CONTRIBUTION OF MODERN INDIAN WOMEN WRITERS FOR THE EMPOWERMENT OF
SELF AND OTHER WOMEN
Dr. D. B. GAVANI
Traditionally, the work of Indian women writers has been undervalued due to patriarchal assumptions about the superior worth of male experience. One factor contributing to this prejudice is the fact that most of these women write about the enclosed domestic space, and women’s perceptions of their experience within it. Consequently, it is assumed that their work will automatically rank below the works of male writers who deal with ‘weightier’ themes. Additionally, Indian women writers in English are victims of a second prejudice, vis-à-vis their regional counterparts. Since proficiency in English is available only to writers of the intellectual, affluent, educated classes, a frequent judgement is made that the writers, and their works, belong to a high social strata, and are cut off from the reality of Indian life. The majority of these novels depict the psychological suffering of the frustrated housewife, this subject matter often being considered superficial compared to the depiction of the repressed and oppressed lives of women of the lower classes that we find in regional authors writing in Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, and other native languages.
English formal education in India
English education was introduced to India in the nineteenth century, serving as an ideological force behind social reform and control. There was an imperial mission of educating colonial subjects in the literature and thought of England, a mission that in the long run served to strengthen western cultural hegemony. Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Education Minute of 1835 is regarded as a crucial document in this history. His arguments were based on an assumption of the innate superiority of English culture, a key sentence in his Minute being:
We must at present do our best to form a class of interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.
The establishment of English colleges in India led to the creation of an English-educated, and predominantly Hindu, elite, who eventually became critical of both their own religious orthodoxies, such as the caste system and child brides, and of British rule. The British-style education also had the effect of linking Indian writers to literary traditions of the West, enabling Indian writers writing in English to reach an audience in Europe as well as in India.
The ideal of the traditional, oppressed woman persisted in a culture permeated by religious images of virtuous goddesses devoted to their husbands, the Hindu goddesses Sita and Savitri serving as powerful cultural ideals for women. In mythical terms, the dominant feminine prototype is the chaste, patient, self-denying wife, Sita, supported by other figures such as Savitri, Draupadi and Gandhari. When looking at these narratives silence/speech can be a useful guide to interpreting women’s responses to patriarchal hegemony. Silence is a symbol of oppression, a characteristic of the subaltern condition, while speech signifies self-expression and liberation.
The image of women in fiction has undergone a change during the last four decades. Women writers have moved away from traditional portrayals of enduring, self-sacrificing women toward conflicted female characters searching for identity, no longer characterized and defined simply in terms of their victim status. In contrast to earlier novels, female characters from the 1980s onwards assert themselves and defy marriage and motherhood.
Mary Elizabeth Alexander was born in Allahabad, India, on February 17, 1951. Although christened Mary Elizabeth, she has been called "Meena" since birth, and, in her fifteenth year, she officially changed her name to Meena. Not so much an act of defiance as one of liberation, Alexander writes: "I felt I had changed my name to what I already was, some truer self, stripped free of the colonial burden" in her autobiography, Fault Lines (74). Representing her own multi-lingual nature, "Meena" meanings in 'fish' in Sanskrit , 'jewelling' in Urdu, and 'port' in Arabic. Alexander and her family lived in Allahabad, yet returned every summer to Kerala where her mother's parents resided.
In 1956, the Sudan gained independence and asked other Third World countries for assistance in establishing its government. Alexander's father applied for a job with the Sudanese government and the family relocated to Khartoum. From age five to eighteen, Alexander traversed the waters between the Sudan and India, between Khartoum and Kerala, and between her immediate family and her grandparents. Once she was eighteen and had received her degree from Khartoum University, Alexander left her Sudanese home for Nottingham University in Britain. It was here that she earned her Ph.D., but her tie with India was not broken. She returned to Pune to her grandparents, and ended up working at Delhi University, Central Institute of Hyderabad, and Hyderabad University.
It was in Hyderabad that Alexander met her husband, David Lelyveld. In 1979, the two moved to New York City, where they still live with their two children: Adam Kuravilla Lelyveld (b. 1980) and Svati Maraiam Lelyveld (b. 1986). Alexander is currently a professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and still takes trips back to Kerala annually.
Meena Alexander's literary career began early, at the tender age of ten, when she began writing poetry, and while her poetry might be her best-known work, her works span a variety of literary genres. Her first book, a single lengthy poem, entitled The Bird's Bright Wing, was published in 1976 in Calcutta.
Since then, Alexander has published seven volumes of poetry, including River and Bridge; two novels: Nampally Road (1991) and Manhattan Music (1997); a collection of both prose and poetry, The Shock of Arrival: Reflections on Postcolonial Experience; a study on Romanticism: Women in Romanticism: Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Shelley; and her autobiography, Fault Lines.
