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In Other Words brings you 14 of the most innovative and adventurous contemporary Indian women writers. The stories in this collection are remarkable not only for this richness of subject and style, but also for the confidence and poise of their writing. All the authors, except two, belong to the post-Independence generation. Their preoccupations range from an observation of the past through the lives of their ancestresses, to that of the present, sparkling, but exquisitely poignant vignette of growing up urban in the 80's. For some, fiction writing- and the short story in particular- is relatively new; each writer approaches the language in which she has chosen to write-English-and the art and craft of fiction writing, with a confidence and panache that is hard to match.
In 2008, when the Azad Foundation, an NGO based in Delhi, began training poor women to become drivers of commercial and private vehicles, most people thought they were somewhat out of touch with reality. Poor, illiterate women, many of them from violent homes, some of them single mothers, others from families and communities which had never allowed women to step out of the home – how could these women take the wheel, drive around in unsafe cities, be confident and competent, earn money? At the time, there was only one known woman auto driver in Delhi. When Azad turned to radio cab companies to suggest they take in women drivers, there wasn’t much interest. Today, more than 300 women drivers have received training from Azad and are on the roads of several cities. Nine years after radio companies turned Azad away, special services or women with women drivers are being introduced within these same companies. In 2015, the Delhi Transport Corporation got its first woman driver, and in 2016, the Delhi Commission for Women recruited 25 women drivers to be part of their women’s helpline. Clearly, things are changing.
Lady Driver maps the journeys of twelve women from poor, marginalized communities who have transformed their lives by taking up the challenge of becoming women drivers. Each story is unique; there’s no Cinderella effect here. Reality does not change overnight. Instead, as the women featured here painstakingly claim a relationship with the road, it translates into claims for identity, for dignity, for a livelihood. Their stories are about beginnings, but have no endings – there is still quite a way to drive. OR – there are many kilometres to drive yet.
This anthology is not only about what Gujarati women speak, but also what they don’t. In a state that registers increasing cases of violence against women, what kind of truths does its literature embody?
If malestream writing in Gujarat seldom mirrors its everyday truths, do the women risk unpleasantness? Kothari’s introduction builds upon such premises and leads the reader to a trajectory of women writers from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day, starting with the journal entries of a dancer at the end of the nineteenth century, to the journal entries of an academic woman at the end of the twentieth century. The wide range of stories and fictional excerpts show how Gujarati women inhabit their fictional worlds. The trajectory hints at an imperceptible shift from muffled voices to more candid ways of being, and yet it never loses completely the middle-class genteelness that characterizes literary discourses in Gujarat.
Rita Kothari teaches at St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. Her publications on literary sociology of Gujarat and translation include Translating India, Modern Gujarati Poetry: A Selection, Coral Island: Poems by Niranjan Bhagat, Angaliyat (a Gujarati Dalit novel). Her forthcoming book is Stigmatised Identities: The Sindhis of Gujarat.
After the success of These Hills Called Home and Once Upon a Life, Temsula Ao returns to her beloved Nagaland to bring readers the beautifully crafted story of Aosenla, a woman who is coming to terms with herself. The novel opens on a typical summer afternoon that soon turns into another oppressive evening. Aosenla sits listening to her children playing nearby and is seized by a great lethargy. As she casts a watchful gaze over the house she has called home for so many years, Aosenla wonders how an inanimate structure like a house can exercise such power over a human being.
Looking down at a wedding invitation in her hands, Aosenla begins to recall her own wedding many years ago, initiating a deep and moving reflection on the life that others made for her and the life that she eventually created for herself.
Set in late 19th century Assam, The Bronze Sword of Tengphakhri Tehsildar is the heroic tale of a Bodo freedom fighter who was, arguably, the first woman revenue collector in British India. It was Indira Goswami's last work of fiction and this is the first-ever English edition, powerfully and sensitively translated from the Assamese by Aruni Kashyap.
