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Playing with Fire is a chorus where nine voices from varied sociopolitical locations self-reflexively merge themselves to articulate the nuanced intersections of caste, class, gender, religion and socio-spatial location, and their centrality in understanding women's empowerment, NGO activism, and the politics of knowledge production.
Seven of these voices belong to Anupamlata, Ramsheela, Reshma Ansari, Shashibala, Shashi Vaish, Surbala and Vibha Bajpayee - village-level NGO activists from diverse caste and religious backgrounds, who have worked as mobilizers in seventy villages of Sitapur District in India. These women form an alliance with each other; with Richa Singh, a district-level NGO activist; and with Richa Nagar, a teacher at the University of Minnesota to highlight key moments of a collective intellectual and political journey.
This endearing, witty, self-deprecating memoir documents the life of one of the leading feminists of the contemporary Indian women's movement. Vina Mazumdar, one of the key researchers and writers of the landmark report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, Towards Equality, here documents her early life, her gradual politicization in a household of liberal, educated Bengalis, and her involvement in women's issues and the women's movement.
Brought up to be outspoken and frank, Vinadi, as she is affectionately known, began by becoming involved in university-led politics in Bihar. Marriage and a young family did not prevent her from pursuing her studies and her career, in the teeth of considerable opposition from relatives but with constant support from her mother. On her return to India, Vinadi first moved into the field of education, and then, with her involvement in the research and writing of Towards Equality, was catapulted into the women's movement. An activist and institution builder, Vinadi set up the Centre for Women's Development Studies in Delhi, one of the leading research and outreach institutions for women in the country. In this rare memoir, Vinadi provides a rich history of the contemporary women's movement in India.
The midnight knock on the door and the disappearance of a loved one into the hands of authorities is a 20th-century horror story familiar to many destined to “live in interesting times.” Yet, some stories remain untold. Such is the account of the internment of ethnic Chinese who had settled for many years in northern India. When the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962 broke out, over 2,000 Chinese-Indians were rounded up, placed in local jails, then transported over a thousand miles away to the Deoli internment camp in the Rajasthan Desert.
Born in Calcutta, India, in 1949, and raised in Darjeeling, Yin Marsh was just thirteen years old when first her father was arrested, and then she, her grandmother and her eight-year-old brother were all taken to the Darjeeling Jail, then sent to Deoli. Ironically, Nehru – India’s first Prime Minister and the one who had authorized the mass arrests – had once “done time” in Deoli during India’s war for independence. Yin and her family were assigned to the same bungalow where Nehru had also been unjustly held.
Eventually released, Yin emigrated to America with her mother, attended college, married and raised her own family, even as the emotional trauma remained buried. When her own college-age daughter began to ask questions and when a friend’s wedding would require a return to her homeland, Yin was finally ready to face what had happened to her family.
Shardaben's autobiography, originally written in Gujarati and published in 1938, describes the life of an Indian woman at the turn of the twentieth century. She describes her childhood, and her innermost feelings and emotions. Despite considerable opposition from society, in 1902, Shardaben and her sister became the first women graduates in Gujarat. This marked the beginning of her lifelong commitment to the cause of women's education. Here, she documents both that and the political and social changes that were sweeping over India. For over half a century, she and her husband interacted and worked in close association with many important political leaders and literary figures of India.
Purnima Bhatt is a Professor of History, Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Hood College, U.S.A. Her publications include Scholar's Guide to Washington, D.C., African Studies and Sharadabehn Mehta: Una Mujer Exceptional en al India de su Tiempo.
Svati Joshi is Professor of English Literature at Miranda House College, Delhi University.
One of the grand ‘singing ladies’ who began their lives in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Malka Pukhraj was educated in Urdu, Persian, music and dance. These latter two became her life an she began her career as a court singer in the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, going on to become an independent performer, whose voice and words are now familiar to millions in the subcontinent.
In this remarkable, witty and candid account, Malka Pukhraj recalls her rich and eventful life, ‘My birth’, she begins, ‘was nothing short of a miracle’. Then, in her simple and inimitable style, she takes us through her childhood as a court singer, her absorption in her music, and her gradual understanding of the intrigues of court life. From singing and dancing, to acting, from childhood to adolescence and romance, and finally to marriage and family, the author brings the reader close to her sorrows and joys, her dilemmas and concerns, and ends with a moving and poignant account of the acceptance of old age, and all that it brings with it.
