Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Saga of a Feminist Writer 1

 In 1981, my first Odia short stories collection ‘Sukhar Muhan Muhin’ (‘Facing Happiness’) was published. Neither I had prepared its manuscript nor was it known to me. Veteran publisher Sahadev Pradhan, the proprietor of Friend’s Publishers anthologized it with my short stories published in an Odia literary magazine ‘The Jhankar’. Publisher inaugurated and presented this book to me in the reception party of my marriage with Jagadish. The writers who were witnessing that event marked the inaugurated book an all time historical one by signing their autographs on it. It is needless to say that by that time Jagadish made him established as an iconic  figure in Odia fiction writing and also made  me celebrated among his readers as a       legendary female character Goutami in his   fictions.

 At the middle of Jagadish’s novel ‘Knishka-  Kanishka’, its main female character  Goutami turned to a stone sculpture. This  was symbolic representation of my mental  status in just post marital period. Marriage  was a major set back for me. I found myself  in totally different socio cultural back  ground and the alienated environment of coal fields area also made me more exiled. The image of Jagadish in my pre marital life was no more and I encountered a husband Jagadish, who was very much different from his lover’s image. Sexual affinity seemed to me more a marital rape and slowly I grew a temporary frigidity and infertility in me. I tried to paint my experiences, observations from life in my Odia stories like ’Nija Gahirare Nije’, 'Dura Pahadara Chhabi’ and ‘Bipanna Samayara Chinha Bada Byaktigata’ etc. These stories have been anthologized in my collection ‘Nija Gahirare Nije’.
Marriage brought two different realizations for us. When jagadish, a known bohemian and nihilistic person turned to an optimistic one, I turned in to more a nihilistic. The changes in me, I think, drew me more towards feminism. My story ‘Dura Pahada ra Chhabi’ was on my end of fascination in conjugal affinity, “Bipanna Samayara Chinha Bada Byaktigata’ was on her developed frigidity and ’Nija Gahirare Nije’ was representing a will to escape from these marital hegemonies. I think, Sanjay- Goutami’s wedding turned me more a feminist.
But feminism, or distinctively Western feminism that time didn’t like the idea of mother hood and I wanted to be a mother. I was under treatment of Dr. Sukumar Mitra, a famous gynecologist of that time in Odisha and delivered our first child in 1985. These consequences and the want of motherhood made me to think and accept feminism differently from western perspective. While Jagadish was busy with painting Goutami’s transformation to stone in Kanishka- Kanishka’, I wrote my stories on new ideas of feminism which are totally separated from Western radical views in my different stories, and were anthologized in the book ‘Amruta Pratiksha Re’, (later it was published in English as ‘Waiting for Manna’). Jagadish was awarded by Odisha Sahitya Akademy for his novel in 1990, where i got this award in 1993 for my above mentioned book.

After my marriage with Jagadish, my in laws expected that I would change my surname according to Jagadish. But at that time I was some how known to Odia readers and I was able to create an identity of myself as a bold and serious female writer. My first anthology of short stories had also been published, It seemed to me that changing my surname might be a denial status to my writings which I had been produced before my marriage. It seemed to me change in surname certainly be the change in identity. I denied changing my surname and thankful to Jagadish that at that time he stood beside me and supported my reason for not to change my surname.
One of Jagadish’ elder brothers asked me: What is the identity of a woman more than her husband’s identity?

One very eminent poet and another a female editor of female oriented magazine also asked me to change my surname as they thought that would be beneficial for my kids’ marriage in future.

I kept my daughter’s name without any surname attached to any caste or religion.
I think to be in love with any one and to change one’s identity for love is not same thing. If it would be then why any husband can never think to change his surname according to his wife? Is it expected that a woman should only show her love through obligation socially?

Recently I found a survey carried out by Facebook in May found that more women are changing their name on marriage: some 65% of married women in their 20s and 30s still do, and 80% of women in their 60s. (See:

Is it not about 'embracing feminism' or the female mass still subjugated with patriarchal milieu as suggested by Simone de Beauvoir in her book ‘The Second Sex’ in last century?


Sunday, September 15, 2013

What is the essence of being a woman?

Jaydeep Sharangi: What is the essence of being a woman?