Establishing Identity in Fault Lines
Fault Lines is Alexander's autobiography. Not only an unraveling of her past, the book also highlights themes that occur in Alexander's poetry . As a result of her family's relocations as a youth, Alexander struggles in Fault Lines to forge a sense of identity, despite a past full of moves and changes. Thus, this work revolves around the theme of establishing one's self, an identity independent of one's surroundings. In her autobiography she writes: "I am, a woman cracked my multiple migrations. Uprooted so many times she can connect nothing with nothing". In fact, the title itself suggests a questioning of lines, boundaries, definitions of oneself. As Alexander writes, "I am a poet writing in America. But American poet?...An Asian-American poet then?...Poet tout court?...A woman poet, a woman poet of color, a South Indian woman who makes up lines in English...A Third World woman poet...?". Alexander searches for her own identity and self-creation amidst a world that strives to define, identify, and label people. These definitions of race and nationality prove difficult to defy.
The tension surrounding self-identification emerges in a scene where Alexander's son, Adam, encounters a man who asks him: "What are you?" Adam, of mixed heritage, chooses to identify himself as neither American nor Indian, but, rather, a Jedi knight. Alexander asks: "What did my first-born wish for himself? Some nothingness, some transitory zone where dreams roamed, a border country without passport or language?". Even choosing a cultural identification has its boundaries and borders by which to abide.
Early in her youth, Alexander's mother tells her she must never take a job; that her work is to raise her children. Alexander's choices obviously took her in a direction different from that which her mother had taught her, choosing both a career and a family. Thus, the process of self-creation for Alexander has numerous facets: creating an identity despite a patchwork past; fighting against definitions demanded by greater society; and, also, fighting against traditions and definitions enforced within the community.
Alexander emerged from a postcolonial country; thus, her work deals with personal as well as national concerns. One of these themes is the use of the English language. Though she has written in French, Hindi and Malayalam, Alexander's work is predominantly in English. As with so many other postcolonial authors, Alexander struggles in Fault Lines with the use of English itself:
There is violence in the very language, American English, that we have to face, even as we work to make it ours, decolonize it so that it will express the truth of bodies beaten and banned. After all, for such as we are the territories are not free.
She also asks, "Was English in India a no man's land?". In other words, was the use of English a betrayal to India's, and thus Alexander's, past? English was a leftover of colonialism; of its association with British rule, Alexander writes: "Colonialism seems intrinsic to the burden of English in India, and I felt robbed of literacy in my own mother tongue". Alexander struggles to develop her sense of identity in a culture still imprinted with the stamps of Britain. Alexander demonstrates in this autobiography both her triumph of will and her artistic talent.
Some of the same images used in Fault Lines surface in Alexander's poetry. "No man's land" is a particularly poignant image because it stems from growing up in a post colonial country, where boundaries and borders are blurred into a "no man's land". Here, in an excerpt from her poem "Night-Scene, the Garden," these images are very strong:
My back against barbed wire
snagged and coiled to belly height
on granite posts
glittering to the moon
No man's land
no woman's either
I stand in the middle of my life...
Out of earth's soft
and turbulent core
a drum sounds summoning ancestors
through puffs of grayish dirt
scabbed skins slit
and drop from them
atop the broken spurts
the drum skins
with their flighty heels.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (1956 - ) is an Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the nationally-ranked University of Houston Creative Writing Program.
Her short story collection Arranged Marriage won an American Book Award in 1995, and two of her novels (The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart) were adapted into films. Mistress of Spices was short-listed for the Orange Prize.
Divakaruni's works are largely set in India and the United States, and often focus on the experiences of South Asian immigrants. She writes for children as well as adults and has published novels in multiple genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism, and fantasy.
Chitralekha Banerjee Divakaruni was born in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. She received her B.A. from the University of Calcutta in 1976. That same year, she went to the United States to attend Wright State University where she received her Master's degree. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1985 (Christopher Marlowe was the subject of her doctoral dissertation).
Divakaruni put herself through graduate school by working at a number of odd jobs. She was a babysitter, a store clerk, a bread slicer in a bakery, a dining hall attendant at International House, Berkeley, and a laboratory assistant at Wright State University. She taught at Foothill College in Los Altos, California as well as Diablo Valley College. She now lives in Texas, where she teaches at The University of Houston Creative Writing Divakaruni is a co-founder and former president of a helpline for South Asian women who are dealing with various forms of domestic abuse. The organization, Maitri, was founded in 1991.Divakaruni serves on its advisory board and on the advisory board of a similar organization in Houston, Daya. She also serves on the Houston board of Pratham, a non profit organization working to bring literacy to disadvantaged Indian children.
