Shanta Imrapur, ed. Nirdiganta; 2Vols.
Sindara Pustaka Prakashana, 2009 price= 359
“ A Unique Festschrift”
Beginning with Sambhaavane, presented to B. M. Shri. in 1941, there is a rich tradition of festschrifts in Kannada; but most of them tend to be felicitation volumes, full of admiration and eulogy for the concerned writer. However, Nirdiganta, presented to Dr. Veena Shanteshwar is an exception; the articles in these two volumes go beyond personal eulogy and critically discuss the form and concerns of the Short Story in different Indian languages.
Dr. Veena Shanteshwar’s achievements are manifold: a scholar in English, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi, she is also a reputed writer of fiction and criticism, a successful translator, and an able administrator. She has to her credit, 27 works including five short-story collections and two novels in Kannada,; many research papers in English; and eight works of translation from Hindi, English and Marathi to Kannada, including the Sahitya-Akademi Award-winning novel, Nadi Dwipagalu, from Hindi. She has founded many literary-cultural associations in Dharwad, among which the most notable is the Association of Women writers of North Karnataka, of which she was the founder-member in 1985, and later Secretary and President. As the principal for nine years, she was responsible for the all-round development of Karnatak College, Dharwad. Many awards and honours have come seeking her including the ‘Dana Chintamani Award,’ the highest award instituted by Karnataka Govt. for women writers. The festschrift, presented to her to mark her 65th birthday, is worthy of such a multi-faceted personality.
As a festschrift, Nirdiganta (in two volumes) contains many novel and meaningful features. As the Chief Editor notes, these volumes are being published in the centenary year of women’s writing in Kannada (the first novel in Kannada by a woman, Santubai Neelagara’s Sadguni Krishnabai, was published in 1909). The first volume contains, besides critical articles on the form and concerns of Short Story and on the works of Veena Shanteshwar, scholarly overviews of Short Story by women in 14 Indian languages. The second volume contains interviews of eleven major women writers in Kannada, each interview followed by a representative story of that writer. The focus of all these articles is ‘the woman as writer’ – her problems, struggles and successes. Owing to lack of space, I can make only a point or two, selectively.
When we go through the review articles, what strikes us first is the Sahitya Akademi motto that ‘Indian Literature is one, written in different languages.’ Some of the common concerns of the stories in different languages are: subordination of women due to traditional beliefs and practices, denial of formal education, exploration of the varied paths of freedom, reinterpretation of characters in myths and classical epics, and search for feminine identity.
But, importantly, there are region-specific variations. It seems that Punjabi (women) writers have responded more forcefully than others to the pressures of globalization on farmers and agriculture; stories charged with ideologies dominate in Malayalam; and so on. In this context, the stories in Manipuri and Bodo appear to stand apart. Since both Manipur and Assam are prone to terrorism since long, most of the stories in Manipuri and Bodo dramatize the plight of women and children caught in between the Indian Army and native terrorists.
The interviews of major women writers drive home the point that writing for a woman is like swimming against the current; they have to write amidst such adverse conditions as poverty, lack of formal education, virulent opposition, and lack of encouragement. While most were ridiculed, a few others were physically manhandled. Also, all of them have to sail in two if not three boats –Family, Profession and Writing. Despite such heavy odds, the fact that they do write and write seriously is a tribute to their indomitable will and irrepressible creative urge.
The members of the editorial board deserve hearty congratulations on bringing out a major reference work in the field of Indian Short Story by women.
Dr. C. N. Ramachandran