Thursday, January 31, 2013

Her-Self:Early Writings on Gender by Malaylee Women 1898-1938

Her-Self: Early Writings on Gender by Malayalee Women 1898-1938
Translated from the Malayalam and edited by J.Devika. Foreword by V.Geetha
demy octavo hb 268pp ISBN 81-85604-74-6 Rs 450 Feb 2005; rpt, April 2008

This collection of early writings by Malayalee women, translated for the first time into English, gives us, in the words of V. Geetha, ‘texts that dazzle’. Written between 1898-1938, they reveal the vigorous debate over modern gender relations that was taking place in this period. Women reflected on what was ‘Womanly’, on education, duties, vocation and civil roles, an ongoing discussion, first influenced by reformism and later by nationalist and communist ideas, which remain alive today.
The anthology also contains many spirited rejoinders to distinguished male intellectuals who opposed women’s employment or ‘intrusion’ into public space. J. Devika also discusses what is excluded from the Womanhood that is being talked about as well as a need to define what is non-Womanly.

J. Devika is a research associate, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. V. Geetha is an independent scholar and editorial director of Tara Publishing.


'Her-Self: Early Writings on Gender by Malaylee Women 1898-1938 edited by J. Devika
is an attempt to know what women were thinking in Kerala much before Indian women were aware of such words of jargon as ‘feminism’.'

Nilosree Biswas: The Telegraph, 30 May 2004

Published By:Stree
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Women Writing Gender: Translations from Bangla Periodicals 1864-1947


Women Writing Gender: Translations from Bangla Periodicals 1864-1947
Edited by: Ipshita Chanda and Jayeeta Bagchi

This is one of the three readers compiled by the School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University. This volume of translations from Bangla literature explores the process of the formation of gender discourse in society through practice. The essays were all written by women from Bengal, before the division of Pakistan, East and West, and India. The consequences of the first partition of Bengal, 1905, politicized religious identities and introduced some self-consciousness that was articulated in women’s writing. Interestingly, the first text in this collection is known as the first and only signed piece of writing by a Muslim woman in a non-Muslim journal. These selections across time permit us to discern the dynamics of change in positions and strategies regarding certain issues like women’s education, child marriage, widow remarriage, women’s seclusion, reform, self-help and work for the country. A path-breaking collection that will enhance the audience’s understanding of gender.

ISBN Code: 978-81-906760-5-2, approx 350 pp

Enquiries: 16 Southern Ave, Calcutta 700026  tel:033 2466 0812/ 033 6519 5737
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Women in Concert: An Anthology of Bengali Muslim Women's Writing, 1904-38

Women in Concert: An Anthology of Bengali Muslim Women’s Writings 1904-38
Edited by Shaheen Akhtar and Moushumi Bhowmik
Foreword by Firdous Azim
demy octavo hb 440pp ISBN 81-85604-57-6 Rs 600 Oct 2008

Translated into English from the original Bengali anthology, Zenana Mehfil (Stree 1998), this collection of the early writings of Bengali Muslim women helps to make visible women writers of undivided Bengal, before the partition of Bengal, between East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh), and West Bengal, India, in 1947. Why was so little known about these writers? Do dominating interests ‘marginalize, sometimes even obliterate other histories’? Or, equally intriguing, is it the case that ‘who was more silent and invisible where and who was less so, depended on the location and orientation of the listener/viewer’? These are some of the questions that propelled the editors, Shaheen Akhtar and Moushumi Bhowmik, to undertake this task.
Divided into two parts, Part 1, Women’s Writings, offers the contributions of eleven women: Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain and her contemporaries like Khairunnesa Khatun, Mrs. M. Rahman, M. Fatema Khanam and Nurunnesa Khatun Vidyavinodini. About twenty years later, came Akhtar Mahal Syeda Khatun, Fazilatunnesa, Mahmuda Khatun Siddiqua, and Razia Khatun Chowdhurani. Two women who were associated with Begum Rokeya were Shamsunnahar Mahmud, a writer and later a policy maker in Bangladesh, and Sufia Kamal, the famous poet and activist.
Part 2, Conversations, presents discussions with Sufia Kamal, family members and relatives of the writers and eminent people who shared the political and literary concerns of those times. Firdous Azim has provided an insightful Foreword.

