BLF2020 | Tracking the New Girl – Andaleeb Wajid and Milan Vohra with Krishna Manavalli

The Day-2 evening session had a discussion on girls as primary characters in books and what it takes from writers to create such stories. The panel had Andaleeb Wajid and Milan Vohra in conversation with Krishna Manavalli. The session reflected the journey of women’s evolution in all the fields. Women aren’t just confined to stay between four walls; they are capable and succeed in every work they take up. Though we are in the 21st century, the discrimination between a man and a woman continues. The session included narratives around these ideas.

The session started with Krishna quoting Behind every successful man is a woman. The evolution of the female hero in Indian writing being the main talking point for this discussion, Krishna said that from the times of Draupadi to Kamala Das from the earlier generation, we had fierce and bold women. Also, she pointed out the differences between the lives of women then and now.

Andaleeb Wajid is the author of 26 published novels and she writes across different genres such as romance, young adult, and horror. Milan Vohra is best known as India’s first Mills & Boon author. Her first book ‘The Love Asana’ was an international bestseller. These two women have inspired many other women out there to break the norms and superstitious beliefs through their empowering writing.

The two authors were asked to talk about the evolution of women in their books and share their experiences on the writer’s life they have chosen. Milan Vohra said we evolve as much as the women we write about. She stepped into writing accidentally and one of her works made her win a competition, that was how she started writing characters that reflected the reality. Writing is a form of expression to me and what I wrote was felt by my characters and my feelings were conveyed to the world through books, said Andaleeb Wajid. The common point in both these authors’ writing was women evolving story by story.

Krishna asked the two authors on whom do they look up to as the model to build inspiring female characters in their books? According to Milan, she does not write with a model in mind, she writes the story that she believes in and which is relatable. Andaleeb builds empowering female protagonists by looking into society and the normal way of women’s lifestyle. The session was then followed by the narrations from the works of respective authors. After the narration, the authors gave a quick brief on the plot they read.

When asked about setting a male hero or a billionaire in a story to engage the plot, Milan said she always sets the protagonists equally as both men and women are an important part of society and one can’t do without another. On the other hand, Andaleeb said there is nothing to do with the hero and she preferably opts for a relatable protagonist. Also, the status doesn’t attract the plot, said Andaleeb. The authors also shared their opinions on other characters from other books.

About the Author: Bhuvanashree Manjunath is a freelance writer and a poet, currently pursuing Civil Engineering in Bengaluru. Being an avid reader and book lover, she enjoys working as a Book Reviewer. Apart from literature, her fields of interest include painting, photography, music and teaching. She finds solace in writing poems and blogs. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Permanent Address – Aruna Nambiar, Usha Ananda Krishna and Usha KR with Zac O’Yeah

The conversation began with Zac, who resides in Bangalore, narrating an incident in which he stopped a man trying to throw garbage into Sankey tank. He was rebuked on being a foreigner who cannot question a native of Bangalore. This led to the first question.

What defines a permanent resident of a place?

Usha Ananda Krishna mentioned that it is only something which we currently think is permanent, a ‘permanent address’ column in a visa form. Usha KR added that the idea of impermanence is built into how a government perceives its citizens, referring to the ‘present nationality’ and ‘original nationality’ columns in a visa form. Home is a place of comfort; however, it is a bubble we leave as we grow up and venture out. According to Aruna, home is a place of belonging, where you are accepted for what you are. She grew up in Bombay and has now moved to Bangalore. She relates to Bangalore as her home now; she cheered for her ‘home’ team RCB in a match against Mumbai Indians and can relate to native jokes.  She referred to Robert Frost’s quote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.

Zac compared Bangalore with Shanghai and Athens and mentioned that this is a city where a lot of people from other states and even foreigners stay, it is also multi-lingual and very homely where your landlady gives you ‘idlis’ when you are unwell.

Discovering your Home

Zac spoke of how Gandhi discovered how Indian he was when he lived abroad; Usha Ananda Krishna and Usha KR agreed with him. Aruna had a slightly different perspective and mentioned that, for teens, the first home outside the parental home represents freedom and a first sense of individuality.

Usha KR felt that an essential part of growing up is to experience other cultures – language, music, food, art, literature. Aruna’s book, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth, draws inspiration from her summer vacations at her ancestral home. Cousins from various cities used to converge at their grandparents’ big home and transition from bland, urban kids to discover a different version of themselves.

Usha Ananda Krishna remarked, “I thought your house was a place to park your soul”.

Usha KR spoke about one of her characters, a boy brought up in a cocoon who falls in love with an unsuitable girl. His family comes down hard on him for this; he realizes that home is comfort only if he plays by the rules. Zac narrated about how Lord Buddha was constantly travelling once he stepped out of home, headed back to his parental home when he became 80, only to die of food poisoning on the way.