Fiction and Poetry
Divakaruni's work has been published in over 50 magazines, including The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker and her writing has been included in over 50 anthologies including the Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. Her fiction has been translated into 20 languages, including Dutch, Hebrew, Indonesian and Japanese.
Divakaruni began her writing career as a poet. Her two latest volumes of poetry are Black Candle and Leaving Yuba City. She won several awards for her poems, such as a Gerbode Award, a Barbara Deming Memorial Award and an Allen Ginsberg Award.
Divakaruni's first collection of stories, Arranged Marriage, won an American Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Award, and a Bay Area Book Reviewers Award and greatly increased her visibility. Her major novels include The Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart and Queen of Dreams. While many of her novels are written for adults, she has also written the first two books in a juvenile fantasy series called The Brotherhood of the Conch which, like many of her adult novels, takes place in India and draws on the culture and folklore of that region. The first book of the series, The Conch Bearer was nominated for the 2003 Bluebonnet Award. The third and final book of the series, Shadowland, will be published in 2009.
Divakaruni's latest novel for adults, The Palace of Illusions is a re-telling of the Indian epic, The Mahabharata from a female character's perspective.
Her novel, The Mistress of Spices, was released as the film The Mistress of Spices in 2005. It is directed by Paul Mayeda Berges, with a script by Berges and his wife, Gurinder Chadha. The film stars Aishwarya Rai.
In addition, her novel Sister of my Heart was made into a television series in Tamil and aired in India, as Anbulla Snegithiye (Loving Friend).
o The Palace of Illusions: A Novel (2008)
o The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming Book Two of the Brotherhood of the Conch (2005)
o Queen of Dreams (novel) (2004)
o The Conch Bearer (novel) Book One of the Brotherhood of the Conch (2003)
o Neela: Victory Song (novel) (2002)
o The Vine of Desire (novel) (2002)
o The Unknown Errors of our Lives (stories) (2001)
o Sister of My Heart (novel) (1999)
o Leaving Yuba City (novel) (1997)
o The Mistress of Spices (1997)
o Arranged Marriage: Stories (1995)
o Indian Movie, New Jersey
o Leaving Yuba City (1997)
o Black Candle (1991)
o The Reason for Nasturtiums (1990)
o California Uncovered: Stories for the 21st Century (2004)
o We Too Sing America (1997)
o Multitude:Cross Cultural Readings for Writers (1993)
"The Art of dissolving boundaries is what living is all about."
• 2009: Cultural Jewel Award from the Indian Culture Center, Houston.
• 2008: University of California at Berkeley International House Alumna of the Year Award.
• 2007: Distinguished Writer Award from the South Asian Literary Association.
• 2003: "The Lives of Strangers" included in O'Henry Prize Stories.
• 2003: Pushcart Prize for "The Lives of Strangers."
• 1999: "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter" included in Best American Short Stories.
• 1998: Seattle Times Best Paperbacks of 1998 for Mistress of Spices.
• 1997: The Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and the Pushcart Prize for poems in Leaving Yuba City: New and Selected Poems.
• 1997: Mistress of Spices shortlisted for The Orange Prize.
• 1997: Los Angeles Times Best Books of 1997 for Mistress of Spices.
• 1995: The American Book Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories.
• PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award for Arranged Marriage: Stories.
• Bay Area Book Reviewers Award for Fiction for Arranged Marriage: Stories.
Kiran Desai was born in India in 1971, she lived in Delhi until she was 14, then spent a year in England, before her family moved to the USA. She completed her schooling in Massachusetts before attending Bennington College; Hollins University and Columbia University, where she studied creative writing, taking two years off to write Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard.
Her mother is Anita Desai, author of many books, three of which have been short listed for the Booker Prize (Clear Light of Day (1980), In Custody (1984) and Fasting, Feasting (1999). Anita Desai currently teaches writing at MIT. Her maternal grandmother was German, but left before the World War II and never returned. Her grandfather was a refugee from Bangledesh. Her paternal grandparents came from Gujarat, and her grandfather was educated in England. Although Kiran has not lived in India since she was 14, she returns to the family home in Delhi every year.
She first came to literary attention in 1997 when she was published in the New Yorker and in Mirrorwork, an anthology of 50 years of Indian writing edited by Salman Rushdie - Strange Happenings in the Guava Orchard was the closing piece. In 1998, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, which had taken four years to write, was published to good reviews. She says, "I think my first book was filled with all that I loved most about India and knew I was in the inevitable process of losing. It was also very much a book that came from the happiness of realizing how much I loved to write."
