Barnita Bagchi, ‘“Ar Konokhane”/ Somewhere Else: Memory, Desire, and Utopia in Women’s Life-Writing’

Remembering and haunted by lost and elusive spaces, connecting homes and worlds, building fragile everyday utopias,  representing dystopian personal worlds,  women’s autobiographical writing modulates itself in a “different” key: if  the female “I” is always especially  an/ other, the south Asian female (auto)biographical “I”s, in a period of modernity and colonialism, stake out spaces for radically other  selves, creating idioms of memory and desire which simultaneously articulate loss and agency: Tanikar Sarkar’s work on Rashasundari articulated this simultaneity memorably. In my presentation, the relation of the self to urban, urbane, and  utopian spaces will be  in focus, as will be writings by key figures in 20th-century modernity from Bengal,  such as  Lila Majumdar and Rokeya Hossain, in a mix of genres, from vignettes to essays, letters, and fiction.

Monika Browarczyk, ‘Aur.. aur… aurat. Women’s Autobiographies in Hindi’

A classical autobiography was implicitly understood as an epitome of masculine, occidental, bourgeois cultural production (Miller 1988, Eakin 1992, Smith and Watson 1992). Life writings and their studies evolved from a very rigid perception of an autobiography as an auto-narrated life story of historically important figure engaged in ‘the conquest of the universe’ (to quote ill-famed Gusdrof’s words, Marcus 1994) into a more liberal definition of a self-expressed life-story with no justification or validation required. Feminist and post-colonial critics were vocal in the debate on autobiography, and it is because of their critical contribution that this development in theoretical studies on autobiography occurred.

Recent attempts to create a coherent literary theory of autobiography by Paul John Eakin, and some other researchers, draw from philosophical thought (Cavarero, MacIntyre, Ricoeur, and Tylor) on the nature of subject as a ‘narrative self’. Inspired by the literary critics’ application of the ‘narrative self’ theory, I would like to close-read Hindi autobiographies by Chandrakiran Soneraxa, Maitreyi Pushpa and Kausalya Baisantri as individual narratives of life, and to examine the stylistics of life’s stories and their contents to discover various individual strategies of constructing narrative self. These strategies help to negotiate and accommodate tensions present in the interaction of various identities of an Indian woman in the liminal space, which she occupies in her life and which she reinvents in the life writings.

Anne Castaing, ‘Writing Intimacy in the narrative of Partition : Amrita Pritam, Anis Kidwai and Jyotirmohee Devi’

In her famous autobiography Azadon ki Chaon men (Urdu, 1974), Anis Kidwai opens her depiction of the violence and chaos that followed the 1947 Partition with the story of her husband’s tragic death. This valuable historical testimony that intertwines intimate narrations of pain, anxiety and loneliness clearly shows the interdependence of historical accounts and personal narratives. In Amrita Pritam’s Pinjar (Punjabi, 1950) and Jyotirmoyee Devi’s Epar Ganga Opar Ganga (Bengali, 1967), pseudo-autobiographies, though written in the third person, similarly highlight the predominance of personal experience in the narration of the Partition. These three texts undoubtedly show that women’s narratives are inextricably linked to a history of pain and, more widely, of violence; but they also demonstrate that social history as conveyed by women (and more generally by subalterns) is elaborated through the narration of intimacy, as exemplified by Azadi ki Chaon men which nonetheless adopts a historical perspective. This paper aims at showing that whereas this feature of female Partition narratives can be understood as a specificity of subaltern historical narratives, it also reveals the way in which women’s voices internalize the metaphors of the Nation which transforms them into suffering bodies at the service of the Motherland.

Alaka Chudal, ‘A life of the “other” and a story of the “self”: Shivrani Devi in Premcand ghar mē

This paper will deal with Shivrani Devi’s (1890-1976) Premcand ghar me͂, a literary memoir-cum-biography of her husband Premcand, a pioneer of Hindi literature. The book has already been extensively discussed in previous studies as a mirror held up to Premchand, revealing all his dynamism as a thinker, intellectual and a householder. Against this backdrop, this paper attempts to delve more deeply into Shivarani Devi’s intimate space within the household. It will discuss the ‘self’ that Shivarani Devi unintentionally lays bare while portraying her husband, the ‘other’. It will in short analyse the feminine self within the domesticity, tradition, and society of  her period.

Alessandra Consolaro, ‘Immanence, abjection, and transcendence in Prabhā Khetān’s autobiography Anyā se ananyā

This paper aims to explore embodiment as articulated in Prabhā Khetān’s autobiography Anyā se ananyā. Best known as the writer who introduced French feminist existentialism to Hindi-speaking readers through her translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Prabhā Khetān’s positioning as a Marwari woman, intellectual, successful business woman, poet, novelist, and feminist makes her a cosmopolitan figure. My analytical tools are what Kristeva terms ‘abjection’ – that which does not ‘respect borders, positions, rules’, that which ‘disturbs identity, system, order’ (Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, 4); the existentialist concept of ‘transcendence’ – as differently proposed by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir ; and the /sātī/śakti/ notion – both as a venerated (tantric) ritual which gains its sanction from the scriptures, and as a practice written into the history of the Rajputs, crucial to the cultural politics of Calcutta Marwaris, who have been among the most vehement defenders of sati worship in the last decades.

