Shevantibai M. Nikambe was an educationist, born in Poona in 1865, and educated in Bombay. She travelled to Europe and America to study Christian methods of educational and social work, and served as both headmistress and Inspectoress of schools in Bombay. She ran a special school for married ladies from 1912 to 1934. She assisted Pandita Ramabai in her work till Ramabai moved to Poona, and then continued on her own. Ratanbai advocates the cause of education for married women who, at the time, were often nine or ten years old.
The text of Ratanbai was obtained through the British Library in England. It is a useful addition to the republication of rare books, and will be of enormous interest to literary scholars in understanding the attitudes of the time to the education of women.
Eunice De Souza is a poet and novelist, and retired as Head of the English Department of St Xavier's College, Mumbai after more than thirty years of teaching. She has published four books of poems, three anthologies, and our books for children.
General Editor's Preface
Ratanbai: A Sketch of a Bombay High Caste Hindu woman (1895) by Shevantibai M. Nikambe. Is the first title in a projected series of rare or out of print Indian English books. The series was mooted by the Sahitya Akademi's English Advisory Board with Meenakshi Mukherjee as its Chair. The idea behind the series was to make available such books of value as are not only out of print today but are hard to acquire or have been forgotten. These books may or may not be of great literary or historic importance but their study, for a variety of reasons, is likely not just to be desirable, but also crucial to the understanding or recent Indian literary and cultural history.
From the early part of the 19th century up to the independence of India in 1947, good many of such books were published, an analysis and interpretation of which illuminates not only what might be called the Indo-British encounter, but also helps us understand the complexities of colonialism, nationalism, gender relations, caste, class, language, identity, or what in a nutshell might be termed the evolution of modern India itself. Many of these books, naturally, might have little commercial value and therefore mainstream trade publishers might be unlikely to reissue them. That is why it was felt that the Sahitya Akademi-India's national academy of letters-would be the best agency to bring these books in circulation. Rather than simply reprinting them, it was thought that a detailed scholarly introduction, with the requisite apparatus of textual and explanatory notes, plus a list of suggested readings ought to be provided so as to help the contemporary reader better situate and appreciate the text. .
Ratanbai belongs with a clutch of similar books by Indian women at the turn of the nineteenth century. Some of the other titles that immediately come to mind are Kamala and
Saguna, both by Krupabai Satthianadhan, published around the same time as Ratanbai, with similar themes, and also originally written in English. In Bengal, there was already a similar literature by women and about women, though primarily in Bangla. So, all three presidencies, Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, were witnessing a spate of works by or about women. Many of these were by or about upper caste converts to that they map overlapping and contentious domains: they are not only about the emergence of a new kind of subjectivity of a certain section of Indian women, but also about caste, class, conversion, colonialism, and national consciousness.
Most of these books could not have been published without the active support and encouragement, if not patronage of British colonial authorities-or their spouses. From the British side, such literature was useful in conveying the impression that the Raj was benign and beneficial to the natives. That is to say, the British ruled not so much through coercion but consent. It is clear that one such mask of conquest was the whole discourse of "Improvement," which both the liberals and Utilitarians employed to justify empire. The native elites also lent support to this imperial project by championing various kinds of social reform movements. Of course, the two were neither exactly the same nor were they comfortably compatible with each other. The Indian reform project often ran awry with imperial authority, increasingly so as the national struggle for liberation gathered force.
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