Firdous Azim is chairperson, Department of English and the Humanities, BRAC University, Dhaka. Shaheen Akhtar is a well-known Bangladeshi writer whose novel Talaash won the Prothom Alo award (2004); she edited Sati O Swatantara:Bangla Sahitye Nari, 3-vols (2007).
Moushumi Bhowmik is a writer, researcher and singer based in Kolkata.


'Bengali Muslim writers, all of whom happen to be women, writing in the early decades of the 20th century, negotiating with modernity and nationalism, speaking of radical feminist concerns often from behind the veil, making a call for freedom and equal opportunities having pulled themselves out of the mire of disadvantage, exhorting their sisters to wake up from long centuries of sleep, the writers included here do all this and more with guts and gumption. Writing in dobhashi Bengali, with its liberal sprinkling of Arabic and Persian, they reveal how linguistic, cultural and religious differences can mutate to produce hybrid writings that meet the needs of a cross-fertilized society. The editors of this anthology have showcased writers who listened to the many voices but interpreted them in their own unique way. The canonical writing of Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossein showed the way for many of these women.'

                                                     Rakshanda Jalil: The Hindu ,19 April 2009

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Venomous Touch Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics

Venomous Touch
Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics
Translated from the Tamil by R. Azhagarasan
Foreword by Susie Tharu
demy octavo hb  320pp ISBN 81-85604-76-23 Rs 650 2009
 Combative, however partisan, and yet often beguilingly playful, these essays, many translated from the Tamil for the first time, bring Ravikumar’s concerns to a wider audience. Ranging from the centrality of caste, the logic of communalism, ideas on culture, the politics of the media, education, censorship and literature, just to mention a few of his interests, these essays provide an unsettling impact on the consensuses of democratic India. As he himself talks of in the Preface, for him the personal is political, and questions of power in society, derived from his engagement with Marx, Bakunin, Derrida, Foucault and other philosophers and his wide readings in Tamil literature, permeate his writings.
Ravikumar charts the history of discrimination against dalits in terms of land ownership, labour and education, condemns the celebration of the golden jubilee of independence under Hindu authority in ‘independent India’. He declares that fundamentalism moves hand in hand with consumer culture. He provocatively critiques the film-maker Lenin’s much awarded docu-feature, Knock-Out. He writes on some of the most horrendous tales of the slaughter of dalits––the Melavalavu murder–-where power overturns the rule of law. Throbbing with righteous anger at centuries of oppression and denial against dalits, this collection of essays, as Susie Tharu says in her incisive Foreword, act as ‘both poison/venom and remedy’.

Ravikumar is an activist-theoretician of the dalit movement in Tamil Nadu and co-founder of Navayana Publishing. A legislator and general secretary of Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK), he is a member on the panel for Tamil as a classical language. 
R. Azhagarasan is lecturer in English, University of Madras. A distinguished feminist scholar and activist, formerly professor, School of Critical Humanities, EFLU, Hyderabad, Susie Tharu’s current research is on cultural history/theory.

“Venomous Touch…castigates all forms of bigotry and abuse of power, noting how outrage at international ‘big issues’ such as the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas deflects attention from narrow- minded protests against Hindi films in TN, Pakistani cricket in Mumbai, fashion shows on TV, and other local intolerances.
What it does is to hold ‘us’ and the State to the principles on which it was founded. It does this in the name of human rights supported internationally, but from a very particular standpoint in local history and political struggle. It is an impressive record of passion and commitment and deserves to be read wisely.”
Paul Sharrad: Biblio:A Review of Books, May-June 2009

“Mostly in the genre of the short essay, these Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics spanning the period 1992-2007 are interventions in ongoing debates that bring historical and conceptual insights to illuminate the immediacy of the moment. They bear witness to the turbulence and fertility of new forms of political thought whose emergence is hopefully not yet a finished episode in the unfolding of Indian history. I, first went through them in a serial fashion as immensely readable, sensitive, touching, angry, bitter and more often than not brilliant, accounts of struggle against caste oppression, economic injustice and cultural hegemony.
The extensions of this dense interweave of theorising and practice implicit in Ravikumar’s writing and the exploration of this model’s strengths and weaknesses, its imaginary horizon and its hopes await sustained reflection in another installment of his oeuvre.”
R Srivatsan: Economic & Political Weekly, 30 January 2010

