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It's funny how in a whole bazaar of inhumane and outrageous things, sometimes just one ordinary, seemingly small item can jump out at you and pierce your heart.

Nivedita Menon recently posted Gender Just, Gender Sensitive, NOT Gender Neutral Rape Laws on Kafila, which is a statement signed by so many people whose feminist work I admire.

And I am terrified that these, the voices of some of the most publicly liberal and radical feminists who represent my interests, so stridently argue against one of the core realities of rape culture:

Woman can be rapists.

Female-identified people can sexually assault and sexually coerce and sexually violate another person. Their victims can be child or adult, male or female.

And this is not even touching the appalling lack of acknowledgement of transgendered and transexual identities, which are even more vulnerable to sexualised violences by status as marginalised and oppression minority.

This is not even about becoming the thing you are fighting by taking a push-back against patriarchy so far.

This is about wanting to take away protection from rape survivors, and denying them the legal ability to name the experience they went through with a term that states it to be as non-consensual, as violent, and as obscene as the actions a male rapist perpetrates.

Rape is sexualised violence, and violence can be perpetrated by any human being regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. Female caregivers who have power over children or the elderly or the infirm, female prison wardens and policewomen and armed forces officers, female teachers and professors, these are all in positions of power that can be abused. Women who have sex with women can be abused. Men in heterosexual marriages can be abused.

There is so much these women have fought for, so long and so hard, that I am so grateful for: these endless battles against the patriarchy, against casteism, against communalism, against homophobia, against classism and capitalism and every other form of bigotry and systemic oppression that warps the world I live in. I have such a sense of solidarity and empathy and admiration for most of their words.

It hurts so much to be so divisively excluded from their cause right now.
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Why do you think the Indian reaction to your book was so bad?

Indian reviewers don’t read books. They have two days to produce 800 words. They read the prologue and then skim a few pages, then they read all the other reviews. If the first two are negative, you can be sure they will all be negative. If the first two are good, the rest will be good. It’s that low-level, that pathetic. It takes a kind of confidence for a reviewer to have their own opinion about a book. And a lot of people here just don’t care about literary novels.

What do you mean by “literary”?

I mean the kind of novel that you have to bring something to: a novel that you have to put a little work into reading; a novel that doesn’t give up its secrets and its meanings straight away; a novel that maybe needs two readings. All readers are not equal. A lot of people are not moved, and those readers shouldn’t read certain books, which may sound like an arrogant thing to say, but I mean, f––– off, don’t read my book! Don’t quote that.


Actually, who cares? Say it.

But your reception at home in the UK was very warm.

I got the feeling that western critics had actually read the book, which at that point was a hugely emotional thing for me.

-- From this interview

[ profile] supriyan, [ profile] ActuallyAisha and [ profile] sridala, please apply for your phoren passports now, since clearly you are unindian reviewers.


Friday, 6 July 2012 03:30 pm
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This is a brief interruption of my regularly scheduled silence to point out that my girl Kuzhali (in the sense that one says, my man Teju or my bro Jay Smooth; meaning Someone On The Internet you regard with much admiration and affection and are not actually chuddi-buddys with) who blogs at [ profile] thirdworldghettovampire, is writing stories for reader prompts over at Mint.
Every month, Kuzhali Manickavel’s column will feature an original short story inspired by prompts submitted by readers. To submit a prompt (a word, phrase, quote or brief idea), mail Kuzhali at or tweet it using the hashtag #kuzhalistories.

I will also take this opportunity to point out to the phirangs amongst you that her collection of short stories is available as an ebook! (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Lulu) So everyone who pouted at me about my inability to review and rec books and all can consider this an unqualified rec.

Ok wait, by unqualified I don't mean her stories are perfect. What I mean is that there are so many moments in her stories that I love, that all the bits I don't get (and the parts where I want to shake the story and say 'where is the rest of it') don't matter. Her writing is completely off-the-wall weird and strange and like a chipkali which is actually not so bizarre despite being neon coloured because it catches flies and so is actually quite gharelu and ordinary. And her blogging persona is the sort I would draw hearts around except for how UnIndian and Not Done that is so instead one must demonstrate affection by forcefeeding her laddus or something.

