Thursday, December 31, 2009

Essay on Belinda

Last year, for my Eighteenth Century Trans-Atlantic Feminism class, I wrote a paper on Belinda's Petition. Initially, the plan was to include it in my dissertation, but then both my advisors and me thought against it. So, now I am thinking of turning it into a stand-alone article. So today, when I began to revive some of my research around it, I found couple of things: one, Rita Dove had written a poem on Belinda's petition in her book The Yellow House on the Corner, and Raymond Winbush has published a book called Belinda's Petition. So, obviously, now my article needs some re-orientation too. So, what I am thinking is, writing an article that will be more about how the contemporary social imaginary in US has "read" and "interpreted" Belinda and her petition, and what her petition actually reveals about her. In that way, it will also be a continuation of my dissertation work on memory, re-imagination of history and contemporary significances of slavery. That's why, this bibliography.

Primary Sources:

1. Belinda's Petition

2. Dove, Rita. Belinda's Petition. In The Yellow House in the Corner

3. Winbush, Raymond. Belinda's Petition

Secondary Sources:

Books:

1.Chang, Alexandra. Slavery in the Age of Reason

2.George A. Levesque, Black Boston: African American Life and Culture in Urban America, 1750–1860 (New York, 1994), 32–33, 50 n. 32.

3.Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, ed. Ira Berlin and Ronald Hoffman (Charlottesville, Va., 1983)

4.http://tuftsjournal.tufts.edu/archive/2002/august/calendar/royall2.shtml

5.William C. Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston, 1855)

6.Nussbaum, Felicity A. The Global Eighteenth Century

7. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “Dis-Covering the Subject of the ‘Great Constitutional Discussion,’ 1786–1789,”Journal of American History 79, no. 3 (December 1992)

8.David Kazanjian, The Colonizing Trick: National Culture and Imperial Citizenship in Early America (Minneapolis, Minn., 2003)

9.T. H. Breen, “Making History: The Force of Public Opinion and the Last Years of Slavery in Massachusetts,” in Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America, ed. Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1997)

10.Thomas J. Davis, “Emancipation Rhetoric, Natural Rights, and Revolutionary New England: A Note on Four Black Petitions in Massachusetts, 1773–1777,” New England Quarterly 62, no. 2 (June 1989): 248–63 (“Lawdable Example,” 262)

11.Scott Hancock, “‘The Law Will Make You Smart’: Legal Consciousness, Rights Rhetoric, and African American Identity Formation in Massachusetts, 1641–1855” (Ph.D. diss., University of New Hampshire, 1999)

12.f African American Literature, 1680–1865 (Charlottesville, Va., 2001), 53–55; Emily Blanck, “Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts,” New England Quarterly 75, no. 1 (March 2002): 24–51, esp. 27–28.

13.Harris, Sharon.Executing Race: Early American Women’s Narratives of Race, Society, and the Law

14. Kaplan, Sidney. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution

15.Timothy Dwight, The Charitable Blessed: A Sermon, Preached in the First Church in New-Haven, August 8, 1810 (New Haven, Conn., 1810), 22–23.

There will be things to add on to this list, as I continue to work more on this article, but for now, I can live with it. Also, this is the last day of 2009. So Happy New Year to myself and everyone else out there.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Planning My Spring Class

I need to finalize my syllabus for the Spring Rhetoric and Writing Class. Couple of lessons from the Fall Semester:

a. Instead of asking my students to turn in actual journals (that wasn't a very intelligent move on my part), I am requiring them to have a semester-long blog of their own. I will probably make it mandatory for them to have 12 entries, as I did the last time. That should be enough for a 15 week class, and I hope it will help them to learn the art of free-writing a little bit. For me, it's also a way to just make them feel that writing is not something that they should be afraid of. So many of my students come to the class with these mystified ideas of writing.

