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Author Archives: Zubaan

E-ESSAYS FROM ZUBAAN | 16 OCTOBER, WOMEN'S WRITING/LITERATURE

Our e-Essays project is now LIVE!

Previously-released essays are available here, and each month a new essay is available for free with any other purchase. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here! 

Our previous sets of e-Essays focused on Indian women's movementssexual violencedomestic space and kinshipreligion and conflictstate crimes and impunitytraumahealth, violence against womenand nation.

The essays in this set study women’s writing in historical context, and the ways in which it fashions discourse. Authors Meenakshi Moon and Urmila Pawar focus on Dalit women’s voices in the rich literary tradition of the mid-twentieth century; while Uma Chakravarti looks specifically at writing about widowhood, both personal and critical; and Tilottoma Misra’s work showcases Assamese women, detailing the subjective experience of violence through poetry and prose. Together the pieces offer an alternative understanding of how notions of ‘literature’ come to be, through specificities of theme, language, politics and law.

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 1. 'ON WIDOWHOOD: THE CRITIQUE OF CULTURAL PRACTICES IN WOMEN'S WRITING' by UMA CHAKRAVARTI, from REWRITING HISTORY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PANDITA RAMABAI (1998)

35_On Widowhood_cover

This essay examines women’s writing in the 19th century on the oppression of widows, focusing on voices that writer Uma Chakravarti believes have been invisibilized over the years. Stating that the history of social reforms and widowhood has been predominantly understood from a knowledge-based male perspective, Chakravarti proposes balancing the discourse with several female perspectives based on experiencing widowhood first-hand.

The essay is divided into three parts: the first focuses on women’s works on widowhood, examining the writing of Sushila Devi, Tarabai Shinde and Rakhmabai. The second section looks at widows from Poona Widows’ Home writing about their own experiences, and the third at writers like Pandita Ramabai and Parvati Athavale who were actively involved in providing support to other widows. From scathing criticism to personal experiences, the works criticize the then existing male-dominant Reformist movement, which focused only on widow remarriage, and outline the problems faced by widows, such as deprivation of basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, and the enforcement of unpaid and unacknowledged labour. 54 pp. Read more.

₹70.00

Dr. Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian who taught at Miranda House, Delhi University. She writes on Buddhism, early Indian history, the 19th century and on contemporary issues.

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2. 'ENLIGHTENMENT THROUGH LITERATURE' by MEENAKSHI MOON, URMILA PAWAR, WANDANA SONALKAR (TRANS.), from WE ALSO MADE HISTORY: WOMEN IN THE AMBEDKARITE MOVEMENT (1989)

36_Enlightenment Through Literature

This essay is a historical overview of Dalit literature, focusing on the contribution of women writers. The authors Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon show how the Dalit movement gained momentum with the rise of Dalit centric newspapers and literary societies, which gave a voice to the Dalit people. Led by Babasaheb Ambedkar, this literary movement was strengthened through talks, discussions, analysis of folk songs, and by spreading literacy and encouraging research. By the 1960s, Dalit writers had created a huge collection of short stories, poems, novels, autobiographies and analytical pieces.

The authors focus on the gradual increase of female voices and perspectives in Dalit writing – on topics ranging from religious customs like funerary rites, birth control, to mixed marriages. Appreciating these works for their literary merits as well as social significance, the authors suggest that they helped people understand and appreciate their own history, and facilitated the spread of radical ideas of identity and self-worth. 12 pp. Read more.

Meenakshi Moon was a close associate of B. R. Ambedkar. Her essays, research papers, articles study the daily religious practices and marital rules of Dalit communities, the practice of ritual prostitution, women’s issues and the Dalit movement.

Urmila Pawar received an MA from the University of Bombay and worked in the Maharashatra department of labour welfare. A former actor of radical Marathi theatre, she writes non-fiction and short stories informed by her self-definition as a Dalit, Buddhist and a feminist.

Wandana Sonalkar (translator) teaches economics at Dr. Babasaheb Marathwada University, Aurangabad. She is a founding member of Aalochana Centre for Documentation and Research on Women.

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3. 'WOMEN WRITING IN TIMES OF VIOLENCE' by TILOTTOMA MISRA from THE PERIPHERAL CENTRE: VOICES FROM INDIA'S NORTHEAST (2010)

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This essay uncovers how the writings of women have emerged as forms of protest in Assam, a region torn by political violence and prolonged militancy. For Tilottoma Misra, these voices are doing more than simply responding to a need to represent the marginalised; they are attempting to depict the trauma that the women experience in their lives. In discussing the power of the narrative, Misra lays out those aspects of traumatic events that a literary discourse can grasp more expansively than a strictly historical narrative.

Written by women during times of conflict, these stories and poems help explore nuances of the ways in which one's psyche is affected by the conflict. With a population facing discoveries of mass graves and an increasing breakdown of basic civic amenities, Misra poses urgent questions as to the role of the writer in such difficult times. 25 pp. Read more.

50.00

Tilottoma Misra is an academic and author. She formerly taught English Literature at Indaprastha College, New Delhi and Dibrugarh University, Assam. She was awarded the Ishan Puraskar by the Bharatiya Bhasha Parishad for her novel Swarnalata. Currently, she is writing on literature and society of eastern India and is engaged in a research project on customary law and women’s rights in Northeast India.

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FREE IN OCTOBER, WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY OTHER ESSAY:

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'INDIA AS HOME' by GEETANJALI SINGH CHANDA from INDIAN WOMEN IN THE HOUSE OF FICTION (2008)

Geetanjali Singh Chanda explores, in this essay, the idea of the nation and its representation as a house or home in postcolonial Indian English literature. The author identifies that this literature has a dual parentage that manifests in its narratives, where characters with fragmented identities negotiate to make India their home.