Published by: Samya
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Unstable Populations, Anxious States: Mixed and Massive Flows in South Asia

Unstable Populations, Anxious States: Mixed and Massive Flows in South Asia
Edited by Paula Banerjee
demy octavo pb 368pp‘ISBN 978-93-81345-06-1  Rs  575

In South Asia, political liberation resulted in the partition of states, leading to huge flows of refugees who faced horrific, indescribable violence. In addition there are the internally displaced people (IDPs), religious and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, dalits and the urban poor who get displaced many times over.
           Persecution and discrimination occur together. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) responded with a Ten-Point Plan of Action for Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration. This was the focus of a two-day dialogue on ‘Protection Strategies in South Asia’ organized by Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (MCRG), resulting in this comprehensive collection, compiled by social scientists, media analysts and activists. It offers an analysis of the principles of protection, their inadequate implementation; the disparity between economic growth and human development indices that leads to massive human flows: refugees, IDPs or economic migrants.

Paula Banerjee is professor, department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Calcutta and president, Mahanirvan Calcutta Research Group. Contributors Paula Banerjee ▪Subir Bhaumik▪ Nasreen Chowdhory▪ Uttam Kumar Das Shiva K. Dhungana ▪Bhavani Fonseka▪Partha S Ghosh▪ Mario Gomez  Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal▪Pamela Philipose ▪K.M. Parivelam▪ Hina Shahid▪Jeevan Thiagarajah.

Published by: Samya

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sketches by Hootum the Owl: A Satirist’s View of Colonial Calcutta

A translation of the original text, Hootum Pyanchar Naksha by Kaliprasanna Sinha, translated and edited by Chitralekha Basu, with an insightful foreword by Amit Chaudhuri, and illustrations by Sumitro Basak, ostensibly documents Calcutta of the 1860s’.

While offering a witty critique of its social mores, it is also the story of a city in the making and the inevitable conflicts between the traditional and the modern, the bigoted and the liberal. Although the tone is that of self-deprecation and general contempt for all that seems to be falling apart in the city, Sketches by Hootum is the writer’s tribute to its unending spill of life that exasperates even as it overwhelms. 

Kaliprasanna Sinha was playwright, publisher, and philanthropist. Hootum Pyanchar Naksha was written when he was twenty-one. Before his early death, aged thirty, he had been active in the Indigo Revolt, supporting the social reforms of his time. He published an eighteen-volume Bengali translation of the Mahabharata from original Sanskrit.

Chitralekha Basu is a literary critic and writer who has recently completed a three-year assignment with China Daily, in Beijing. Her writings appear in Memory’s Gold: Writings on Calcutta (Penguin/Viking) and First Proof: Penguin Book of New Writing from India.

Amit Chaudhuri is an acclaimed novelist, a literary critic and an exponent of Hindustani classical as well as experimental music. His most recent book On Tagore: Reading the Poet Today (Penguin-Viking, 2011) has won the Rabindra Puraskar.

Sumitro Basak is a well-known painter who has exhibited in India and abroad.

8.5 x 5.5” hb,  288pp ISBN 81-85604-86-2
Price Rs 800
Samya 16 Southern Ave, Calcutta 700026 email
tel: +91 33 2466 0812


‘Kaliprasanna Sinha…brought out at enormous cost to himself the Bengali translation of the Mahabharata for which he is still remembered. Hutom Pyanchar Naksha, which Chitralekha Basu has translated, was a collection of short, satirical pieces that Sinha also wrote. Everything we need to know about the man, his milieu and the context of his work is in Amit Chaudhuri’s brilliant foreword to this book, in the three chapters—Kaliprasanna Sinha the Trailblazer, The Translator in Wonderland and Introduction—with which Chitralekha Basu eases readers into her translation, and in the detailed footnotes with which she ends each sketch.
…almost every sketch is on the celebration of a festival, which reminds us how few the opportunities for entertainment were in 19th century India, even for the rich. Their lives seem to have revolved around these religious festivals, with enormous time and money spent on the preparation of shows and tableaus, which would attract the common man as well, who usually appears in the sketches as part of a crowd thronging the rich man’s compound to gape.
The problem for a translator is that a translation that captured the idiom and tone of the original, the newness that made it valuable, would also have to be in English that was as new, a voice of an emerging sub-culture. That would have confused the most readers, so Basu has chosen the sensible option, using the English of a bilingual Indian of the 21st century, but that removes the rationale for translating these sketches. We should take this simply as a labour of love.’