“Bangalore is a setting, organic to my novels”, remarked Usha KR. She referred to how changes in the city influences the character, as in her novel, Monkey Man. It said it brings out the transition of Bangalore from a pensioner’s paradise to India’s Silicon Valley; some people feel they are losing out in the race, while others like the transition.

Are you a rooted writer?

Zac posed this question to each of the panelists. Usha Ananda Krishna is not; for her, home is wherever you think you are stimulated and hence can change.

Aruna, on the other hand, said she is rooted. Home for her is a mixed bag of laughter, conflicts, and sorrow. She referred to her book, Monsters Still Lurk – wherein home becomes a place of sorrow for the professor when his wife falls sick and he stays in office.

Usha Ananda Krishna’s response was – “…you can have a home yet be homeless, if you don’t identify with the values”. She went to remark that not all of us want a home, we are wanderlusts.

Usha KR took this perspective further to say that the concept of home changes as you grow. Aruna elaborated – “first it is your parental home, then the home you share with your partner, later your parents come and live with you and finally you go live with your children.”

Fictional Homes!

Zac spoke about how his quest ended once he read R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days. Through fiction, he realized that he belonged in Bangalore. Aruna reminisced about the fictional home in Enid Blyton’s books, how she yearned to know what ginger ale was.

Jane Austen, with social concerns and humor in her books is the inspiration for Aruna KR. She also spoke of a book that has inspired her, Penguin’s Song by Hassan Daoud. The book is set during a war in Lebanon yet does not get into a description of the war. It is about a deformed man who watches the city changing. Something that is understated draws her attention, she said.

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog, talks about her experiences in her YouTube channel Usha’s LENS and puts up photos on Instagram. She is also a software professional and a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Tagore’s Nastanirh Is a Tale of Unsaid Emotions in the Crossfires of Tradition and Modernity

Nastanirh translates into The Broken Nest. One that is not broken only because of the romantic, intellectual, and sexual gulf that exists between its prime occupants. It is broken because each occupant is fighting a storm of loneliness, unrequited love, and misconstrued creativity. Swirling in this quiet storm, wandering the corridors of her mansion, childless and deep within, a child herself is Tagore’s bright yet confined Charu.

Nastanirh is the story of people, their clay-like identities, and their unsaid emotions caught in the crossfires of tradition and modernity. Positioned at the dynamic nib of the Bengal Renaissance, the novella is a keen eye into the Bengali household’s inner workings, its men and women, its ‘liberal’ ideologies and their impact on relationships. The story follows the tumultuous lives of Bhupati, Charu and Amal. The tumult is not blatantly visible. Thoughts are unexpressed and words are half-formed. Within the pauses, there is suffering.

Charu is a young wife in a time that was seemingly looking up for women in educated families. Nabeena, or the New Woman of the late 1800s, was outspoken, cultured and freely dabbling in literature and intellectual discourse. However, the real picture is not as rosy. Charu, a prototype of this nabeena, exercises her agency only within her sprawling home’s architectural confines and the boundaries defined by her role as Bhupati’s wife and Amal’s sister-in-law. Oscillating between a husband who for all his progressionist views cannot fulfil his wife’s emotional needs and a pampered, vain brother-in-law whose affections she was desperate for, Charu functioned in a bewildering time for women.

19th-century Bengal, for the lack of a better expression, was awkward. Two very different forces were struggling to become one. On the one hand was Christian imperialism, on the other was the Hindu traditionality. Together, they constituted the archetypal Bhadralok who lived a life oscillating between Anglophilia and Bengali customs. In this novella, the bhadralok is Bhupati. Bhupati is described as a person of such wealth that he does not need to work or earn. However, his love for oration and journalism leads him to establish an English newspaper. Like an obstinate lover that entraps a spouse, the newspaper becomes a shield that Charu cannot penetrate. Once a child bride, his wife has silently blossomed into a woman, without his involvement or companionship. Bhupati is not a cruel man. He cares for Charu. He wants her to be happy. He even encourages her to write. However, he is guilty of assuming the truth instead of knowing it. When he does, at the very end of the novella, it is too late. They fall prey to a marriage that aged prematurely, stunting both Charu and Bhupati’s ability to comfort each other and find solace in each other’s company.

Amal, his mischievous personality and the need to care for his every whim kept Charu moving. Charu’s days were structured around pampering her brother-in-law. From preparing his breakfast to asking him for books and discussing plans about remodelling the garden, Amal was Charu’s most prized possession. Adding fuel to their friendship is their love for literature. So profoundly does Charu feel for Amal that when he publishes one of his poems, she sees it as a betrayal of confidence. Steadily, external influences creep into their once tender relationship. When a critic praises Charu’s writing, it fosters a deep sense of unease and competition. The final blow is Amal’s abrupt departure. His absence makes Charu hysterical, making her distressingly conscious of her newfound feelings as a woman and causing her marriage to burst open and expose its dry core.