Chanda explores this depiction of ‘Indianness’ through three prominent literary works: Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1983), Meena Alexander’s Nampally Road (1991), and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). She focuses on the treatment of history within these narratives, and the struggle of characters to reconcile their personal or national history with the post-colonial present. This is done by connecting the events in the text to a significant historical event – like the Indian Independence in 1947, or the Emergency of 1975. 37 pp. Read more.

Dr. Geetanjali Singh Chanda is a senior lecturer in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Programme at Yale University, USA. She has taught courses on globalization, autobiographies, family, cultural identity, popular culture, international feminisms and postcolonial India since 2001.

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A note on pricing, frequency and format:

The e-Essays project is a new initiative from Zubaan, undertaken to make our near-fifteen years of feminist research more accessible to our readers and community. New essays are released in sets each month, curated to a theme; subscribers receive each curated set in their inbox. The essays range from just a few pages to 100-page chapters, and we've therefore created three pricing tiers: 50, 70 and 95 rupees. Responses to our test survey in March indicated that a majority of readers would be willing to pay up to Rs. 100, so we've kept even the longest essay under that amount. The vast majority of our readers also included PDFs in their preference of format, and we have accordingly standardised all our essays in PDF files.

If you're interested to see what's coming next, make sure you've joined our mailing list, and keep your eye out for the next mailer/blog post. Happy Reading!

E-ESSAYS FROM ZUBAAN | 1 OCTOBER, NATION

Our e-Essays project is now LIVE!

Previously-released essays are available here, and each month a new essay is available for free with any other purchase. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here! 

Our previous sets of e-Essays focused on Indian women's movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship, religion and conflict, state crimes and impunity, trauma, health and violence against women.

This set of essays considers how various conceptions of the ‘nation’/statehood — the Peshwai, the British Raj, the Indian state — have negotiated their relationship with their women ‘citizens’, and vice versa. Discussing how gendered and casteist social codes created paradigms for the ‘pure’ (Brahman, male) citizen (as exemplified by the Peshwai reign) in Indian polity, Uma Chakravarti chronologically points the way towards Radha Kumar’s essay, which engages with how women, when finally considered (future) citizens of a to-be-independent India, began to take part in civil disobedience and nationalist projects of the early 20th century. Farida Abdulla picks apart the ways in which independent India's nation-building project now re-negotiates, through violence and armed conflict, Kashmiri women’s citizenship as one forged in terror and precarious kinship. This month’s free essay is a complement to these others, focusing on the metaphor of the nation as home in Indian women’s writing.

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34_Towards Becoming The Mothers of the Nation_cover 1. 'TOWARDS BECOMING 'THE MOTHERS OF THE NATION'' by RADHA KUMAR, from THE HISTORY OF DOING: AN ILLUSTRATED ACCOUNT OF MOVEMENT FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND FEMINISM IN INDIA, 1800-1990 (1999)

This chapter from The History of Doing focuses on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when social reform movements in India were beginning to show results and women were becoming more visibly present in the public sphere. Kumar provides a thematic history of the women’s movement before independence, beginning with focusing on the 1889 session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay where ten women delegates attended the assembly for the first time.

Using photographs and a wide variety of print sources from books to newspapers, Kumar looks at how women’s issues were raised and how women were involved in addressing these. The essay discusses at length the steps taken to regulate prostitution by the British in India and the level of support this received from reformers and moderate nationalists. The turn of the century saw a proliferation of homes for widows, with schemes to train widows as teachers. The Swadeshi movement in Bengal during this time period marked the beginning of women’s participation in national activities on a larger scale. Kumar offers detailed portraits on the lives of some of the women involved in the above movements and reforms like Swarnakumari Debi, her daughter Sarala Debi Ghosal and Bhikaiji Cama.  21 pp. Read more.

50.00

Dr. Radha Kumar is the Chair of the United Nations University Council and the Director General of the think tank Delhi Policy Group. She has published various books and journal articles, and her work looks at ethnic conflicts, peacemaking and peacebuilding from a feminist perspective.

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32_A Life of Peace and Dignity_coverfixed2. 'A LIFE OF PEACE AND DIGNITY' by FARIDA ABDULLA from SPEAKING PEACE: WOMEN'S VOICES FROM KASHMIR (2002)

Written by Farida Abdulla, this essay is a personal account of her experience in Kashmir - before, during and after the enforcement of centralized government rule over the area. Born and brought up in Kashmir, she reflects on the seething resentment of people treated like more border territory than citizens of the country.

Through the essay Adulla looks at ‘what’ instead of ‘why’ – she does not delve into the historical context for the rule, but focuses on the effects of such a rule on the local population. By narrating two incidents strongly embedded in her mind, she attempts to show the complexity of the situation, and the pain and confusion of the people living there. 6 pp. Read more.

₹ 50.00

Farida Abdulla is professor, Educational Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi where she headed the same department from 2007-09. She has taught psychology and education in departments of Education of Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Central Institute of Education of the University of Delhi.

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3. 'CASTE, GENDER AND THE STATE IN EIGHTEENTH CENTURY MAHARASHTRA' by UMA CHAKRAVARTI from REWRITING HISTORY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PANDITA RAMABAI (1998)

This essay discusses caste, gender and the state, and the relationship between the three in the context of militarisation under Peshwa rule in eighteenth century Maharashtra. Analysing materials available in the Peshwa daftar, Uma Chakravarti illustrates the different ways in which the state played a decisive role in upholding the caste system and in installing social codes to legitimise women’s sexuality.

