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A Parallel Reform Discourse

Anne Feldhaus

Edited and Introduced by Meera Kosambi
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2012, pp. 373, Rs 795.00


Over the past two decades, Meera Kosambi has single-handedly done more than anyone else to open up the world of modern women Marathi writers to the English-reading public. Besides three books on the 19th century Maharashtrian brahmin woman who most famously converted to Christianity—Pandita Ramabai’s Feminist and Christian Conversions: Focus on Stree Dharma-neeti (1995), Pandita Ramabai Through Her Own Words: Selected Works (2000), and Pandita Ramabai’s American Encounter: The Peoples of the United States (1889) (2003)—Kosambi has published numerous essays on early women writers in Marathi (some of the essays are included in her 2007 volume Crossing Thresholds: Feminist Essays in Social History) and a book on Kashibai Kanitkar: (Feminist Vision or ‘Treason Against Men’? Kashibai Kanitkar and the Engendering of Marathi Literature, 2008). In addition, Kosambi’s book devoted solely to the 20th century Gandhian writer Prema Kantakis due to appear shortly (Mahatma Gandhi and Prema Kantak: Exploring a Relationship, Exploring History, forthcoming 2013). Crowning all these efforts, and broader than them in its scope, the present volume contains translations, summaries, and analyses of Marathi short stories and novels written by six women authors between 1886 and 1942.   The book begins with a thorough introduction to the six authors, to the political- and social-historical context within which they wrote, and to the Marathi literary currents (not only the ‘malestream’ but also writings by other women not included in the present volume) into which their writings entered. All of the selections in the volume have to do with relationships between women and men, most often within the family and in relation to marriage. Taken together, these selections support Kosambi’s contention that, in pre-Independence Maharashtra, fiction (and other writing) was a ‘parallel reform discourse’ that women could engage in, even though men were still the ones who decided what social reforms would be most beneficial for women.   The first two novels presented in the book (in abridged form) were written by Kashibai Kanitkar (1861-1948). Kosambi classifies Kanitkar’s writings as examples of ‘reformist social realism’, a genre to which both male and female writers contributed. As Kosambi points out, in the first of the excerpted novels, Rangarao (1886-1903), ‘Kashibai functions as a surrogate male reformist novelist’ (p. 43) who even has a male as the title character of her book. The second Kanitkar novel Kosambi excerpts here, Palkhila Gonda (1913-1928), includes what she describes as the first Marathi utopia: a kingdom ruled by a woman in ...

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