Women Writing Gender Marathi Fiction before Independence

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Item Code: NAG204
Author: Meera Kosambi
Publisher: Permanent Black
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788178243368
Pages: 386 (4 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 630 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Most modern literatures were initially dominated by men who claimed, at times, to speak for women. But when given an opportunity, women spoke differently.


This book tells the several stories of how Maharashtrian women found a voice in the late nineteenth century. It shows how they created a literary space for themselves, deploying fiction to depict worlds other than those available in male writing, as well as dreams and aspirations unseen in society before they were articulated by their fiction. Having been excluded from mainstream prose, women also created a parallel reform discourse which displayed various shades of feminism.


After an introductory overview of men and women writers of Marathi fiction before Independence, this book presents in translation the wok of six iconic women writers: Kashibai kanitkar, Indirabai Sahasrabuddhe, Vibhavari Shirurkar, Geeta Sane, Shakuntala Paranjpye, and Prema Kartak. Their novels and short stories unfold the journeys of articulate women towards a demand for gender equality which is women s gift to Marathi literature.


About the Author


MEERA KOSAMBI is a sociologist trained in India, Sweden, and the US. She has specialized in Urban Studies and Women s Studies. She was formerly Professor and Director of the Research Centre for Women s Studies at the SNDT Women s University in Mumbai. She has taught, lectured, and published widely in India and abroad. Her books include Returning the American Gaze: Pandita Ramabai s The Peoples of the United States (1889) (2003), Crossing Threshold: Feminist Essays in Social History (2007), and Feminist Vision or Treason against Men? Kashibai Kanitkar and the Engendering of Marathi Literature (2008).




This is the story of how women found a voice and of how they deployed it through their creative writing. It is about women who dreamt of overcoming socially sanctioned, institutionalized suppression and oppression, and of leading a normal human life within a radically reconstituted society in which they would no longer be the second sex. It chronicles stages in women s evolving subjectivity and self representation through selected landmark texts by iconic authors, spanning seven decades in the history of Marathi fiction.


That Marathi fiction has been the province of men hardly needs to be stated; other Indian languages and languages elsewhere in the world have surely travelled the same route. The overwhelming number of male writers has quite eclipsed the presence of women in the collective consciousness of readers, as is evident within standard critical overviews of the literature. It has been left to feminists to retrieve women s literary contribution over the years. The pioneers in this endeavour in India, Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, have presented in English translation women s writings from various Indian languages, in their path breaking effort to steer them past the (mostly male) gate-keepers of literary treasures.


The present volume undertakes the exercise in terms of women s fiction and, specifically, their handling of gender issues through fiction. No attempt is made to valorize women s writings per se: the criterion for selecting the woman-authored novels and short stories presented here is their authors sincerity of purpose and thought-provoking content. This is not a compilation of a comprehensive literary history, but an attempt to trace the evolution of women writers thinking on gender issues.


It need occasion no surprise that women s fiction focused on gender issues at a time when they were themselves confined within the home, and when crossing the threshold into the public sphere was an act both censurable and daring. What is surprising, even astonishing, is how far beyond the threshold the wings of imagination carried them from a dreary and oppressive present to a utopian vision of gender equality predicated upon education, employment, and legal rights. Even while striving for stylistic elegance, women writers consciously deployed fiction as a conduit for social change and wrote out of a strong inner urge for self-expression. Not for them the male debate of Art for Art s Sake or Art for Sake for them art was but an articulation of their lived experience in its manifold aspects. This experiential world was at first limited to the family and domestic realms, and gradually expanded to include the public sphere. The expansion happened as these women ventured successfully into the employment market and even the Indian freedom struggle: they learned not to be content with the reform initiatives gifted to them by liberal social leaders but instead demanded or appropriated rights for themselves.


Even so, gender relations formed the core of their writings. The luxury of dispensing with gender awareness belongs to those not subjected to the disabilities of gender, say feminist scholars; that luxury remains the privilege of power. For women writers, the surest way to triumph over these disabilities was to agitate for a gender-egalitarian society creatively sculpted through writings. Male novelists in common with male social reformer sat best sympathized with women s suffering strongly enough to attempt ameliorating their worst social handicaps. But they did so, consciously or unconsciously, within the existing structures of male dominance. Significantly, the concept of gender equality was women s gift to Marathi literature.