Chakravarti points out how the Peshwa state upheld Brahmanical social order by prohibiting ‘untouchables’ from approaching the temple of Vithoba (which also housed a shrine for Chokhamela, a saint belonging to the Mahar community), threatening punishment if they failed to conform. She also explores ideological structures of enforced widowhood, the difference in punishment that women and men who committed adultery faced, and the role of the state in arranging marriage for girls between ages seven and ten. Connecting caste with women’s sexuality, the essay gestures towards Brahmanya’s investment in the undiluted purity of its women. 42 pp. Read more.

Dr. Uma Chakravarti is a feminist historian who taught at Miranda House, Delhi University. She writes on Buddhism, early Indian history, the 19th century and on contemporary issues.

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FREE IN OCTOBER, WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY OTHER ESSAY:

31_India as Home_cover

'INDIA AS HOME' by GEETANJALI SINGH CHANDA from INDIAN WOMEN IN THE HOUSE OF FICTION (2008)

Geetanjali Singh Chanda explores, in this essay, the idea of the nation and its representation as a house or home in postcolonial Indian English literature. The author identifies that this literature has a dual parentage that manifests in its narratives, where characters with fragmented identities negotiate to make India their home.

Chanda explores this depiction of ‘Indianness’ through three prominent literary works: Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1983), Meena Alexander’s Nampally Road (1991), and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). She focuses on the treatment of history within these narratives, and the struggle of characters to reconcile their personal or national history with the post-colonial present. This is done by connecting the events in the text to a significant historical event – like the Indian Independence in 1947, or the Emergency of 1975. 37 pp. Read more.

Dr. Geetanjali Singh Chanda is a senior lecturer in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Programme at Yale University, USA. She has taught courses on globalization, autobiographies, family, cultural identity, popular culture, international feminisms and postcolonial India since 2001.

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A note on pricing, frequency and format:

The e-Essays project is a new initiative from Zubaan, undertaken to make our near-fifteen years of feminist research more accessible to our readers and community. New essays are released in sets each month, curated to a theme; subscribers receive each curated set in their inbox. The essays range from just a few pages to 100-page chapters, and we've therefore created three pricing tiers: 50, 70 and 95 rupees. Responses to our test survey in March indicated that a majority of readers would be willing to pay up to Rs. 100, so we've kept even the longest essay under that amount. The vast majority of our readers also included PDFs in their preference of format, and we have accordingly standardised all our essays in PDF files.
If you're interested to see what's coming next, make sure you've joined our mailing list, and keep your eye out for the next mailer/blog post. Happy Reading!
E-ESSAYS FROM ZUBAAN | 21 SEPTEMBER, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Our e-Essays project is now LIVE!

Previously-released essays are available here, and each month a new essay is available for free with any other purchase. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here! 

Our previous sets of e-Essays focused on Indian women's movementssexual violencedomestic space and kinshipreligion and conflictstate crimes and impunitytrauma and health.

This week’s essays focus on violence against women. A broad overview of the Indian feminist movement's strategies to combat violence in the 1970s and its focus on legislation, provides the context for a close examination of two key areas: caste and the violence of conflict. Case studies and interviews provide evidence of the long term impact of violence on the lives of Dalit women, and show how they face continuing violence at the hands of upper caste men, as well as within their own homes. In regions of conflict, as in the Northeast, interviews show how women are subjected to particular forms of violence as their bodies become pawns in the game of war. Further, post-conflict reconstruction, which posits a return to normalcy, does not take account of the domestic or intimate partner violence of 'peacetime'.

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1. Effects of Violence Against Dalit Women by Aloysius Irudayam S. J., Jayshree Mangubhai and Joel G Lee from Dalit Women Speak Out: Caste, Class and Gender Violence in India (2011)

Writing in Dalit Women Speak Out, authors Irudayam, Mangubhai and Lee situate this essay within brahmanical patriarchal discourse of dishonour and blame, which stigmatizes Dalit women who are victim-survivors of violence. Their interviews with five hundred Dalit women investigate the nature and forms of violence faced by the women, and bring to light not only instances of violence within Dalit households, but also the overwhelming number of cases that relate to rapes by male members of dominant castes. With the help of the study they demonstrate how short-term physical injuries have the capacity to inflict long-term mental suffering, which can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and fear of further violence. The lives of Dalit women become conditioned to violence rather than freedom, which can lead to the curtailment of women’s mobility in public spaces. 24 pp. Read more.

₹ 50.00

Aloysius Irudayam S. J. is currently the Program Director for Advocacy Research and Human Rights Education at the Institute of Development Education, Action and Studies (IDEAS), located in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Jayshree Mangubhai is a Senior Human Rights Adviser with the Pacific Community (SPC), a regional organisation that provides technical and scientific advice to Pacific Island governments, based in Fiji.

Joel G Lee is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Williams College, Massachusetts, USA. He teaches and conducts research on caste and religion in South Asia.
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29_The Price of Revolution_cover2. 'The Price of Revolution: Who Determines? Who Pays?' by Roshmi Goswami from Fault Lines of History: The India Reader 2 (2016)

This essay looks at case studies of sexual violence against women combatants and sympathizers in Northeast India to examine the special vulnerability of this category of women to sexual violence. As Roshmi Goswami points out, at present there are over fifty armed groups in the region making a plethora of demands and situated at different stages in the continuum of conflict. The author argues that women have borne the brunt of this ongoing turmoil—whether they have been specifically targeted by security forces or rival militant groups. Sexual violence is deployed to torture, humiliate people or to punish and humiliate an enemy group or a community that is perceived to be the ‘other’.

