Nabaneeta Dev Sen's Defying winter is a series of cross- cutting narratives of woman living in an old age home. While Mrinal
Pande's A Woman's Farwell Song explores the mind of an again matriarch, Vaidehi's Temple-Fair evokes bittersweet memories of
life in simpler times. Moonlight by B.M. Zuhara reveals the mindscape of a woman whose unremarkable married life stands in stark
contrast to her glorious childhood, Finally, Saniya's Thereafter is an unsentimental look at a woman who finds the strength to life
on her own finds the strength to live on her own terms after her husband abandons her.
Translated by Tutun Mukherejee, Mrinal Pande, Nayana Kashyap, Vanajam Ravindran, and Maya Pandit, this volume also includes
an insightful introduction by feminist historian Uma Chakravarti.
Five Novellas by Woman Writers will be of value not only to students and teachers of modern Indian literature, gender studies,
comparative literature, and cultural studies, but also to general readers interested in regional Indian literature in translation.
Written within the last quarter century, the selected novellas focus on the experiences of women in India. Choosing the novella
over the novel or the short story for anthologizing may not be obvious: the absence of the restraints of short fiction and the
extended challenges of the novel afford the kind of freedom essential to convey the many silences in the long history of women's
creative writing in India and the range of artistic consciousness it reflects.
This project was initiated by Mini Krishnan, who worked on getting the right mix of novellas and the appropriate translators.
Five Novellas by Women Writers is a tribute to women's literature in India , which has evolved over the years to show common
experiences, a range of shared emotions, and a sense of camaraderie that question the different masks of patriarchy.
I was about seventeen and had just finished schools when I discovered the joys of reading. In those days this was in the late
1950s there were not too many other 'distractions' no TV, with a hundred channels, not even tape recorders, CDs or DVDs, and
of course, no malls to hang out in. there was cinema. Of this I had more than my fair share: one could catch morning shows of old
movies at half rates, and find some means of making to the new releases, either with friends, or by persuading generous aunts to
take you along. But reading, unlike the cinema, did not cost much. Desperately short of money (I was one of seven children and my
father was trying to give us a good education on a meagre pension), I nevertheless had a bicycle; everybody rode around in
Bangalore those days to get from one place to the other, and so I could access all the existing libraries the famous public library
in Cubbon Park, the USIS library which had a few restriction but allowed you to take books home, as did the British Council Library
when that opened, all without a user fee. Thus books became my entry into the space of creativity, into a variegated and rich world
of experience, feeling, and dramatic intensity. I read everything that caught my attention biographies ( I was committed history
student), political accounts, art books, travelogues, but above all, fiction. And through I was eclectic in my taste in books reading,
for example, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, William Saroyan's Dear baby, J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zoey, Scott
Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night (many of these books were made into films later and then enjoyed in that form), and other such
works that my student in Miranda House (where I later taught) had scarcely even heard of in the 1990s I developed a particular
interest in narratives located in India
almost a fascination which meant that however good, mediocre, or unrealistic I thought a
book was, I would read it till the end.
As I look back at those days, it is clear to me that this was my special way of accessing regions, classes, and people that were
normally not part of my world. And through my friends who were also reading or listening to accounts of books, I became aware of
literatures in other languages Kannada, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, and Malayalam and came to read many books in translation. I do
not remember being hampered by arguments about the inevitable losses in translation, or of how the authenticity of the original
could never be captured in translation; if you found a translation of a book in any of the languages that you could read, you just got
hold of the book and proceeded to dig into it. I read classics such as Marali Mannige and Chamana Dudi Translated from Kannada;
Chemeen, Devdas, Biraj Bahu, and Srikanta Translated from Bangla; and almost all the works of Premchand, Agyeya, and
Phanishwarnath Renu in their original Hindi.