It is therefore surprising that women writers of fiction are generally so obscured. A noted women literary critic but by no means a feminist devotes only one chapter to them in a two volume history, describing their fiction as part of the male trend of marriage-related novels. A male literary critic voices open concern at the low performance of women writers, with only rare exceptions. Is all this the consequence of technical finesse being used as the chief criterion of good fiction? Or, given the tendency of male thinkers to make no distinction between the universal human and the male, is it that the much-lauded idealism and ideology in men s successful novels are always universal? Or does the idea of what constitutes distinguished achievement pivot on sheer volume of output? Or is it the case that novels need to be followed by the author s personal impress on public life in the form of speeches, journalism, and critical essays on the novel preferably citing Western authors in order to make a mark?


Relevant here is G.N. Devy s analysis of Indian literary criticism where he introduces the concept of cultural amnesia as an inevitable consequence of colonialism. The concept can be extended to cover literary amnesia as a result of the suppression of women s voices, in what has been labeled the colonization of women an idea expressed by the women writers included here and their contemporaries.


I shall additionally argue that this amnesia was reinforced because men have usually enjoyed epistemic privilege. Male authors, like male reformers, claimed the right to speak on women s behalf, and in the process constructed and defined both women and women s problems with some proposed solutions as they perceived them. Male images of the essentialized woman seemed real because that is how men preferred to see women; the male conception of women s problems seemed authentic because those were the only problems they wanted to see. These essential zed male images of women exaggerate selected feminine traits that appeal to them, and therefore appear more attractive than women s own thinking, feeling, and articulating selves. The thinking, feeling, and articulating women authors themselves have been variously subjected to suspicion, censure, disbelief, and even erasure. Male novelists appropriated the right to write gender for the benefit of male readers and the edification of female readers.


The present volume is therefore about women s own subjectivity, self-expression, and self-representation. It seeks primarily to map the journey of Marathi women s pre-Independence fiction through the translated works of six iconic authors. I start with Kashibai Kanitkar, who made a hesitant but proud entry into the hitherto male-dominated field of literature in the 1880s, and end with Prema Kantak, who confidently straddled the spheres of literature and politics in the 1940s. Inevitably, their iconicity is in some cases a recent phenomenon and, in individual cases, especially Prema Kantak, the result of my own discovery. In a sense, these authors are subalterns; at the same time, it must be remembered that they are complexly positioned as elites among subalterns (the reasons being explained later), and articulate the disabilities mainly of a specific social segment upper-caste, middle-class women.


The larger atlas, needed to identify the distinctiveness of this fiction, is provided here through an overview of the social and political transitions reflected in male-authored, socially-oriented fiction. Historical fiction is excluded for obvious reasons. The subject merits a comprehensive book; here I can offer only a telescopic view and identify salient trends. The ultimate focus is on the significant difference between male and female portrayals of women, differing perceptions of women problems, and gender issues in general. I try to show how women authors started out by adhering to male paradigms and then branched out on their own, and how they were able to sketch with surer and clearer strokes than men the intricacies of the man-women relationship in all its tenderness and callousness, shorn of the artificial veneer of romance. From this it will be apparent that the Introduction is an exercise not in literary criticism but in the sociology of literature. This needs no justification. In the spirit of Terry Eagleton remark that there is no need to drag politics into literary theory: it has always been there from the beginning, one might say that sociology had always there in literature. And the nature of sexual politics in literature has been revealed to us ever since Kate Millett s path breaking analysis of the interplay between men, women, and culture. With this in view I analyses the ways in which Marathi male and female fiction-writers have addressed gender issues, this being a part of my attempt to reinsert important women authors into creative literature, rewrite the history of that literature, and retrieve a valuable literary heritage. My translations of such fiction comprise the bulk of this book, and my objective will be amply fulfilled if their authors get the credit and visibility they so richly deserve.




