In this personal essay, Bijaya Biswal elaborates on how prejudices shape desire and it’s manifestations beyond the image of the female body.
“Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of the woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
― John Berger, Ways of Seeing
When I first watched Blue Is The Warmest Colour, I realized it wasn’t an ode to lesbian relationships as much as an erotic spectacle. Almost pornographic as if, it was made from a male perspective and for the visual pleasure of a male audience. The unnecessary involvement of a male spectator in a love story between two women meant a desperate, forcible attempt to grasp a power which was lost. Lesbian love would mean no space for patriarchy, lesbian love would mean a chance to be equals. Like bell hooks wrote in her book Feminism is for Everybody,
“Woman-identified women, whether straight, bisexual, or lesbian rarely make garnering male approval a priority in our lives. This is why we threaten the patriarchy. Lesbian women who have a patriarchal mindset are far less threatening to men than feminist women, gay or straight, who have turned their gaze and their desire from the patriarchy, away from sexist men.”
Somewhere deep inside inland India, a group of women wearing bright orange, yellow and red coloured sarees gossiped under an early morning summer sun. Dense groves of lush green banana trees stretched for miles around them. Rows and rows of bananas dangled from these trees, like an upside-down crown. Overhead the sky looked like a clean, light-blue canvas with not a single cloud or bird in sight.
These women had skin the colour of charcoal, sharp eyes and loud laughter. With their hair tucked behind their ears and the loose end of their sarees tied around their waist, they sit under the shade of these trees. In their daily lives full of drudgery and routine, this is perhaps the only hour they don’t resent. They share stories about their childhood, spent in their maiden homes, far this village of lush green banana trees, none of which belong to them. Now, they are just women who live in ruins, on the edges of the world, like those extra empty spaces, on the edges of manuscripts, unseen, unheard and unwanted.
Dr. Sutanuka Ghosh Roy explores Sanjukta Dasgupta’s Sita’s Sisters calling it a poet’s exhortation of womanhood.
ISBN: 978-93-87883-89-5 ( Paperback)
Published by Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata-India.
Price: INR 300. $11.99
Sita’s Sisters is the sixth book of poetry by Sanjukta Dasgupta, former professor, head and dean, faculty of Arts, Calcutta University. She is a poet, critic and translator. She is the recipient of numerous national and international grants and fellowships and has lectured, taught and read her poems in India, Europe, USA and Australia. She is a member of the General Council of Sahitya Akademi New Delhi and Convenor of the English Advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi. Her published books include Snapshots (poetry), Dilemma (poetry), First Language (poetry), More Light (poetry), Her Stories (translations), Manimahesh (translation), Media, Gender andPopular Culture in India: Tracking Change and Continuity, SWADES—Tagore’s PatrioticSongs (translation), Abuse and Other Short Stories, Lakshmi Unbound (poetry) 2017.
Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University( U.P., India) in collaboration with Ministry of HRD, Department of Higher Education and UGC India invites papers for an Online International Conference to be held on 19th and 20th August 2020.
Self-Published, 2018 (supported through a grant from the Government of Goa’s Directorate of Art and Culture)
The Delicate Balance of Little Lives is a short story collection by Jessica Faleiro, the award-winning Goan author of the Afterlife: Ghost Stories from Goa.
This collection offers a glimpse into defining moments of five women whose lives intersect. The proximity of defeat is a central theme in all the stories; the women are close to falling off the edge of their lives but, somehow, never do. Instead, they navigate through the solemn and unexpected and even the catastrophic (rather than overcoming “triumphantly”). They enjoy the small mercies and secrets that prevent them from losing their hold on stability, but which are also the reason they have to cling so desperately to this stability in the first place.
