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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.
From the heart of a well-known family of Hyderabad to life in a single room with the barest of necessities, Shaukat Kaifi's memoir of her life with the renowned poet Kaifi Azmi speaks of love and commitment. A marriage of over a half a century, a life steeped in poetry and progressive politics, continuing involvement with the Indian People's Theatre Association, the Progressive Writers Association, Prithvi Theatre... all of these and more inform this beautifully told tale of love. Shaukat Kaifi's writing details life in a communist commune, a long career in theatre and film and a life spent bringing up her two children, cinematographer Baba Azmi and actor Shabana Azmi. Nasreen Rehman's deft and fluent translation brings this luminous memoir alive with warmth and empathy. "To say that this is a lovely book would be an understatement. It is an enchanting recollection of the life of a hugely talented and sensitive human being, shared with a great poet." -- Amartya Sen.
"A wise and wonderful insight into modern motherhood"" - Farah Khan.
What do you call a feminist who is a mother? A femimom? A mominist? Or just a confused woman balancing the many roles in her life: working professional, mother, wife, daughter...
Meet Tara Mistri, stay-at-home mom and frustrated architect: a baker of biscuits and maker of bricks.
Inspired by and in total awe of the Salk Institute in California, Tara hankers to replicate its clean lines and perfect symmetry in her own life. But with two small children to look after, her set squares and scales are used for scraping plasticine out of the carpet and her career looks like it may remain on the backburner forever. Then, one day, she is offered a job and finds herself on the horns of a dilemma.
Goaded by her own personal demon — a nagging Yakshi who just won’t let her alone — Tara’s struggle to balance life and love, work and playdoh will have readers nodding in recognition, wincing in sympathy and laughing along with her.
These deceptively simple stories uncover both the complexity and irony of women's lives in Bhutan today. They show how ordinary lives, choices and experiences are both remarkable and poignant. In I am a Small Person, a despised woman uses her femininity as a means to control a man, the young girl in I Won't ask Mother suddenly feels empowered and confident when she makes a decision without consulting her mother.
All the stories take place in rural settings, to which creeping urbanisation brings gradual change, and tensions surface between the new and the old, or the traditional and the modern. For many rural women, being able to connect to the city and all its perceived power and glamour is a very real aspiration. This yearning is exemplified in Look at her Belly Button, where a young woman effortlessly slips out of the role of a farmer to become a 'real Bhutanese' urbanite.
Kohima, 2007. A young man has been gunned down in cold blood - the latest casualty in the conflict that has scarred the landscape and brutalised the people of Nagaland. Easterine Kire's new novel traces the story of one man's life, from 1937 to the present day. The small incidents of Mose's childhood, his family, the routines and rituals of traditional village life paint an evocative picture of a peaceful way of life, now long-vanished. The coming of a radio into Mose's family?s house marks the beginning of the changes that would connect them to the wider world. They learn of partition, independence, a land called America. Growing up, Mose and his friends become involved in the Naga struggle for Independence, and they are caught in a maelstrom of violence - protest and repression, attacks and reprisals- that ends up ripping communities apart. The herb, bitter wormwood, was traditionally believed to keep bad spirits away. For the Nagas, facing violent struggle all around, it becomes a powerful talisman: "We sure could do with some of that old magic now." Bitter Wormwood gives a poignant insight into the human cost behind the political headlines from one of India's most beautiful and misunderstood regions.
"Easterine Kire is the keeper of her people's memory, their griot. She is a master of the unadorned language that moves because of the power of its evocative simplicity." -- Paul Pimomo
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
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.
East is East and West is West, but the twain meet with a crash in Gurgaon - the epicentre of the outsourcing revolution in India, where thousands of the country's youth live with their bodyclocks set to US time zones and their cultural antennae pointing west. Into this maelstrom walk three very different young women:
Ayra, the golden girl: with a high profile job and a fancy title, everything seems to be going her way, until she finds herself at the helm of what could be the worst disaster of her career,
Shivaa, the perfect housewife turned desperate career woman who has to fight life, marriage and her irrational new boss to make sense of her existence, and
Sara, the shy college graduate turned spunky office-goer, who is willing to risk it all rather than be pushed into an early marriage by her anxious parents.
Debut author, Shruti Saxena weaves a very modern fairytale of professional jealousy and ruthless manipulation, heroic victories and egoistic cowardice, unfulfilled dreams and desires and raw, unadulterated ambition as seen though the eyes of these three extraordinary woman and the men who love them.
