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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
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.
For more than ten years now Irom Sharmila, a young woman from Manipur, has been on hunger strike, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a draconian law that allows the army unfettered powers in areas that are considered politically sensitive or disturbed. Taken into custody and released every twelve months by the State for attempting suicide (considered illegal in India) Sharmila is being force fed to keep her alive. Her unique battle for peace in her strife torn homeland, has become a powerful symbol for all those engaged in fighting for peace in the northeast of India. As she fulfils her chosen role in this movement, Sharmila sometimes longs for all those things that young women treasure love, freedom, the sheer joy of living a free life, even simple things like being able to drink water, to brush her teeth. This small compilation of twelve of her poems in her native language Meiteilon and in English translation, provides a moving account of the underbelly of one woman's lone struggle for peace.
All proceeds from the sale of this book will go towards supporting Sharmila's campaign.
When Revathi’s powerful memoir, The Truth About Me, first appeared in 2011, it caused a sensation. Readers learned of Revathi’s childhood unease with her male body; her escape from her birth family to a house of hijras (the South Asian generic term for transgender people), and her eventual transition to being the woman she always she knew was. This new book charts her remarkable journey from relative obscurity to becoming India’s leading spokesperson for transgender rights and an inspiration to thousands.
Revathi describes her life, her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, and how she rose from office assistant to director in the organization. Today she is an independent activist, theatre person, actor and writer, and works for the rights of transgender persons.
In the second part of the book, Revathi offers the reader insight into one of the least talked about experiences on the gender trajectory, that of being trans men. Calling several female-to-male trans persons her sons, Revathi puts before us their moving, passionate and sometimes tragic stories of marginalisation, courage, resistance and triumph.
An unforgettable book, A Life in Trans Activism will leave the reader questioning the ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ binaries of male/female that so many of us take for granted.
The first full-length autobiography in Bengali, Amar Jiban (My Life) was written in the early nineteenth century by an upper-caste rural housewife named Rashundari Debi. Published in 1868 when she was 88 years old, the book is a fascinating snapshot of life for women in the nineteenth century. Debi, who gave birth to eleven children—her first was born when she was 18-years-old, the last when she was forty-one—ruminates on her very individual understanding of bhakti as well as the new times that were unfolding around her.
Offering a translation of major sections of this remarkable autobiography, Words to Win is a portrait of a woman who wants to compose a life of her own, wishes to present it in the public sphere, and eventually accomplishes just that. The words, in the end, win out. First published in 1999, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Indian history. The classic text is reissued here in a new paperback format.
"Sarkar's dissection of the text - the autobiography of an upper-caste East Bengali widow from a family of landlords, who teaches herself to read and write in secrecy as it's a taboo to do so - yields a cracking yarn of social history." -- Pothik Ghosh, Outlook
In Queer Activism in India, Naisargi N. Dave examines the formation of lesbian communities in India from the 1980s to the early 2000s. Based on ethnographic research conducted with activist organizations in Delhi, a body of letters written by lesbian women, and research with lesbian communities and queer activist groups across the country, Dave studies the everyday practices that constitute queer activism in India.
Dave argues that activism is an ethical practice comprising critique, inven- tion, and relational practice. She investigates the relationship between the ethics of activism and the existing social norms and conditions from which activism emerges. Through her analysis of different networks and institutions, Dave documents how activism oscillates between the potential for new social arrangements and the questions that arise once the activists’ goals have been achieved. Queer Activism in India addresses a relevant and timely phenomenon and makes an important contribution to the anthropology of queer communi- ties, social movements, affect, and ethics.