There is Suzanne, a once well-known concert pianist whose fame and musical confidence have waned with age. Alcoholism is her stealth, insidious disease, but alcohol is also an elixir that provides her with the confidence to play at her only gig as a hotel lobby musician. Liquor dulls “the sharp edges of her feelings”, the cruelty of a lover who keeps her at bay, and the memory of a past lover, Rohan, who had asked her to quit the drinking — and the piano playing that necessitated it — but who was unwilling to give up a vice of his own. Read more
Lucy Villa was a beautiful house almost palatial in grandeur and standoffishness. Built on a large patch of sloping land it was surrounded by a once lush garden of myriad fruit trees and exotic flowering plants. Now with years of neglect, the fruit trees had gone wild and the plants that had managed to survive, were smothered by weeds and brambles. No shears trimmed the wayward shoots, no one watered the plants that stood under the scorching sun and waited for merciful rain. The only fountain had run dry, its water trough sickly yellow and green with slime, its stone fairy now decrepit. At night however, Lucy Villa was an elfin realm. Its colourless walls, broad balustrades, wide balconies and layered terraces, gleamed in the moonlight though its tall elegant windows looked dark and forbidding.
Lucy Villa was named after the wife of a sahib who had it built with the intention of enjoying the quiet of this far-flung town and to entertain the occasional guest. Unable to bear the death of his beloved collie and then of his childless wife, the sahib had returned to England leaving the house under the care of a friend who lived in the city. That was more than two decades ago. At present it was under the supervision of an attorney, a little bald sly-eyed man.
When we entered the house, it was still furnished with whatever Hamilton sahib had left behind. Moth-eaten carpets and teak furniture inlaid with delicate floral motifs in brass adorned the living room. The rest of the rooms were bare their dusty floors emanating a suffocating musty smell. The house itself was still in excellent condition despite the neglect barring a few damp patches. The walls had been white-washed for the new tenants. It was a pity that a house fit for a prince was in disuse for this long. It also became evident shortly after we had moved in that this was a house of disrepute.
As I stood one evening under the oleander tree just outside the walls, two Sikh boys on a scooty had screamed raucously – “Bhootiya Bungla (haunted bungalow)!” and sped away as fast as they could leaving me confused and angry. True, the house stood by itself, its high walls and garden isolating it from the rest of the neighbourhood. It was hardly unusual for houses which were once dwelling places of the rich, who preferred privacy, to be associated with strange stories once they had been abandoned. Read more
“Dadi, please stop throwing methi leaves on the answer sheets.” From where I was perched, I could watch over everyone in the courtyard. I had one eye on them, the other on the open pages of my history textbook.
The Indian Renaissance:
Social Reforms and Women Empowerment
Half of these words sat in the shadow of my head. I sat on the steps that went up to the roof of the house, a few peanuts in my fist, head resting ever so slightly on the iron railing through which I could see everyone if I rolled my eyes to the left.
It was difficult to concentrate with all the chatter. Everyone drags their chores to the centre of the courtyard, around our holy tulsi plant, during winter months. Whatever can be done in the sun is done in the sun. My grandmother was settled comfortably on a jute charpoy in this courtyard. The shadow of a towel hanging above her, on a clothesline that ran from a nail on one wall to the water pipe in the opposite corner, fell on her face. Like a starving cat with a heavy coat, her crisp starched puffy saree didn’t give away her small-boned figure. From up here she looked like a bundle of clothes, her back rounded and one knee pulled close to the chest, as she craned her neck into her work. She was sifting through small heaps of coriander, dill, and fenugreek, separating fresh leaves from the thick stalks. A quick pinch —and into a large dish with tiny holes they went. The stalks were thrown into a pile on the floor right next to her; they would later be disposed, into the flowerbed in the corner, where purple periwinkles bloomed scantily. Read more
(From The Wire. Link to the complete article given below)
Fahmida Riaz, who passed away on November 21, informed the reader in her first collection of poetry, Patthar ki Zuban (The Language of Stones), that she would not write any poem until it forced her to that extent. She said she did not write the ghazal because she did not want to write for the sake of rhyme and metre, and also that she would not write for more than three or four years – because then she would have nothing to say.
This was in 1966. She wrote this preface at the hostel of the Government Girls College in Hyderabad in Sindh. She was barely 20.
Until then, many of her poems had been published in the journal Funoon, and she had thanked Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi for encouraging her. The poet he was encouraging would be one of the best Urdu writers at the end of the 20th century. The next 50-odd years also disproved Riaz’s prediction that soon she would have nothing to say. She gave us several volumes of poetry and at least four great novellas. In addition, she wrote Adhura Aadmi (Incomplete Man), a book adapted from the psychological and social analysis of the psychologist Erich Fromm.