::contemplates what kind of prompt I can get away with sending her::
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You know how sometimes you read something, expecting it might be a slight chore, and then your brain has to take a moment to catch up with your heart because you had not realised there was a hole in it that has just been filled by this thing you just read?


So desi sci-fi. I've read some, though not as much as I should for a representative sample, because of childhood disappointments when comparing Dilip Salvi to Isaac Asimov. I shunned a lot of desi writing in my early adulthood; resenting it for not meeting the standards my colonised palatte had set for it, not realising the jury was rigged.

I'm more forgiving now, and more eager to see a world that matches my own brown, Indian one, regardless if the craftsmanship is not as slick as what I was weaned on.

In that context, when I was pointed to Sultana's Dream, I was charmed by this feminist utopian sci fi novella written in English over 100 years ago by a Bengali woman called Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. The story seems a little naive (but then what utopia isn't?) and the feminism a little dated (but imagine how many boundaries her imagination would have had to break to reach to that point then?), but the joyous celebration of women and what they can do made it a fun read.

It's one of the perils of women's writings--their obscurity not only hides them from the mainstream male gaze, but also from their own literary descendents. People talk about Jules Verne and Tolkein as forefathers because they have been read since they were published--the lines of influence can be clearly traced. But women have often had to reinvent the literary wheel--each generation having to carve out its own space, and then, perhaps, having the resources to look back and discover; someone was saying similar things back then, too.

I don't know if [ profile] vandanasingh or Manjula Padmanabhan or Priya Sarukkai Chabria have read Hossain's short story, as they have set about contructing their own versions of feminist Indian sci fi.

But today I read a story that was written by Rokeya Hossain's textual granddaughter.

It's fanfiction, set explicitly within the fannish context of a story written for someone's prompt, but there are plenty of other posts that have already established the ridiculousness of segregating 'fanfic' from 'profic' on the basis of genre, so I'm not going to get into that here. I do actually, hope that this story will be picked up by a print publisher and distributed to a wider, or at least different, audience than the online fannish one, because it deserves to be read on its own merits.

Fifty Years in the Virtuous City can be read on its own; like Neil Gaiman's "The Problem of Susan", there is enough heft in the world building to satisfy a reader who does not get the references that reward all the metatexuality. As a stand-alone, this reads as a quiet, poetic story of two women scientists and the challenges they face to build a world shaped in their image.

But read as a response to Hossain's original, this story coalesces into a deep pool of historiographical literary commentary.

The writer, you see, has lived the life Hossain could only imagine, and can therefore strengthen the warp and weft of her humourously fantastic world by weaving in the threads of hindsight and experience. Her approach to academia is painstakingly honest--the writer knows that women in power do not change the fundamental nature of politics and bureaucracy.
‘Can you imagine Suhela as an administrator?’, she asks Chaitali, who has come by her rooms that evening to find her still sorting through the intra-university mail.

‘Straight out of the Arthashastra,’ says Chaitali, who knew her in undergrad at Razia.

‘What do you bet that she has spies?’

‘Maybe I am one of them,’ says Chaitali, raising her eyebrows.

‘The fraudulent disciple! With a knife at your ankle. No, it doesn’t bear thinking of. But – no, really,’ says Amrita, scanning a paper in disbelief, ‘this is marked VERY URGENT, and it is to tell me that there’s a leak in the roof of Choudhury’s office. I wish people would use the system properly.’

Can you see why I'm so gleeful? It takes the nonchalance of a 21st century product of co-ed academia to joke about paperwork, but to make a reference to Chanakya requires a connection to a specific shared historical past.

Hossain herself was still struggling to find an audience. Although she wrote other stories in Bengali, this one was written in English, and in 1905, I suspect the readership of The Indian Ladies' Magazine was too select and Anglicised for the sort of integration of code-switching that this story does.