Between Bhupati and Amal, Charu was seen as a naive woman who needed moulding. The former was a loving patron, treating her like a child. Amal was vain, almost hostile when Charu’s writing is valued. For him, she was a student and a blind admirer. Muddled in his pride, Amal believed that Charu must condemn the critic who praised her and disregarded him. He disapproved of her overstepping her boundaries as his loving bou-than (sister-in-law) and developing a writing style of her own. Charu’s writing style is symbolic of her personality. The second it fluttered and attempted to grow, her surroundings made her guilty of her desire to fly.

I could never fathom where Charu belonged or in which direction her thoughts were headed towards. The two men in her life were torn apart by progress and conservatism, and their internal confusion had a direct bearing on the trajectory of Charu’s life.

For a novel published in 1901, and like all of Tagore’s writing, Nastanirh was wonderfully ahead of its times. The book is audacious, elegant, and deeply saddening. The narrative is straightforward, lucid, and brimming with emotion. They overflow into the reader, making one acutely aware of each feeling. Tagore’s ability to weave complex emotions and situations together is beyond description. To call his writing a ‘revelation’, ‘magical’, ‘powerful’, or ‘transportive’ would be churning out cliches. Tagore’s power is unbelievable. When he writes about Charu weeping in her balcony, you feel your chest tightening and your lungs gasping for breath, mirroring his heroine’s suffocation. 

A significant portion of the credit must be attributed to translator par excellence, Arunava Sinha. For a Bengali who cannot read the language well enough to complete a novella, it is a saving grace to stumble upon a translated copy that is competent enough to convey the story in its entirety, from establishing the typical ambience of a wealthy Bengali’s mansion to deftly conveying the emotional mayhem. I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of Sinha’s translations including Chowringhee and The Boat Wreck. He is without a shadow of a doubt, the best there is.

Nastanirh has a particularly thought-provoking end. It is a story where you know that each character is severely damaged and emotionally limited. When Charu refuses to leave with Bhupati, there is an air of finality about her decision. However, one is left wondering. Will Charu ever cope? How will life move on? Estranged from her husband, her Amal and her writing, where does Charu spread her wings? Her journey reminds the reader that the Bengal Renaissance might as well have been a masculine fantasy. Men with great ideals of moving forward didn’t enjoy when women thought of doing so. It was not unkindness as much as it was obliviousness. They didn’t know better. Women can be writers, only if she is a wife and sister-in-law first.

BLF2020 | Saturday Philosophy Club- Alexander McCall Smith with Zac O’Yeah

This session was as heartwarming and delightful as Alexander McCall Smith’s books and the characters in them! Alexander joined remotely from Edinburgh and had a radiant smile and warm demeanor throughout the conversation. Zack O’Yeah made it further interesting with his insightful questions. The session commenced by Alexander showing around his study, a cozy setup filled with books! He said that he writes not just in his study but finds it inspiring and stimulating to write in different circumstances. 

Zack asked him if he ever gets bored with the characters in his books year on year?

Alexander quoted the example of the two principal characters in his series No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. He said that he feels that he knows them and looks forward to sitting down with these characters and catching up on what they have been up to.

He also added that since he has 6 or 7 series of different books, it gives a relief from monotony. Zack then asked about his new book How to raise an elephant? from the same series.

Alexander explained that Indian elephants are easily tamable while African ones are not. He spoke about the inspiration of the book which came from an interesting and moving story of how African elephants become attached to their keepers. In this book, Mma Ramotswe becomes involved with someone who raises an elephant. The key insight that the book brings is the fundamentals of love and affection needed while raising any creature.

Zack, himself being a Swedish, was curious to know about Alexander’s stint with Nordic crime series. Alexander said that it is interesting to speculate the complex answer to why the interest in crime series in these setups. He explained his view that Sweden is internationally represented as an ideal society. People were attracted to this idea, that in the middle of this well-behaved culture, there could be dangerous things going on.

He created a character Ulf, a Swedish detective. Alexander’s take on this series is that people enjoy reading uncomplicated unthreatening stories. He believes that crime are examples of slight misbehaviors which is also the case in real life.

When asked about being influenced by RK Narayan, an Indian author, Alexander openly confessed being a huge fan of ‘Malgudi Days’ series and profound influence on his works. He went ahead saying that if there was ever a Nobel prize in this space, RK Narayan must get it. He reminisced about his days of meeting RK Narayan’s family. He also spoke about how he loved RK Narayan’s vision, style, the ordinariness of small-town life and the wonderful humanity that the books touch.

Alexander warmly spoke about how the art of conversation is still alive and cultivated in India. On a lighter note Zack then named him ‘The RK Narayan of Scotland’, which resulted in a good laugh amongst the audience. When asked if he ever thought of writing a novel set in India, Alexander humbly explained that while he did not think he knows India enough to write with credibility. He did mention that in his recent short stories “Tiny Tales”, one story is set in Mumbai.