Goswami also dwells on how the relative or perceived agency of women combatants ends when the ‘militant’s uniform’ is given up, and questions  the term ‘post-conflict reconstruction’, pointing out its problematic position: ‘reconstruction’ implies restoration to a former status quo that might not be beneficial to women. She states that for feminist peace activists, genuine conflict transformation necessarily brings the notions of justice and peace together, which would entail correcting inequalities and discrimination while ‘reconstructing’. 34 pp. Read more.

₹70.00

 Roshmi Goswami is a feminist and humans rights activist known for her work on the impact of armed conflict on women in Northeast India. She is presently researching women ex-combatants in the region. She is the co-founder of the North East Network and is presently chair of the Foundation for Social Transformation, an indigenous philathropic organization aimed at building resilience and positive social change in Northeast India.

 

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28_Confrontation and Negotiation_cover3. 'Confrontation and Negotiation: The Women's Movement's Response to Violence Against Women' by Urvashi Butalia from The Violence of Development: The Politics of Identity, Gender & Social Inequalities in India (2003)

This essay traces the women’s movement in India in the mid-seventies and early eighties, when the issue of violence against women took prominence. Author Urvashi Butalia draws on numerous instances of violence, including among others the rape of Rameeza Bee in 1978, dowry-related violence, and the immolation of Roop Kanwar in 1987. She also looks at the women’s movement’s engagement during this time, which ranged from lobbying with the Law Commission to bring about changes to the rape law, to the efforts of Delhi-based groups like Mahila Dakshata Samiti and Stree Sangharsh against dowry.

In both the rape and dowry campaigns, as also in the campaign against sati, the primary target of women’s demands or grievances was the state, with the belief that the state had failed in its ‘duty’. The essay also traces how one kind of action flowed into another, giving rise to different challenges for the women’s movement, and traces the the rise of militant communalism and the polarization of identities along religious lines. 42 pp. Read more.

₹70.00

Urvashi Butalia co-founded Kali for Women in 1984 and in 2003, Zubaan Books. She also has a long involvement in the women’s movement in India, and is a well-known writer, both in academia and in the literary world. She has several works to her credit, key among which is her study of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (1998).

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FREE IN SEPTEMBER, WITH THE PURCHASE OF ANY OTHER ESSAY:

21_Health and Torture_cover'Health and Torture' by P Ngully from The Peripheral Centre: Voices from India's Northeast (2010)
This essay traces the detrimental effects on the health of the people of Nagaland due to excessive militarisation in the region. Ngully puts the idea of 'health' into perspective and examines the implications of the WHO definition, which cites not just physical, but also mental and social well-being as criteria. This is done with regard to the torture, murder, and rape that the Naga people have been subject to in the past years by the security forces, justified under the cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). By placing the psychological trauma that the Naga people have faced within a broader context of disorders resulting from large-scale manufactured disasters, Ngully lays emphasis on the scale of tragedy in his homeland. 4pp. Read more.

50.00

P. Ngully is a practicing psychiatrist and social activist based in Kohima who has worked on the history of trauma and PTSD in Naga society. He is the Chairman of the Council of Kohima Educational Trust, and has recently also worked on HIV/AIDS sensitisation programmes with the Kripa Foundation. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ A note on pricing, frequency and format:

The e-Essays project is a new initiative from Zubaan, undertaken to make our near-fifteen years of feminist research more accessible to our readers and community. Ten new essays are released each month (on the 1st, 11th, and the 21st), each set curated to a theme; subscribers receive each curated set in their inbox. The essays range from just a few pages to 100-page chapters, and we've therefore created three pricing tiers: 50, 70 and 95 rupees. Responses to our test survey in March indicated that a majority of readers would be willing to pay up to Rs. 100, so we've kept even the longest essay under that amount. The vast majority of our readers also included PDFs in their preference of format, and we have accordingly standardised all our essays in PDF files.
If you're interested to see what's coming next, make sure you've joined our mailing list, and keep your eye out for the next mailer/blog post. Happy Reading!
Watercolours: An Excerpt

The following are two excerpts from Watercolours: A Story from Auschwitz by Lidia Ostałowska, translated by Sean Gasper Bye. 'Céline Sings' is from pages 42-44. 'Watching a Performance' is from pages 51-55.


Watercolours

Translator's Note

It was Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt’s artistic skills that allowed her to survive Auschwitz. After her imprisonment in Auschwitz-Birkenau, she had painted a mural of Snow White in the children’s barrack of the so-called Familienlager, a section of the camp which held prisoners from the Theresienstadt ‘model’ ghetto. An SS officer saw the mural and recommended her to the camp doctor, Josef Mengele. Mengele was conducting horrific pseudo-scientific experiments on prisoners to ‘prove’ the Nazis’ theories of racial inferiority. Unsatisfied with the quality of colour film in the camp, Mengele engaged a team of artists to make medical illustrations for him. Dina’s job was to paint portraits of his Romani test subjects. So long as she did a good job, Mengele would keep her alive.

Both Dina and her portraits survived. Dina made her way to America, while the portraits, thought lost, re-emerged decades after the war. Enshrined in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum’s permanent exhibition on the Romani genocide, they became the subject of a long-running ownership dispute between Dina and the Museum. Were they works of art that belonged to their painter? Or were they documents, a major part of the very limited evidence of German war crimes against the Roma, which ought to stay in the museum? Over the decades, artists, Romani advocacy groups, and the Polish and American governments all took sides in this dispute. Dina died in 2009 – the paintings remain at Auschwitz.