Eight years later, The Inheritance of Loss was published in early 2006, and won the 2006 Booker Prize. When talking of the characters in The Inheritance of Loss, and of her own life, she says, "The characters of my story are entirely fictional, but these journeys (of her grandparents) as well as my own provided insight into what it means to travel between East and West and it is this I wanted to capture. The fact that I live this particular life is no accident. It was my inheritance."
The Inheritance of Loss is set partly in India and partly in the USA. Desai describes it as a book that "tries to capture what it means to live between East and West and what it means to be an immigrant," and goes on to say that it also explores at a deeper level, "what happens when a Western element is introduced into a country that is not of the West" - which happened during the British colonial days in India, and is happening again "with India's new relationship with the States." Her third aim was to write about, "What happens when you take people from a poor country and place them in a wealthy one. How does the imbalance between these two worlds change a person's thinking and feeling? How do these changes manifest themselves in a personal sphere, a political sphere, over time?"
As she says, "These are old themes that continue to be relevant in today's world, the past informing the present, the present revealing the past."
Prizes and awards
1998 Betty Trask Award Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction The Inheritance of Loss
2007 British Book Awards Decibel Writer of the Year The Inheritance of Loss
2007 Kiryiama Pacific Rim Book Prize The Inheritance of Loss
2007 National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (USA) The Inheritance of Loss
2007 Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist) The Inheritance of Loss
As might be expected from the rich input of her cultural background, Kiran Desai, daughter of the author Anita Desai, is a born story-teller. Her first novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard (1998), is a pacy, fresh look at life in the sleepy provincial town of Shahkot in India. The central character of the novel, Sampath Chawla, failed postal clerk and pathological dreamer, escapes from his work and his oppressive family to live in a guava tree. Here he spends his life snoozing, musing and eating the ever-more exotic meals cooked for him by his sociopathic mother. He begins to amaze his fellow townspeople by revealing intimate details about them gleaned from a bit of lazy letter-opening whilst still working at the post office and by spouting a series of truisms worthy of a Shakespearian fool, or Forrest Gump. Before long he becomes known as a local guru and attracts such a strong flow of visitors that opening hours have to be established in the orchard to allow him to rest.
Soon, commercialism, a recurrent theme in Desai’s work, takes over: Sampath’s fast-thinking, entrepreneurial father Mr Chawla, who at first despaired at his son’s inanity, now sees his chance to make the family’s fortune. He sets up his picturesque family in a compound around the guava tree that is soon lined with colourful advertisements for tailors, fizzy drinks, talcum powder and insect repellent. Visitors bring gifts that Mr Chawla can sell, the family bank account begins to grow and he looks at investment plans. All goes well until the arrival in the orchard of a group of langur monkeys who have developed a taste for alcohol and begin to terrorise the town. The tale continues, with a growing sense of impending doom, as the family and the various officials of the town try to resolve the monkey problem.
Like many important works of literature, the book can be read on several levels – as an inventive, fast-moving, delicious tale full of rich descriptions and marvellous comic cartoon-like personalities, but also as a deeper study of the pathos of familial misunderstanding, the ridiculousness of hero-worship, the unpredictability of commercialism and the ineptness of officialdom.
Many of these themes are explored further in Desai’s next novel, The Inheritance of Loss (2006). The story revolves around the inhabitants of a town in the north-eastern Himalayas, an embittered old judge, his granddaughter Sai, his cook and their rich array of relatives, friends and acquaintances and the effects on the lives of these people brought about by a Nepalese uprising. Running parallel with the story set in India we also follow the vicissitudes of the cook’s son Biju as he struggles to realise the American Dream as
an immigrant in New York. Like its predecessor, this book abounds in rich, sensual descriptions. These can be sublimely beautiful, such as in the images of the flourishing of nature at the local convent in spring: 'Huge, spread-open Easter lilies were sticky with spilling antlers; insects chased each other madly through the sky, zip zip; and amorous butterflies, cucumber green, tumbled past the jeep windows into the deep marine valleys.' They can also be horrific, such as in descriptions of the protest march: 'One jawan was knifed to death, the arms of another were chopped off, a third was stabbed, and the heads of policemen came up on stakes before the station across from the bench under the plum tree, where the towns people had rested themselves in more peaceful times and the cook sometimes read his letters. A beheaded body ran briefly down the street, blood fountaining from the neck ...'.