Zack then asked about his favorite character, to which Alexander said the question seems like asking a parent for his favorite child. He mentioned the character Bertie from his series 44 Scotland Street.

When asked if Bertie was a younger version of Alexander, he said that he does see some instances of his young boy life when he felt similar situations. Zack then moved the question to his philosophical writing The Sunday Philosophy Club and asked why should someone be interested in that?

Alexander explained that he feels that everyone is interested in the fundamental questions of life. And how, even if people did not read philosophy formally, they are doing philosophy in day-to-day life and are confronted with moral issues. He wanted to reflect on all of this in his fiction. He mentioned that he has written 14 books in this series. He spoke about the protagonist Isabel Dalhousie, a moral philosopher.

Seeing Alexander in all his humility, the next question was on what keeps him grounded. Alexander responded that one has to remember that fate might have made success possible, but as a writer you have to remember, there are many others equally or more capable who did not make it to success.

Alexander concluded with an insightful message to those seeking inspiration, that they must persist and write from the heart and should try to make their writing universal. The session was then opened to Q&A and he was equally warm with the audiences.

It indeed felt like attending a Saturday light-hearted philosophy club discussion!

About the Author: Neha Agrawal carries a spirit of positivism and a smile that emanates from the heart and wants to reach out to the world. She dreams to make this world an inclusive one. She works as a strategic leader heading multiple areas like inclusion & diversity, corporate social responsibility and organization culture. She is a public speaker and an influencer. She loves travelling, especially to the mountains. She writes poetry under the handle #fursatkealfaaz on Instagram, enjoys reading and having conversations. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | One Arranged Murder – Chetan Bhagat with Shrabonti Bagchi

This conversation on Chetan’s recent murder mystery started on a light banter between Chetan (who joined virtually from Delhi) and Shrabonti, who, Chetan remarked, has done too many interviews of him; he feels she is his therapist!


From Love Stories to Murder Mysteries

Shrabonti quizzed Chetan on the setting of his book and his transition to writing mysteries. Chetan started by saying that he wrote love stories for 12 years and is now moving into murder. His previous novel, ‘The Girl in Room 105’ was an initial part of the transition. This latest book, ‘One Arranged Murder’, is set in a Punjabi family about a murder that happens on the night of the ‘Karva Chauth’ festival.

How challenging is it to write a murder mystery?

Shrabonti added that alibis must be created, the murderer’s identity should not be given away till the end. Chetan responded that it is a different ballgame to write a good mystery, there is a lot of craft in it. He studies authors such as Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock to get various techniques for use in his stories. To that, he adds in Indian flavors, since readers want to relate to the Indian middle-class context.

Chetan referred to a ‘nerd-like precision’ he aims to bring into his stories; his background in engineering and banking is helping here. Chetan revealed an interesting trivia – that he uses spreadsheets to write! This helps him bring in precise endings.

Shrabonti digged into why Chetan chose this festival as the setting for the murder. Chetan referred to a newspaper article he read about a lady at Gurgaon who was pushed to death from her roof on ‘Karva Chauth’. He also said that a beginning which makes us ask, “How did it even happen?”, “Why did it happen?” forms an amazing start to the story. It sets the stage for an intriguing murder plot.

The ex-banker revealed that he brings in a number into each book title – e.g. ‘2 States’, ‘Revolution 2020’. He considered having ‘Chauth’ (the 4th day of the moon) in this title, however dropped the idea since this festival is not celebrated in all parts of India.

Shrabonti spoke about how protective Indian families are; which makes a family member an unlikely murderer. Chetan replied that it is a façade. He referred to how people put up only happy and good pictures on Instagram; the not-good moments are hidden away.

Chetan added that he aims to give his readers insights into the Indian family system, not just a murder puzzle. Shrabonti commented on how people related his murder plot to Sushant’s case since the book was released around the same time as Sushant’s death.

Chetan clarified that he wrote the book last year; its launch got delayed due to Corona and it so happened that the book’s publicity period was in August when Sushant’s case was in the news. The case was so gripping that he was quizzed on it during every interview and every channel projected only those responses.

He opined that, given the right mystery, India can get gripped; hence he believes he made the right switch from romance to murder.

Shrabonti pondered on whether the obsession with unexplained death is manufactured by media.

Chetan referred to it as ‘drama’ and went to say that drama is what engages people. He expressed his concern that news channels often cross the line while looking for drama to compete for viewers’ attention; “this is dangerous for the country”, he added. He also questioned why viewers should look for drama in the news and said, “this is a reflection of who we are as people”.

His take on ‘Love Jihad’

Chetan said that the term, ‘Love Jihad’, is a terrible term, since currently, ‘Jihad’ is a term that one closely associates with terrorism. He questioned why it was finding resonance among people.

He went on to talk about conversions. He said that conversion should not be done under duress and said, “I don’t know if conversion is a great recipe for harmony”. Chetan stressed on the need to have a proper discussion on conversion between various religions instead of ultra-right or ultra-left debates.

