of fertility. A nuclear disaster – or something similar – had resulted in infertility and as a result, those up top, in power, could call upon “handmaids” or women who were known to be fertile, to come to their homes, have sex with them, and produce a child for them, after which the women were shipped off to another posting, and so on and so forth until their ovaries died out. Offred, our narrator, so named because she belongs to Fred, who is a “Commander”, is one of these women.

In 2017, in India, there may not be either infertility or a decline in the birth rate, but the RSS is claiming that you can get “customised, fair skinned babies” by following a few rituals. The Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project claims to have delivered 450 of these “specialised” babies so far and has plans to have “thousands of such babies by 2020,” according to their spokesperson.

This involves, among other things, complete abstinence after the baby is born. Compare this to the Ceremony in The Handmaid’s Tale, where the Commander, fully clothed except for the essential part, has sex with Offred, also fully clothed, minus her underwear, while she lies between the legs of the Commander’s Wife. (Also, needless to say, fully clothed.) When there is a birth, the Wife sits above the labouring Handmaid, pretending to give birth as she does. These are aided by certain rituals they all follow – especially the night the Commander and the Handmaid have sex – to ensure fertility.

The Commander’s Wife – and her particular, peculiar sexless marriage – reminded me a lot of the Indian mother-in-law. The Handmaid is in the Wife’s domain, and it is the Wife who decides her fate. “We fought for it,” the Wife tells Offred, when she emphasises that her husband is hers alone.

Many dowry deaths in India have the mother-in-law as the murderer, and in a country where the husband lives with his parents, it is the mother-in-law with whom the bride has the closest relationship. She may not literally be the third person in the bedroom, but her spectre is looming close by. Plus arranged marriages? They abound in Gilead – the book’s fictional world – as well as in real life right here.

It’s closer than we think

I turned to an article in Outlook published in 2013, and found that the women in RSS training camps have similar ideas about their segregation. Motherhood is held up as the ultimate ideal. To quote from the article: “We are not feminists, we are family-ists. We believe in dampatya (conjugality) where a man and a woman together need to bring up a family.”

The modesty that the Handmaids have to always employ is echoed in this other quote by a Samiti member: ““Besides unemployment, there are two major problems that need to be addressed...One is that young girls must be stopped from putting their pictures on social networking websites like Facebook. They risk their honour and then their pictures are morphed into nude ones and circulated.”

Offred is lucky to be a Handmaid, she’s frequently told. Less useful women become Marthas – cooks, maids, general dogsbodies. Others marry lower ranked soldiers and are Econowives. The Handmaids still occupy a higher status than them. The women in the book are not allowed to read, and there are frequent heartbreaking flashbacks to Offred’s previous life where all her freedoms were slowly taken away.

It begins, as these things often do, with constant surveillance. The old government is overthrown, a new one promised, but never delivered, people with differing beliefs asked to leave the country. Do you see the echoes now as I did?

“‘Ordinary,’ said Aunt Lydia, ‘is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.’”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

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The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

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Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

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Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

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Interesting finds

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Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.