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Nitya Vasudevan

By Aneeta Rajendran
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 330, Rs. 875.00


In light of a recent epiphanic bulb moment on how we (meaning the band called civil society) live in a culture that devalues femininity and all gestures and markers that accompany it, it seems like the universes have conspired to allow me to write this review, on a book that deals with the question of femininity when it is attached to a political subject, the South Asian lesbian. Aneeta Rajendran’s (Un)Familiar Femininities: Studies in Contemporary Lesbian South Asian Texts seeks to trace what she terms the ‘(un)familiar feminine’ within post-90s literature on the lesbian in South Asia. She offers this (un)familiar femininity as a critique to what she terms ‘normative femininity’, which according to her validates reproduction, motherhood and the enclosure of sexual life within the domain of heterosexual conjugality. In order to carry out this project, she moves from the figure of the butch lesbian as (un)familiar feminine and urban flaneur in Shobha De’s Strange Obsession (1992), Abha Dawesar’s Babyji (2005) and Amruta Patil’s Kari (2008); to (un)familiar female desire that complicates the straight family, in diasporic films like Nina’s Heavenly Delights (2006), I Can’t Think Straight (2008), Chutney Popcorn (1999), Bend it Like Beckham (2002) and The World Unseen (2007); to incestuous underpinnings of familial relationships that result in processes of ‘(un)familiar selving’, in Shami Mootoo’s Wake Up, Chitra Bannerji Divakaruni’s Sister of My Heart (1999) and Manju Kapur’s A Married Woman (2003); to the (un)familiar feminine’s takeover of the bildungsroman in Ismat Chughtai’s Terhi Lakheer (1995) and Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupe (2001); to, finally, the processes of mainstreaming the (un)familiar feminine in public cultures, in Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), Tarun Mansukhnani’s Dostaana (2008) and Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya (2014). Each chapter then thinks through a different aspect of the (un)familiar, as something that resides within/is yoked to the familiar, haunts it, disrupts it, becomes visible in public culture, is ‘hidden in plain sight’ (a phrase borrowed from Maya Sharma to describe butch women), or is simply the ‘hesitation’ between ‘consensus realities’, whether homo or hetero. There aren’t too many published fulllength scholarly/fictional volumes that focus solely on the figure of the South Asian lesbian, and Aneeta Rajendran refers to the few that have been published: Giti Thadani’s Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India, Maya Sharma’s Loving Women: Being Lesbian in ...

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