Q&A

The first question from the audience was on his path to transition from romance to murder. Chetan responded that it was a big challenge; a murder plot needs a lot more structure to make the suspense satisfying. The second question dwelt on politics – “Should we discuss politics at home?”. Chetan quipped that WhatsApp groups are the worst place to discuss politics. He explained that most people get emotional and hurt in such conversations, hence it is not wise to discuss political topics on such a forum. He observed that the politicians of opposing parties do not fight; in fact, they wish each other on their birthdays!

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog, talks about her experiences in her YouTube channel Usha’s LENS and puts up photos on Instagram. She is also a software professional and a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Avasthe – Chandan Gowda, Deepa Ganesh and N Manu Chakravarthy with Indira Chandrasekhar

UR Ananthamurthy (URA) was a contemporary writer and critic in Kannada language. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of a new modernist school of writing called Navya. Ananthamurthy’s works have been translated into several Indian and European languages. His popular works include Prashne, Akasha Mattu Bekku, Samskara & Bharathipura. His work deals with the psychological aspects of people from different times and circumstances. 

The session opened up with the discussion on URA’s popular book ‘Avasthe’ which relies heavily on his skills as a thinker and writer. Ananthamurthy explored the possibilities of socialism in post-independent India through the life of Krishnappa Gowda. Popular translator Chandan Gowda claims Avasthe as a critically important book.

Chandan is not only a translator, as an actor he acted in a TV serial Bharathipura representing the character Jagannatha which was written by URA in 1973. A Life in the World, a book of autobiographical interviews with Ananthamurthy was published a year ago. Chandan says Avasthe clearly indicates the political ideology of URA. Casteism is considered as the underlying aspect of this novel. It mainly speaks about the struggles with corruption of human values representing a character Krishnappa Gowda, who goes on to become a revolutionary leader among workers with his conscience. In Ananthamurthy’s work, life’s cruel contradictions, caste, poverty are intricately balanced. 

“Ananthamurthy’s ‘Avasthe’ is not merely a political novel,” says Deepa Ganesh who worked in the translation of Avasthe from Kannada to English. Her book A Life in Three Octaves has been published by Three Essays. Her translation of UR Ananthamurthy’s short stories won the Sahitya Akademi award. She shared her thoughts on the richness of the book and social thinking of URA. Characters in Avasthe resemble many politicians in real life. It reflects the state of politics and the state of mind of the particular community. Ananthamurthy maps 30 years of post independent Indian in three novels.

Another panel member in the discussion Manu Chakravarthy who knew the pulse of Ananthamurthy’s writings revealed the integrity in his books Samskara, Bara, Bharathipura Avasthe etc. URA’s way of writing involves discussion with his students to craft the book. Among them, Avasthe is mainly focused on rural culture and builds a character that has integral sense even after 40 years of its release and continues to create impact on the society.

About the Author: Bharath Srivatsav is a student of Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore. He dreams of building a career in cinema and literature. Some of his hobbies are reading books, travelling places, and blogging about films. He currently writes for TheSeer.

Watch | TheSeer Interviews – Priyanka Pradhan | Author – Tales from the Himalayas

TheSeer team spoke with the author of ‘Tales from the Himalayas’, Priyanka Pradhan, who opened up on her journey as a writer, themes from her stories, the process of getting your first book published and much more. Watch.

Priyanka Pradhan in conversation with Jeevanayagi

Like what you just watched? Become TheSeer Insider. You will be receiving one letter from us every Friday to help you spend a more mindful day and make the best of your weekend. Enter your email id below and click on subscribe. We won’t spam you, ever!

The Color Purple: Understanding Alice Walker’s Womanism

Many African American women have preferred the term womanism to black feminism. The term is taken from the Southern black folk expression of mothers to female children “you acting womanish”. Womanish girls acted in outrageous, courageous, and wilful ways as opposed to frivolous, irresponsible, and ‘girlish’. Womanism is rooted in the black woman’s historical experience of racial and gender oppression and consciously set itself apart from the white feminist movement. The Color Purple read in this context is a powerful, womanist narrative of the personal development of Celie, an African American woman living in early twentieth century rural Georgia.

The 1982 novel is written as a collection of letters she wrote to God and later, to her sister Nettie through her teenage and adult years. This epistolary form has been used repeatedly in women’s writings owing to its subjective nature. These letters are Celie’s expression of the violence and abuse she is regularly subjected to, first by her father, then by her husband. Written through the sensibilities of a teenage girl, it is an honest and brutal rendition. It is a novel that has been praised for breaking the silence around domestic and sexual abuse by narrating the lives of women in all honesty. Simultaneously, it has been subjected to numerous protests from some African American church groups and male writers who disapproved of showing love between women and violence against women within their community. Such is the politics of the African American woman, their voices are attacked both by the white supremacists and men within their community.

