Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Musings with Sarojini Sahoo: Prameela K.P.

(Prameela KP with Sarojini Sahoo at International Book Fair, Calicut , 2008)

(Dr. Prameela K.P, the Malayalam critics, writer, poet and translator has been awarded with Devi Shankar Awasthi Samman for her Hindi book ‘Kavita ke Stri Paksha’ on 5. 04. 2010. She is the first person from South India to receive this award meant for Hindi writing.

Well known for her frankness, Dr. Sarojini Sahoo is a prime figure and trendsetter of feminism in contemporary Oriya literature. For her feminism is not a gender problem or any confrontational attack on male hegemony. She accepts feminism as a total entity of femalehood, which is completely separate from the man's world. She writes with a greater consciousness of women bodies, which would create a more honest and appropriate style of openness, fragmentation and non-linearity. Her fictions always project a feminine sensibility from puberty to menopause. The feminine feelings like restrictions in the adolescence, the pregnancy, the fear factors like being raped or being condemned by society and the concept of a bad girl etc always have the thematic exposure in her novels and short stories. More details on her are available in her profile.
Here Prameela K.P  engages Sarojini Sahoo in a conversation.)

1. As a woman, what is writing for you all about? Do you look who wrote
the writing while read?
Writing for me never any day coined with any social responsibility. It is a media for
self expression .I want to communicate my feelings,ideas,experiences with my
reader. It is true that I am not a propagandist or socially so committed in my
writings , rather I stress importance on the artistic aesthetic sense   always and
you can say I am more committed to my writings than to society. Never I think that
my writings could change the society , but as Camus told once, “I always want to
hang myself as I am , so that the readers could see their own image in me. But
along with my stories, I want to portray the society I am communicating with” .As
I am residing in a semi urban-semi rural surroundings, far away from Big  City
Culture, I have my profit to encounter the very down trodden feminine characters
and culture , which always are a part of my fiction.
 When we pick a book from a show case or we start reading any article from a
magazine , we first choose the name of the writer ,because we were acquainted
with author’s style and ideas and always we  compare how much the author
made progress in these writings from his/her previous one . But some times
when we read anonymous writer who are not known to us, that time we look for
the style, language and skill of that writer
2. Why you write stories? Why you write prose not, poems?
I write poems also but I don’t know why it seems that  poetry is an incompetent
media for me to express myself .I feel comfortable with fiction where I can open
myself freely .I often use  my poems within the fiction and critiques say my prose
are more poetic.
3. You are known as Simone de beaviour of India. Where you put yourself
as an Indian women thinker?
I have never claimed any day myself to as similar as Simone.They are the
critiques who compare me with the great feminist. But as far the life style of mine, 
some body may  find some how similarity and dissimilarity with Simone.Like her,I
have an elder sister Sneha and a friend Sanju  in my adolescent days   and later
Sanju made a suicide .You can find these facts resemblance to the role of
Poupette(her sister) and Zaza (her friend) but dissimilarity is ,I have no such
involvement with them as Simone had. She had a living together relationship with
an eminent philosopher and writer Sartre and I married to Jagadish, who is a
prominent Indian writer and some how our understandings are similar to Sartre
and Simone where we don’t want to impose any bar in each other’s
freedom..Simone was an atheist, whereas I am not.Though Simone devotes a
sizeable section of the The Second Sex to the topic of motherhood  but she was 
never a biological mother, when I am a mother of two young kids. But I consider
these facts have no more importance to find any similarities or dissimilarities.
Probably the critiques find some how a similarity of Simone’s attempt to dissect
female heart and brain with my stories. In my writings, I want to only portray the
feelings of woman from her preschooler days to the post menopausal days. I
think, there are some feelings, , intricate mental agony and complexity  which a
man couldn’t feel any day and these should be discussed in our  fictions. I
portray the feelings of a pregnant lady (Waiting for Manna), hysteria
(Burkha,and Deshantari),fear of being miscarriage (Sakal:The Morning) false
pregnancy (Tarali Jauthiba Durga :The Melting Castle) , agony of and annoyance
of menopause (Damppatya:The  Couple ),Lesbianism (Behind the scene) .I have
also portray the shaking situation of a sixty years old lady, who is still waiting for
her menopause and in every month  her embarrassing situation when she find
herself in bleeding (Aparanha : Afternoon).Even  in my story Jahllad (Butcher) 
I have told the story of an infant who finds herself being raped by a caretaker

4. I have gone through some of your columns in magazines as well as on
net. Even then, please tell me how you look in to the role of a mother.  Is it
supreme to be a mother?
I think being a mother is one of the most important jobs in the world .It is a
process of creation .Not only for the child in fetus but also later in making a child
life .Have you heard the mythical story of Madalasa .It is referred from
Markandeya Purana .Madalasa was a daughter of Vishwaketu . and was married
to king Ritudhwaj She bore three children  Vikranth, Subahuand Shatrumardan
.These are the royal name and are named by the king .Madalasa taught them
about the ‘maya’  and taught them that how meaningless are their names for
them .Ultimately both of these three did not pay interest in royal duty  and they
left the kingdom for ‘sanyas’ to achieve ‘moksha’ .The king got disappointed and
asked Madalasa to name their fourth son according to Madalasa’s wish
.Madalasa named her fourth child as “Alark” means ‘the mad dog’.She taught the
actual meaning of his name and the boy later became the successor of the king .I
hope , it is sufficient to answer whether  to be a mother is supreme or not .

