Wednesday, 11 March 2009



An old lady called Savitri is slowly nearing her end. She goes through dreams and emotional swings that act as posers as her sons, daughters and daughters-in-law surround her. “We seldom pause to think that a mother who has given birth, may also have an inner life of her own and may have passed on with many unanswered questions, suppressed rages and existential anxieties she was too timid or proud or confused to share,” says writer Mrinal Pande. Savitri is her creation in the “long story” Ek Stree ka Vidageet. Originally written in Hindi, the story has been translated by Pande herself and is included in the recently published compilation Five Novellas by Women Writers. I wanted to get an insight into this much-acclaimed literary work by the veteran journalist.

In the story Savitri seems to be doing a balancing act between her daughters and the daughter-in-law Sushma by portraying Sushma as a ‘good’ daughter-in-law. Yet when it comes to earthly possessions, Savitri favours her daughters. Why isn't Savitri different from the stereotyped nature of mother-in-laws, I ask Pande. “She is like all women, primarily a human being full of contradictions, and fearful and angry in turns, when facing her imminent death,” Pande explains.“We all do the same balancing act in our lives. Some almost succeed others fail. Savitri’s love for her possessions and her wariness of the daughter in law are commonplace in Indian families,” she adds. "The double standard of the mothers-in law often leads to the resentments among the daughters-in-law. Sometimes the resentments are expressed loudly. But there are people like Sushma who go inside a shell".

Delving deeper into the psyche of Indian women, Pande refers to the longing for a son she witnesses in the Indian mothers at t heir earlier years. This desire gradually changes into affection for their daughters when they are married-off. “This dichotomy is a fascinating subject.”

According to Pande, one doesn’t choose a theme for writing a story. “What usually happens is that some thoughts may be triggered off by an incident in the writer’s mind.” This was one such piece of writing at the core of which is a “Nachiketa-like attempt at understanding a human being facing mortality, the ultimate fate of all.” For Pande, the the death of her own grandmother and that of her husband's grandmother acted as triggers. In this context she says that the aim of the story telling is “not to underscore a value, but to entertain and sensitise the readers and urge them to introspect.”

I ask her about the portrayal of women in Hindi literature. “In Indian writing by males we usually come across old women as flat types: matriarchs who are an indestructible but threatening power or else harmless and sweet old ladies who the males, usually the fathers, treated badly or with indifference bordering on disdain,” Pande replies.

More than often it has been seen that the exact essence of the original gets lost in translation. “Translations into English from the original leaves one dissatisfied,” says Pande. “Translating from one Indian language into another is easier. The similarity of cultural reference points and shared history of words helps.

When asked about the feminist label that is often attached to her writings, Pande says unfortunately most people in India have a narrow understanding of the term and expect feminist writing to be crudely challenging, shrill and revengeful. “Feminism means to me a desire to see the world honestly through the eyes of a woman without prejudices or being judgemental,” she says. For her, it is rooted in a desire for true equality of chance in all spheres for all human beings, regardless of caste, class or gender. “A man can also be a feminist in that sense. It is not restrictive but a sensitising journey.”
(The interview was published in Sakaal Times of Pune,
on March 15, 2009)