This collection of 21 contemporary short stories and poems from various Indian languages reframe the mother-daughter relationship as a significant issue for women’s writing from India. The daughter’s place in the family—particularly among the middle Classes – is often further complicated by the accelerating influences of education, travel, new forms of interpersonal relationship and reproductive technology. This has given many young women new mobility and freedom to travel, to live out new forms of sexuality, to make decisions about their fertility, their relationship with men and the power structures of their communities. Some of the most interesting and representative examples of this new writing included in this volume manifest the shock of the new, as contemporary developments form the interpersonal to the technological impinge on age-old patterns of familial interaction and are mediated through cultural specificities and the emotional tangles of the mother-daughter relationship. This anthology foregrounds the critical significance to this relationship, and
Calls upon feminist scholarship in India to put the mother-daughter relationship front and centre, to permit new insight into what it means to be female in contemporary India.
Ira Raja is Assistant Professor, Department of English University of Delhi and post-doctoral research fellow at La Trobe University , Australia she has edited Grey Areas : An Anthology of Indian Fiction on Ageing (2009) , and co-edited with john Thieme, The Table is Laid: Oxford Anthology of South Asian Food Writing (2007) . Her writings and translations have appeared in various international publications.
Kay Souter is Associate Professor and Associate Dean Academic, Faculty of Humanities and social sciences, La Trobe University, Australia. She has edited The Fertile Imagination: Narrative of Reproduction , a special Edition of Meridian (2002) with Maggie Kirkmam and jane Maree Maher . Her work has been published in several international collections and journals and she is also engaged in pedagogical research.
Many friends , family and colleagues at the University of Delhi and La Trobe University have contributed to the gestation and final appearance of this volume.We begin by thanking our friends Terry Collits, Ken Botnick, Assa Doron, Uday Kumar, Carol Merli, Edgar Ng, Sumanyun Satpathy, Andrew Schelling, and Jonh Wiltshire for many acts of practical support and kindness .
Eleanor Zelliot Phyllis Granoff, Geeta Kothari, Dr Anand Parkash , Mini Krishnan Usha Yadav , Nisha da Cunha , Sharda Chandra, Shashi Deshpande, Priyanka Sarkar, Rahul Sarwate, Ashley Tellis, and Sukrita Paul Kumar generously helped with the translations and original materilas . Geeta Bhatia at Penguin Books and Michael Schmidt at Carcanet Press assisted with the Permissions.
We are also very gratefuly to Mary E. John and Ruth Vanita for the right advice at critic moments.
The Australian Government’s Endeavour Research Fellowship made it possiable for us to have a sustained period of time working together and the university of Delhi and La Trobe University gave us the leave. Professor Malashri Lal and Professor S. Tandon at Delhi University and Dr Trevor Hogan and Professor Roger Wales at La Trobe helped to facilitate the
We would like to thank our families for helping us to keep a sense of perspective. Ira would like to thank her mother, Susheela Raja, for digging up new stories all the time, her Father, Dr Raja Ram, for overnight translations, and her niece.
And nephew Marjan and Tanvir, for listening to her stories. Kay would like to thank her husband, Allan Souter, for wine and patient aural support, and Olivia, Jacob, Isabel, Lily, Grace
And Emily for revivifying hands-on experience of family life. Finally, we would like to thank each other for not giving up on the other.
Mother –daughter conversation, an endless winter’ night . After dad passed away. I never sat down with her, shared the grief or tried to reduce the loneliness. I was young when she introduced the habit of reading alone. Now that she’s gone a hundred question swarm out of memory.
The epigraphs with which we begin our introductory essay suggest the range of mother- daughter relationship. They point towards the twin poles of traditional connectivity on the one hand and modern alienation and atomisation on the other. But they may also be read as responses from a finely shaded interpersonal world, which is inherently opposed to the binary. The Rajasthani proverb points as much to mother-daughter intimacy (‘endless conversation), as it does to its furtive quality (‘night’). In Sharad Chandra’s poem, likewise, the habit of reading, that quintessentially modern pursuit which divides the generations , is in effect the gift of a maternal legacy aimed at empowering the daughter. Interruption, much more than alienation or rejection, is a keyword here because long after the mother has gone, her memory continues to pose questions for her daughter. Far from representing a dichotomy of connectedness and separation, then, both epigraphs point towards interpersonal shuttle, the mutual interrogation and ongoing nature of the mother-daughter conversation, throughout and beyond life.
This anthology brings together some instances of that continuous conversation between mother and daughter, of which our two epigraphs speak, as they are found in the rich and nuanced literary medium of fiction, poetry and memoirs. Needless to say, the sample of writings discussed here represents only a minority of women. Although there is monumental evidence of women’s verbal and artistic creativity form the earliest times, the fact that a majority of Indian women to the present day are non-literate, means that they are , these leave written records of their lives. Selective as they are., these texts still mark a big step forward from the times when subjugated knowledge’s-oral tradition such. as ballads , folk songs and tales told by women- were the chief means of accessing mother-daughter subjectivity. Although earliest records of women’s writing in India go back to the 6th century BC, 2 it was only in the late 19th century, as a consequence of educational and socio- religious reforms, which saw the emergence of what Geraldine Forbes calls the ‘New Women’ in India, 3 that a much greater number of women took to writing , be it letters, diaries, autobiographies, memoires of fiction. Mother and daughter accounts are invariably a part of this female imaginary , although they mostly hover on the textual margins, and are generally overshadowed by other relationship and family configurations: the mother-son relationship , the traditional ‘loss’ of the daughter in marriage, the relationship with the mother – in-low , and so on.