Over the years, reading became a way of bonding, a way being led into fields that may have passed you by had someone not
brought them to your notice, and it became an intrinsic part of my friendships. I cannot now think of friends without remembering
what they suggested I should read and what, in turn, I suggested they should read; for example, I discovered Doris Lessing
through a feminist friend, and then acquired Lessing's entire oeuvre because of the effort my brother put in by tramping the
pavements of Bombay, scouring secondhand bookshops for her works (I could have written her Nobel prize summary for the
newspapers!). Another deeply political friend introduced me to the works of Lilian Hellman, which he possessed and which I
persuaded him to give me forever so that I could re-read them whenever I wanted; other have sent me books from across the world
if they were too expensive or too difficult for me to acquire locally.
But, you might well ask, what does my personal history of reading have to do with my introduction to this collection of novellas? Is
it not an unnecessary digression? My answer is that here I am trying to capture the 'secret' pleasure of reading that I have
experienced, perhaps especially so as a young woman growing up in a middle class world and refusing to be part of the normal
circumscriptions of what one can do, and should or should not do. And in this I am not alone. Reading has for many women been
an escape, almost subversive in its appeal; I remember my mother using all the days spent in hospital following her deliveries to
read everything she could get hold of from the hospital library; this was an act that shut us out made us feel almost resentful as we
felt abandoned at home while she seemed to be enjoying herself in the hospital! Now, however, it makes perfect sense to me as
whenever I get the chance, I read almost non-stop till I get to the end of a novel, and if the novel is too long, I cheat the end before I
complete reading it in the normal course! It is the subversive, dangerous quality of women who read that was widely recognized
and which led Kalighat painters to parody it in their drawings of sleeveless-bloused women immersed in novels that immoral
genre of writing which diverted them for their domestic responsibilities and in women's journals like Saraswati and Chand
published from Uttar Pradesh (UP) during the first half of the twentieth century.
Reading practices are as important as women's writing indeed, the latter would not exists without the former and need to explore
these practices in the context of women as much as we need to unravel the meanings of women's writing. Readers are important
writers would not exits as writes without them; and while writers may write to express themselves, giving form to their creativity,
readers read for a variety of reasonsto entertain themselves, to escape from the everyday world they live, in and also to expand
their horizons by entering a world of emotion, sentiment, and images. In a sense, readers read to re-live their own lives
metaphorical, sometimes differently, and therein lies both the power and the danger of reading, something that has led to the novel
being seen as a peculiarly female form and also condemnable as such, as Terry Lovell has argued in her book Consuming Fiction,
a feminist analysis of the emergence of new genres of writing from the eighteenth century onwards in England. The production and
consumption of the noval was, in fact, closely linked to womenboth as its producers and as its major consumers. Novel reading
was attacked in literary journals as a 'dangerous' pastime and the fears it engendered were akin to contemporary fears about TV
viewing. Young women were regarded as particularly risk-prone in reading novels, and the moral critique of the novel highlighted
the role of women in its production and consumption. A journal in 1773 said: 'This Brach of literary trade appears now to be almost
engrossed by the ladies,' neatly combining the double slur against the novel. The fact that it is ladies who are engrossed in it
confirms its literary worthlessness. As Lovell (1987) points out:
The proportion of readers who were may have been exaggerated, yet there can be no doubt that women as readers created a level
of demand which acted a major stimulant to the fiction industry from the very First. Those who attacked the novel as poor literature,
as well as those who drew attention to its moral dangers were like influenced by the belief that the novel was, in some sense, a
feminine form, one particularly adapted to women's interest both as writers and as readers
[since] the novel was a form without
any established tradition it was regarded as a genre that anyone could have a try at. The fact that women succeeded in this form
merely confirmed its intrinsic lack of seriousness
. They easy seductive pleasures of novel reading would, it was feared, drive out
good literature which required greater effort on the part of the reader (pp. 9-10).
Alarmists calculated the amounts of time wasted by women in novel reading which, even at a moderate two hours a day, would
make for an 'awful' number of years of wasted time that was precious, and would make women unfit for their lives as wives and
mothers. The unfortunate thing is that this particular aspects has not been seriously examined. Indeed, in India, except for the work
of A.R. Venkatachallapathy, there has not, to my knowledge, been much work on this. We have yet to seriously examine the reading
practices of men and women in India even through we have a fairly long history of writing, reading, and publishing from the
nineteenth century on wards. These circuits need to be outlined more fully to provide a context fore women's writing in India.
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