Lidia Ostałowska’s telling of this powerful story interweaves Dina’s life with the history of the camp both during and after the war, tracking how cultural memory of the Holocaust has evolved over the last half-century in Europe, America and Israel. She also poses challenging questions about art and morality. If art is used in service of genocide, is it still art? What are the artist’s duties under such circumstances? And to whom does the artist’s work belong—to the artist? The victims? To humanity?

None of these questions have easy answers and Ostałowska explores them from every angle, drawing on extensive interviews and archival research, including many first-hand accounts from prisoners and other artists who survived the camp. This is a book of emotional depth, exploring the inner lives of Dina and her fellow inmates. But it is also a book of scope and breadth, exploring our changing relationship to this dark place. How did the camp come about? How was it preserved and then consecrated as a museum? How has it evolved as a cultural and political symbol in countries around the world? And what of the small Polish town of Oświęcim that borders the camp, and where everyday life must continue in the shadow of humanity’s greatest crime?

Ostałowska’s approach is sensitive and powerful. In simple prose, she lets this story speak for itself without sentiment or embellishment. She does not shy away from the complexity of these issues and does not allow us to rush to simple conclusions. Watercolours is a unique, probing history of the Holocaust and its long shadow: the effects it has had on survivors, their families, countries, cultures—and of course, on Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt herself. It is a powerful piece of literary journalism and a book sure to linger in the memory long after it has been read.

-- Sean Gasper Bye

 

Céline sings

Lidia Ostałowska

There was a small room in the sauna next to Mengele’s surgery. Dina: ‘I’d call it a studio. Mengele gave me watercolours, a brush and a drawing pad. I’d never painted with watercolours before, though – we’d only had oils and tempera paints in school. there was no easel – I got two chairs instead. I sat on one and propped the drawing board up on the other. and I got started.’

She began with finding a model, because the doctor hadn’t chosen one, he’d only said, ‘go and pick someone.’ Dina walked out of the barrack.

‘I chose the first person I saw – a girl wearing an elaborately tied, very colourful headscarf.’

The painting took two or three days. It was a left-facing three-quarter view, with a caption underneath: Zigeuner- Mischling aus Deutschland, ‘Gypsy Half-Breed from Germany’.

‘I instinctively signed it in pencil: “Dinah”. Mengele noticed, but didn’t order me to erase it. the portrait didn’t come out very well, but he was happy. Nowadays I think the first portrait was the worst. I hadn’t done separate sketches.’

The technique of watercolour painting is only simple on the surface. Dina knew how much skill and practice were required. the pigment (bonded together with gum arabic) is mixed with water, and this water is what alters the intensity of the color. There’s no white paint on the palette, the artist uses the white of the paper to give the effect of light. You can’t spoil the paper with pencil marks – a few coloured dots, and that’s your sketch. There’s no question of making corrections. Each stroke of the brush must be perfect, because it is final.

She must have been frightened, although she never admitted as much in her testimonies. All the while she was clinging to life. Had she been saved by the all-powerful Mengele, the scrawny Dr König or snow White? It didn’t matter, now she was totally dependent on her artistic talents.

After the success of the ‘Gypsy Half-Breed’, she went out among the stables with a new commission.

It was chaos, a jumble of Gypsies in ragged clothing. How can you do laundry with no water, how can you mend clothes without needles or thread? The ss officers would march men up and down the gravel lagerstrasse ‘for punishment’, bellowing orders. turn in a circle, do a squat, roll about on the ground, sing. Most often they would sing Das kann doch einen Seeman nicht erschüttern, ‘that can’t shake a seaman’. Hollow-cheeked children wrapped their arms round their instruments, and the violins and guitars seemed larger than the children themselves.

In this wretched throng, a young Gypsy girl with a blue scarf tied round her neck stood out.

‘I removed that scarf and draped it over her head. I asked her to smile a little. She told me her two-month-old daughter had just died because she couldn’t breastfeed. After that I stopped asking people to smile.’

(All the children born in the Zigeunerlager died. there were 378 of them.)

This girl, Céline, was suffering from diarrhoea.

‘She couldn’t digest swedes or black bread. So I asked for some white bread for her and, on Mengele’s orders, I actually got it. There was this tall, handsome man there, a czech in a white uniform. He worked as a waiter for Dr Mengele. Every day he brought me a little bread. It helped her.’

Dina whispered to Céline.

‘I tried to sing a French song, but I couldn’t remember it. she helped me along. She knew the words, so she must have been French. She looked like a porcelain doll or a prima donna. Gazing into her eyes was like gazing into her soul. You can see that in the painting.’

Now and again the doctor would check on her. Although he usually avoided physical contact with the prisoners, he himself pushed the blue scarf behind the Gypsy woman’s ear to reveal it: the ear was considered important in the study of race.

But it damaged the composition.

‘That ear makes the picture look odd.’

Mengele accepted the portrait of céline, but declared he would select the next subjects.

‘The ones he picked were older and less attractive. they were men. I chose women.’

Now Dina took her time at her primitive easel.

‘When I was working in the Gypsy camp, I didn’t have to report for roll call, I didn’t have to do anything, just paint. When Mengele went for his mid-afternoon meal he’d bring something back for me to eat as well. It was the only time I felt human in auschwitz. I took my time.’

This was her new routine. Two weeks – one watercolour.

 

Watching a performance

Lidia Ostałowska

She observed everyday life in the barrack. ‘They maintained a peculiar kind of courtesy, which made it feel like you were in an animal testing facility. It never seemed as though Mengele thought of the Gypsies as people. Sometimes he’d offer them a friendly smile, sometimes tell a joke, usually to Zosia or me.’