She gave us a translation of selected poems from the entire oeuvre of the Iranian poetess who died young, Forough Farrokhzad, titled Khule Dareeche Se (From an Open Window). Other stories were published from time to time, and one read her book reviews, essays and other translations. She also wrote two books in English.
But first we return to those years following the publication of Fahmida Riaz’s first volume of poetry. Not only was there an individuality in her themes and her refusal to be ensconced within the customs of Urdu poetry, but along with that, the visual display of her poems was dignified and beautiful, and there was transparency in her tone.
Title: I Sing the Glory of this Land Author: Bharathiyar, Translated by M. Rajaram Publisher: Rupa Publications India (2018)
Pages: 240 (Hardcover)
Subramania Bharati first came to me in the arguably less-than-inspiring pages of my history- and-civics textbook in middle and high school. Though not exactly a footnote, without the presence of his poetry or the context of his scholarship and vision, his was merely another name to remember as part of the annals of India’s freedom movement. Such is the unfortunate, even exanimate nature of our education system. When his name reappeared in a series of interviews I did with former students of Tamil schools in Delhi in relation to a current non-fiction project, Bharati came across as a towering figure who continues to serve as the spiritual and linguistic compass for Tamil children similar to what Tagore does for their Bengali counterparts. Reading through I Sing the Glory of this Land, M. Rajaram’s recent book of translations of Bharati’s verses, I could see why.
While I’m disadvantaged by my lack of Tamil to appreciate the cadence and music of the original, the clear-eyed directness of Bharati’s (popularly known as Bharathiyar) verses didn’t fail to strike me. As did the expanse of his poetic canvas. The eleven sections of the book – including God, Freedom, Bharath, Women and Children and Nature – bear out this multiplicity of themes even as they trace their intersections. Kneading them together is Bharati’s unwavering accent on liberty, equality and fraternity — the three pillars of the French Revolution — as he envisioned them in British-ruled India.
Human dignity is one of Bharati’s preoccupations and manifests itself in poems like “Labour” with exuberance. In the scope of that single poem, he places workers, farmers and creative artists on the same plane — each group celebrated for its contributions to mankind.
Title: Daughters of the Sun Author: Ira Mukhoty Publisher: Aleph Book Company (2018) Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Babur’s defeat of Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat, 1526, marked the establishment of the Mughal Empire in India. Nurtured by his several illustrious descendents, this infant empire, which grew from strength to strength, united a large part of the subcontinent for two centuries and left an indelible impression on Indian history and culture. To this date the history of this empire has been largely studied from the point of view of its political conquests and the socio-economic and cultural developments of its emperors. With a few notable exceptions, women are conspicuously absent in these accounts, despite the fact that Babur owed his success in no small measure to the efforts of the women in his life.
Academic research on Mughal history has so far showcased prominently the characters of Noorjahan, wife of Jehangir, and Jahanara, the favourite daughter of Shahjahan. Books published in the area dating from 1960 onwards, such as Rekha Misra’s Women in Mughal India 1526-1748 A.D. (1967), Renuka Nath’s Notable Mughal and Hindu Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries A.D (1990), Soma Mukherjee’s Royal Mughal Ladies and their Contribution (2001) cover the domestic arena of the Mughal empire in a limited manner. Written in a prosaic style, these encyclopaedic accounts do not analyse the ramifications of the contribution of Mughal women, much less the sources on which their books are based. This dominant trend was challenged by Ellison Banks Findly’s book Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India (1993), which concentrated on how Muslim and Hindu women negotiated power inside the harem, and later in 2005, by Ruby Lal’s Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. Spanning the period from 1487 to1605, the latter highlights the influence of the familial world, especially the role of women, upon the first three Mughal rulers: Babur, Humayun and Akbar. Along with her research papers on the same subject, this book stands out as a remarkable exception to all others written on Mughal women thus far.
Ira Mukhoty’s Daughters of the Sun endorses and carries forward Lal’s school of thought. An enthralling sociological piece, it covers a bigger time frame, giving us an unusual peep into the private lives of Mughals from the times of Babur to those of Aurangzeb as well as the attempts to drive out the banal images of the harem as a sexualised space, created largely by European accounts. Her nuanced narrative gives voice to fifteen influential but otherwise disappeared Mughal women while throwing light on their complex and changing socio-political status, economic and personal ambitions and the boundaries of their domestic arena.