b. I realized, that the only assignment where my students felt actually excited was the auto-ethnography assignment. And I think, if I have to really think about it, they wrote amazing stories. Stories that dealt with race, class, religion, gender, national borders and in couple of instances, even US Empire. Had it not been for this class assignment, I am sure, most of these would have gotten lost within the routinized structures of their everyday lives. I almost cried when I read through my students' auto-ethnographies. They trusted me enough to tell these stories! But then, I also cannot help thinking, did they at all think about trust in the way I think about it? Or was it just another assignment for them? I mean, I would have assigned a zero if someone failed to turn in their auto-ethnography essay. So, this question of trust is dicey within a classroom situation. Precisely because a classroom is inherently a powered space, and there is no way that one can begin to think about it in a different way within a corporate university. But just to see some of my students so excited to be able to tell their stories, I learnt that this needs to be a more central element of the class I teach in spring. So, right now I am trying to think of ways to do that, without necessarily compromising with the idea of "academic rigor."

Now, so much of what I do is so totally not-glamorous...reading, writing, editing, hunched over on the desk, reading student papers, talking to students, editing their work...but isn't that the idea?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Second Draft of the Bindudi Story Done


Just finished working on the Bindudi story and send it along to some of my friends for some comments/suggestions/reactions. I always feel this relief once I am done with a draft. And this moment, when I have sent it out to some of my readers, is also one full of anticipation. And then again, there will be that dreaded phase: REVISION. Today, as I was working on this draft, I was thinking, what is it that I am really trying to say in this story. If I have to push myself a little bit away from its fundamental emotional world, I will say, it is about gender, but more than that it is about this vicious circle of violence. The way we often make certain forms of violence totally legitimate. But, I was a little bit surprised to see, how in this story of mine, violence is really institutionalized. There is an inordinate amount of violence inside the school premises. There is violence within family. This is not something I had paid close attention to while writing the story. I was more interested in developing the character, and the plot and the voice. It will be interesting to see if any of my readers pick up on this.

Just finished reading Lee Smith's collection of stories: Cakewalk. What is it about the American South that has produced such great women writers? So, my own favorites in this collection are: "Between the Lines," "Gulfport," "Artists", "Dear Phil Donahue," and the last story of the collection "Cakewalk." Most of these stories are about women stuck within domestic claustrophobia, and trying to find ways out of them. Smith's women are complicated characters, often fucked up, with layers and layers of contradictions, and they try to deal with themselves within those contradictions. Rarely in this collection do we come across characters whose rage is so deep that she leaves it all. So, as I was reading these book, I was also thinking, how does one write about women who have tried to find their voice outside of the family, the contradictions of domesticity? About women who join social movements? About women who engage in political art-making? In this particular collection, Martha Rasnick of "Dear Phil Donahue" is probably the one who comes closest to it, but then, hers is not a "collective" or "political" solution in that sense. Wouldn't it be great if someone did a collection like that?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Will It Help Me to Begin to Send Out a Chapbook-Manuscript?

I have been trying to decide on something. Right now, I do have enough material for a chapbook, but what I would really want to do is, have a more finished manuscript for a full-length poetry collection. Because, I have this feeling, that only in a full-length form, will the stuff I am dealing with, make any remote sense. Besides, I feel, I need to read more, learn more, and know more before I get into the publishing biz. But then, there are some real-world concerns too. Getting a chapbook published will add more publication credits to my name, probably will also get me more attention. So, it can be a little confusing. So far I am tilting more towards just working and learning my stuff better. But it can be a hard call sometimes. Will have to decide within the next couple of days.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"We" Voice In Short Fiction