"Indira Goswami is one of the pre-eminent literary figures in India and a woman of remarkable courage and conviction... She has also been an important voice in championing women's causes, and has done much to highlight the plight of widows. [She] is one of those rare figures whose achievements as a writer are closely paralleled by their accomplishments as a social and political activist." - Amitav Ghosh
In Suki, fabulist Suniti Namjoshi weaves a delightful tapestry from threads of longing, loss, memory, metaphor, and contemplation. The whole picture is a stunning evocation of the love and friendship shared between S and her Super Cat, Suki, a lilac Burmese. Suki suggests that she could be a goddess, and S her high priestess. S declines, but as they discuss the merits of vegetarianism, or the meaning of happiness, or morality, or just daily life, it soon becomes clear that the bond between them is a deep and complex one. The days of Suki's life are figured as leaves, which fall vividly but irrevocably into time's stream and are recollected with a wild tenderness by the grieving S, who learns through the disciplines of meditation how to lose what is most loved.
This beautiful narrative, both memoir and elegy, offers solace and celebration to everyone who has felt the trust that passes between a person and a beloved creature.
1943: As the British Empire draws to a close, the state of Bengal is just emerging from the grip of famine. Exploited mercilessly by feudal landlords, landless peasants rise in protest and launch a movement in 1946 to retain two-thirds of the grain they harvest - Tebhaga.
More than 50,000 women participated in this movement: one whose history and tragic end - in the crossfire between state violence and revolutionary armed struggle - became a legend in its time. Yet in the written history of Tebhaga, the full-fledged women's movement that they forged has never featured.
In this authoritative study, based on interviews and women's memories, Kavita Panjabi sets the balance right with rare sensitivity and grace. Using critical insights garnered from oral history and memory studies, Panjabi raises questions that neither social history nor left historiography ask. In doing so, she claims the past for a feminist vision of radical social change. This account of the transformation of the struggle is unique in feminist scholarship movements.
In this essay, Geetanjali Singh Chanda explores 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, which becomes the setting of both Rich Like Us and Nampally Road.
While an exhaustive study of the novels’ characters and storyline shows differences in their narratives and the authors’ perspectives, Chanda identifies common themes of disillusionment, belonging, and a complicated relationship with a house, which in each narrative becomes symbolic of the characters’ relationship with the nation. Women in particular seem to have tenuous relationships with the house, often being marginalized in the idea of the nation. But their relationships with each other seem to transcend national and ethnic identities, and help them navigate through the nation. Chanda focuses on these relationships in particular, associating the motherland with the biological mother.
This delicious spread of short stories is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary.
A young woman, neglected by her rakish husband, decides to 'kill him with kindness' and stuff him with food, another cooks manically, a third helps herself to money and small knick-knacks from her husband's pockets where she finds the different scents of each of the women he has been with... Along with the husband is the ubiquitous mother-in-law who moves into the newly-married couple's bedroom barely a month after they have set up home. Each vignette is, by turns, funny, poignant, macabre - a delicious spread, showcasing Bulbul Sharma's mastery of the stories small actors and the drama of daily life.
"This slim collection of stories is quite like a methodical cook's masala tray, each ingredient and spice in its proper slot - each story retains its unique flavour while contributing to the main dish and the main dish, need we say, is a veritable feast for the senses" -- Kankana Basu, The Hindu
The Sexual Violence and Impunity in South Asia research project (coordinated by Zubaan and supported by the International Development Research Centre) brings together, for the first time in the region, a vast body of knowledge on this important – yet silenced – subject. Six country volumes (one each on Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and two on India) comprising over fifty research papers and two book-length studies detail the histories of sexual violence and look at the systemic, institutional, societal, individual and community structures that work together to perpetuate impunity for perpetrators.