The Inheritance of Loss is much more ambitious than Hullabaloo in its spatial breadth and emotional depth. It takes on huge subjects such as morality and justice, globalisation, racial, social and economic inequality, fundamentalism and alienation. It takes its reader on a see-saw of negative emotions. There is pathos - which often goes hand in hand with revulsion – for example in the description of the judge's adoration of his dog Mutt, the disappearance of which rocks his whole existence, set against his cruelty to his young wife. There is frequent outrage – at the deprivation and poverty in which many of the characters live, including the cook’s son in America; and there is humiliation, for example in the treatment of Sai by her lover-turned-rebel, or Lola, who tries to stand up to the Nepalese bullies.
Against these strong emotions however, Desai expertly injects doses of comedy and buffoon-like figures. One of these is Biju's winsome friend Saeed, an African (Biju 'hated all black people but liked Saeed'), with a slyer and much more happy go lucky attitude to life. Whereas Biju finds it difficult to have a conversation even with the Indian girls to whom he delivers a take away meal, Saeed 'had many girls':
'"Oh myee God!! he said. Oh myee Gaaaawd! She keep calling me and calling me,” he clutched at head, “aaaiii...I don't know what to do!!”... ”It's those dreadlocks, cut them off and the girls will go.”'
'“But I don't want them to go!”’
Much of the comedy also arises from the Indian mis or over-use of the English language. ‘“Result equivocal” the young Judge wrote home to India on completing his university examinations in Britain. “What”, asked everyone “does that mean?” It sounded as if there was a problem, because “un” words were negative words, those basically competent in the English agreed. But then (his father) consulted the assistant magistrate and they exploded with joy ….”'
Bose, the Judge’s friend from his university days is a wonderfully optimistic but pompous individual, made all the more ridiculous by his over-use of British idioms – 'Cheeri-o, right-o, tickety boo, simply smashing, chin-chin, no siree, how’s that, bottom’s up, I say!'
An original and modern aspect of Desai’s style is the almost poet-like use she makes of different print forms on the page: she uses italics for foreign words as if to emphasise their exoticness and untraslatability and capitals for emphasis when someone is angry, expressing surprise or disbelief (a natural development of the netiquette that to write in capitals is like shouting). She also exploits our modern mania for lists. In an age where our media is filled with top tens and top one hundreds – most voted-for politician, best-dressed woman, richest man etc. – Desai produces her own array of matter of fact but quite unnerving lists – the parts of their bodies which touch when Gyan and Sai kiss; the free gifts that you get from a charity if you make a donation to a cow shelter; the wide variety of puddings that the cook is able to make, the list rattled off with no spaces as if expressing both the urgency of the speaker to impress and his perplexity at the foreignness of English pudding names.
One of the most thought-provoking lists is 'what the world thinks of Indians':
'In China, they hate them.
In Hong Kong.
They don't like them.
In Guadeloupe—they love us there?
The build up of word on word, of country on country and the blank white of the space around the words – what better way could there be to describe the desolation of racial prejudice?
Jhumpa Lahiri (IPA: /ˈdʒuːm.pʌ lʌˈhɪər.iː/) (born Nilanjana Sudeshna on 11 July 1967) Jhumpa Lahiŗi is an American author of Bengali Indian descent. Lahiri's debut short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and her first novel, The Namesake (2003), was adapted into the popular film of the same name.
Lahiri's writing is characterized by her "plain" language and her characters, often Indian immigrants to America who must navigate between the cultural values of their birthplace and their adopted home. Lahiri's fiction is autobiographical and frequently draws upon her own experiences as well as those of her parents, friends, acquaintances, and others in the Bengali communities with which she is familiar. Lahiri inserts struggles, anxieties, and biases under a microscope so as to better chronicle the nuances and details of immigrant psychology and behavior. No gesture, no sorrow is spared in her examinations. Until Unaccustomed Earth, her concerns were confined, for the most part, to Indian emigrant parents to America and their struggle to raise a family in a country very different from theirs. She wrote about first-generation immigrant parents' struggles to keep their children acquainted with the Indian culture and traditions. She wrote about how the parents struggle to keep their children close to them even after they have grown up in order to hang on to the Indian tradition of a joint family, where the parents, their children and the children’s family live under the same roof. In her recent Unaccustomed Earth, she steps forward to a scrutiny of the fate of the second generation and their children. As succeeding generations become increasingly assimilated into Western culture and are comfortable in constructing global perspectives, Lahiri's fiction shifts to the needs of the individual. The readers sees more clearly the departure of the second and following generations from the constraints of their parents. The latter were especially devoted to community and their responsibility to other immigrants; in Unaccustomed Earth there is a departure from the original ethos, and Lahiri's characters embark on paths marked by alienation and self-obsession.