In one of her interviews, Jhumpa Lahiri, commented on the process of her writing of the story Treatment of Bibi Halder. She said, it had been an attempt on her part to experiment with the "we" voice. I think, in lots of ways, the "we" voice works well for stories set in India, Bengal or for that matter, anywhere else in the Third World. I am not trying to generalize the "Third World" as essentially "collective" and the "First World" as primarily "individual", but I am beginning to think there is a difference in the way the very genre of the short story has developed in a lot of the Third World context and US. I am not sure to what extent, what Barbara Jane Reyes and her other friends call it, the MFA Industrial Complex, that has contributed to it. But, there is definitely a way in which the workshops teach students to read and write short stories. The emphasis is always on one individual, the so-called "change" at the end, the "conflict" etc. Not that these are not essential elements in good story-telling, but there are plenty of short stories in the world which do not necessarily depend on one individual's conflict resolution model. For me, right now, as I am working through this story (A Phuchka for Bindudi), I am also thinking, doesn't the "we" narrative dis-spell this model a little bit?

Because the "we" voice is really trying to narrate an event, a biography through the collective voice of a specific community. And it is doing so precisely because an event or a person stands out. That is, it challenges or at least complicates the communal standards in some way or the other. So, it is almost like through this story, the community is trying to re-assess its own norms. At least, when a writer adopts that "we" voice, that's how I would see what he/she is trying to achieve rhetorically. For me, then, there is almost a kind of dialectical relationship between the individual and the community within this "we" voice in a way that is not always the dominant trend within contemporary American short fiction. So, to get back to Jhumpa Lahiri, she also said in that interview that the "we" voice is inconsequential in a sense. This is what I have been thinking about a lot while revising this story. One of my workshop-colleagues asked an interesting question: who is the protagonist of your story? Bindu Didimoni or this collective "we" voice? My tentative answer is, both. But then, does it really matter if we do not have one clearly identifiable protagonist in a short story? And as I am thinking through this process, I would like to say, unlike Jhumpa Lahiri, I don't want the "we" voice to be inconsequential. If "change" is one of the things that constitutes essence of a short-fiction narrative, or any narrative, I want both Bindu Didimoni and this "we" voice to experience/perceive this change.

Now, the challenge is, how to achieve all of these within the formal elements of a short story. So, without devoting much more time to yapping, it's time for me to turant go back to that.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Working on the Story

This summer I read Faulkner's short story A Rose for Emily, and ever since I have been thinking of writing a story using this "we" point-of-view. I had also been toying for a while to do something with this idea of gendered repression and food. So, this story, A Phuchka for Bindudi, is really this attempt to bring these two together. Or, rather should I say, they came together without my always planning it this way. This "we" voice is interesting: for, it lets the writer explore and experiment with the idea of a gossipy voice, a collectivity and the kinds of voices and discourses it can produce. Consequently, it can also be an effective way of throwing back this gaze on someone who is considered to be an "other" by a specific community. In doing so, the "we" voice almost always de-constructs itself too. Or, one might say, it's basically all about the writer's intervention. A writer uses that "we" voice strategically, just so that s/he can problematize the standards the "we" voice supposedly holds up as un-problemtic, un-violable, or even sacred.

So, today, I worked on one of the scenes of the story. My old hang-out place in Austin, It's a Grind has closed shop, but now there is this cafe called The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaves in the same space. I have been hanging out here for the past hour or so, trying to write this scene. It wasn't there in the original story, but Beth Ann Bauman's suggestion was, a scene like this one, might actually help the readers understand the difference between the protagonist and the other woman in the community. So, that's what I was trying to do today. I am slow these days, I can't do more than one specific aspect of a piece within a single day. My only hope is, slow and steady wins the race. And even if I am being reaaaaaaaaaalllllllllly, reallyyyyyyyy slow, it still counts. Or, at least, it counts to me!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Going Back to Prose

For the last few days, prose has been beckoning me. So, yesterday, after emailing DRR the poem, I finally settled on working on a re-vision of this story I have written for Beth Ann Bauman's workshop at UCLA. The story is loosely based on Raha Didimoni, this formidable teacher of our Balia Nafar Chandra Balika Bidyalaya. I have never been to that school myself, but have enough stories about her from those who went. I have known almost nothing about her, so the story really began as a way for me to explore how can one think of such a figure, and once I went inside the project, Raha Didimoni began to move further and further away, although, I guess, one can still see certain traces of our Garia Station Road if one tries hard. So, yesterday, I spent some time looking through the feedbacks I received. One of them said:

The back-story was too much, too heavy.

