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Updated: January 23, 2010 14:50 IST

A balanced view

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Nirdiganta edited by Shanta Imrapur.
Nirdiganta edited by Shanta Imrapur.

Leafing through Some interesting reads in Kannada

Nirdiganta (two volumes), edited by Shanta Imrapur

Sindara Pustaka Prakashana, Rs. 359

Beginning with “Sambhaavane”, presented to B.M. Shri. in 1941, there is a rich tradition of festschrifts in Kannada; but most of them tend to be felicitation volumes, eulogizing the concerned writer. However, “Nirdiganta”, presented to Dr. Veena Shanteshwar is an exception; the articles in these two volumes go beyond personal eulogy and critically discuss the form and concerns of the short story in different Indian languages.

Dr. Veena Shanteshwar's achievements are manifold: a scholar in English, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi, she is also a reputed writer of fiction and criticism, a successful translator, and an able administrator. She has to her credit, 27 works including five short-story collections and two novels in Kannada; many research papers in English; and eight works of translation from Hindi, English and Marathi to Kannada, including the Sahitya-Akademi Award-winning novel, “Nadi Dwipagalu”, from Hindi. The festschrift presented to her to mark her 65th birthday, is worthy of a multi-faceted personality like her.

“Nirdiganta”(in two volumes) contains many novel and meaningful features. As the Chief Editor notes, these volumes are being published in the centenary year of women's writing in Kannada (the first novel in Kannada by a woman, Santubai Neelagara's “Sadguni Krishnabai”, was published in 1909). The first volume contains, besides critical articles on the form and concerns of short story and on the works of Veena Shanteshwar, scholarly overviews of the short story by women in 14 Indian languages. The second volume contains interviews of eleven major women writers in Kannada, each interview followed by a representative story of that writer. The focus of all these articles is ‘the woman as writer' – her problems, struggles and successes.

When we go through the review articles, what strikes us first is the Sahitya Akademi motto – ‘Indian literature is one, written in different languages.' Some of the common concerns of the stories in different languages are: subordination of women owing to patriarchy, denial of formal education, exploration of the varied paths of freedom, reinterpretation of characters in myths and classical epics, and search for feminine identity.

But, importantly, there are region-specific variations. Punjabi writers have responded more forcefully than others to the pressures of globalization on farmers and agriculture; stories charged with ideologies dominate in Malayalam; and so on. In this context, the stories in Manipuri and Bodo appear to stand apart. Since both Manipur and Assam are strife torn, most of the stories in Manipuri and Bodo dramatise the plight of women and children caught between the Indian Army and native terrorists.

The interviews of major women writers drive home the point that writing for a woman is like swimming against the current; they have to write amidst such adverse conditions. While most were ridiculed, a few others were physically abused. Also, all of them have to sail in two if not three boats – family, profession, and writing. Despite such heavy odds, the fact that writing is a serious business for them is a tribute to their indomitable will.

Nirakshariya Atmakathe by Sushila Ray

Translated by G. Kumarappa

Navakarnataka Publications, Rs. 55

Sushila Ray's life: got married at nine, had no children till she was 15, she began to educate herself at 25, and just when husband was stepping into a second marriage she conceived. What better language than one's own mother tongue can capture a life full of emotional twists and turns?

When Sushila Ray's autobiography appeared as “Ek Anpad Kahani” it was not edited (only grammatical errors were corrected).

But on reading the translation, one feels it deserved to be edited and what remains is a mere reportage, with neither the force nor the passion of the original.

Urmila (Sushila), was dark complexioned and ordinary looking. Moreover, she couldn't conceive. Under these traumatic circumstances, Urmila decided to become literate. The thought of writing about her travails came after she settled down is Calcutta.

All happenings – even if recorded in a diary – do not merit the place in an autobiography. It is the story of a woman born into a lower caste family of a backward district (Madhubani, Bihar) evolving into an articulate individual. Changing her name was perhaps the right thing to do, but there was the need to cut down on the detailing. The last 15pages could have been condensed. It lacks the flow of an autobiography and reads like a collection of diary notes.

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