Writing Self, Writing Violence

Panel at the SANR Meeting 2021

With a focus on different genres of life writings, we propose to take a look at the constructions of the self in the face of violence, be it domestic, societal, political (or however else one might choose to index it) in order to identify strategies used by the authors to fabricate a narrative capable, in the view of their authors, of dealing with the trauma impacting their lives. Of special interest here are the writers who by virtue of being members of marginalized groups – women, Dalits, religious minorities, those incarcerated else deprived of civil rights in other ways – see their writings as testimonies subverting the dominant discourse. Keeping in mind the concepts of intersectionality (Crenshow 1989), the self in performance (Lambert-Hurley, Malhotra 2017), and the vocality/muteness of the subaltern (Spivak 1988) the panels presents individual case studies showcasing the interplay of the personal and the political.


Monika Browarczyk, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland 
Ants Among Elephants(Autobiographical) Writings of Meena Kandasamy, Sujatha Gidla and Yashica Dutt

Meena Kandasamy, Sujatha Gidla and Yashica Dutt authored three distinctive autobiographical narratives, i.e. respectively: When I Hit You or A Portrait of the Writer as a Young WifeAnts Among Elephants. An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India (both published in 2017) and Coming Out As Dalit. A Memoir of 2019. The paper seeks to analyse the narrative strategies applied by these authors in their tales of their individual lives against the background of their underprivileged communities, and in this manner, they subvert the dominant discourse of high castes and patriarchy in India. The distinctive narrative voices of the three authors tell in turn a novelistic plot, a biographical story of a relative and a communist hero, and an essay-cum-reportage interwoven with a tale of one’s life.

Maria Skajuj-Puri, Independent Scholar and Translator
Punjabi Poetry and the Trauma of 1984

Military operation (June 1984) aimed at flushing out Jairnail Singh Bhindrawale and his cohort from the Golden Temple, left hundreds of people dead. The desecration of the temple and the bloodshed committed within its walls shook the Sikh community and led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh body-guards (31 October 1984). This was followed by anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other places (November 1984), and an unprecedented growth of militancy in Punjab. Punjabi intellectuals addressed the matter in various ways, trying to make sense of the traumatic event and its aftermath.

The present paper is a continuation of an on-going study of the literary responses of Punjabi intellectuals to the traumatic events of 1984. Here I focus on the autobiographical in the poetic oeuvre of dr. Mahinder Kaur Gill (1937-2017), Prof. Harbhajan Singh (1920-2002) and Prof. Sutinder Singh Noor (1940-2011), analysing ways the trauma of 1984 and the anti-Sikh sentiments they faced were articulated in their writings. While Harbhajan Singh, a university professor, is known predominantly as a poet and literary critic; Mahinder Kaur Gill was an educationalist and a scholar of religion; and Sutinder Singh Noor, a scholar of literature and a literary critic. All of them are incidentally Sikh, all of them were Delhi-based and all of them wrote in Punjabi. As most of the writings - autobiographies, poems, fiction - dealing with the subject were written and published only years after the 1984 events, one is faced again, as was the case with the Partition of 1947, with the question of how to come to grips with the memories of a traumatic past. The paper tries to answer this question.

Alessandra Consolaro, Department of Oriental Studies, University of Turin
Childhood, mystery and the idea of a self in memoires by Uday Prakash

In this paper I will focus on some very short stories by Uday Prakash published as “autobiographies”. Three of them appear in the short story collection Tirich (The poisonous lizard), first published in 1989; five autobiographical sketches are found in the collection Aur ant meṃ prārthnā (And, in the end, a prayer), first published in 1994. The focalization on the child character produces an indeterminacy that engages in a delightful game with the final ratiocinations of the first-person adult narrator, especially when the child faces traumatic experiences. In these micro stories, time, space and emotions scroll like a film, moving from within the memory and shaping the self in very mysterious ways. At a metanarrative level, writing appears as a journey on the path of memory, from the past towards the present and perhaps even leaping into the future.

Alaka Chudal, Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, University of Vienna
Why do they recite the story? 

The Svasthanivratakatha is one of Nepal’s best-known and most read and heard storytelling traditions. Originated in the sixteenth century, this text is a devotional text that tells the story of a ritual vow dedicated to the Nepali goddess Svasthani and recited annually for the winter month of Magh (mid-January to mid-February). The widespread popularity of the Svasthanivratakatha and the use of its stories as a shared cultural vocabulary among Nepal’s Hindu majority (80% of 29 million). 

Taking this text as a case, this paper would like to approach a new methodology of imagining the self [of contemporary women reciting it] through a ritual performance. It will explore the text and its practice or recitation in the contemporary period and will seek answers for the questions such as: Why this text is still relevant today? What kind of self the performer imagines while reciting and performing the vow? What attracts the women towards this storytelling tradition and performance of the vow? Do the modern time Nepali women still find themselves identical with the female characters presented in the story? The religious text of the Svasthanivratakatha and some interviews and narratives of contemporary Nepali women will be used as the source material.