And, my reaction is, yeah, you know, we are an ancient people, have known life before capital, have dealt with colonialism, too many famines, genocides etc. On top of that there is gender, caste, multiple religions, a Partition. So, yes, our back-stories are heavy, and involve more that a nuclear family in the suburbia and after-hours fucks in the school-gym and a smoke in the parking lot. You just have to deal with it.

But apart from that, some of the feedbacks, especially Beth Bauman's was dot on. I am hoping to have a revised version of the story by Jan. 1. So that I can send it out to few for feedback.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Some Thoughts on "Generations" Poem

Last night, I finally finished the poem I was working on. Like a lot of the stuff I have been writing recently, it got to be this long-ish poem divided into smaller sub-sections. I don't think I will call them a "series of poems," because other than the first two, I don't think they will make much sense if read separately. So, the very way they have been written demands a kind of sequential reading.Now, the whole thing is done, at least the first draft, I was thinking, the main patriarch character of the poem needs to be developed a little bit more. For example, why do I call him Parrot King? Of course, there is a kind of fairytalish feeling in that, but the way it stands now, that fairy-talish feeling doesn't lend much to anything else. Similarly, there is a need to expand on the relationship between the narrator and the Parrot King a little bit more. There are hints within the poem of the Parrot King's paternity, but the emotional world still remains largely un-explored. I guess, everything doesn't need to be squeezed into one single poem, and possibly some of the stuff that I think this poem is lacking, can definitely go into the Cartographer's Daughter poem that I have been thinking about for a while. But still, there are certain things, I am feeling, that need to be addressed right within the body of this poem. But, for now, I can rest, and send it out to my "first reader," and see what he says!

I have been feeling this urge to go back to prose for a while now.So, I think, beginning today, I will re-visit the story I have put up for Beth Ann Bauman's workshop. The second one, that is. "A Phuchka for Bindudi." I have received some good feedback for that one, and I think, I do have some thoughts on how to tweak certain parts of it. And of course, then there are certain other parts that just need to be newly written and added to the main story. I am beginning to feel excited about it! But, then, there is also this niggling thought, that I should really be working on my dissertation now! This is it about me--I never could figure out this whole thing about being timely, and doing things on time. But for now, I will just settle on emailing the poem to some of my readers, and then working on the story!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Walking In and Out of the Skin

Fred D'Aguiar says here:

"The first thing you do as a black poet is unzip the suit of your black skin and walk away from it. The second thing you do as a poet is find that suit of yours that fits you oh so well and step right back into it. That suit paints behind your eyelids so you see it when you dream. That suit is osmotic: it lets out sweat, breathes for you – your biggest organ – and keeps out the elements. All history is in that skin. Poetry plays your skin like an instrument – listen, touch, taste, look, and sniff. Dream-skin. Skin-song. Human."

I don't know if this could have been said better. Walking in and out of one's skin(s), that's what writing is all about. And I know in so many ways, I fail to do it! There are times when I write so much from within my skin, and then, as if to compensate, I walk far away from it. So far that I can't smell the sweat, and consequently, the stuff that I end up writing, becomes nothing!

I have been feeling this acutely ever since I began to work on a re-vision of an old poem. One of the things that I often worry about, my poems tend to grow darn big and bigger as I continue with the revision process. One part of me says, I shouldn't worry too much about it. The material I am dealing with needs space, and everything doesn't have to be the sleek, market-savvy flash fiction. What is more, in my more optimistic moods, I even tend to think, the material will determine its own length. But when I am feeling not so good with myself (like now!), I tend to ask, does it mean I am innately incapable of saying more with less? Doesn't it mean I am failing essentially as a writer/poet? Like the poem I am working now. I would have really liked it to be a three-part short-ish prose poem. But once I got into the actual writing, it began to become bulky. Other voices began to peep in, demanded that I give them at least one line, and in most cases, more than one line. The narrator began to demand more explanation, and before I could understand it very well myself, I again have this nine-part poem, which looks like it could have been its own chapbook! And I am wondering, is it because I have stayed too much within my skin while writing this one?