Lahiri was born in London, the daughter of Bengali Indian immigrants. Her family moved to the United States when she was three; Lahiri considers herself an American, stating, "I wasn't born here, but I might as well have been." Lahiri grew up in Kingston, Rhode Island, where her father worked as a librarian at the University of Rhode Island; the protagonist of Lahiri's story "The Third and Final Continent" is based on her father.Lahiri's mother wanted her children to grow up knowing of their Bengali heritage, and her family often visited relatives in Calcutta, India.
When she began kindergarten in Kingston, Lahiri's teacher decided to call her by her pet name, Jhumpa, because it was easier to pronounce than her "good names".Lahiri recalled, "I always felt so embarrassed by my name...You feel like you're causing someone pain just by being who you are." Lahiri's ambivalence over her identity was the inspiration for the ambivalence of Gogol, the protagonist of her novel The Namesake, over his unusual name. Lahiri graduated from South Kingstown High School, and received her B.A. in English literature from Barnard College in 1989.
Lahiri then received multiple degrees from Boston University: an M.A. in English, an M.A. in Creative Writing, an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies. She took up a fellowship at Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center, which lasted for the next two years (1997–1998). Lahiri taught creative writing at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design.
In 2001, Lahiri married Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush, a journalist who was then Deputy Editor of TIME Latin America (and is now executive editor of El Diario/La Prenda, New York's largest Spanish daily and America's fastest growing newspaper). Lahiri lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and their two children, Octavio (b. 2002) and Noor (b. 2005).
During her six years at Boston University, Lahiri worked on short stories, nine of which were collected in her debut book, Interpreter of Maladies (1999). The stories address sensitive dilemmas in the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants, with themes such as marital difficulties, miscarriages, and the disconnection between first and second generation United States immigrants. Lahiri later wrote, "When I first started writing I was not conscious that my subject was the Indian-American experience. What drew me to my craft was the desire to force the two worlds I occupied to mingle on the page as I was not brave enough, or mature enough, to allow in life." The collection was praised by American critics, but received mixed reviews in India, where reviewers were alternately enthusiastic and upset Lahiri had "not paint[ed] Indians in a more positive light." Interpreter of Maladies won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for fiction (only the seventh time a story collection had won the award), and sold 600,000 copies.
In 2003, Lahiri published The Namesake, her highly-anticipated first novel. The book spans more than thirty years in the life of a fictional family, the Gangulis. The Calcutta-born parents immigrated to the United States as young adults, and their children, Gogol and Sonia, grow up in the United States experiencing the constant generational and cultural gap between their parents and them. A film adaptation of The Namesake was released in March 2007, directed by Mira Nair and starring Kal Penn as Gogol and Bollywood stars Tabu and Irrfan Khan as his parents.
Lahiri's second collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, was released on April 1, 2008. Upon its publication, Unaccustomed Earth achieved the rare distinction of debuting on The New York Times best seller list in the number 1 slot. New York Times Book Review editor Dwight Garner stated, "It’s hard to remember the last genuinely serious, well-written work of fiction — particularly a book of stories — that leapt straight to No. 1; it’s a powerful demonstration of Lahiri’s newfound commercial clout."
Since 2005, Lahiri has been a Vice President of the PEN American Center, an organization designed to promote friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers.
• 1993 — TransAtlantic Award from the Henfield Foundation
• 1999 — O. Henry Award for short story "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 1999 — PEN/Hemingway Award (Best Fiction Debut of the Year)
for "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 1999 — "Interpreter of Maladies" selected as one of Best American Short Stories
• 2000 — Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
• 2000 — The New Yorker's Best Debut of the Year for "Interpreter of Maladies"
• 2000 — Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut Interpreter of Maladies
• 2000 — James Beard Foundation's M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award for "Indian Takeout" in Food & Wine Magazine
• 2002 — Guggenheim Fellowship
• 2002 - "Nobody's Business" selected as one of "Best American Short Stories"
• 2008 - Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award for "Unaccustomed Earth"
Prof. Meenakshi Mukherjee taught in a number of Indian colleges in Patna, Pune, and Delhi before joining the University of Hyderabad. Her last and longest spell was as Professor of English in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been a Visiting Professor in several universities outside India, including University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago, University of California at Berkeley, Macquarie University (Sydney), University of Canberra, and Flinders University (Adelaide).
She is the author of The Twice Born Fiction (1971, rpt 2001), Realism and Reality: Novel and Society in India (1985, paperback 1992), Re-reading Jane Austen (1994), and The Perishable Empire (2000, paperback 2002). She has edited about half a dozen collections of essays some of which are Considerations: Twelve Studies of Indian Literature in English (1977), Midnight's Children: A Book of Readings (1999), and Early Novels in India (2002). In addition, she has jointly edited a few volumes including Another India (with Nissim Ezekiel, 1990). She was the founder-editor of a journal Vagartha that published Indian literature in English translation from 1973 to 1979.