This volume, the second on India, addresses the question of state impunity, suggesting that on the issue of the violation of human and civil rights, and particularly in relation to the question of sexual violence, the state has been an active and collusive partner in creating states of exception, where its own laws can be suspended and the rights of its citizens violated. Drawing on patterns of sexual violence in Kashmir, the Northeast of India, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Rajasthan, the essays together focus on the long histories of militarization and regions of conflict, as well as the ‘normalized’ histories of caste violence which are rendered invisible because it is convenient to pretend they do not exist. Even as the writers note how heavily the odds are stacked against the victims and survivors of sexual violence, they turn their attention to recent histories of popular protest that have enabled speech. They stress that while this is both crucial and important, it is also necessary to note the absence of sufficient attention to the range of locations where sexual violence is endemic and often ignored. Resistance, speech, the breaking of silence, the surfacing of memory: these, as the writers powerfully argue, are the new weapons in the fight to destroy impunity and hold accountable the perpetrators of sexual violence.
In the mid-nineties, Birjees Dawar Ali returns to Pakistan to seek out a history left unfinished long ago, a history from which, nursing heartbreak and betrayal, she had once earlier fled, back to her home in partitioned India. Will she find the family that so generously gave her succour, the home that became her own, the people who gave her unquestioning love? Or, will all these certainties have fled with the march of history? A deeply moving narrative of love and loss, All Passion Spent focuses on the unresolved question of the 1947 Partition of India and the emergence of India and Pakistan as two separate countries. Zaheda Hina's richly layered narrative brought alive in this lyrical and poetic translation by Neelam Hussain, touches on the many unanswered questions that surround this painful history: the profound sense of grief and displacement, the lives sundered midstream, the lost friendships and the quest for new roots and lands under different skies.
A Dalit, a Buddhist and a feminist: Urmila Pawar's self-definition as all three identities informs her stories about women who are brave in the face of caste oppression, strong in the face of family pressures, defiant when at the receiving end of insult, and determined when guarding their interests and those of their sisters. Using the classic short story form with its surprise endings to great effect, Pawar brings to life strong and clever women who drive the reader to laughter, anger, tears or despair. Her harsh, sometimes vulgar and hard- hitting language subverts another stereotype - that of the soft-spoken woman writer. Pawar's protagonists may not always be Dalit, and the mood not always one of anger, but caste is never far from the context and informs the subtext of each story. As critic Eleanor Zelliot notes, there is 'tucked in every story, a note about a Buddhist vihara or Dr Ambedkar.... All her stories come from the Dalit world, revealing the great variety of Dalit life now.'
"The book gives a wide range of material on one of the important struggles of feminism in India." -- Gail Omvedt, The Hindu
Avinuo Kire is a fresh, young voice from Nagaland, in India's northeast.
In "The Power to forgive", the title story of this strong collection. Avinuo Kire tells the moving story of a rape survivor who, at the threshold of a new life, looks back on the incident that has shaped nearly two decades of her life and wonders if she made the right choice.
Called from folk and tribal traditions of Naga life, Kire's stories take us into a world where spirits converse with humans, unsuspecting people are drawn into the movement for Naga independence, a man dies quietly of cancer, a mother wonders if she did the right thing in giving her child a name different from the one she intended...
With insight and compassion, Avinuo Kire draws fine portraits of ordinary people in Naga society.
The Story of Felanee is based on real life events. It is a story of courage, of survival, of ethnic conflict and violence that tears people and communities apart in the most brutal, savage way.
Set in Assam, which has seen two major agitations that have crippled the economy, this is a story that will shock the reader by its sheer passion, and its brutal honesty. The callousness and utter disregard for human life, the ugly play for power, for electoral gain, the sham and petty hypocrisies, the bloody horror of ethnic violence all lie exposed in this powerful novel written by one of Assam’s leading fiction writers.
The story revolves around the experiences of one woman: Felanee. Her name means ‘thrown away’—so called because as her mother lay dying in the burning riot-torn village, Felanee was thrown into a swamp and left to die. But against all odds, Felanee—and thousands like her—survived.
Like the reeds that grow in such profusion along the bank of Assam’s rivers, the rootless inhabitants of the refugee camps and makeshift shanties, whose stories form the core of Felanee, are swept along by the wind and thrown onto new hostile terrain but they cling on with tenacity to take root again and again.
A postman turns up with an unexpected letter one rainy afternoon in Cherrapunji, a letter that will turn fourteen-year-old Saphira’s world upside down.