Early twentieth century Madras. In a dark room in the corner of a house, Goutami's mother dies in childbirth. Barely a year old, Goutami, or Goutu as everyone calls her, crawls into the birth-death room, seeing and smelling death, loss, fear -- things she does not then understand but which will mark her for life. A motherless child, a rebellious girl, a headstrong woman who will not deny her sexuality, a fighter for whom lying becomes a strategy for survival: Goutami's search for love leads her to Krishnanand, cousin and ladies' man, suave and practiced, who beds all young cousins before they marry. But life intervenes and Goutami marries Seshadri. Solid, steady, ambitious, a good husband and an adequate father, Seshadri is nonetheless unable to give her one thing she craves: love. The ins and outs of family's relationships. The search for love and a sense of belonging, form the subtext of this beautifully crafted novel by first time novelist Prema Raghunath. In the end for Goutu, as for her lovers, siblings and children, salvation comes from the very stuff of life itself.
In 1970s Karachi, where violence and political and social uncertainty are on the rise, a talented painter, Tahira, tries to hold her life together as it shatters around her. Her marriage is quickly revealed to be a trap from which there appears no escape. Accustomed to the company of her brother Waseem and friends, Andaleep and Safdar, who are activists, writers and thinkers, Tahira struggles to adapt to her new world of stifling conformity and to fight for her identity as a woman and an artist.
Tragedy strikes when her brother and friends are caught up in the cynically repressive regime. Faced with loss and injustice, she embarks upon a series of paintings entitled ‘The Empty Room’, filling the blank canvases with vivid colour and light.
Elegant, poetic, and powerful, The Empty Room is an important addition to contemporary Pakistani literature, a moving portrait of life in Karachi at a pivotal moment in the nation’s history, and a powerful meditation on art and the dilemmas faced by women who must find their own creative path in hostile conditions.
"‘Regret is only one kind of torment in a world generous with pain’, writes Sadia Abbas. In her debut novel, regret and pain appear in light, luminous hues as the story of a new nation, struggling to retain its democratic resolve, is enmeshed with the story of a rocky marriage. The courage, wit and capacity for love displayed by the characters are sure to linger long after the last chapter has been read."
— Annie Zaidi, author of Gulab and Love Stories #1-14
"A gripping and wonderfully observed account of domestic life and its many perils in Pakistan's early decades. The portrait of a marriage set in the minefield of an extended family, this novel offers us an extraordinarily nuanced view of a woman's life."
— Faisal Devji, author of The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and The Temptation of Violence
"The personal and the political come together in this tale of a nation and a young, newly-married woman, as they push against horizons, stretch boundaries and make painful self-discoveries."
— Rakhshanda Jalil, writer and translator
Sadia Abbas grew up in Pakistan and Singapore. She received her PhD in English literature from Brown University, and she teaches in the English Department at Rutgers University-Newark. Sadia is Adjunct Professor at the Stavros Niarchos Center for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University. She loves long walks, the Mediterranean and, indiscriminately, all sorts of films.
The Blue-necked God (Nilakantha Braja), published in 1976, is one of Indira Goswami's early novels and the first time that a writer highlighted the exploitation and poverty of widows, dumped in a 'sacred' city to eke out their days in prayer by uncaring, callous families under the guise of religious sanction and tradition. It was a book that raised many eyebrows when it was first published for this amazing narrative combined fact and fiction, autobiography and reflection in a fascinating mix as she tried to depict the confusion and the mental agony she herself experienced after the death of her husband through her character Saudamini. The physical, emotional, financial deprivation faced by the young widow has been woven into a perceptive text that drew on the author's own research and experiences as she roamed the streets of Vrindavan and exposed, for the first time, the uglier side of the city and its traditions.
"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
“…the story transcends linguistic and geographical boundaries. It is a story of virtually every Indian home…The discussion -which makes up the Afterword also seeks to put the story in a historical and anthropological perspective which makes Shree’s Mai an academic study.” The Hindu
“…it is eminently readable … The Book Review
“seeks to assert the humanness of mother. Maternalism with a human face, perhaps is feminism for hard times.” The Tribune
Geetanjali Shree is a well-known Hindi novelist and short story writer, who has also written a critical work on Premchand.
Nita Kumar is the author of The Artisans of Banaras: Friends, Brothers and Informants, Lessons from School, and editor of Women as Subjects.