Meenakshi Mukherjee received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2003 for her book The Perishable Empire: Essays On Indian Writing In English. She was the Chairperson of the Association for Commonwealth Literature And Language Studies (ACLALS) from 2001-2004 and the Chairperson of its Indian chapter (IACLALS) from 1993-2005.
Bharati Mukherjee was born on July 27, 1940 to wealthy parents, Sudhir Lal and Bina Mukherjee in Calcutta, India. She learned how to read and write by the age of three (Vignisson). In 1947, she moved to Britain with her family at the age of eight and lived in Europe for about three and a half years. By the age of ten, Mukherjee knew that she wanted to become a writer, and had written numerous short stories.
After getting her B.A from the University of Calcutta in 1959 and her M.A. in English and Ancient Indian Culture from the University of Baroda in 1961, she came to the United States of America. Having been awarded a scholarship from the University of Iowa, earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 1963 and her Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1969. While studying at the University of Iowa, she met and married a Canadian student from Harvard, Clark Blaise, on September 19, 1963. The two writers met and, after a brief courtship, married within two weeks.; Together, the two writers have produced two books along with their other independent works. Mukherjee's career a professor and her marriage to Blaise Clark has given her opportunities to teach all over the United States and Canada. Currently she is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Mukherjee's works focus on the "phenomenon of migration, the status of new immigrants, and the feeling of alienation often experienced by expatriates" as well as on Indian women and their struggle. Her own struggle with identity first as an exile from India, then an Indian expatriate in Canada, and finally as a immigrant in the United States has lead to her current contentment of being an immigrant in a country of immigrants.
Mukherjee's works correspond with biographer Fakrul Alam's catagorization of Mukherjee's life into three phases. Her earlier works, such as the The Tiger's Daughter and parts of Days and Nights in Calcutta, are her attempts to find her identity in her Indian heritage.
"The Tiger's Daughter" is a story about a young girl named Tara who ventures back to India after many years of being away only to return to poverty and turmoil. This story parallels Mukherjee's own venture back to India with Clark Blaise in 1973 when she was deeply affected by the chaos and poverty of Indian and mistreatment of women in the name of tradition, "What is unforgivable is the lives that have been sacrificed to notions of propriety and obedience". Her husband, however, became very intrigued by the magic of the myth and culture that surrounded every part of Bengal.; These differences of opinion, her shock and his awe, are seen in one of their joint publications, Days and Nights in Calcutta.
The second phase of her writing, according to Alam, encompasses works such as Wife, the short stories in Darkness, an essay entitled "An Invisible Woman," and The Sorrow and the Terror, a joint effort with her husband. These works originate in Mukherjee's own experience of racism in Canada, where despite being a tenured professor, she felt humiliated and on the edge of being a "housebound, fearful, affrieved, obsessive, and unforgiving queen of bitterness".
After moving back to the United States, she wrote about her personal experiences. One of her short stories entitled "Isolated Incidents" explores the biased Canadian view towards immigrants that she encountered, as well as how government agencies handled assaults on particular races. Another short story titled "The Tenant" continues to reflect on her focus on immigrant Indian women and their mistreatment. The story is about a divorced Indian woman studying in the States and her experiences with interracial relationships. One quotation from the story hints at Mukherjee's views of Indian men as being too preoccupied to truly care for their wives and children: "'All Indian men are wife beaters,' Maya [the narrator] says. She means it and doesn't mean it."
In Wife, Mukherjee writes about a woman named Dimple who has been surpressed by such men and attempts to be the ideal Bengali wife, but out of fear and personal instability, she murders her husband and eventually commits suicide. The stories in Darkness further endeavor to tell similar stories of immigrants and women.
In her third phase, Mukherjee is described as having accepted being "an immigrant, living in a continent of immigrants". She describes herself as American and not the the hyphenated Indian-American title:
I maintain that I am an American writer of Indian origin, not because I'm ashamed of my past, not because I'm betraying or distorting my past, but because my whole adult life has been lived here, and I write about the people who are immigrants going through the process of making a home here... I write in the tradition of immigrant experience rather than nostalgia and expatriation. That is very important. I am saying that the luxury of being a U.S. citizen for me is that can define myself in terms of things like my politics, my sexual orientation or my education. My affiliation with readers should be on the basis of what they want to read, not in terms of my ethnicity or my race. (Mukherjee qtd. in Basbanes)
Mukherjee continues writing about the immigrant experience in most of the stories in The Middle Man and Other Stories, a collection of short stories which won her the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction, Jasmine, and essays. These stories explore the meeting of East and West through immigrant experiences in the U.S. and Canada along with further describing the idea of the great melting pot of culture in the United States.