He kept bringing people in for portraits. A grey-haired woman, a grown man, a boy... they don’t usually look the viewer in the eye in the paintings, so it’s impossible to return their gaze. there is no communication between us, we are not permitted into the mind of the sitter. And this is significant – in the renaissance, when portraiture was flourishing, its creators took the humanist stance that the face expressed the movements of the soul. The Gypsies’ faces are dead.

They sat on stools before Dina. She never mentioned stools for models in her testimonies, but today art critics can determine it from the pictures. The Gypsies are portrayed like suspects on an arrest warrant. Gunslingers in the Wild West looked the same on nineteenth century ‘Wanted’ posters, and so did al capone when he was arrested in 1931. This technique is called a ‘mug shot’. The well-known american private investigator allan Pinkerton invented it for his famous detective agency. Mug shots aid in police investigations and are employed to this day, including in europe. (That being said, nowadays human rights activists oppose their use. They make everyone, no matter how innocent, look like a criminal.)

Joseph Mengele was taking advantage of Dina’s artistic skill to attain photographic perfection.

This was a tried and tested approach, since watercolours were for more than misty, impressionistic landscapes. Before anyone had reproduced an image using a light-sensitive emulsion, naturalists, geographers and anthropologists on expeditions would pack a light wooden case in their trunk, containing watercolour paints, a sketchpad, badger-hair brushes, pencils, knives to cut the paper and sharpen the pencils, and a water dish. Oil paints dried too slowly to be of any documentary use. Watercolours were cheaper and simpler.

on the eve of the First World War, the anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski brought a new invention on his voyage to New Guinea: a hand-held camera. But he also invited an artist, the famous painter and author stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. None of Witkiewicz’s paintings from that trip have survived, but we know of others, published in textbooks of zoology, botany and medicine, in atlases and monographs. Books the future Lagerarzt would have leafed through.

Mengele aspired to a professorship so he paid special attention to the illustrations for his thesis. He’d made Dina his private artist (and that’s how she was presented after the war), but he wouldn’t have entrusted his career to a single prisoner. He made the most of auschwitz’s mechanisms. Marianne Hermann, Ludwig Feld, Vladimír Zlamar and Janina Prażmowska all painted the Gypsies or parts of their bodies. Mengele personally photographed the stages of his experiments, as well as instructing others to do so.

One of those photographers was the young Pole Wilhelm Brasse (subject of the well-known film The Portraitist by Ireneusz Dobrowolski). Brasse had trained in a stylish studio in Katowice. In the Erkennungsdienst – the camp Gestapo’s photo studio in auschwitz I – he photographed naked Jewish children. He found it upsetting. He cobbled together a makeshift partition so they had somewhere to undress. This was a final gesture of humanity: when it was over, they were murdered with phenol. In one of the surviving photographs, Gypsy girls sent in by Mengele stand naked in a row: four small children’s faces, terrified, their hair cropped down to the skin.

There are also other interpretations: that these weren’t girls, but castrated Gypsy boys.

Dina painted the Gypsies as Mengele saw them – did she realize that? Or perhaps, as she moved her brush across the page, she decided to soften the portraits?

What does an artist feel under that sort of pressure? Art should not be in the service of genocide. What if it is, and is still a source of pleasure? Even when degraded to photography, to a craft, art makes life possible. How can a person accept that?

Dina had no memory of Mengele’s Gypsy experiments, that’s what she said. But she admitted to hearing of one in the women’s camp.

‘A forty-year-old woman from Berlin, who illustrated fashion magazines and sketched models, was subjected to electrical shocks of different intensities. He wanted to see how much she could withstand. So far as I know, she didn’t survive.’

The people she was painting in the Zigeunerlager were vanishing. Prisoners from the medical team secretly passed on information about the doctor’s experiments, making particular note of some.

Vera Aleksander was a Jew who worked in the twins’ barrack. After the war she recalled: ‘an ss man came and took two children away on Mengele’s orders. They were my two favourites, Guido and Nino, about four years old. Two or three days later he brought them back in a dreadful state. they’d been sewn together like Siamese twins. Their wounds were so filthy they were festering. I could smell the stench of gangrene. The children screamed all night. Somehow their mother managed to get her hands on some morphine and used it to put them out of their misery.’

Vera said the veins in their wrists had been sewn together.

Psychiatrists believe that to survive the camp it was necessary to find a way to distance yourself from it. Those who succeeded in this were present, but not with their whole selves. They were deaf, blind, not taking in the complete experience. They didn’t remember, because they’d banished some part of themselves, condemned it to oblivion. the so-called ‘Muslims’ – those who were completely destroyed, with no will to fight for their lives – truly saw Auschwitz. They perished because no one could survive such a thing. But the mad saw nothing. They retreated into fantasy.

Forty years after the war, the painter Mieczysław Kościelniak admitted on a radio programme: ‘I can’t understand this in myself or in others, but there you have it. Human nature commands you to pass into a fictional life. Fiction was how we survived in the camp. When an audience sits in a theatre and watches a performance, they lose themselves in the story. In the same way, we moved into fiction. although death was raging around us, we believed we’d make it out.’

Dina believes she preserved 10, perhaps 12 Gypsy faces in watercolour.

Where did these Gypsies come from?

What were their names?

Were they frightened?

What happened to them?

There are no details in her mind.

‘I don’t remember anything exceptional about my subjects. They never asked for anything and I wouldn’t have been in a position to answer anyway. Instead, they were stoic. They sat there and didn’t speak to me. The only one to complain was the girl in the headscarf.’