There is an interesting discussion going on at WOM-PO listserve on this, although the language is very different.And I am wondering, aren't all artistic works autobiographical, in the sense that they are always mediated by the individual artist's sensibilities? But also, in my own experience, whenever I have tried to use autobiographical stuff, rarely could I stay faithful to what really happened. Not because my memory was failing or something, although I am sure it was, but the form itself, the logic of it, demanded that I move away from the realistic logic and pay attention to the narrative-logic instead. For me, this is what I find exciting and scary too. Exciting because I am never sure how my work will transmute the autobiographical details, and scary because almost always it leads me to discover some aspect of my life, which I wouldn't have taken into account had I not begun this process of exploring it through writing. But at the end of the day, it's not strictly autobiographical in that mimetic sense anymore!

I am thinking I should go with "Inking the Hyacinth" as the title for this particular poetry project. How does it sound?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

City Rant


There is a new emphasis in Indian-English writing on cities. A lot of the publishers have begun to come out with anthologies focusing on specific cities. And although,the whole project is still struggling to find a publisher, I, myself have contributed to an edited volume of Indian women's city poetry.And of course, there is a whole cult of "urban" writing in Anglophone traditions in general. So, I have been thinking on this for the last few days. Especially since I am reading Federico Garcia Lorca's Poeta en Nueva York(Poet in New York). What a collection it is! I read one poem everyday, multiple times and then just have to shut the book. I can't continue, and the words I have just read push me towards that space within myself which will never transform into words.

But if I have to try anyway, I will put it like this: it's ultimately a way of saying fuck you to the world, a fuck you that's so intense that forgets to be angry, refuses to see hope in anything that I do within my everyday, and refuses to see redemption in any institution. The way I see it, I will have to write so long as I retain this sense of fuck-youedness within me. For, that's the only space where, for me, there is still some hope. This innate human capacity to turn experience into colors, words, lines, rhythms and shadows.

Tumhare bad tumhare shabd rahegi! Wrote a little-known woman-poet from my home country. A cliche in so many ways. But still so true. What will be lost are these endless niceties, performance of care and politeness, the meaningless smiles. What will live....

But to go back to the theme with which I began this post, why cities? And more importantly, on a personal plane, what do cities mean to me? I associate cities with a social order predicated on capital. I associate cities with the violence committed on an impoverished peasantry. I associate cities with the pain of being uprooted--a famine-clad peasant family accepting the lives of sidewalk beggars.The shanty-towns. Little kids sucking at the ice-cream cone I just tossed off in the street. The apathy. The innate feeling of helplessness on the face of so many glowing contradictions.But then,within a city, there is also that pleasure of anonymity, the walking through the crowd, the smells of sweaty armpits brushing against your nostrils, the reminder that violence, in this totally off-putting and off-handed way, has always given birth to some of the greatest works of art in this planet.And I think of Manchester. What else would have given birth to the genre of industrial novels in Victorian England? So, like it or not, we, the writers,artists, scholars thrive on aestheticizing, objectifying violence.

But then, if I have to ask one precise question, it is, is it this turn towards cities a symptom of the consolidation of the neo-liberal capital in India? And my tentative answer is, yes. In a way, I would also think this is inevitable. In the same way, it was inevitable that a branch of the Victorian Literature would turn towards examining the urban-space, and that would push it towards having to deal with class, class-conflict and gender intersecting with class!