Saleem Kidwai is a historian who taught at Delhi University. He is co-editor, with Ruth Vanita, of Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Indian Literature and History.
“This must be one of the most gripping memoirs ever translated from an Indian language…Saleem Kidwai…has done a wonderful job of preserving the idiomatic vigour of the original, has skilfully edited Pukhraj’s account of her time in Lahore, which she wrote in one uninterrupted paragraph. …But it is the adventure of Pukhraj’s early days, with her masterly ability to recreate a lost world, that makes this book so memorable.” -- India Today
“…this remarkable saga is a vivid sub-continental document of interesting people in interesting times, the kind we no longer seem to have.” -- The Indian Express
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.
On Feb 6th 2003, Anjum Zamarud Habib, a young woman political activist from Kashmir, was arrested in Delhi and jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Her crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And being the Chairperson of the Muslim Khawateen Markaz and in that capacity, a member of the Hurriyat Conference.
In this passionate and moving account of her days in prison, Anjum Zamarud Habib describes the shock and bewilderment of arrest, the pain of realizing that there is no escape for not days, not weeks, but years, the desperation for contact with the outside world and the sense of deep betrayal at being abandoned by her political comrades. Her story is both a searing indictment of draconian state policies and expedient political practices, and a moving account of one woman's extraordinary life.
"Prisoner No 100 illuminates the darkest corners of Kashmir's political experience. A brilliant critique of patriarchy in politics, a searing tale of the terrible humiliations visited upon political prisoners, a poignant story of a woman who dedicated her life to political change in Kashmir, a passionate love letter to Kashmir. Everyone interested in Kashmir should read it." -- Basharat Peer, author of Curfewed Nights
Hansa Wadkar (born Ratan Bhalchandra) was one of Maharashtra's best known stage and screen personalities. By the time she was married to a much older family friend and impressario when she was just 15 she had already starred in nine or ten movies and was becoming a name in the film world. Supporting her family on her earnings, her brother sick with malaria, and both parents having taken to drink, life was not easy for the young woman. But Hansa was not only beautiful and immensely talented, she was tough, willful, capricious and headstrong.
Her autobiography, published in 1970, created a sensation for its frankness and directness.
It was later made into a film, Bhumika, by the well-known director Shyam Benegal and starred Smita Patil in the title role
This is the memoir of a remarkable woman, Begum Kurshid Mirza, the daughter of Sheikh Abdullah and Waheed Jahan Begu, the founders of Aligarh Women's College. An intimate of an upper class Muslim family in India and Pakistan from until the recent past, this narrative is much more than an account of Kurshid Mirza's personal life. It spans the years from 1857 to 1983 and provides an insight into the the social conditions of Indian Muslims, the state of Muslim women's education, and the transition to Pakistan, while illuminating Kurshid Mirza's rich and tried life as an actor, activist, radio and TV artiste, a writer, a devoted daughter, wife and mother. Kurshid Mirza's vitality and dynamism, her pioneering spirit and unconventionally led her to leave the cloistered world of Aligarh after an early marriage to a police officer and then pursue a career in films in Bombay. She rapidly climbed the ladder to sardom as Renuka Devi and worked alongside well-known actors and directors of the time. Partition cut short her film career and she left for the new country Pakistan, where she remained deeply engaged as ever and contributed to many worthy causes, especially for the benefit of the women. The coming of Pakistan to gave her a fresh opportunity to express her theatrical talents and she soon became one of Pakistan's best known television actors winning many award in 1985. A true Woman of Substance.
This story of extraordinary courage and survival is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary.
This is the story of Baby Halder, a young woman working as a domestic in a home in Delhi. Hurriedly married off at the age of twelve, a mother by the time she was fourteen, Baby writes movingly and evocatively of her life as a young girl, and later as a young woman. The long absences of her father, the hardships faced by her mother, and her decision to walk out of her marriage, leaving Baby and her sister to manage the household, were the realities that shaped Baby's early life.When marriage came, Baby, still a child, yearned to play and study, but was burdened with the responsibility of being wife and mother while facing considerable violence from her husband. Escape finally came many years later, by which time the still young Baby was a mother of three, and she fled to the city in the hope of finding a job. Working in Delhi as a domestic help, Baby was lucky enough to come across an employer who encouraged her to read -- which she did voraciously -- and then to write. The story of Baby's life is a lesson in courage and survival.