Hossain's imaginary world is called Ladyland; this story translates it (back) to Naaridesh, and gives it a geographical context that restores the geo-political tensions present in the past the story was written. Written today, the author knows that "the Republic is under constant threat from the Trucial States and the Ingrej", that during its formative years there will be rumor of invasion from Andhra Pradesh.

With a post-colonial pickaxe, this writer demolishes the self-effacement that had Hossain's protagonist defer to a Sister Sara and a deracialised, deculturalised Queen and Lady Principal. When the war happens--and it is ugly, because this writer's feminism knows the futility of flinching from the brutality of struggle and resistance--there is an invasion from the Ingrej Robert Jennings. This story celebrates the intersectionality of Hossain's identity as a Muslim, by building a world replete in the words and laws and customs that the author could not herself infuse her world with.

The first steps we take to place ourselves at par with our colonisers often imitate their flaws, and we write our own unassimilated selves out of those stories, having had no examples of how to include them. That's why I love this story so much--because a young desi author is restoring to a long dead woman the voice that it has taken a century of nationalism and anti-imperialism and subaltern studies and anti-communalism and, of course, feminism to find.

I know I sound all dry and academic, in this theory-based recommendation. I'm sorry. I love this story with an enthusiastic squeeful heart--I love it for its femmeslash. I love it for its older women, who are still loving and active. I love it for science. I love it for its humour. I love it for the meticulous poetry of its images.
Amrita herself should not like to be compared to a flower or a fruit, an animal or a bird, and she turns this problem over sometimes in her mind, what Barnali’s beauty is like: if she solves it, she can forget it, and go on to something else. This is how her mind works: turn the thing over, turn it over, pry, catch at its seam, pry, crack it apart, work the kernel out and pick up the next. After she decides that Barnali’s beauty is like an electric light in glass – the slenderness of the brightening and dimming filament, the clarity and fineness of its casing, the perfected minimalism – she ceases to be distracted, or attracted. Once categorised, the thing is safe.

I love it for passages like that.

(I should say that while I am 99.9% sure I know the friend who wrote this, it is possible that I am wrong, and that perhaps the writer is not even desi. In which case, I would heap even more accolades on the writer.)

(And for those who are fannishly inclined, [community profile] dark_agenda's Kaleidoscope Exchange has a wealth of enjoyable fanworks to offer.)

ETA (6/1/12): Soon after writing this rec, I learned that the author was not desi. I have made a follow-up post here that discusses a few of the repurcussions of that reveal. I still stand by the rec, though.
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Dear Racialicious,

I see that you managed to post a review of a Hindi film--My Name Is Khan, written by Arturo R. García.
Let me introduce you to an astonishing concept - Bollywood films are actually consumed in the country they are made in, by actual Indians!
And, even more shockingly, those Indians manage to somehow make their way through the slums and dogs to write reviews of those films! And post them on the internet, even!

Since I know you would never stumble across these links otherwise, here are what some of My People (including the desi brigage abroad) had to say about the movie that your reviewer thought this of:
But in a world where Jeff Dunham is considered funny, it’s tough to imagine that more people don’t need to be shaken by them, or to see the characters of Khan and Mandira so unabashedly in love with San Francisco, or the POC allies they pick up along the way. So, even if the film threatens to veer completely off the rails in the third act, when we see stand-ins for both Hurricane Katrina and Barack Obama, the feel-good ending at least legitimately feels good.

The Vigil Idiot: Unintentionally Funny, Must-Watch Bollywood Movies: My Name is Khan:

Whaddya know, a whole bunch of desis critiquing the movie, including its racism! )

Seriously, India has the dubious distinction of being a post-colonial country with a huge English-speaking voice, in print and online. Was it that hard to find a desi blogger who could review the movie for you? Who could call out the racist shit in the movie for what it was, situated in the context of insider knowledge of Bollywood?

An Indian Reader of Your Blog


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Deepa D.

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