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From Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932), the writer of the feminist utopian fantasy ‘Sultana’s Dream’, come these tales of gumptious wit, describing the twists and turns of India’s two-hundred-year relationship with the imperial British.
Freedom Fables begins with the two eponymous fables, both compact in form but temporally vast. The first story ‘Muktiphal’ (translated in this volume as ‘The Freedom Tree’) traces the rise of and divisions within India’s Congress party. ‘Gyanphal’ or ‘The Tree of Knowledge’, the second fable, begins in the Garden of Eden and moves swiftly to an idealised Kanakadwipa where a trading company beguiles the prosperous country and proceeds to ruin it. Throughout both, the fantastic floats easily over mere facts. Adam and Eve, the Almighty, djinns, paris, demons, and Mayavi magicians: these classic characters play decisive, intriguing roles.
These major political satires are accompanied in this edition by six essays and two poems, which the intrepid Hossain wrote over a period of seventeen years. Interwoven through her writings are ideals that endure even today: education and emancipation for women, dignity for those living in the subcontinent, and freedom from colonial rule and influence.
“It was perhaps in the rancorous tumult of the breaking and making of nations that Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s word and vision was lost.”
— Rafia Zakaria, Dawn
“You can feel Hossain’s anger... and her scathing criticism of a system that allows what she saw as lazy, violent men to dominate while their gentler, wiser female counterparts are marginalized.”
— Tahmima Anam, NPR
"“Hossain slyly pointed out back in 1905 what is often discussed now, particularly in the subcontinent—why should women be taught to stay safe, when men are not taught to not threaten or abuse or rape or be a danger to women?”
— Mahvesh Murad, Tor.com
ROKEYA SAKHAWAT HOSSAIN was a feminist activist and writer, as well as a visionary campaigner for women’s education. Born in 1880 in Rangpur (in what is contemporary Bangladesh), Hossain—also known as Begum Rokeya—wrote prolifically on issues of women’s liberation and against British colonial rule over India. Her ‘Sultana’s Dream’, written in 1905, is arguably the first work of feminist science fiction from Asia. Hossain founded the Muslim Women’s Association in 1916 to fight for women’s education and employment. She remained fiercely engaged in feminist debates and conferences until her death in 1932.
KALYANI DUTTA is an award-winning translator. Her translations from Bengali to English form a part of The Essential Tagore, published by Harvard University Press in 2011. She is also the co-author of Women, Education, and Politics: The Women’s Movement and Delhi’s Indraprastha College which brings together her twin interests, women’s studies and education.
Very little is known about Aesop who was supposed to have been a slave on the island of Samos in the sixth century BC. It is his fables (and those attributed to him) that have come down to us through the centuries.
In this version, a fabulist from the future, referred to as Sprite, hoicks herself back to his century. “Why didn’t you save the world?” That’s the Sprite’s cry. Aesop, meanwhile, is trying to save his skin, make up his fables and live his life. Given the pitfalls of human nature, are the fables an Instruction Manual for staying out of trouble? What about morals, what about reform, what about the castigation of social evils? Sprite nags and cajoles and begins to wonder how much power a writer really has. The book offers a virtuoso display of how the building blocks of a fable can be used in a variety of ways. It’s witty, it’s satirical and the Sprite herself is a comical figure. But at the end, when she has to return to her own time, that is to our own time and to our broken world, her central question suddenly seems less absurd, and far more urgent.
“Think of the vicious wit of Virginia Woolf, laced with the tender melancholia of Hélène Cixous, spiked with the subtle eroticism of Anaïs Nin.”
— Somak Ghoshal, Livemint
“Her writing is both wry and brave, rooted and uprooting. It is, in fact, as the title suggests fabulous writing.”
—Annie Zaidi, author of Gulab and Love Stories #1-14
“Namjoshi’s radicalism is not simply one of overturning structures, or of arguing for the recognition of women but, in the best practice of feminism, investigates, rethinks and revalues.”
—Robyn Cadwallader, Verity La
Suniti Namjoshi is a poet, a fabulist and a children’s writer who has written over thirty books. A selection of her writings is published in The Fabulous Feminist (Zubaan, 2012). Suki (Zubaan, Penguin India, 2013), a memoir about her beloved cat is both a book about a relationship and an elegy. Her latest work, Foxy Aesop, asks point-blank whether it is the function of writers to save the world. She has recently completed a dramatic sequence, ‘The Dream Book,’ which is based on the dream imagery in The Tempest and is also concerned with saving the world – over and over and over again.
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