The narrative goes beyond a documentation of discrimination, as Celie tells us her story she also grows and changes. Celie’s transformation happens with the support of other black women giving importance to the black women’s sense of community, an important idea within womanist theory. Her interactions with Sofia, her stepson Harpo’s wife, shape her. Sofia is absolutely different from Celie, she would never let Harpo beat her but fight back. Through her interaction with Shug Avery, Celie begins to explore her sexuality, Shug also protects her from her husband. They are both ‘womanish’ role models for Celies. They are also women Celie nurses and aids, forging relationships of mutual support. We see colored women supporting each-other throughout the novel, even women who are otherwise shown to be at odds with each other. The Color Purple is about Celie exploring her sexuality and gaining autonomy, not her seeking a conventional marriage. This makes The Color Purple markedly different from the earlier 18th century woman centred novels which ended with the protagonist’s marriage and wealth acquisition or death.

It is a beautifully imagined journey of emancipation. Celie is soon disillusioned by the white Christian God. That is when she decides to stop writing letters to God and write to Nettie instead. Shug says, “When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest.”(175)

Celie and Shug together explore an answer from within their own culture. The lives of the natives still living in Africa are also explored through Nettie’s experiences and her own attempt to negotiate between the Christian and Olinka traditions. The novel itself is written in the Black English vernacular questioning the hegemony of the language spoken largely by whites.

Celie’s quest for self development is hindered by both sexism and racism. Later, she also discovers that she is marginalised from dominant society by her sexual preference. According to the premise of intersectionality, race, and gender oppression does not merely ‘add up’. The Combahee River Collective Statement of 1977 helps us locate The Color Purple within the Black feminist (and womanist) struggle. It declares that Black women’s ‘liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s.’ The novel is about Celie’s individual experience but can be seen as establishing the universality of a female and racial quest for selfhood. To read Alice Walker’s work outside this political context would be a gross act of unseeing. It is a novel that documents pain and suffering and yet it is essentially an optimistic work. There is the possibility of overcoming barriers, emancipation and even reconciliation. However, a positive ending does not mean an end to the conflict that drives the novel. The power structures of race, class, and gender are still in place. Would we say then that it is a book giving us a false sense of hope? Maybe, but being a part of Celie’s journey of emancipation sensitizes the reader. The novel engages in a transformation of the reader as the protagonist transforms. This power to move its reader is the revolutionary potential of The Color Purple. That is what makes it, in Peter S. Prescott’s words “A novel of permanent importance.”

Reference: WHAT’S IN A NAME? Womanism, Black Feminism, and Beyond by Patricia Hill Collins

Like what you just read? Become TheSeer Insider. You will be receiving one letter from us every Friday to help you spend a more mindful day and make the best of your weekend. Enter your email id below and click on subscribe. We won’t spam you, ever!

BLF2020 | Body and Soul – Vasudhendra with Rheea Mukherjee

The title ‘Body and Soul’ sets us off on our own accord of a journey of questioning and wondering about the entire interpretation of life and afterward. The writers present on stage, Vasudhendra and Rheea, have also had their share of conquest regarding the same and is reflective in their works.

Vasudhendra is a well-known Kannada author with more than 50 publications and 60+ awards to his credit. The publications include short stories, a collection of essays, novels, and translations. And Rheea Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth and was shortlisted for the TATA Literature Live First Book Award 2019. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Scroll.in, Electric Literature, Out of Print Magazine, and Southern Humanities Review among others.

Rheea started the conversation by admitting that she was quite confused about putting into words the body and soul and how to pull off an entire discussion on it! However, Vasudhendra came to her aid and presented his idea about body and soul with an analogy. It goes like this; he said that the soul is like the stones of a Hoysala temple that make up the entire temple. And just like the whole temple collapses when a single stone moves, the body is non-existent without the soul, is what he exclaims, to which Rheea agrees.

Vasudhendra further added that people will connect with friends and society when they have conversations beyond just a body’s structure. He gives an instance from his life. Community and the family questioned his body language and conduct because he was more on the feminine side. He said that it was instilled in him to like girls and walk in a masculine way. After years he realized it was so wrong to force the body in a way it does not want to behave. He addresses his body as another identity and says that it does not like to be subdued by the people’s norms. And that, people who love will always look beyond the body, that is, the soul.

To which, Rheea added that as a girl, she was always taught to cover her chest while stepping outside and she subconsciously carries the thought even now. She pointed out that just like a woman’s chest is objectified, many other things regarding the body are.

The conversation next steered towards the subject of freedom to express sexual desires. Vasudhendra points out a courtesan in Tanjore by the name of ‘Muddupalani.’ Muddupalani wrote a poem called ‘Radhika Santvana’ (in Telugu) where a woman’s sexual desires are expressed. This work was later republished and was banned for being vulgar during the British reign. Vasudhendra expressed his concern about how was expressing one’s desire vulgar? It’s just the needs of a person which is beautiful in its own way.