Dalinia’s life seems perfect, with a successful husband, beautiful children and a well-appointed home. But the arrival of a handsome competitor on the manicured greens of the Shillong golf course brings back a flood of unwanted memories of her troubled past.
Told in a simple, lyrical style, Bijoya Sawian’s collection of ten short stories is not only an enthralling read but, like her debut novel Shadow Men, transports the reader to a place little known to outsiders: Meghalaya.
Strains of love, loss and longing run through all these stories, whose endings are not mere shocks, but revelations. Both her books should be read for a better understanding of India’s Northeast – its communities, its landscape, and in particular, the lives of the women who live there.
“Love, loss and longing are the predominant emotions in these tales. With a touch of Blakesian magic, Sawian’s songs of innocence and experience are lyrical and pantheistic. [The] stories, like vintage wine, have a mature blend of wit and irony, sense and sensibility and the ability to stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.”—Sudipta Bhattacharjee, Telegraph
When nine-year-old Ayman arrives in Hyderabad in the early 1950s to come and live at the Hussaini Alam House, she little realizes that the house, and its many inmates, will come to haunt her life and shape her destiny as she grows to become a woman. The house is ruled over by her grandfather, a dignified despot, whom everyone but Ayman, her mother and sister, call 'Sarkar' (master). Her mother, 'the eternal rebel,' is irreverent, progressive and a communist: a bomb waiting to explode. Ayman herself alternates between being the 'ugly duckling' of the house and its little princess. Huma Kidwai's sensitive and vivid portraits of the characters who teem around the House, offer a window into the customs and mores of a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim family. Narrated by the 40-year-old Ayman as she recalls the events of her past, The Hussaini Alam House is an elegy to a vanished way of life, a lovesong to the people she has loved and lost, and a psychologically nuanced portrait of the women of the household as they tread a fine line between society's expectations and their own yearning for freedom.
First published in Marathi in 1966, this unique novella in free verse tells an age-old story: that of a woman’s deep desire to be a mother
Setting out life as a game in which the moves are predetermined, and yet where rules exist only to be twisted, perhaps negotiated, sometimes even changed, Anuradha Vaidya deftly engages the reader in a sort of play, suggesting a joining of the dots, a connecting of line endings that lead the reader deeper into the story.
As the story traces a relationship that begins with unquestioning love that, over time, transforms into tension and distance, the reader is encouraged to linger, or jump back and forth across stanzas and lines, to navigate, interpret, and savour the beauty of the expression, both in the turn of phrase and the coinage of new words.
The sheer beauty of the almost allegorical imagery of life as a game played on the worldly board by people who are actually pawns, marks every page of this poetic narrative.
Amolik Dey is Everyman. A teacher with a young wife and son, he is dedicated to taking care of his family yet cannot turn a blind eye to the inequalities he sees around him. Torn between his wife's desire for a 'normal' life and his own passion for fighting injustice, he endangers both himself and his family with his increasing militancy.
Set in a small town in the Bengal of the 1960s and 70s, this is a story of unrest and rebellion. It is a time of great upheaval, of violence and agitations, and the author subtly weaves in how the political tensions that threaten to overwhelm the state also impact the ordinary lives of this one family, destroying their world. From Naxalite uprisings which bring brutal conflict to those places that have been ignored by the political mainstream, to the complexities of class and gender, and the post-colonial hangover of a newly independent people, this gritty novel sensitively portrays a town and a people who have one foot in the past and one foot tentatively in the present.
All Mrinalini Singh wants, she has. A loving husband, a competent cook, the vague hope of a book deal one day. But when her old roommate Jahanara accuses her of being selfish, Mrinalini is forced to practise altruism on the nearest available target: her maid’s toddler. All this caring doesn’t come easy, though; and it hardly helps that her husband Siddhartha has quit his lucrative job and acquired parental ambitions. Or that Brajeshwar Jha, her upstairs tenant and literary rival, has not only published his book before Mrinalini, but also lampooned her and Siddhartha in it. Close to Home is a wry look at the small compromises, manipulations and sustained self-delusion of young men and women possessed of good fortune... and only looking for good lives.
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