One tends to harbor such fondness for literature in one's mother tongue and hold such firm ideas about favorite authors that alternative, or merely different, readings can seem disturbing. This happens especially with books and authors read at an early age but not revisited since. I had this experience while undertaking the massive task of re reading, and in some cases readings for the first time, Marathi novels from our cherished yet now partially obscured literary past. My interpretations and reading against the grain presented in the Introduction of this book are likely to affect Marathi readers thus, should they happen to read this book. I therefore hasten to clarify that this is not an exercise in literary history or literary criticism; and it is certainly not an exhaustive overview which would require a whole book by itself. This is project in the3 sociology of literature, undertaken from the vantage point of a feminist sociologist today, and hopes only to indicate salient trends.


The book is in fact intended primarily for non Marathi readers and offers in translation certain landmark texts authored by six important women. These works of fiction (novels and short stories) span the decades from the 1880s to the 1940s and illustrate women's changing self perceptions as well as understanding of gender issues. The institution of the family, from whose confines they gradually emerged as agents and participants into the larger society, is fore grounded here as well. Some of these women writers are generally recognized by literary historians and critics as iconic Kashibai Kanitkar (though she is hardly read today), Vibhavari Shirurkar, Geeta Sane (pronounced Sanay), and Shakuntala paranjpye. Others Indira Sahasrabuddhe and prema Kantak have been unwarrantedly obscured; my reinstatement of their work in this galaxy will hopefully seen justified. (I have referred to all these here and in the Introduction with the honorific suffix bai', except in the case of Vibhavari, in keeping with the Marathi convention.)


The introduction also seeks to present a sociological and feminist reading of selected and unanimously recognized iconic male authors of fiction as a backdrop for women's fiction. My selection of male novelists had to be strictly limited, and only some novels (no short stories) could be discussed. The main reason was the overwhelming number of both. But care has been taken not to distort the general picture. The objective is to highlight men's changing perspectives on gender issues from the novel's de but on the literary scene in 1857 to the country's independent ninety years later. The choice of Independent as a natural landmark in the literary trajectory is relevant mainly because it radically alters the complexion of the political novel.


Translating women fiction brought home to me the noteworthy fact that the Marathi language had changed substantially from the 1880s to the 1920s. This change is not limited to sentence construction and the use of certain words and phrases. It goes far deeper and reflects a radical change in the Brahmin lifestyle since the generation of H.N. Apte and Kashibai Kanitka. (The 'Brahminness' of Marathi fiction has been explicated in the Introduction.) A simple example is Kashibai's reference, in her novel Rangarao, to the sparkling pavitrak on Rangarao's hand. The world means a gold ring with a gem, to be worn on the right index finger by a man during the worship ritual. N average Brahmin man or woman today of even the older generation knows this word. Thus, Kashibai's novels necessitated, rather unexpectedly, the use of Moles worth's old Marathi English dictionary. No such dictionary was needed for the translations of her immediate successors' fiction; they speak to us in our own language, both in a linguistic sense and in terms of sensibility. I wish it had been possible to capture these transitions in English translation.


An unexpected but serious problem exposed by this research related to the availability and preservation of some late nineteenth and early twentieth century Marathi novels, especially woman authored ones (my own personal collection being inadequate for this massive exercise). An unfailingly rich source is the Mumbai Marathi Granth Sangrahalaya, a reference library. It had in its collection two novels that I had initially planned to include in translation Salubai Tambwekar's Chandraprabha (1873) and Indirabai Sahasrabuddhe's Godavari (1917). But being very old, these publications were not in a condition to be Xeroxed or photographed (scanning not being allowed at all), so that I had to copy by hand large portions of the former and the whole of the latter (reliable and speedy assistance for copying too being unavailable). Sadly, the effort was wasted; I had to omit both translations at a late stage because of space constraints, and for reasons explained in the Introduction. Prema Kantak's Kaan ani Kaamini (1937) was available only in Kolkata's National Library, and in a somewhat tattered condition; again, I had to make copious notes and copy some long extracts (which will be included in translation in my forth coming book Mahatma Gandhi and Prema Kantak: Exploring a Relationship, Exploring History, Oxford University press). The standard 'classics' among Marathi novels were available in local college libraries in Pune but with the first few pages missing because of constant use, so that the details of publication had to be checked separately in a reference library. On the whole, the preservation of our Marathi literary heritage is certainly reason for worry.