For my own work, I try to look for a language which would hand over to me, in bits and fragments and wholes, the multi-layered nature of the violence of capital. How to do it without relegating my work to the preachiness of socialist-realism? How to do it without wriggling out of the uncomfortable questions of my own locations? How to transform in imageries and metaphors the experiences of a neo-liberal world? How to narrate my own contradictory positions within it? I am a beneficiary of neo-liberalism, the GATT of 1992.Everything I have done so far has been complacent with the ongoing project of the neo-liberal genocide. No amount of 'i-am-down-with-the-revo" rhetoric will redeem me of it. So how do I write about my own deep alienations from and repulsions of this world-system, without giving my own self a free pass? I don't know the answers,except for to try to write more and more, and to try to find the answers through the practice of writing itself. I seek refuge in Lorca thus. These lines. Only if I could write something half as good as these, I wouldn't be so jealous of you, Federico.

Out in the world, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
I've said it before.
No one sleeps.
But at night, if someone has too much moss on his temples,
open the trap doors so he can see in moonlight
the fake goblets, the venom, and the skull of the theaters.

----Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne), Poet in New York

The first time I read this poem, I was almost expecting him to end with the moonlight. Not to have the "in" in there. It was a very conventional expectation on my part--it's as if I was hoping the nature would come to my rescue. To this world's rescue. Provide the necessary redemption. But it doesn't. It's as interpellated within the logic of capital as is everything else. So, when we open those trap-doors, and let the moonlight come in, that moon or its light is never enough by itself. All it can do, is to facilitate something else in us. The witnessing of a world where culture is equivalent to economy, the fake glitter of it all and the all-encompassing trauma. There is no respite, no outside.

It's within us all. And...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ten (Eleven)Things I Love to Do in Kolkata


1.Phuchka in College Square Park
2. Buroda's ghughni-egg fry and horse-piss cha
3.Hanging out in Jadavpur University Grounds, running into old friends, witnessing the transformation of cute, perfectly disciplined 17 year olds to seasoned weedheads
4. Infusion at College Street Coffee House
5. Baked Fish and Hakka Mixed Noodles there
6.Rupa and Chakraborty-Chatterjee bookstores for new English fiction
7. The corner store in College Street, which supplies me with all my Bengali books. The guy hasn't changed a single bit in the last 14 years. He used to call me "bon"(little sister) and "tumi" (informal you) in 1995, now he calls me "didi" (big sister) and "aapni" (formal you)
8. The auto ride through EM Bypass from Garia to Jadavpur
9. Taking long walks past the railway station in Garia
10.Journaling amidst the pale blue early morning in our terrace
11. Observing faces in a rally, from within and out...

I feel like going on and on...it's my city, damn it...and I can't take it out even if I try, don't you see? You can take the girl out of Kolkata, not the Kolkata out of the girl...unless of course, the girl wants it badly...this girl doesn't...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Note

I can't work while listening to songs in Bangla, Hindi and English. The three languages I know best. Because the words get inside me and begin to do things, and very soon I am residing within the song, and not necessarily in my work. This becomes especially an issue since most of my "work" also involves dealing with words. But Portuguese is a language I don't know very well. Especially when I listen to Brazilian Portuguese, I have to pay lots of attention to figure out the words. I have found that I can work when I have Portuguese songs playing in the background.

Right now, my background music is this woman's song. And the rhythms, the joy of the notes, her voice these are slowly seeping inside my head, throat, ink and paper while I am trying to revise this poem I wrote a looooooooooooong time back.

PS. Please note I used the word song and not music. The two are not inter-changeable for me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Breathing Finally!


It's not that I am done for the semester. But I'm breathing again. Hence this post! Meanwhile, the journal Off the Coast has published one of my poems! I have blogged about this poem a little bit here. It is indeed funny that my poem gets published in the Food Issue of a journal during a semester when I was teaching a writing class based on food! Speaking of which, some of my students have written kick-ass auto-ethnographies, which have given me a lot to think about.