Jasmine develops this idea of the mixing of the East and West with a story telling of a young Hindu woman who leaves India for the U.S. after her husband's murder, only to be raped and eventually returned to the position of a caregiver through a series of jobs. The unity between the First and Third worlds is shown to be in the treatment of women as subordinate in both countries.
Her latest works include The Holder of the World, published in 1993, and Leave It to Me, published in 1997. The Holder of the World is a beautifully written story about Hannah Easton, a woman born in Massachusetts who travels to India. She becomes involved with a few Indian lovers and eventually a king who gives her a diamond know as the Emperor's Tear. The story is told through the detective searching for the diamond and Hannah's viewpoint. Mukherjee's focus continues to be on immigrant women and their freedom from relationships to become individuals. She also uses the female characters to explore the spatiotemporal (Massachusetts to India) connection between different cultures. In Leave It to Me, Mukherjee tells the story of a young woman sociopath named Debby DiMartino, who seeks revenge on parents who abandoned her. The story reveals her ungrateful interaction with kind adoptive parents and a vengeful search for her real parents (described as a murderer and a flowerchild). The novel also looks at the conflict between Eastern and Western worlds and at mother-daughter relationships through the political and emotional topics by the main character in her quest for revenge. Candia McWilliam of The London Review of Books describes Mukherjee appropriately as "A writer both tough and voluptuous" in her works.
The Tiger's Daughter, Houghton, 1972.
Wife, Houghton, 1975.
Kautilya's Concept of Diplomacy: A New Interpretation, Minerva, 1976.
(With Blaise) Days and Nights in Calcutta (nonfiction), Doubleday: Garden City, New York, 1977.
An Invisible Woman, McClelland & Stewart, 1981.
Darkness, Penguin, 1985.
(With Blaise) The Sorrow and the Terror: The Haunting Legacy of the Air India Tragedy, Viking, 1987.
The Middleman and Other Stories, Grove, 1988.
Jasmine, Grove, 1989.
Political Culture and Leadership in India (nonfiction), South Asia, 1991.
Regionalism in Indian Perspective (nonfiction), South Asia, 1992.
The Holder of the World, Knopf: New York City, 1993.
Leave It to Me, A.A. Knopf: New York City, 1997.
Githa Hariharan was born in 1954 in Coimbatore, India, and she grew up in Bombay and Manila. She was educated in these two cities and in the United States. She worked as a staff writer in WNET-Channel 13 in New York, and from1979, she worked in Bombay, Madras and New Delhi as an editor, first in a publishing house, then as a freelancer.
In 1995, Hariharan challenged the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act as discriminatory against women. The case, Githa Hariharan and Another vs. Reserve Bank of India and Another, led to a Supreme Court judgment in 1999 on guardianship.
Githa Hariharan's published work includes novels, short stories, essays, newspaper articles and columns.
Her first novel, The Thousand Faces of Night (1992) won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1993. Her other novels include The Ghosts of Vasu Master (1994), When Dreams Travel (1999), In Times of Siege (2003), and the new Fugitive Histories (2009).
A collection of highly acclaimed short stories, The Art of Dying, was published in 1993, and a book of stories for children, The Winning Team, in 2004.
Githa Hariharan has also edited a volume of stories in English translation from four major South Indian languages, A Southern Harvest (1993); and co-edited a collection of stories for children, Sorry, Best Friend! (1997).
Hariharan's fiction has been translated into a number of languages including French, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Greek, Urdu and Vietnamese; her essays and fiction have also been included in anthologies such as Salman Rushdie's Mirrorwork: 50 Years of Indian Writing 1947-1997. Hariharan writes a regular column for the major Indian newspaper The Telegraph.
Githa Hariharan has been Visiting Professor or Writer-in-Residence in several universities, including Dartmouth College and George Washington University in the United States, the University of Canterbury at Kent in the UK, and Jamia Millia Islamia in India.
By and large, this paper is basically enthralled the hegemony of sociology of Indian Women in the threshold of 21st century. The above mentioned writers have their cultural moorings and bearing in the deep rooted Indian ethos that has been meticulously expressed in the works of all the women writers whom we have dealt with so far in detail. The national identities and socio-economic cultural dogmas that they portray in their works assuredly proves that they are more interested in the emancipation of women from the grit of the male through their constant endeavours in the form of writing. Thus, it is certainly admirable that their works liberates them on par with self in particular and all the women in general to attain and sustain equal status and libertine way of living with dignity of self esteem and personal privilege.