The collections consulted for this book are: the libraries of the Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad, Fergusson College, SNDT Women's University (Pune Campus), and the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune; the Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaya in Mumbai; and the National Library in Kolkata. I am grateful to the librarians and stall for their prompt help.


Various permissions were necessary for the translations and publication of photos. Kashibai Kanitkar's two novels excerpted here have been reproduced with the permission of permanent Black, the publishers of my book Feminist Vision or 'Treasib Against Men'? Kashibai's Kanitkar and the Engendering of Marathi Literature (2008). Kashibai photo had earlier been made available by the late Dr Sarojini Vaidya. Dr Ramdas Bhatkal of popular Prakashan allowed me to translate two short stories from Vibhavari Shirurkar's Marathi collection of short stories Kalyanche Nishwas, as well as an excerpt from her novel Hindolyavar, and also gave me a suitable photo of Vibhavari. Dr Vasudha Dhagamwar granted me permission to translate the novel Vathalela Vriksha by Geeta Sane, her mother, along with Geetabai's photo. Sai paranjpye took the trouble to locate for me the long story 'Sisters' by her mother, Shakuntala Paranjpye, published in installments in the magazine Samaaj swaasthya, and gave me the right to translate it, along with Shakuntalabai's photo. The copyright of prema Kantak's work is not with the Saswad Ashram (Dist. Pune) where she lived and worked from about 1934to1985, nor does the Ashram or anyone else associated with her know of her heirs. But Dr Bharat Tambe of the Ashram Trust has made available a photo of premabai for publication. It has not been possible to establish the copyright for the writings of Indirabai Sahasrabuddhe; her photo is published here courtesy of the Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaya. My sincere thanks to them all.


My friends Aban Mukherji, Zia Karim, Sujala Nitsure, Dr Rajaram Nityananda, and Usha Rajaram have provided enthusiastic discussions and constant encouragement for my efforts, for which I am grateful.


Finally, a technical not. Long Marathi words have been broken into smaller hyphenated words to facilitate easy comprehension. The multivalent Marathi word 'Prastavana' (pronounced Prastaavanaa) which can mean preface or foreword, and occasionally introduction has been translated accordingly. In the former case, the original pagination either runs separately as '1,2,3,' or 'one, two, three'. In both cases, I have changed this to Roman numbers as per the convention in English books. (In rare cases the pagination is continuous from the preface to the text, which solves the problem.) In transliterating Marathi words, I have used 'aa' only sparingly and where strictly necessary; this might seem inconsistent, but avoids unwieldiness.


Revisiting and recovering a century and a quarter of Marathi fiction has been a rewarding though exhausting experience, and its startling, meaningful insights both enriching and enlightening.





Preface and Acknowledgements



Introduction: Men and Women Writing Gender



Social and Political Transitions



Trajectories of Malestream Fiction



Paradigm Shifts in Women s Fiction



Women s Fiction as a parallel Reform Discourse



Gendered Perspectives on Women s Issues



Decades and Generations of Feminine Articulations



Kashibai Kanitkar (1861-1948)



Rangarao (Excerpts), 1886-1903)



Palkhicha Gonda (The Palanquin Tassel; Excerpts), 1913-1928



Indirabai Sahasrabuddhe (1894-1949)



Balutai Dhada Ghe (Balutai, Heed This Lesson! Excerpts), 1931



Vibhavari Shirurkar (1905-2000)



 Babancha Sansar Maza Kasa Honar? (How Can Baba s Family Responsibilities Be Mine?), 1933



 Prem ki Pashuvriti? (Love or Lust?), 1933



Achala s Confession (Excerpt from Hindolyavar [On the Swing], 1934



Geeta Sane (1907-1991)



 Sisters , 1940



Prema Kantak (1907-1985)



Agniyaan (A Chariot of Fire; Abridged), 1942



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