Since it was first published in Hindi, this book has become a bestseller, receiving accolades from some of the best-known writers and critics in India and elsewhere. It has also been translated into other Indian languages.
Baby Halder is a writer and a domestic worker who lives and works in a home near Delhi. She is now working on her second book.
Urvashi Butalia is a publisher and writer whose work includes the award-winning oral history of Partition, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India.
A true-life ‘rags to riches’ story of the First Lady of Bengali Cinema. Kanan Devi, one of the early singing stars, came into the film world in the silent era and, unlike many others, survived the transition to talkies.
Reduced to working as a domestic help after the death of her father, her life took a dramatic turn when she was offered a film role and, encouraged by her uncle, took it.
In this lively and candid account of her experiences (originally published in 1973 as Shobarey Aami Nomi), Kanan Devi recalls the early days of cinema in Bengal, analysing and comparing conditions of film acting in the early 1930s with what she saw about two or three decades later when she herself was a producer and director, with her own film company, Shrimati Pictures.
This fascinating and unusual story offers not only a different perspective on the growth of the film industry in Bengal, but also a first-hand account of the position of women who came into the public sphere in the early decades of the last century.
Part memoir, part oral testimony, part eyewitness account, Binodini's The Maharaja's Household provides a unique and engrossingly intimate view of life in the erstwhile royal household of Manipur in northeast India. It brings to life stories of kingdoms long vanished, and is an important addition to the untold histories of the British Raj.
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi, who wrote under the single name of Binodini, published The Maharaja's Household as a series of essays between 2002 and 2007 for an avid newspaper reading public in Manipur. Already celebrated across the state for her award-winning novel, short stories, and film scripts, Binodini entranced her readers anew with her stories of royal life, told from a woman's point of view and informed by a deep empathy for the common people in her father's gilded circle.
Elephan hunts, polo matches and Hindu temple performances form the backdrop for palace intrigues, colonial rule and White Rajahs. With gentle humour, piquant obersavations and heartfelt nostalgia, Binodini evokes a lifestyle and era that is now lost. Her book paints a portrait of the household of a king that only a princess - his daughter - could have written.
One of Hindi's best known writers, Prabha Khaitan spent much of her life as the 'second' woman in a long-term relationship with a married man. Born in a conservative Marwari family, she defied tradition and family expectations, insisting on living life as a single woman, setting up her own business and earning the respect of her peers and colleagues in the corporate world. Despite her yearning to be loved and cherished by the man to whom she gave her life, Prabha Khaitan lived life on her own terms.
With a frankness that is rare in the world of Hindi autobiographical writing by women, Prabha Khaitan here speaks of her feelings, her sense of discomfort and unease at not being the 'legitimate' woman, about what she gained and lost from a relationship that was generally frowned upon by society and how she fought to become her own woman. In doing so, she reflects on marriage, relationships, intimacy and distance, the professional and the personal, and the ways in which women are caught within these often conflicting forces.
"Prabha Khaitan's story of her life and times is possibly one of the most honest books I have ever read. Sometimes it cuts too close to the bone for middle class comfort, unsettling the safety net and entitlements of complacency and convenience. All her life, she swam upstream, defying convention, defying prejudice, questioning choices." -- Namita Gokhale
"One of the most arresting things about feminist writer and poet Prabha Khaitan's autobiography is its naked narrative and almost poetic vulnerability. Simply written, the narrative flows languorously."-- Prerna Kalbag, The Hindustan Times
This is the life story of Subbalakshmi married at 11 years of age and a mother at 14 in the early 20th century. Hers is yet another instance in the long annals of women whose aspirations, abilities, selfhood, the right to dream and to rebel have been snuffed out by patriarchy.
Mythily Sivaraman, a political and social activist of thirty years standing is currently the National Vice-President of the All India Democratic Women's Association. She is the granddaughter of Subbalakshmi
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