5. What will you say, motherhood as a choice by women, or a social
Motherhood brings some feminine sensuality which a woman can’t rule out from
her life. Desire for children is a feminine sensibility and while considering all
aspects ,we should not overlook the emotional suffering of infertility, pregnancy
loss, or stillbirth bear sorrows of a female but it is a sad saga that in south Asia ,
the feminine sensibility regarding motherhood has always been denied  and it  is
always mingled with a religious and social goal of patriarchal society and is not
subjected to a woman’s wish but of man’s. Here motherhood  does not mean all
.To say correctly mother of a son is regarded highly and mother  of a daughter
does not . In Hinduism a ‘son’ is the must requirement for a man to achieve his
personal ‘moksha’ after his death. So the Manu Smruti stresses upon “putrarthe
kriyate bharya”, which means a wife is required to bear sons .This is the most
insulting status of a woman in Hinduism and for that an infertile woman losses
her status in her family as well as in society. A mother without a son is also
considered as an infertile woman  and these woman are  treated like  widow and
are  barred from any social rituals and many orthodox Hindus in rural areas still
believe that encountering an infertile woman at morning is a bad sign for the
whole day. So, while discussing about mother hood in South Asian perspective,
we should not forget this status quo. I am telling you a very ugly story of mine
which I have painted in my story CHHI (Hatred) ,I was the second daughter of my
parents and after my birth my mother had to bear very insulting and harassing
moments ,So when my mother found herself as pregnant for third time, she
swallowed a thread worm from my excreta to get a male child ,as the rituals
admitted.. So , we can admit that being a mother is one of the most important
jobs in the world , but we should also confirm that motherhood is not only the
“choice” available to women. It should be confined to the ability of woman to say
"yes", as well as "no", to having children.. 

 6. Patriarchal family system is a curse for Indian women. But we wanted to
maintain family. Is it fare to maintain it in the cost of girls only?
In one of my essay I wrote:” Patriarchal role in society is a devilish tradition
implied by the masculine world and our attempts should not be to create another
social milieu of exploitation and injustice .Feminism does not aim to destroy the
family structure or to attack on the emotional bondage of love and passion .The
motto of feminism should to create a new world with a new perspective of
equality and humanist attitude. Feminism must be a road to glorify female role
with their own sensibilities “ I think , family is a sharing partnership between two
people and  it shouldn’t be fair to maintain in the cost of girls only , so I am
always for the right of ‘divorce’ for a woman .

7. If women writes, we fetch autobiography, where as men have no
problem. Why it is so?
Ours is a patriarchal society , where it  is granted that a man could express his
opinion and decision on  outer world, politics, social milieu but a woman couldn’t
.It is considered that a woman’s life is restricted within the four walls .I have
painted a country liquor shop of a rural village in my novel “Pakhibasa”
repeatedly  but no critics in Oriya literature has pointed out that matter  Till now ,
our reader’s mind is not prepare to accept a woman as a thinker or as a
philosopher . There were some interesting happenings with my story writings.
Gambhiri Ghara (The Dark Abode), the most controversial novel of mine was first
written in a story form and it was written for a special issue of an Oriya
periodicals. Before the publication of the short story it was rejected and I was
asked to submit another story in place of The Dark Abode. While inquiring the
reason of the rejection of my story, I was told that the editor would talk to my
husband. This comment of the chief editor made me irritated and I asked the
chief editor whether my husband has an authority over my writer self? As my
novel was on an extra marital relationship between a Hindu house wife and a
Pakistani artist , the editor could have suspicions whether this was written on any
personal affairs of mine .. But if it were written by a male writer, I believe, the
editor would not ask a question and would publish it .The patriarchy idea of the
chief editor made me to transform the short story to a novel.

