Thursday, July 30, 2015

In a 'New Asia'

I'm very pleased to be included in the latest issue of Griffith Review.

'Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now showcases outstanding young writers from the countries at the centre of Asia's ongoing transformation... co-edited by Julianne Schultz and Jane Camens, takes a journey through the region’s diversity, featuring a new generation of literary stars who will shape the way we understand the complexities of culture, politics and modernisation.' 

This issue is now available on sale in Australia. For readers and writers, I would urge you to subscribe either in print or online, or both, as I have, to this great literary magazine. There are fantastic pieces of writing each time, and I often find my head and heart opening up in new ways through something published in Griffith Review.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Some reviews and interviews of Unbound: 2,000 years of Indian Women's Writing

Here are some reviews of the anthology I have edited: 'Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women's Writing' (Aleph, 2015)

"Zaidi's project is sound without being pretentious, a welcome diving-board for the uninitiated who, hopefully, would want to test the waters further" - From a review in the Hindustan Times

More review links:

A review in Business Standard

A review in The Hindu Businessline

A review in DNA  

A review in The Indian Express

A review in the The Kathmandu Post

Snippets from interviews:

I wanted to keep it wide open, to be as inclusive as possible while also being selective from a literary viewpoint. I was not commissioning fresh work but choosing from what’s already out there. So I had to think not only about which particular writer to represent, but also which poem, what passage from which story should be included. I wanted readers to experience the whole spectrum of literature produced by women writers in India. - An interview with The Hindu

The only sections that can be said to be particularly associated with women are ‘Children’ and ‘Food’. Most of the other themes – spirituality, love, sex, marriage, work, politics, war, death – are as much the stereotypical domain of men and male writers as of women. In fact, some of these themes are often not associated with women at all (in a stereotypical sense)...  I wanted to showcase the complex – the human! – relationships women have to food. It is not just that women purchase or cook food. They help to grow it. They can be seduced through food as much as through flowers and candles. They think about the politics of it, as Nilanjana Roy does in her essay on meat-eating (we’ve included a short extract). One of my favourite extracts is from Nayantara Sahgal’s novel Mistaken Identity, wherein she describes a group of prisoners going on hunger strike. It is one of the most evocative passages I have ever read about food or eating.”
From an interview with Verve

Each book that I've picked extracts from (and many others read for research) taught me something new about a different part of the country, a new culture and the troubles of people (both men and women) at a particular moment in history. It has given me a new lens with which to look at India, especially women's history. It has also taught me the significance of writing not only as self-expression but also as a form of unsilencing, as a tool of engagement with our past and future. Irawati Karve's essays in Yuganta do all of the above. Reading the memoir of the ruler of Bhopal, Sultan Shahjahan Begum and Gulbadan Begum, author of Humayun-nama (not represented in the anthology) taught me how important it is for women to not just do all kinds of work but to be seen to be doing all kinds of work, including power play and governance.
From an interview with Scroll

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

On shutting doors, safety and the citizenry

I, coming from Mumbai, was marveling at something else. We could get into trains in a civil fashion! There were announcements asking passengers to stay away from the edge of the platform and to let passengers alight first. By and large, they did.

In Mumbai, although railways would make halfhearted announcements to this effect, everyone knew that it was a question settled by whether the crowd waiting to get off the train was a mightier force than the crowd waiting to board. For years, I had braced myself twice a day, trying not to get killed by a stampeding crowd that was not just impatient but often hostile.

In the Delhi Metro, there was no hostility. There was a tentativeness at first, but people were obviously at ease; they didn't hurl themselves into the compartment as if their lives depended on it. There were good reasons for this - they knew the train would not leave without them. They could afford to wait until the passengers disembarked. There was no need to elbow someone in the ribs or dig your nails into someone's forearm. The train would not move until the doors had closed completely, and the doors would not close as long as people were still trying to board.

Friday, July 03, 2015

There's more than just one kind of Indian

Is it a "good" custom? A bad one? I cannot say. What I can say is that my own view of Indian marriage changed forever at 17. My Sociology textbook informed me that there are eight types of marriage mentioned even in that problematic text, Manusmriti. Among them was "gandharva vivah" - what we call "love marriage".  
This was a revelation. Personal choice in matters of matrimony had always been presented - by most grown-ups, friends, Hindi films, television - as something alien. Love, premarital sex and divorce were talked of as "modern" or "Western" ideas. To hear a lot of right wing religious and political leaders, it would appear not much has changed in two decades. (Witness the moment in the documentary film Morality TV Aur Loving Jehad, when a man declares that in Indian culture, there is no space for conjugal love). 
It was through Sociology textbooks (particularly MN Srinivas' India: Social Structure) that I woke up to the fact that love marriage is very much part of our culture. That book taught me the basics of marital norms in different Indian communities.  
Some encourage marrying cousins or uncles. Some encourage marrying a brother's widow. Some tribes mandate a courtship period. Others have a provision for the bride or the groom to live with the other's family, to test the waters and experience the family environment before the marriage is solemnised. Some tribes pick out a mate after just one glance during a community fair or at a dance. 
Have your say. You can comment here.
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