    A many-layered work of historical reportage, Watercolours draws on the real life story of Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt (1923-2009), a Czech-American artist of Jewish ancestry, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, and whose story came to light in the late nineties. It was at this time that Gottliebova attempted once more to recover the art she had created in the concentration camp, and which had become the property of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The dispute escalated into an international scandal, with the American Department of State and the Polish government becoming involved.

    Here, journalist Lidia Ostalowska reconstructs Gottliebova’s time in the camp, while looking also at broader issues of historical memory, trauma, racism and the relationship between the torturer and the victim. In Gottliebova’s case, SS Doctor Josef Mengele took a special interest in her talent, commissioning her to paint portraits (the watercolours of the title) of Roma prisoners. Mengele himself is one of the many characters in this narrative.

    Ostalowska draws on hundreds of studies and accounts of the hell of the camps, and tells the story of one woman’s incarceration and her battle for survival, bringing in many other supporting lives. Before she worked for Mengele, Gottliebova had decorated the children’s barracks at Auschwitz with of the Disney film, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. After the war, she worked as an animator for Warner Brothers and married Walt Disney animator Art Babbitt, the man behind many of the world’s best-known cartoon characters including Goofy and Dumbo. Gottlibova (under the name Dina Babbitt) lived in the California until her death in 2009 at the age of 86.

    Rs. 495
Zubaan's lunchtime conversations go digital

Hello, Zubaan supporter, fellow Internet wanderer, and/or accidental(ly on purpose?) link-clicker:

Welcome to the Zubaan blog, version 2.0! After a brief (read: three year long) respite, we're excited to bring back this space as a forum to engage with conversations of cultural relevance and urgency, ones that occupy central and marginal places within South Asian feminisms. The big stuff, the small stuff. The new and old. Bits of digital ephemera, and the decidedly not-so-ephemeral. Things that Zubaan is pondering, and those of importance to the communities to which we are connected. All in all, a versatile, dynamic space with no one voice - but a space that, like Zubaan, remains outspoken, independent, unorthodox and feminist.

What to expect: think pieces; featured interviews with writers, artists, scholars; archive-digging and its treasures; behind-the-scenes looks at the publishing process; information about Zubaan's literary and research projects; guest posts by young scholars/thinkers - in-depth and wide-ranging in a way that other social media doesn't allow.

What not to expect: freedom from Harry Potter references.

So here goes this exercise in community-building - one we hope that you will participate in as well, to challenge us and make us think, with tongues untied (and sometimes in-cheek).

Constant vigilance,
The Zubaan Team

Zubaan Talkies, Take #4: The Young Zubaan Special, Thursday May 17

After a really fantastic Take #3, The Feminist Kitchen, we're getting ready for a children's special Talkie on Thursday, May 17, for kids from 6 to 9 years. We've teamed up with The Pomegranate Workshop who are really professionals in the field of kids' workshops and we're really excited to present to you two very unique sessions that will unleash your kid's creative and imaginative spirit.

Do spread the word. We hope it will help kick off a great summer!

You can register for either one or both workshops. They're on the same day. Registration is compulsory, along with advance payment. We'll be providing all the materials, and every kid gets a "Tales of Historic Delhi" notebook free!

BUILD YOUR OWNDELHI

Age Group: 6-9yrs

Session Duration: 11 am to 1 pm

Fee per child: Rs. 370

15 Seats Available

Premola Ghose's Tales of Historic Delhi traces the journey of a group of friendly animals across the historic and cultural splendours ofDelhi. The book explains how different rulers acrossDelhi's history have attempted to stamp their claim on it by building and rebuilding the city in their own style and to their own ends. As the character of Dr. Kamala states: "...it's not even one city: it's lots of different cities built one on top of the other."

Through various extracts and pictures selected from the text, the children will be introduced to the story and to the many layers of the city built on top of each other, playing around with snippets of information and fiction that form the text. The children will then be asked to imagine themselves as future Kings of Delhi, and design a Delhi in the style that they would like it to be - replete with its structures, its monuments, its bazaars and of course their own palaces. The point of the session is for children to arrive at a deeper understanding of the city and also have fun playing around withDelhito make it their own.

The workshop will be conducted by a facilitator from the Visual Arts stream who will get the children to visualize a city of their own and then render it in their own inimitable way using a variety of art materials geared to stimulating the imagination and encouraging spontaneous expression.

HOW TO BECOME ALIEN

Age Group: 10-14yrs

Session Duration: 3-5pm

Fee per child: Rs. 370

12 Seats Available

Thanks to a profusion of films and books for children that are centered on Extra-Terrestrial beings, we're fairly familiar with 'The Alien': A weird looking creature descending from a futuristic spaceship and bearing hi-tech gadgetry. Which is interesting because to an extra terrestrial we would seem to be a weird looking creature lacking even basic interstellar transport and wielding primitive gadgetry. In other words: to an alien, we're alien.

You can be alien without being an alien. Monideepa Sahu's Riddle of the Seventh Stoneshows puts us in the minds of two creatures who feel so alien that they might as well be aliens: it is a story of a rat and a spider who are suddenly transformed into a boy and a girl, and how they find it difficult to reconcile their new identities with their old ways.

This workshop focuses on Point of View as a means to exploring character. Children are encouraged to imagine themselves as different characters - from extra terrestrials to earthly animals to any weird beings that they want to be - and write short descriptive and narrative passages in the voice of their alien character. The children will read extracts from the novel and also from other stories about such sudden transformations, discuss their ideas on what it means to be 'alien' and also explore the concept of 'alien' as 'different'.

