Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

C. Joy Bell C beautifully wrote on women’s strength, “The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.” In her recently published volume Female Voices in Literature Dr. Rashmi Saikia comes up well prepared to give a collective resistance to women in real life and society selecting a few writers who were concerned about women and their agonized marginalization in the Northeast.

The critical fabric is woven in this volume of well-researched papers in fourteen invaluable chapters which are contributed by eminent academicians and research associates. Dr. Rashmi who is an Associate Professor at Gargaon College gave a clarion call to researchers and academicians to raise a collective voice of resistance against women suffering and muse on a distinct identity for women. The texts selected by the writers in this book signify the milestones for literature on Females.

Everything from Gender inequality to eco-feminism has come under the umbrella of this volume. She herself opined that this volume is aimed at slaking “the literary and critical thrust of the readers, research scholars and critics”. The writers in this volume analyze the various issues of women from different perspectives and locate the position and status of women as projected by women writers in the contemporary period” as stated in the Preface to the book. In our contemporary times, female writers who pioneered the protest movement in the literature include  Kamala Markandaya, Nayantara Sahgal, Ruth Prawar Jhabvala, Shashi Deshpande, Anita Desai,  Githa Hariharan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manju Kapur  Arundhati Roy and Shobha De to mention a few.

The great feature of the book is the focus on the excellent women writers of the Northeast focusing on women and addressing the issues pertinent to the region.  Anmona Bora in her insightful article “Mitra Phukan’s The Collector’s Wife: A Study of the Intricate Complexities of ‘Them and ‘Us” throws critical light on the history of postcolonial Assam which is inflicted by many socio-politico-economical jerks evoked by colonial exploitation. Violence and insurgency are almost a part of Assamese life, nay the Northeast as a whole which is a volatile region devastated by insurgency and militant activities.

The futility of violence is analyzed with great critical acumen and the division of ‘them’ and ‘us’ withers away in the pain of the protagonist. The term ‘ecological wisdom’ is explored and the writer shows the evolution of superstitions by exploring the rich heritage of folklore.  Eco-feminist reading of Jahnavi Barua’s Undertow by Research Scholar Bhargavi Gogoi explores the oppression of nature by linking it to the oppression of women in the patriarchal society. Research scholars are now very much updated and their inclusion in the volume has enriched the content. This is also true of Akanshya Kashyap’s article on R.K Narayan’s The Painter of Signs as she analyzed the evolution of women from modest and tradition-bound housewives to bold, confident and professional ladies which is a recurrent theme in Narayan’s novels including The Guide.

In another article on Women in Patriarchal Structure two novels of Antia Desai Cry, the Peacock and Where Shall We Go This Summer? are analyzed to show how Desai focused on the female desire for freedom from societal and traditional family norms. Kabeen Teronpi in her article highlights the physical vulnerability and psychological trauma of women. Here also we get excellent focus on women in the time of insurgency and ethnic clashes that increase incidents of sexual violence, wounding detention, deprivation, and even death.

Dr. Raujline Siraj Farjina Akhtar explores the issue of marginalization which is a complex process of subjugation and domination relegating women to the lower or outer edge of society. In the joint article of Amiya Saikia and Dr. Indu Swami wonderfully discussed the women’s sensibility in the novels of R.K.Narayan and showed how women are ignored as the second sex down the ages. R K Narayan’s popular novels–The Dark Room, The Guide, Mr Sampath and The Painter of Signs–not only reflect the sad plight of women but also their ultimate self-consciousness and revolt against it.

We get in this book a very new perspective from which Shyamolima Saikia looks at the female standpoint in Githa Hariharan’s The Thousand Faces of Night in the light of Postmodernist aesthetics. Githa Hariharan’s work belongs to the Renaissance of Indo-English literature which began with the appearance of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children in the early 80s.

Temsula Ao is an award-winning writer of the Northeast. Eco-Critical study of Temsula Ao’s Laburnum for My Head: Stories gave importance to the eternal bonding that develops between man and nature and its benevolent aspect. This article provides some relief to the painful saga of females in this book. Kamala Markandaya in her female-centric novels stresses always issues of inequality and injustice meted out to the women along with the need for women empowerment and emancipation. Prof Ritamoni Chutia and Research Scholar Shilpisudha Goswami have analyzed Markandaya’s writings in two articles that focus on women sensibility and the pressure of rituals and customs on women’s life. Shweta Sur comes up with the role of women of the Northeast in the reconstruction of the mythic tales. It is a new approach to the folk tales and myths which are the important areas of the colonial ethnographic agenda for a better understanding and effective control of the area by the colonial forces.

Literature has now become a powerful weapon in the hand of post-colonial women writers who constantly muse on the ever-changing socio-political and economic scenario and issues related to female identity in the male-dominated society are the prime focus of academic research for academicians. 

Dr . Rashmi Rekha Saikia specialized in the study of the novels of Anita Desai for her doctorate degree from Assam University. Even in her papers presented in national and international conferences, her focus is on women – the intricate complexities, physical and psychological anxiety and vulnerability, marginalization of the voices, arduous effort for resistance against male denial, insecurity of women during insurgence and also in the normal time, women sensibility, and even female standpoint in the light of postmodernist aesthetics.

In Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami wrote, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” This anthology of writings on women is exactly such a book that makes us think profoundly and inspires us to revisit the past and the present of women’s lives in the Northeast as well as in the mainstream literature depicting women in Indian society. The nice arrangement of the articles and the perfectly composed Index at the end of the book show the sincerity of the Editor to locate the positional potential areas in this mighty book

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is an Academician and Columnist. He may be reached at profratanbhattacharjeyy@gmail.com 

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