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, ‘Interrogating Theories of Difference: Gender, Autobiography and the Self in Muslim South Asia’

This paper will interrogate ‘difference’ models applied by gender theorists to women’s autobiography through a close analysis of life writing in Muslim South Asia.  A key intention of these models has been to distinguish women’s autobiography from that of men with the former being identified as more personal than public, more fragmentary than linear, more collective than individual, and more about relationships than accomplishments.  A unique instance in which to test the applicability of these theoretical frames is provided by the Tyabji clan of Bombay.  This extended family is chosen on account of its many and varied contributions to the autobiographical genre – family diaries, travelogues, speeches, memoirs, autobiographies and articles – that date from the mid-nineteenth century to the near present.  By examining how Tyabji men and women of multiple generations narrated their lives, or at least fragments of them, I indicate how articulations of a Muslim female self could be transformed by history.  Underlying this analysis of autobiography’s form, style and content is an emphasis on representation and identity.  Through three chronological sections, I compare various themes and sub-themes in this set of autobiographical writings: from shifting nationality and regional identity to motherhood, the home and sexuality. Ultimately, I suggest that these models for theorizing women’s autobiography in terms of gender difference fall short when applied to Muslim South Asia.  By essentializing women (and men too) across cultures and time, they fail to recover the specific subjectivities associated with different global locations at particular historical moments.

Nora Melnikova, ‘Mīrā Bāī: Biography and autobiography’

Since 1600, there have been many attempts to narrate the life of Mīrā Bāī, predominantly by male authors. The extent of the works dealing with her life ranges from a few verses, like in Nābhādās’s Bhaktamāl, to entire books, such as the most recent Arvind Tejawat’s Mīrā kā jīvan. On the other hand, there are many references to Mīrā’s life in poems attributed to her, though the age and authenticity of pads bearing Mīrā Bāī’s chāp that have survived till the present day are uncertain. Only very few poems bearing Mīrā Bāī’s chāp have been preserved in manuscripts dating back the period of 200 years after Mīrā Bāī’s birth, i.e. before the end of the 17th century. This paper is an attempt to map the main ideas of Mīrā Bāī’s most significant biographers (C. L. Prabhat, Kalyanasinh Shekhavat, Arvind Singh Tejawat, etc.) and translators (A. J. Alston, Shubhra Parashar, Nicole Balbir, etc.) and compare them on one hand to “autobiographical” references occurring in the poems considered most representative by Mīrā Bāī experts, and one the other hand to references contained in pads favoured by the public in the present time (based on Internet resources). The analysis of the varied biographies of the 16th century poetess will enable us to see the shifting emphases and changing interpretations in time and (mental) space.

Tara Puri, ‘Autobiography as novel: The case of Krupabai Satthianadhan’s Saguna

This paper focuses on Krupabai Satthianadhan’s 1892 novel Saguna to consider the question of the form of the autobiographical novel. Saguna has often been hailed as the first novel by an Indian woman in English and is written in the style of an autobiography. Though it was initially published anonymously and without any reference to its autobiographical content, in reviews in contemporary periodicals as well as recent critical appraisals, it has been seen as a straightforward autobiography of Krupabai Satthianadhan. In my paper, I want to probe this morphed genre of the autobiographical novel, especially as it appears in India. In doing this, I also want to think about the work of the novel as a form and the ways in which it is adopted and adapted by Indian women writing at the turn of the nineteenth century. Underlying this analysis of Saguna is an interrogation of the ways in which this work is involved in negotiating the contested and seemingly contradictory pulls of the real and the fictive, the lived and the imagined.

Lisa-Marie Reuter, ‘Fact or Fiction? Autobiographical Elements in Pre-Independence Prose Writings by Women’

Women writers who contributed to the public discourse on social reform in pre-independence India employed a diverse set of literary techniques in order to articulate their very own and sometimes opposing viewpoints on social developments. Ranging from purely fictional short stories to autobiographies, these texts had the potential of adding 1st person accounts to a debate which had so far been dominated by abstract and exemplary narrations of domestic life composed by male authors.

In this paper I would like to present two “autobiographies” by female authors, which despite their obvious label nevertheless strikingly divert from the established notions of the autobiographical genre. Rather, they resemble hybrid forms containing elements of the novel and short story. The blend of different genres is mirrored by the range of conflicting purposes these writings were meant to serve. Being female themselves but at the same time contributing to the public discourse on ideal feminity put the writers in a position in which they constantly had to negotiate between the larger nationalist agenda and their own personal concerns, which would at times run counter to the social norms established by the reformist movement.

I will also take into account short stories by the more canonical author Bang Mahila (Rajendra Bala Ghosh, 1882-1949) which, while containing autobiographical elements, show much less ambiguity with regard to the proper role of women within society. By comparing her stories with the above mentioned “autobiographies” I will try to point out how the autobiographical mode opened up spaces within public discourse where female authors could question prevalent notions of gender and society while still maintaining the ideological boundaries of the reformist movement.

Lidia Sudyka, ‘The Santānagopāla Theme in Contemporary Sanskrit Women’s Writing of Kerala’

The paper will focus on contemporary Kerala women’s writing in Sanskrit. In general, the subject of women’s writing in Sanskrit has not been thoroughly researched in indology, although it certainly deserves attention. As far as Kerala is concerned Kunjunni Raja in his otherwise informative book “Contribution of Kerala to Sanskrit Literature” mentions just a few names of women poets and gives a handful of titles, usually not providing any detailed information concerning their lives and the merits of their compositions. One could ask whether we receive a real picture of literary creativity in Sanskrit with so minute participation of women in it.

During my fieldwork in Kerala in 2014 and 2015, possible due to the financial support of National Science Centre in Poland, I was able to collect several manuscripts authored by women as well as very rare printed editions of their works.

Among the collected sources I have chosen the poems based on the Santānagopāla theme, a story about a pious Brahmin and his wife losing one child after another. It repeats in the oeuvre of at least three women writers living at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries, so one can say that this predilection shows their womanly sensitivity and indirectly characterises the authors themselves.

I would like to concentrate on the Santānagopāla poems written by Maṅku Tampurān (1884–1977) and Lakṣmī Rājñī (1845–1909).


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