“The exciting aspect of this book is how Dave draws on the everyday practices of queer activism, in particular lesbian activism in India, to expose the deeply considered and ethical positions that they take. . . . Dave’s book marks a significant contribution to the archive of queer scholarship generally, but more importantly to making visible a postcolonial perspective in this scholarship.” — Ratna Kapur, Journal of Anthropological Research
“A beautifully written ethnography, offering a passionately detailed ethnographic perspective on queer politics, feminism, and social movements in India.” — Kamala Visweswaran, author of Un/common Cultures: Racism and the Rearticulation of Cultural Difference
“Dave’s book, with its anecdotes, observations, and rich endnotes, will no doubt add to our understanding of urban lesbian activism while compelling us to reflect about methods and ethics in the age of “affect.”” — Shohini Ghosh, Journal of Asian Studies
The Goddess and the Nation charts the pictorial life and career of Bharat Mata, 'Mother India,' the Indian nation imagined as mother/goddess, embodiment of national territory, and unifying symbol for the country's diverse communities. Soon after Mother India's emergence in the late nineteenth century, artists began to incorporate the map of India into her visual persona. The images they produced enabled patriotic men and women in a heterogeneous population to collectively visualize India, affectively identify with it, and even become willing to surrender their lives for it. Combining visual studies, gender studies, and the history of cartography, The Goddess and the Nation offers a rigorous analysis of Mother India's appearance in painting, print, poster art, and pictures from the late nineteenth century to the present. By exploring the entanglement of the scientifically mapped image of India and a (Hindu) mother/goddess, Sumathi Ramaswamy reveals Mother India as a figure who relies on the British colonial mapped image of her dominion to distinguish her from the other goddesses of India, and to guarantee her novel status as embodiment, sign, and symbol of national territory. Providing an exemplary critique of ideologies of gender and the science of cartography, Ramaswamy demonstrates that images do not merely reflect history, they actively make it.
A moving memoir by one of the most highly respected and important authors from India’s Northeast.
Temsula Ao was born in 1945 in the Assamese town of Jorhat. Her happy childhood with her five siblings was cut tragically short with the deaths of both their parents. Desperately poor, emotionally scarred, lonely and often hungry, the young Temsula made up for her lack of resources with courage and determination.
From these unpromising beginnings, Ao went on to build a distinguished teaching career, serving as Director of the Northeast Zone Cultural Centre, and finally Dean of the School of Humanities and Education, North- Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
Temsula Ao describes the book as “an attempt to exorcise my own personal ghosts from a fractured childhood that was ripped apart by a series of tragedies... [it] is about love and what it is like to be deprived of it.”
For her readers, Ao’s memoir gives not only an insight into her role as a leading figure in the Northeast, but is also a moving account of a writerly life.
This unique autobiography by veteran BBC and Associated Press journalist Sabita Goswami documents the extraordinary, single-handed fight of an ordinary woman in the heart of Assam, against family and social obstacles, to establish herself emotionally and professionally.
An unbiased and ruthless no-holds-barred account of turbulent contemporary Assam in particular and the Northeast in general, the book covers more than three decades of events in this volatile region and insightful analyses of its complex social and political history. The racy and strong narrative, recounted simply and with rare passion, makes this book a compelling read.
"Crafted with skill and full of lyrical prose, the best thing about this memoir is its honesty, as the author doesn't flinch from telling the truth." -- Abdullah Khan, Earthen Lamp Journal
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
With independence, India experienced a dramatic social rupture but also a recuperation of political autonomy and a new sense of optimism that promised opportunities. The country became a crucible for experimentation in modern and utopian architecture with new buildings, cities and museums giving public face to the nation. Indian architects and architectural projects claimed international attention, and a generation of women entered professions such as architecture and design that had previously been closed to them. They emerged as a pronounced political force, and important patrons of art, architecture and public space.
The mid-19th and 20th centuries saw a significant increase in women acting as arbiters of taste and shapers of the built environment. The emerging groups of female designers and female patrons were enabled by new norms for women.
The essays in this volume address these developments, posing the important question : did, and do, women produce art and architecture that reflect a feminine perspective ? How did women, otherwise invisible and denied attention in the public sphere, gain voice? The writers look at these questions through both the political frame of gender as well as through family lineage and dynastic connections, and their importance in women's patronage of the arts.
"Gulabi Gang! Gulabi Gang!
Watch out, here we come!
Don't try and step out of line
for the Gulabi Gang will win!"
Donning pink saris and holding sticks in their hands, the Gulabi Gang is a threat to every policeman who refuses to file a report on violence against a dalit, every husband who beats up his wife, and every goon who grabs land that does not belong to him. In this recounted autobiographical account, Sampat Pal, the founder and leader of the Gulabi Gang, looks back to trace her journey as a young girl of twelve, forced into child marriage, who later goes on to become the leader of the most feared group of women vigilantes in the country. Her rebellious instinct, fervour for justice and her desire to free women from their everyday oppression led her to organize the women in and around her village in Uttar Pradesh into a gang.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar’s elegant new translations of eighth-century Tamil poet and founding saint Andal, cements her status as the South Indian corollary to Mirabai.