A lot of Vasudhendra’s work revolves around the LGBT community, and while he was writing his work, he found it extremely difficult to find English equivalent words in regional languages. Rheea wonders why is it so? Vasudhendra says that transgender people have been addressed in history because the community was aware that they existed. But gay/lesbian related words do not exist because society did not know their existence until two years from now! He admits to having used a term equivalent to ‘queer,’ which is not a very respectable one.

Rheea added to the point, saying that families work in a role-based way. Like, the husband is the provider, and the wife is the caretaker. Such predefined notions have made society very rigid and have assigned duties even before they realize their identity. These things have led us as a community to not see beyond the horizon.

They concluded on a note that nobody needs to change to fit in. And we can be anything when we step out of a certain mindset and set ourselves free. Vasudhendra quoted this as his concluding line of the conversation, “If I can understand Shakespeare, you can understand me as well.”

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Last White Hunter – Joshua Mathew with Tony V Francis

This session was with Joshua Matthew, who penned down The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari, the biography of Donald Anderson, son of author and hunter Kenneth Anderson. Tony V Francis, a novelist and Media & Broadcasting professional with over 19 years of experience in the Indian Media industry, was very curious about knowing Joshua’s experiences throughout the journey of writing the book.

Joshua Matthew said the idea behind this book was to tell the extraordinary story of Donald and capture the changes in the jungles of South India and Bangalore during his lifetime. He wanted to shine a light on lesser-known aspects of Donald and the city’s past. He mentioned that all he had was Don’s story and his purpose was to tell it exactly the way it was, without any filters.

When Tony asked Joshua about his thought process when he started this project and how difficult it was for him to publish the book, Joshua talked about how he met Donald and accompanied him to his favourite jungles. He said he knew Don for 6 years, and during those years, Don gave him a fantastic collection of photographs and negatives starting from the late 1800s to the modern day. “I realized that nobody would be interested if I had just published the photographs. So I decided to tell his fascinating story and make the photographs a part of it.”, Joshua added. 

Speaking about the struggles of getting his book published, Joshua mentioned that the title and the story made it very challenging for him to find publishers. He said whenever he approached a publisher, it was always about the left and right way. The right side was about focusing on the right things like story and content. The left side was actually about building an audience for this book. So, he used to tell the publishers that if they would care about the publishing, he would take care of the selling. “The book took me 6 years because of Don’s health and other issues. So, I thought when the book was ready, I would already have an audience ready.” He added.

Later, the discussion revolved around Joshua sharing his experiences and conversations with Donald Anderson. He pointed out that his discussions with Don never really went in the way he wanted. He said he understood that a systematic or structured approach of asking questions and getting answers from Don wouldn’t work well. “It was difficult to get better insights from him before he got friendly with us. He wasn’t very open to talk and explain things. So we used to record his words secretly.” Joshua recalled.

Tony also shared some compelling lines from the forward of the book where T.N.A. Perumal, a wildlife photographer from Bangalore mentioned “Don and I are very similar. We are naturalists and the only difference was that I picked up a camera while he picked up a gun.” Joshua responded to this by quoting a few other words of Perumal where the latter once said whether it was hunting or photography, one had to understand and track the animals’ behaviour in the same way.

Towards the end, Tony emphasized the role of Aaya (Domestic help) who supported Don and mentioned that the stories she told were a big influence on his life. Joshua also talked about a few more interesting things about Don, and the colonial life in Bangalore during those times.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the Lights Within Us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Mythology via Women – Madhavi S Mahadevan, Rashmi Terdal and Samhita Arni with Mani Rao

Mythology is long-lived, and its retelling is spread across in various formats, from poems to fictional novels. It’s the second day of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020, and we had a panel of women writers who have written around mythical characters and stories.

Mani Rao, an author who featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, was the moderator. In the panel, we had Madhavi; she’s a book critic and writer of children’s stories and short stories. She has written two books based on the characters of the Mahabharata. Next, we had Samhita Arni, known for her books ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Prince.’  Then we had Rashmi Terdal, journalist and writer, well known for her translation of ‘Uttara Kaanda’ by S. L. Bhyrappa.

Mani began the conversation by asking the ladies what led them towards writing around mythology and mythical characters.

Madhavi responded that she had heard the stories since her childhood, but it’s only now she realizes how bleak they are. She feels these tales not only need a retelling but a reinvention from a women’s perspective because the role of the women is undermined in the epics. She gives an instance from one of her books, the central character named Madhavi is a surrogate mother. And this story dates back to the Mahabharata times. It was an incident of commercial surrogacy, which is a huge business now.

Samhita shared her view that she had always heard mythical stories that glorify only men’s achievements. If we want to challenge our system for a change, both men and women should join hands and not just either of us. Thus, it is essential to bring forth victories and stories of women from the legacy to influence the future and current generations.