This appears to have changed in recent years. Texts drawn from the lost two decades, included in this volume, suggest that the mother-daughter relationship now occupies a central place in women’s writing in various Indian languages. Conditions in the late 20th and early 21st centuries- particularly the accelerating influences of educational advancement, opportunities for travel, new forms of interpersonal relationship and reproductive technology –have worked to provide a narrative impulse for reframing and re-examining the mother-daughter relationship as a significant issue for women’s writing from India. Particularly among the middle classes, the daughter’s place in the family is often further complicated by the new mobility and freedom of many young women to travel, to live out new forms of sexuality, to make decisions about their fertility, their relationship with men and the power structures of their communities. Some of the most interesting and representative examples of this new writing included in our volume manifest the shock of the new, as contemporary developments from the interpersonal to the technological impinge on age –old patterns of familial interaction and are of the mediated through cultural specificities and the emotional tangles of the mother-daughter relationship in India needs to consider more carefully that it has so far. Putting the mother- daughter relationship front and centre permits new insight into what it means to be female in contemporary India.
Analyzing the nature of this relationship in India, however, is not straightforward. Western social and psychological paradigms do not always map comfortably onto the Indian experience. The daughter is often said to live her life in the shadow of her brother. In many Indian communities, including particularly the prosperous middle class ones, the pressure for a women to bear sons is extreme: child mortality for girls exceeds child mortality for boys by 43 per cent, 5 and selective abortion of female fetuses and the killing of newborn girls is an increasingly serious problem.6 These issues unsettle some of the foundations of western theories of mothering. Sara Ruddick’s7 influential argument that since a girl tends to have a longer pre- Oedipal phase than a boy because of her strong identification with the mother, she is likely to be the object of more (possibly persecuting) nurturance than her brother,8 for example, is not usually supported by either sociological evidence or literary representations of female childhood in India, which often show rupture and at least relative neglect in favour of the brother. Scholars from the psychoanalytic tradition, such as Sudhir Kakar9 and Steve Derne, 10 on the other hand, appear more inclined towards the theory that little girls in Indian families are likely to be indulged in childhood. But even their analysis makes it clear that girls, no matter how loved , are often contingent members of their natal families for reasons ranging from religious considerations to the burden of the dowry, form the status implications of bearing daughter, to the removal of daughter form their parent’s community on being married, and so on. 11 Far from living the western theoretical premise of an intensely experienced mother-daughter identity which is deemed necessary to disrupt for the eventual promotion of healthy individuality, the girl child in India appears structurally poised to experience only separation and disruption from her mother. This would seem likely to result in a sense of selfhood that is irreducibly embattled, especially in rural areas where a daughter may still have little contact with her natal family after marriage and may be harshly treated by the husband’s family
And yet, as the stories included in this anthology show, mother-daughter intimacy proves more resilient than familial and social structures would seem to allow. A.K Ramanujan, for instance, notes the absence in Indian folklore of explicit tales of a mother’s rivalry with her own daughter,12 which may be contrasted to western narratives about mothers and daughters, which are often structured by conflict and resentment. Indeed, our sense of the mother-daughter relationship based on the stories and accounts presented here is one of love and longing for the connection, which is often described with great delicacy of feeling and even lyricism, and is a far cry from the angry and turbulent emotional drama that is typical of western accounts. The relationship in most of these stories is characterized by an intuitive desire for connectedness on the part of both, even as each struggle with layers of cultural and social conditioning that thwart such connection. The desire to understand their lives in relation to each other can be experienced as an urgent need on the part of both mothers and daughters, and can coexist in a difficult and complex relationship with traditional norms which seek to situate mothers and daughter in relation to fathers, brothers and sons rather than to each other.
In this introductory essay we explore the interstices, the shadowy territories between the certainties of day and night, warmth and cold, and life and death, where such intimacies may unfold. The mother-daughter relationship, as inscribed in theses narratives, appears to be best understood as a dynamic interpersonal exchange mediated by shifting socio-cultural norms, as well as, by an unconscious interpersonal dimension.
Psychoanalysis has provided a major source of theoretical insight into the experiential meaning mothering. And literary and cultural criticism has made extensive use of its paradigms. The various schools of psychoanalysis are significantly at variance about the meaning of mothering, and about the extent to which they are, as Sigmund Freud believed , largely independent of cultural context. Freud’s initial attempts to think through the mother-daughter relationship famously characterized it in colonizing terms as a primitive and mysterious psychic history, a wild ‘Minoan- Mycenaean’ stratum of psychic life buried beneath the orderly superstructure of civilized patriarchy.13
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