In this one volume is her entire corpus, composed before she apocryphally merged with the idol of her chosen god as a young teenager, leaving behind the still popular song of congregational worship, the Thiruppavai, a collection of thirty pasuram (stanzas) sung for Lord Tirumal (Vishnu) and the much less frequently translated and rapturously erotic Nacchiyar Thirumoli.
Chabria and Shankar employ a radical new method of revitalizing classical verse by shifting it into a contemporary poetic idiom in another language. Some of the hymns are translated collaboratively, others by one or another of the translators, and others separately by each. This kaleidoscopic approach allows the reader multiple perspectives on the rich sonic and philosophical complexity of Andal’s classical Tamil.
Best known as a young revolutionary who took up arms against the British establishment, Bina Das numbers among the heroes of Indian history - alongside Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Preetilata Wadedar - who took up arms against the colonisers.
This short memoir movingly recounts the story of her involvement in the shooting of the British Governor of Bengal, Stanley Jackson, at the Annual Convocation Meeting of Calcutta University in 1932, her subsequent incarceration, and her growing involvement in politics.
Despite her importance in Indian history, Bina Das disappeared from public view in later life and is rumoured to have passed away in Rishikesh in early 1997. This account captures the early years of her life and gives insights into the context and history of the times that inspired Bina to take the path that she chose.
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.
On a cold February night in 1991, a group of soldiers and officers of the Indian Army pushed their way into two villages in Kashmir, seeking out militants assumed to be hiding there. They pulled the men out of their homes and subjected many to torture, and the women to rape. According to village accounts, as many as 31 women were raped.
Twenty-one years later, in 2012, the rape and murder of a young medical student in Delhi galvanized a protest movement so widespread and deep that it reached all corners of the world. In Kashmir, a group of young women, all in their twenties, were inspired to re-open the Kunan-Poshpora case, to revisit their history and to look at what had happened to the survivors of the 1991 mass rape. Through personal accounts of their journey, this book examines questions of justice, of stigma, of the responsibility of the state, and of the long-term impact of trauma.
Radhaben Garva lives in a small village in Kutch. She’s an artist who has for long years documented the rural women’s movement in her area and beyond in her paintings.
These unique pictures—more than 200 of them—tell stories of the involvement of women from her village, and from the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, the NGO she works with, in campaigns for women’s rights, for economic empowerment, for resistance to globalizing corporations.
In one sequence of pictures, Radhaben receives a phone call inviting her to a meeting abroad, and she paints the entire journey from village to town to airport to the international destination and her first ride in an elevator. In another, she depicts the Chipko movement, in a third, the fragmentation of fields and farming activity as a result of globalization.
This unusual and beautiful document provides that rare thing, a political perspective from below and a vibrant portrait of the rural women’s movement in India.
'Call Me Confused, Please' requests one of the stories in this insightful and engaging collection from women of South Asian origin living in North America. 'Made in the USA?' wonders another.
Through poems, short stories and scholarly pieces, writers who are in their twenties, thirties and forties share what it is to live and grow up in a country that is your home and yet alien to you. They touch upon issues of culture, belonging, romance, body, race, ethnicity and the notion of 'home'. Moving beyond the idea of ABCDs (America-Born Confused Desi) and the 'identity crisis', the writers grapple with the richness of their diverse inheritances to produce a more nuanced understanding of self.
"Diverse voices challenge social binaries - of race, sexuality, nationality - to showcase the many facets of brown-ness." - Bandana Purkayastha, University of Connecticut
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.
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
India is changing.
At the heart of the change are its women.
The change is widespread and varied, individual and collective and is reflected across the spectrum of women’s lives, whether in politics or in economics, in their daily lives, in business, or the field of work within the home and outside.
This book attempts to map – in words and photographs – some of the change that is both visible and invisible in the India of today. Six writers from India write the stories that six photographers from the world-renowned Magnum
Photos Agency capture. Their beautiful and evocative photographs focus on the world of women working with microcredit, participating in grassroots governance, moving into new jobs, working behind the scenes in the male world of the Mumbai film industry, making their individual contributions in varied fields and imagining a new future for themselves and their sisters.
Published to celebrate 150 years of BNP Paribas in India and to mark the 25th anniversary of the feminist publishing house, Kali for Women/Zubaan,
Women Changing India offers a window into the lives of women living in India today and brings to public attention their complex realities and their aspirations for a better world.
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