Me.: Many times I have stated that I differed from Simon de Beauvoir in her 'Other' theory where she says “one is not born but rather, becomes a woman.” I think a woman is born as a woman. There are inherent physical, behavioral, emotional, and psychological differences between men and women and we affirm and celebrate these differences as wonderful and complementary. These differences do not evidence the superiority of one sex over the other but rather, serve to show that each sex is complemented and made stronger by the presence of the other. As a different unit, similar to man, the female mass has their right for equity as well.

The real essence of women I think lies with femininity, which has often been misquoted by our feminists. For many feminist thinkers, after marriage a family breeds patriarchy. Happily married women are considered false and double-crossing. The titles of popular feminist books from the early movement highlight the split between gender feminists and women who chose domesticity. Jill Johnston in her Lesbian Nation (1973), called the married women are heterosexual females 'traitors'; Kate Millett in her Sexual Politics (1970), redefined heterosexual sex as a power struggle; whereas in Kathrin Perutz's Marriage is Hell (1972); and Ellen Peck's The Baby Trap (1971), argued that motherhood blocks liberation of a woman. These feminists always try to paint the marriage as legalized prostitution; heterosexual intercourse as rape; and they come to the decision that men are the enemy; families are prisons.

Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer were against marriage in their earlier thoughts. But they tried to skip from their anti marriage ideas in later period. Marriage is a three-sided arrangement between a husband, a wife and the society. That is, the society legally defines what a marriage is and how it can be dissolved. But marriage is, on the other hand, for partners of marriage; it is more of an individual relationship than a social matter. This is the main reason of crisis. Individually, I think marriage must be taken out of the social realm and fully back into the private one. The society should withdraw from marriage and allow the adults involved to work out their own definition of justice in the privacy of their own homes.

Our feminist thinker always tries to skip the idea that offspring begging is a natural instinct of a woman and it is related to our ecological and environmental situation. Anything against it may resulted to disaster. We find a woman has to pass through a different stage in her life span and there is a phase where a woman feels an intense need of her own offspring. Feminists of second wave feminism have always tried to pursue a woman against the natural law because it is seemed to them that motherhood is barricade for the freedom of a woman. But if the woman has her own working field, doesn’t have it mean that her working assignments would demand more of her time, of her sincerity and of course of her freedom? If a woman can adjust herself and can sacrifice her freedom for her own identity at outside her home, then why she shouldn’t sacrifice some of her freedom for parenting when parenting is also a part of one of her social identity? And it could also be solved by rejecting the patriarchal role of parenting. We have to insist the idea of the division of labor in parenting. This equally shared parenting is now common in Western, but still in South Asian countries we find it as a taboo factor rather because of economic inequality between men and women, our crazy work culture, and the constrictions that are placed on us by traditional gender roles.

The conflict between American mother-daughter feminists Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker is well-known chapter for Western feminism. Alice Walker, the mother, the second-wave feminist, obviously had anti-motherhood ideas as the other western feminists of her time. But Rebecca Walker, her daughter and a feminist of third wave discussed in her book Baby Love about how motherhood freed women like herself from their roles as daughters, and how this provided the much-needed perspective to heal themselves from damaged mother-daughter relationships and claim their full adulthood. What happened? This latest article is mired in unresolved childish hurt and anger (especially in the chapter “How my mother’s fanatical views tore us apart”), which would be all well and good except that she strikes out at her mother by striking out at feminism. I personally think the bitterness between her and her mother, as any woman who has ever fallen out with her mother knows, is a very painful experience and note to self, one that probably shouldn’t be written about too much in public.

In her book Baby Love, Rebecca Walker writes directly about unadulterated excitement and pride about becoming a mother. Rebecca argues that motherhood frees us from childhood. It is the most important step a woman can take because it creates another human being and because it makes a woman an adult. I found this to be true for myself. In one of my stories, ‘Waiting for Manna ‘(1989), published much more before Baby Love, where I want to discuss the queries after a lifetime of wondering whether to have children, wondering if the sacrifices are worth it, wondering if life is full to bursting enough already -- how does our generation of women decide to have children?

So, for me the essence of being a woman lies with the real femininity she possesses.

< An excerpt from my conversation with Jaydeep, recently published in the book ‘Portrayal of Women in Media & Literature’ (ISBN:978-93-82647-01-0), edited by Arvind M. Nawale, Shivani Vashist and Pinaki Roy and published by ACCESS (an imprint of Authors Press, Delhi))>