Books

This library travels across India with feminist literature

The Sister Library came to town recently to remind us about the importance of women’s literature and oral histories

What is violation to you? Do you identify as having been violated at least once in your life? And how do you deal with it?

“There are women who have not heard their name in many years. They are somebody’s mother, grandmother, aunt or daughter and that has become their identity. That is a violation that shakes me,” — Aqui Thami witnesses disturbing instances of patriarchy and women’s harassment everyday in Dharavi, Mumbai. Aqui is an artist who works with the women and children of Dharavi through her projects Dharavi Art Room and Bombay Underground by creating experiences with installations, performances and print. She is also the singular force behind the Sister Library, that houses writings only by women. Conceptualised in 2013, Aqui started travelling with the library last year and was part of the Kochi Biennale 2018. Last weekend, the library travelled to Chennai and was put up at Tara Books in Thiruvanmiyur and The Book Office in Adyar.

Room of one’s own

Born out of a longing to create a space where people can immerse themselves in women’s voices, the Sister Library comes from Aqui’s own personal journey as much as the women she works with. “There is an abundance of literature written by men that is widely read and for a long time I did not realise that there were very few women writers I was exposed to. I consciously started reading female authors and that opened a new world for me.I wanted to begin a conversation with the community on questioning and relooking at cultural norms. That is what I do through the Sister Library.”

The hall and verandah at Tara Books presented a smorgasbord of colourful zines, novels and picture books all written and illustrated by women. Talking about the freedom zines — booklets produced by individuals or small groups — give, Aqui says, “There is no editor, nobody telling you what should go in it, what format it should follow or how big or small it should be. For the men in Dharavi, an evening chat over a cigarette or tea is routine.The zines bring out the women’s voices.” Bold type and vibrant colours scream out titles like Ladies Only - Stories for All and Aesthetically Yours from her collection on display. The range covers various subjects like menstruation, food, culture and love, all of them narrating personal stories that people across the country can resonate with.

Feminist magazines in Tamil Nadu have a noisy history. As V Geetha of Tara Books recollected, “There were about six different feminist magazines in circulation in the 1970s. One of the most popular ones was Pudhiya Kural from Nagercoil. There were ones from Trichy, Arakkonam and Chennai as well.”

Yet, Aqui feels, the world of zines is predominantly made up of men even today. “Historically writing has been the vocation of men all over the world. And in many cultures like ours, oral storytelling is where women are primarily involved. We have lost a lot of our stories in translation.” Documenting the plethora of stories from indigenous communities is what Aqui is looking forward to do, by expanding the library to include podcasts where oral knowledge can be preserved. As she rightly points out, our ancestors are our librarians.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:33:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/mumbais-sister-library-travels-across-india-with-feminist-literature/article29691022.ece

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