Male and female writers at the Bangalore Literature Festival both agree that there’s a need to work towards a gender neutral literary society.
The Bangalore Literature Festival this year had dozens of literary personalities speaking at sessions over the course of 3 days, including celebrity fare in the form of Rani Mukherjee, Chetan Bhagat, and Gulzar. Plenty was talked about, much was learned, and a lot was eaten.
One of the main topics of discussion on the second day was the role of gender in Indian literature, and how it either had an impact on society or was inspired by it. On the Male Voice panel were four Indian authors – Indrajit Hazra, Siddharth Dhanvant Shangvi, Altaf Tyrewala, and Palash Krishna Mehrotra, and moderating them was Mita Kapur, author and one of the creative brains behind the Jaipur Literature Festival.
The Male Voice
The discussion kicked off with Mita asking the panelists how they’d approach writing about a character through a female lens, who almost unanimously said that male characters came naturally to them, and that they’d have to research a lot more when it came to women. The exception was Altaf, who said he had stopped thinking about the gender aspect of his characters, and focussing on their personalities instead. He took the example of his upcoming novel, where he’s writing about the corporate world that treats all employees as “humans” rather than as a woman or a man. Palash Krishna Mehrotra noted that a lot of his male characters were not the macho-stereotype they’re portrayed as, saying that there were
“certain spaces I know I can be comfortable with, because I’m a man.”
Sanghvi also talked about a misogynist senior writer he knew of who never read books written by women, and said that writers, like actors, need to be able to portray characters who are polar to their own persona.
But the one thing that all of them seemed to agree upon was that the world – including Indian literature – needed to move to a space beyond gender being the pivotal factor, and was summed up by Indrajit well:
“It is for the readers to infuse their own general angles to the books they read.”
Women’s Narratives in Indian Literature
The session on Women’s Narratives had a diverse panel of renowned women in their respective fields – Former Delhi High Court Justice Leila Seth, Chinese author-journalist Lijia Zhang, author Shobhaa De, and Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir – well known for their work with women’s rights.
Moderator journalist Nupur Basu took the conversation around almost all aspects of sexism that most women see in their daily lives, with each of the panelists contributing stories of how they faced and fought back the patriarchal society they grew up and live in. While Leila spoke about how she fought her way through a male-dominated law school and practice in London, Shobhaa remarked that just about everything a woman does or says becomes a political statement.
“The minute you stifle women’s voices, the world becomes a poorer place.”
Lijia Zhang chipped in to talk about how she was forced to leave school to work in a factory to help support her family and how she fought to get herself educated through college, where she started fighting for women’s and citizen’s rights in China. Asma Jahangir also said that though women have always been in a state of emergency, each one has their own way of dealing with it.
The conversation turned to women in literature, and Shobhaa said she found it weird that women who write are always referred to as “women writers” and not just “writers”. Leila added that the “woman” tag always sticks, even in her days climbing the justice ladder in India.
Once again, the final verdict on this session too spoke of the need to move to a post-gender society where humans are all treated and understood as equals.With input from the Bangalore Literature Festival website here and here. Originally posted on The Alternative