Imagining (an)other – Men Writing Women

A conversation with writers Amitabha Bagchi, Chandrahas Choudhury, Deepak Unnikrishnan , Mahesh Rao anchored by Karthika Nair was initiated with the fundamental question – “How do men write women characters? Is gender the greatest distance you have to traverse while writing your characters?”


Chandrahas who is the author of ‘Clouds: A Novel’, said that he actually did not think that gender was a large gap to bridge. He felt comfortable writing about women characters but found the character of a tribal boy in his book hard to crack. He said that this was because he had not lived that life or had any first-hand experience of it, so even though it was a male character he found it hard to get into his mind and write about him.


Mahesh who is the author of the award-winning book ‘The Smoke is Rising’, said that for him, gender was the least distance to cover. He said that he writes from observed experience. He watched and learnt from the different women in his life and it came quite naturally to him. He further added that he never thought that it was odd for a man to write from a woman’s point of view. He believed that a writer needed to inherit his characters complexity, irrespective of gender.


Amitabha, author of ‘Half the Nights Gone’ then pitched in to say that men become men by answering questions raised by women. He said that essentially if a man can understand the place of origin of the questions and make an honest attempt to answer them he can quite easily assess a woman’s perspective, get into her mind and form female characters for his stories.


Deepak who is the author of ‘Temporary People’ shared a personal anecdote with us. He said that as a young boy growing up in Abu Dhabi, he went to school in the afternoon when the girls would leave and when he and his friends stood at the gates watching the girls walk out of the gates, they would cook up stories about them. He stressed about how they knew nothing about these girls but were able to perceive what kind of life they probably led. He further reflected how finding a voice for his characters was important to him and how he reached into his memory to find the voice of his grandmother and his great grandmother which he later used in his characters.


Wrapping up the session, Karthika then brought up a very important question to all the writers on the panel, asking whether post the “Me Too” movement they would think about how they wrote their female characters. Almost unanimously the panel said that yes they do think about these things and police themselves to make sure they are not creating stereotypes or writing poorly about women. They felt that this should have happened earlier itself and it probably did in pockets, but now that it has all come out in the open, it was important for all writers to think about how female characters lend themselves to the story.



About the Author: Pashmi Dutta is a reader, writer, political enthusiast. Trying to talk with ease about things that make us uneasy, she has her blog at PashmiBlog and currently writes for TheSeer.


Three potent female writers celebrated mythologies on the stage at the festival, talking about the narrativizing the retelling of a story. Karthika Nair and Samhita Padikkal both retold Mahabharata while Gayathri Prabhu chose the stories of Vikram and Vetal as her subject. The session was moderated by Jonathan Gil Harris. Their books challenge the belief that a story is worthwhile only if it is original. These three authors believed that retelling is an art as important as creating an original. Retelling helps in identifying identities and cultures for people over a period of time. 


As we all know, oral literature was initially the medium of spreading and preserving literature. Samhita tells us her real life story and how she feels relatable to the characters of Mahabharata. She herself went through a dilemma of unacceptance and that is when she resorted to Mahabharata. Gayathri on the other hand chose a framed narrative. She explains to the audience, how a writer or author after making the text available for the audience has to leave it open in a space where they modify it according to their own understanding and each time a person tells a story to someone else, it is their version of it. She believes that the listener is a part of this act as much as the teller. 


“Battle never looks the same, to various actors.” is the premise with which Karthika starts her book. She believes that in a book there are several voices which are in conversation with themselves and as we have several characters each of them would have a different perspective towards the narrated reality. 


The intellectuals sketched a map that each retelling affirms that there is an origin, but does not mean the story when retold has any less significance than the original as our personal identities refute and communicate with the original text. Human beings have a great power to recall an incident from memory and recreate it for others through the medium of language; this itself is a function of language and thereby retelling is no less of an art than creating an original text.




About the Author: Aditi Dua is a Masters student in English with Communication Studies who has a knack for aesthetics and poetry. Apart from being a literature enthusiast, she highly celebrates challenging ideologies and provide disputing ideas of death. Always available for a conversation over good coffee. She currently writes for TheSeer.