Rashmi said that the versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that she had read were abbreviated and subdued from a women’s perspective. The female voice is kept submissive and mellow, whereas the men’s heroics are glorified. These things drew her towards writing on the mythical stories from the perspective of the women characters.

Mani asked the panel if their being women influenced their writing and if it would be different for a male writer?

Madhavi said that her being a woman has definitely helped her get to know her book’s character, ‘Madhavi’ more precisely. Samhita said that she was subconsciously driven since she is a woman even though she never wanted her gender to be influential. Rashmi adds to her previous point that Ramayan has always been obsessed with the duties bestowed upon women. She gives an instance where king Dasharatha reminds Kaushalya of her priorities (husband, children, and kinsmen). Then she jumps to another example where Sita leaves the Dharma-Sabha where her exile’s decision took place. Ram was disturbed after Sita left and expressed his concern to his minister, which is highlighted in the book ‘Uttara Kaanda’. She appreciates the writer for giving Sita the voice she deserved and that we need more such writing.

“A woman rejected by a man can cross oceans, but a man rejected by a woman cannot do anything.” – Ram’s words to his minister from the book ‘Uttara Kaanda.’

They concluded the session with a note that Sita was liberated when she left the Dharma-Sabha, and this is just one character from the mythology. There are great stories of women who rose above everything that needed to be told and written about.

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

5 Books Everyone Must Read to Understand Swami Vivekananda, His Work and Message | National Youth Day Special

Swami Vivekananda was born today i.e. 12th January in the year 1863. As he went on to become the extraordinary man the world knows now, he influenced several men and women, directly as well as indirectly in his lifetime and beyond. From Alasinga Perumal to Subhash Chandra Bose, we find for many great lives, the deep impression Swami Vivekananda left on them. His work and message inspired people from all walks of life, from Indian revolutionaries and key political figures in the struggle freedom struggle like Bagha Jatin, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobindo, Jawaharlal Nehru, Hemchandra Ghosh, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, C. Rajagopalachari to industrialists like Jamshetji Tata and John D. Rockefeller, philosophers and scholars like William James, John Henry Wright, S. Radhakrishnan.

Fortunately, for our generation and the generations to come, we have his literature that we can pore over ourselves to understand this phenomenon. His speeches, letters, poems, and writings are in print, in demand, and easily available for us to find out his message first hand. Apart from these, there are also hundreds of biographies, commentaries, and articles across magazines and internet. To help you create an easy To-Read list on Swami Vivekananda, we are presenting 5 books that you can read to go deeper into his philosophy and understand the man who was hailed as the ‘cyclonic monk’ by the western world and the ‘spiritual father of the modern nationalist movement ‘ by Subhash Chandra Bose.

Life of Swami Vivekananda – His Eastern & Western Disciples

Published by Advaita Ashrama, this book is one of the most authentic and exhaustive biographies of Swami Vivekananda with details that earlier biographies do not cover. The book is available in two volumes and is a required reading on the life of Swami Vivekananda. You can purchase both the volumes here.

The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel – Romain Rolland

This book is one of the very first biographies of Swami Vivekananda and was penned by the French Nobel Laureate Romain Rolland of the Jean-Christophe fame. A lucid account of Swamiji’s life told in beautiful prose makes this book a literary masterpiece and a joy to read. Buy here.

Swami Vivekananda: A Historical Review – R.C. Majumdar

This book by the great historian R.C. Majumdar takes a look at Swamiji’s life with a historical perspective. A great attempt to underline the siginifance of Swamiji’s life and message from the vantage point of history, this one deserves a place in your shelf if you want to understand how Swami Vivekananda influenced not only his time but also the future course of history. Buy here.

Josephine MacLeod and Vivekananda’s Mission – Linda Prugh

Although this book is a biography of Josephine MacLeod, also lovingly called Tantine by Swami Vivekananda, her life is invariably conjoined with Swami Vivekananda’s as she was one of his first friends in the west and helped his mission both in the US and India. This book is a treasure trove for people who are looking for accounts related to Swamiji’s life hitherto not well-known in popular culture. You can read a review here and order a copy of the book here.

The Master as I Saw Him – Sister Nivedita

Sister Nivedita, earlier known as Margaret Noble left her country and adopted India as her motherland on the clarion call of Swamiji. She went on to influence Indian politics, sciences, arts, and literature in a very short span of time and remains arguably the most well known disciples of Swami Vivekananda. This book contains Sister Nivedita’s writings on Swamiji and gives out siginificant insights into his life and message, as seen by Sister Nivedita. You can purchase the book here.

We hope you will like these books. If you have read more books on Swami Vivekananda or have more suggestions on book related to him, please write to us in the comments section.

Like what you just read? Become TheSeer Insider. You will be receiving one letter from us every Friday to help you spend a more mindful day and make the best of your weekend. Enter your email id below and click on subscribe. We won’t spam you, ever!