Satyabrata Pal: The Book Review/ February-March 2013

'In her introduction, Basu further adds the names of the freethinking contemporary Bengali author Nabarun Bhattacharya and the acerbic newspaper columnist and Chandrabindoo band member Chandril Bhattacharya to the list of those who have reintroduced Hootum—or its literary constructs—in the reader’s domain.It is almost like Hootum, the smart-assed voyeur of an owl in Hootum Pyanchar Naksha who depicted Calcutta life from the 1850s by casting a caustic eye and creating ribald eyewitness sketches, is slowly finding its perch back in the Kolkata of the 21st century.'
                                                               Shamik Bag: Livemint, 26 October 2012

'Undertaking the translation of any work that has attained iconic status is always a daunting task, and Basu deserves kudos for this courageous and largely successful attempt. Swarup Roy attempted the first-ever translation in English of this book in 2007. The complexity of the text however calls for more than one rendition, and Basu’s, with illustrations by Sumitro Basak, is a welcome addition.'
Sucheta Bhattacharya: TimeOut, 9 November 2012

Hootum Pyanchar Naksha is a 'difficult — if not an impossible — text to translate into English. Chitralekha Basu is to be commended for taking on this daunting task.No translation of the text can be thoroughly satisfactory, especially to those who love the original but, nonetheless, it is important to make a translation. It is too important a work and what it presents is too important a source of information for 19th-century Bengal to be left for the edification and enjoyment of only readers of Bengali.'

Rudrangshu Mukherjee The Telegraph 14 December 2012

Untouchable God 
Kancha Ilaiah
This witty, tongue-in-cheek novel that laughs at the foibles and hypocrisies of Brahmins and upper castes across India begins with a crime. Paraiah, a dalit, is beaten to death for the crime of thinking about God, which might well lead to thoughts of equality . . . Six men representing the remarkable Brahmins of India celebrate his death, Veda Shastry of Tamil Nadu (where the purest examples of exalted brahminhood are to be found) is the rightful leader. Namboodri of Kerala is a from a caste that created the most perfect system of discrimination that the world has seen; Krishnamurthy of Karnataka and Appa Rao of Andhra Pradesh are slightly moderate; Tilak of Maharashtra dreams of increasing discrimination while Banerjee of Bengal believes he is above caste.As the men take their leave of Shastry, the author’s gaze follows them ironically. Lastly, comes Isaiah, an American black, who knows all about race, and journeys to India to find out about the non-violence movement that had inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., and discovers much else besides.

demy octavo pb 248pp ISBN 978-81-85604-33-6  Rs 350
Published by Samya

Kancha Ilaiah is Professor and Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Amongst his writings is Why I Am not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy (Samya rev ed, 2005).
Enquiries: 16 Southern Ave, Calcutta 700026  tel:033 2466 0812/ 033 6519 5737
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The Jaipur Literature Festival presented "Voices from Under" on 28 January 2013. Namita Gokhale described Untouchable God as "a witty and ironical novel about the hypocrisy about caste Brahmins and upper castes".

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“Two very powerful motifs run through the different sets of narratives here. One is that the oppressed section of humanity has been given a voice. Prof. Ilaiah identifies the categories of persons who are the social constructs resulting from community practices, and closely examines those who touch “others” in intra communal/caste and inter-communal/caste relationship. He uses event and dialogue as representational platforms. What makes this fictionalised theory very effective is its sardonic tone and use of irony that is thoroughly sophisticated.
Prof. Ilaiah’s novel shall remain in my heart for long for its harsh truthfulness and also for the humane possibility it holds out. Problems are to be recognised; a single novel cannot provide solutions. This novel is true to both the above truisms. But it helps the reader to walk away, not with hatred, but hope in her/his heart.”
Amina Kishore: The Asian Age, 30 January 2013