A thick mist envelopes an isolated house and a cottage atop a hill. Raseel, looking out from the verandah of the house, watches the mist as it covers first the plants, then the trees and finally the house. Suddenly it parts, and three men come into view, furtive, quick. Then they're gone. Minutes later, Raseel hears the sound of shots. Then there is silence.
The reader is pulled into Bijoya Sawian's tense and dramatic story of the strange death of a dkhar, an outsider, in the beautiful hill town of Shillong in northeastern India. Why was he killed? Who are the killers? Are they known to the housekeeper and driver? As she begins to unravel this mystery, Raseel finds herself caught in a tale of intrigue and violence that mirrors the world of insurgency around her. In lyrical, haunting prose, Bijoya Sawian paints a dark, threatening picture and shows how violence has tainted the very fabric of everyday life in a place that was once peaceful, untroubled and calm.
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.
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.
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 essays in the volume consider the significance of nation and gender in the context of post-1989 transitions in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia and in the context of post-partition India. The texts critique the ways in which narratives of nationhood and womanhood naturalize and essentialize difference and hierarchy. The authors explore uses of sexualized/gendered imagery in defining the space of the nation and sexualized/gendered metaphors of state fatherhood and motherhood in defining the distribution of power within that space. of the nation (e.g. feminized landscapes and battlefields) and sexualized /gendered metaphors of state fatherhood and motherhood in defining the distribution of power within that space. The particular histories of nationalism and partition are different in the countries involved, but commonalities in the narrative structures, state ad nation-building strategies, patriarchal patterns of control, and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are striking. This is particularly so with respect to the ways in which exclusive national identities are constituted through gendered representations of the nation and its members.
Set in the forests of northern Odisha, Mahuldia Days is the moving story of a young civil servant caught between her commitment to the tribal communities she knows are the original inhabitants of the forest, and the monolithic state, oblivious to the diverse realities of life on the ground. The moonlit Brahmani river snakes through the story with a life of its own while the city of the narrator’s childhood returns to her in dreams. Agnihotri creates a poignant, intense narrative layered with an awareness of the pressures of motherhood and personal love.
Praise for Anita Agnihotri:
“Agnihotri draws you in with her well fleshed out characters. Their dreams, idiosyncrasies and disappointments are all too real; as are their failures.”
—Aparna Singh, Women’s Web
“Urgently told and precise in their direction... Each story crackles with intensity and purpose.”
—Mike McClelland, Spectrum Culture
“[Anita Agnihotri] sensitively and beautifully chronicles the plight of a major chunk of the country’s population.”
—Abdullah Khan, The Hindu
Anita Agnihotri works in the Ministry of Social Justice in India. She is a Bengali writer of over twenty-five books, including Seventeen and The Awakening, both also published by Zubaan. Seventeen won the Economist-Crossword Book Award for translation in 2011.
Kalpana Bardhan is a writer and translator based in San Francisco.
The Self-Respect Movement launched by Periyar (E.V.Ramasami Naiker) in 1926 questioned the ways in which the lower castes were systematically excluded from the Indian nation and constructed as the 'Other' by the Brahmin elites. While Periyar's role within the movement has received critical and scholarly attention, women Self-Respecters and the issues they raised have gone largely unnoticed. This collection of essays and fiction by women Self-Respecter translated from the Tamil could serve as the material basis for writing an alternative history of the writing an alternative history of the movement. In mapping the voices of women who identified with movement this anthology helps us arrive at a different and richer understanding of what the Self-Respect movement stood for. There is an urgent need not only to improve upon existing Self respect histories but also to critique the ways in which they have so far been written. This anthology provides a basis for such critique.
"I was the youngest in a family of five children. I sometimes felt I was an afterthought, and maybe Father and Mother didn't quite know what to do with me. Also, because I was a girl after four boys they never seemed to be sure whether to buy me girls' clothing or let me wear leftover boys' clothing."
Young Dielieno is five years old when she is sent off to live with her disciplinarian grandmother who wants her to grow up to be a good Naga wife and mother. According to Grandmother, girls didn't need an education, they didn't need love and affection or time to play or even a good piece of meat with their gravy! Naturally Dielieno hates her with a vengeance.
This is the evocative tale of a young girl growing up in a traditional society in India's Northeast, which is in the midst of tremendous change.
Easterine Iralu writes about a place and a people that she knows well and is a part of and brings to the storytelling a lyrical beauty which can on occasion chill the reader with its realistic portrayals of the spirits of the dead that inhabit the quiet hills and valleys of Nagaland.
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