8. What will be the form of an ideal family, for you?
Where there will be a feeling of sharing ness, trust and respect remained
between the family .Where any job is not confined with the gender and division of
labour is on the basis of requirement of current situations prevailed. Where
children are reared not only by mother but by parents .  
9. We are living in paradoxes. We are against globalization, but live in it. We
are against liberalization, working in MNCs. We are feminists, but holding
patriarchal families. Any future change you expect?
Yes we are living with many contradictory situations .But for that can we reject
our life or leave our job or our refuse our family ?We have to fight with the
system. Recently a corporate body in air ways service retrenched thousands of
its employee without showing any cause .It is the nature of liberalization and
capitalism .But the corporate could not retrench these people because of mass
unrest among the company .This should be taken as an instance how we could
protect our rights against globalization .

10. Our sisters dipped in self-projection and sell themselves for the sake of
money and name. Is it matter to you?
Yes, any attempt to commercialize  women body should be condemned .The
patriarchal society always want to make woman’s body as a commodity ,either in
social form or in historical way .Simone once told the patriarchal system
subjugate woman’s mind with mythical values of subordination .Our sisters who
are engaging themselves in self projection to earn money ,I think,  are the tools
of that system..It is a patriarchal value based freedom for women . 

11. Our others bringing up their sons almost in the same ways as earlier
generation did. How can we achieve difference for a democratic manwoman
Patriarchal system is a centuries long tradition and it is not expected that all
could be changed in one night .We have to hopeful as we have marked
significant changes have been marked in our societies. The liberal idea to deny
patriarchal form of family , even an unsuccessful  start up to make the  live in
relationship legalized by Maharashtra state council of ministers , all  make us
sure that the society slowly open its mind and heart for such liberalism .We have
to possess   optimistic out look .
12. Now-a-days, psychiatrists say that women may be the second sex, but
weaker sex is men. What you experience? As feminists, Shall we do
something for men also?
Psychologists always deal with the virtual realities .Their all assumptions are 
contradictory and opposite to their life .It is interesting that Freud , who was
famous for his psychoanalysis for human passion was a less passionate in his
life .However, it is not true that male are always weaker sex and such statements
should not be generalized with any of gender .Women are not any day weaker
sex .It is only the patriarchal system  which makes them weaker .so is the male
community .We shouldn’t judge any community with such  view .We have to
adopt an idea that man and woman are though different in their biological
features , they are eligible to enjoy equal human,civil,political and social rights as
human beings . 

13. Concept of celebration of womanhood is highly misused by women
themselves. Do you agree?
Yes, it is true that some times this celebration of woman hood is misused .I think
the idea of love is the only way to make this equality dream to be realized .I am
always making stress on the role of love. Passion and sexuality in our
relationship .I have described all the dimensions of such human instincts in my
novel The Dark Abode  

14. Coming back to literature, what will be the next ten years of women’s
writing in India?
In India most of the female writers either quit writing or make themselves more
adjustable to male dominated values, after their marriage. You find a shyness in
their voice while relating the truth and exposing their innerself.Even their
weaknesses or love relations are also not expressed  clearly in fear of social
scandal of their character. A typical womanish shyness prevents them to write
their actual feelings towards sex and love. But slowly this tendency is diminishing
.After Kamala Das we have to wait for decades to find another one like her .But
there are more and more females coming with their frank writings and I think a
tremendous change in woman writing would have been seen in next ten years.  
15. Are you happy with the increasing women’s participation in life, politics
as well as in literary field at present? 

I think , women’s participation ,though statistically showed a remarkable
increasing graph , but there is some fallacy in reality .Today you can find more
and more female writers are coming out with their writings , but on the other hand
,you might have marked they are still ignored and are treated as inferior writer
than male . Uma Parmeswaran once wrote an article on Kamala Mrakandeya at
Sawnet , where she described that Salman Rushdie in his novels Shame and
The Satanic Verses raised the issues of race riots in Britain .But before 20 years
of Rushdie , Kamala Markendeya talked not only about the violence of racism but
also about other diasporic realities - educational degrees that are not given
accreditation, the resistance of immigrants to the expectations of the »host«
culture, chasms of communication between generations, cultural values and
needless cultural baggage. But the male dominated literary criticism placed
Rushdie as a pioneer of diasporic struggle. In politics also though all political
parties have assured to reserve 33% of seats in legislation in their menifesto, still it
has not been transformed to law as the male dominant political parties are
opposing the bill. In our local bodies , though some seats are reserved for the
women, but the real fact is  though a woman enjoys the chair but the powers of
authority  are handled by her husband always .In financial matter, though women
are allowed to work out side, but their rights on any house hold matters always
have been denied. A woman has to take charge of the kitchen , even if she is a
earning member and she  has to go out side for her job .The husband will not
take charge of kitchen , though he remain un employed , as it is supposed for a
man to cook for her family is against his  manhood .Legally, though according to
Court, sons and daughters have equal rights on patriarchal property but still now
as per practice, ownership changes hands from father to husband to son and the
role of a daughter or a daughter in law is denied. 
So , still miles to go for feminism in India .          

--Prameela K P