(Originally published in The Hindu Business Line, reproduced from http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/on-campus/womens-literature-through-many-lenses-at-stella-maris-seminar/article5422034.ece)
As public discourse and media debate continue to engender discussions on the skewed gender dynamic in India, the Department of English at Stella Maris College organised a national seminar that focused on reflexivity, representation and socio-political perspectives in Indian women’s writing in English. The impetus behind organising this seminar was to draw light on to the stream of modern Indian fiction, which seeks to interpret experience from the standpoint of a feminine consciousness and sensibility.
“When a woman writes, how does she restructure and represent her gendered and political perceptions that reveal her own take on what it means to be a woman in a particular socio-political context? How does she imaginatively map out the horizons and boundaries of her existence and experiences?” asked Maya Pandit, Professor and Dean, School of Distance education (EFLU), in her key note address.
Several papers presented at the seminar grappled with these questions, and other complex ones. Some drew parallels between nature and women, their similar idolisation and exploitation in society. Some explored the applicability of the concept of post-feminism in India. Women’s literature from the North-east, and their poignant portrayal of the violence that has become intrinsic to life there, occupies a special place in the Indian literary scene today.
And the papers explored the political value of telling these stories. A paper, very importantly, also deconstructed how male writers write about women and their experiences.
Prominent writers of various genres — Anushka Ravishankar, Tishani Doshi, Srilata. K, Tulsi Badrinath, Nandini Krishnan — also participated in the event. The diversity, both in terms of age, genre and personality added to the richness of the panel discussions. Getting an insight into their processes and perspectives served to unravel the complexity involved in any writing process be it children’s literature or poetry, and bridge the gaps between intention and interpretation.
Padma V., better known as Mangai, UG Head, Department of Literature, Stella Maris, said, the motivation behind this seminar was both “pedagogic and ideological”. “Literary Studies is a field that has to be updated almost every minute. And nothing inspires like actually meeting the authors,’ she added. Mangai strongly feels that certain themes must not be stereotyped as women-centred themes.
“That is why we wanted different genres and also writers with multiple approaches to their craft, context and content”, she said.
The two-day seminar raised pertinent questions, enabled discussions between members of the academic and literary fraternity, while providing great exposure to undergraduate and postgraduate students. One will be curious to see how these dialogues translate into the syllabus and refine the general approach towards studying women’s literature. What literary and practical tools will be employed so that these texts assume a social and political significance in the contemporary landscape of critical thought, and shift out of the rather closed category of “women’s literature”. That would be the biggest challenge post the seminar.
The department’s unified effort towards such an initiative could set the precedent for more conferences and seminars in the marginalised fields of the humanities and social sciences within the city.