The workshop will be conducted by a facilitator from the literary field who will get the children to flex their creative muscles, invent characters and create original stories.

Participation by registration only. Call Akshat Nigam 9582590444 or email akshat@tpw.in to register. Payment to be made in advance only, either to The Attic 10 Regal Buildings, New Delhi 110001 or to Zubaan Books, 128-B, First Floor, Shahpur Jat, New Delhi 110049

Cash or Cheques in favour of “Amarjit Bhagwant Singh Charitable Trust”

An Icky, Yucky, Mucky April!
Writing the Feminist Future

Zubaan Talkies, Take #2: Mad Women in The Attic

Beware the ides of March!

Thursday, March 15, 6.30pm, The Attic, CP.

Feminist Fables and Ghost Stories.

Presented by Arunava Sinha, Rehaan Engineer, Anita Roy and Rosalyn D'Mello.

Write to rosalynd@zubaanbooks.com for details.

Entry is absolutely free and open to all. Bring friends, bring enemies, bring garlic. Spooky stuff!

Gross Benefits, Midday's interview with Natasha Sharma and Anitha Balachandran

Gross benefits

By: Fiona Fernandez Date:  2012-03-02 Place: Mumbai

Getting down to the brass tacks about table manners was never this much fun. Icky, Yucky, Mucky is Natasha Sharma's tale about a messy king's dilemma, brought to life by Anitha Balachandran's vivid illustrations

At first glance, this children's title might come as a surprise. A shock, actually. Soon enough, you are bound to see the point of it all.


Maharani Yucky would bite her nails while Princess Mucky
loved to dig her nose.

Ask co-conspirators, writer Natasha Sharma and illustrator Anitha Balachandran, who have worked on an outlandish fairytale set in Ickhtarpur around King Icky and his dilemmas.

Add a few juggling rossogullas, a nail-biting wife and a nose-digging baby, and you have a story that drives home the point of the importance of table manners, using an unconventional approach.

Kids love it, while parents are amazed by the impact it has already created. We find out what went into creating the icky, yucky, mucky world!

Where did the idea to create non-fairy-tale-like characters in a modern-day kingdom, complete with newspapers, prams and cosmetics emerge from?
The story of Icky, Yucky, Mucky! emerged from the habits themselves. Horrible table manners, nail-biting and nose digging... I would be wrong to point only to children as inspiration! I wanted to present these in a funny, incredibly mucky way as to make a child reading it go YUCK! The horrendous royal family of Ickhtarpur seemed a perfect fit - an antithesis of what one expects royalty to be like, which I felt would make it even more amusing for children. From that point, the characters of Maharaja Icky and Maharani Yucky seemed to slurp and nibble away into their role rather well! The kingdom of Ickhtarpur is timeless for me... it has been around for ages and is still around to welcome anyone who has horrible habits like those of the royal family.

How did Anitha Balachandran and you decide on the illustrations?
Anitha surpassed anything that I could have imagined for the book! As an author, while one has a visual in mind, it often works really well to leave the illustrations to the editor and illustrator. Anitha and my editor at Young Zubaan Anita Roy, each lent their fresh perspective to the story. With the splotches and penciled-in edges Anitha took the story to another level. I know that she enjoyed the story tremendously and with her absolute brilliance, Icky, Yucky, Mucky! has such endearingly messy characters.

What have been some of the initial reactions from kids to this tale?
I have been overjoyed at readings to hear the children say, 'Yuck!', 'Disgusting!', 'Show me! Show me!', 'EEEEE!' and have them rolling in hysterics as I've licked curry from hand to elbow. Parents have written in to say that their children are trying to identify icky, yucky and mucky siblings. Children have come up to me and said that this is the funniest story they have read and they love it. The book has sold out at all our readings so far. Most have asked for a sequel to it and wondered what Princess Mucky turns out to be like in years ahead. Above all, as much as the children enjoy the gooey tale, it is delightful to hear them say, 'No! We are not Icky, Yucky or Mucky.' The message to refrain from these habits has been conveyed with the unexpected twist in the tale and without moralising.

Fingernails, nose dirt, splattering food... what can one expect from your next book?
Stickiness, stinkiness, scratchiness... I'm working on it for the world is so full of messy stuff!

Natasha Sharma will read excerpts from the book at.

Crossword, Turner Road, Bandra (W).
ON March 11
FROM 11.30 am to 12.30 pm

Brush strokes with Anitha Balachandran, Illustrator

STORY BRIEF:
 I had a brief (!) discussion with Anita (Roy), the editor, at the outset, about keeping the illustrations messy. Then, I worked on a couple of samples, developing a style that I felt would be in keeping with the blithe spirit of the text... using loose pencil lines and splashy watercolours.

COLOUR PALETTE:
 After Anita and Natasha had taken a look, and we felt the images were working; I went about making the rest of the illustrations. I've splattered on practically every colour in my paint box, so I can't say I had a palette! As an illustrator, it was an unexpected treat to work with both Natasha, and Anita.

I'm often snowed under a mountain of feedback from editors and authors... "let's change the spots to stripes, can the dog get bigger, the horse sort of horsier?" It can be quite soul-killing really - making the horse, horsier.

I'm thrilled to report that my author and editor on this one were wonderful, wise, trusting of my judgment and allowed me to do as I would. I feel this made for really fresh, inventive illustrations.

THOUGHTS:
 For picture books, images are every bit as important as the text. You can't have a picture book without pictures.


Icy, Yucky, Mucky!
by Natasha Sharma; illustrations by Anitha Balachandran; Young Zubaan/ Saadhak Books, Rs 195. Available at leading bookstores.

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