Have just started Buddhadeb Basu's Tithidore. It is one of those novels I should have read long time back, but never got around it! Also, just finished Sunanda Shikdar's Dayamayir Katha. My Bengali reading has gone down phenomenally, and I am just trying to get it back these days. So, my new resolution:try to read at least one full-length novel or short fiction collection in Bengali and one poetry collection every semester.


So,Sunanda Shikdar's novel! In lots of ways, it is fascinating to me how the Bengali writers from both sides of the border are getting back to Partition.Given that Bengal is one of the regions in India whose history has been deeply affected by the occurence, the literatures in Bengali had very little on the issue. Especially when you compare it to the writings in Urdu, Sindhi, Gurmukhi etc., where Partition-narratives constitute an entire genre. But it seems to be changing. Hasan Ajijul Haque's Agunpakhi and then Sunanda Shikdar's novel. I have heard some of my friends say that Agunpakhi is the more well-written of the two. I do have issues around this term. Often times I think our pre-conceptions of what constitutes well-written, prevents us from seeing what kind of work a particular text is doing. Also, it tends to forget that aesthetics in itself is deeply historical, rooted within specific conditions of living and implicated within multiple modes of domination. And, of course, the innate human urge to find an "outside" from those space of domination. So, Agunpakhi is definitely a much more ambitious work (heck, it's written fully in a dialect! Whoever has done that in Bengali literatures in the recent times!). Not to speak of the fact that Hashan Ajijul Haque has been a well-known writer for decades before this novel(his first one!) came out. On the contrary, Sunanda Shikdar hasn't written much. This is her only published work, so far as I know.

But what I find fascinating about this work is the way she has taken the genre of women's diary/personal writing format as her basis and turned it into a novel. And then, this complex intermesh of class/caste/religious identity that's rural Bengal. I am absolutely mesmerized by the way she talks about the issue of religious privilege of the caste Hindus, and uses it to talk about other things! As I am typing, I am a little bit uncomfortable about using the word privilege. When used in the context of mid-twentieth century rural Bengal, it seems to lose a lot of its connotations. Especially the connotations it has attained within US-North American identity politics. How does one begin to talk about the structures of privileges in a multi-religious society, where the belief-structure of a religion needs that the two communities maintain a safe distance in terms of touch, dining together, sharing space etc.? What does intimacy mean in that context? What does syncreticism mean? Or even being well-intentioned? I loved the fact that Shikdar's novel had Muslim characters who questioned the purity/untouchability norms of Hinduism. The norms which are the foundations of Brahmanism. I can't remember reading any novels in Bengali which has done that in this straight-faced way. But then, I wonder, would it have been possible if the protagonist wasn't a Hindu little girl? Whose life is constricted in a way a little boy's would never have been?


I guess, one can describe it as a bildungsroman at the end of the day, but I would say, it's so much more. For the protagonist Daya, the quintessential coming-of-age experience is attaining this knowledge that there is no undivided-Bengal any more. There is no undivided post-colonial nation anywhere, and as if to bring home that point, the writer brings in this theme of the broken family. A family that has been divided along the two sides of the border. Daya's biological mother lives in Calcutta, India. Daya lives in this small village in East Bengal, or then East Pakistan along with her adopted mother, her aunt, her father's sister. I could have written tons here about the divided national metaphor, the nation-mother divided into two, the confused national affiliation, the divided national allegiance. But I will leave it for an academic paper:)))...The novel ends with Daya and her aunt moving to Calcutta, India, Hindustan with a heavy heart. The village mourns their departure. Daya doesn't want to leave her childhood home. Neither does her aunt. Yet, it's something that's inevitable. In lots of ways, the whole novel goes so so much against Jameson's Third World Literature=National Allegory model. There is no stable "national allegory" anywhere in this novel. There is a possibility of the emergence of one, but that's to be mourned over, not celebrated.

And now that I have nerded myself out for the day, it's time to go back to my own writing!