A Soft Knock for a Deeper Awakening : Women’s Collective


This journal is a soft knock at the door of a citadel. However jammed a door maybe, if left ajar, it arouses expectations. All the great citadels of the world – Faith, Feudalism, Patriarchy, Monarchy, Colonising power of the self-proclaimed Bosses, Marxism, and Market Materialism have had something in them that arouses hope; hope of redemption from miseries; hope also of human revolution of letting a million flowers bloom in and around us.

At least two of these ruling narratives: Faith and Marxism began on a very elegant, egalitarian note― altruism and ego dissolution of the highest order, but then they too collapsed under their own weight, and unfortunately, what ate them up can be summed up as a strange streak of self-righteousness, that holier-than-thou attitude that assumes that truth is unidimensional, and it can easily be cut down to size to fit in the pocket of a Boss, like a quiet satin pocket-square.

Bosses in all these citadels have mostly been men and one can only have to look around at the dying trees, drying up ponds, a world crumbling down under the ominous threats of war and terror, to comprehend what man has made of man (and also of women and children and the animate and inanimate beings around him). We are all surrounded by smothering fumes, smog, gloom and disaster, trying our best to walk tall and step out towards vaster energy-fields.

To my mind, Hypermasculinism, an overdose of the instinct to rule, dominate and grab the lion’s share of the constantly diminishing common resources is the root cause of this peril. For a more equitable distribution of resources, rights and opportunities, for a fairer dose of justice ruled by compassion, shouldn’t we try the fair sex then? They have waited for so long for their turn, working hard, unseen, unnoticed?

Looming large over the artificial, man-made divides of class-creed-caste and nation is only one natural division, the division of gender, and also the intermingling of the two into one as in the transgender. Men seem to have exhausted their chances, and now is the time to try either women or the transgender. This particular journal is aimed at examining the women’s perspective on the various problems in the private and public arenas of life, and re-examine issues of war, riot, terror, love, sexuality and crimes of the worst order that have reduced the beautiful planet into an ugly world of public and private breakdowns.

Aiming to be inclusive, open and pluralistic, it would offer three sections on international, national and regional perspectives on the various debates in art, literature, sociology, politics, ethics and aesthetics. We shall include discursive articles, poems and short stories translated into English or Hindi, and the main focus would be on South Asian literature. The winter issue will be devoted only to book reviewing of Hindi/Urdu books into English and of other books in regional languages into Hindi and English.

Because we have not yet lost faith in the innate goodness of men, and also because we have seen how sensitised men can be in the best of human company, we are open to dialogue. We promise to publish fellow travellers among men from all sections of society; old and young, black, white and brown, dalit and non-dalit, people from all faiths (and atheists too), but our focus, of course, would be on the deprived sections of society, the subaltern and the marginalised, the unemployed and underemployed, who have not yet been fully heard.

We shall publish them under the column: Fellow Travellers in English and humsafar in Hindi but the prime contributors of the journal would be women from all sections of the society. Even those who have not been sent to school will find space and the stories of the inspirational among them will be told by women activists in the different regions of the world under the column Shakti.

Please abide by us! We count on you. We have not lost hope, walk along and see what a difference it generates – samrasya and madhurya of the kind seers have talked about, samrasya and madhurya that realised silence would lead up to by and by.

It goes without saying that as a movement and a formalised discourse, both Marxism and Feminism took roots in the West, but as a reflection process when it travelled far and wide, especially to the seats of ancient civilisations like India, China, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, almost like Shelley’s West Wind it titillated many seeds sleeping in the deeper layers of their racial memory and Mao’s vision of a hundred flowers blooming in their individual texture actually came true. Mao, at least in the early years, appreciated the beauty of pluralistic adaptations because he was the one who transplanted Marxism on the agrarian soils of China and enlarged the scope of rebellion by including peasants in the frame of the industrial markers on the other side of the world.

Feminism in Asia has seen many avatars: in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, Korea, Philippine, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon. It has led many mass movements struggling incessantly against both the local and the global challenges of war, terror, jingoism, mass exodus and forced dislocation, ecological crisis, lack of awareness and resources, denial of human right and distributive justice in general, but in the Indian subcontinent, this West Wind has titillated seeds in the deepest layer of Racial Memory from the pre-independence years of both proto-feminist and feminist mould appearing in women’s periodicals like ‘Chand’, ‘Stree Darpan’, ‘Arya Mahila’, ‘Manorama’, ‘Khatoon,’ and many others.

Hindi was the language of the Freedom Movement in India and most of the leaders had consciously chosen to speak and write in it. This also goes without saying that India is the land of multiple mother tongues and some kind of a link language, other than the language of the colonial masters, was the need of the hour, and to my mind, Hindi emerged as a link language basically because of its inherently democratic structure which places words from all kinds of registers—tatsam, tadbhsv, deshaj and videshaj on the same pedestal. It is its open hearted inclusiveness that helped it emerge also as a major tool of translation. When Mahadevi Verma, the veteran Hindi Poet of the early years of Chayavadi Modernism or Romantic/Gandhi Modernism in India, joined as the Editor of Chand in 1932, she published many articles in Hindi which grounded a debate on what was happening to the sisters in the West after the World War I. Most of these articles were dialogic in nature and the most interesting feature of these articles is the different shades of Hindi the articles are written in and published without much tampering. When a Gujrati woman writes in Hindi, she gives it a Gujrati flavour and thus emerge a spectrum of Urdu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Hindies with proper seasoning of the local spices.

This is the time when the Hindi-Urdu debate was at its peak but in women’s journals, both the Persianized and the Sanskritized versions stage a free play and staging a vibrant debate with the feminist writers in the West, they come dressed up in all kinds of Hindies. It is interesting indeed to note how they tie up Hindi in different styles, just as they tie up their saris, and an editor like Mahadevi Verma makes no attempt at bulldozing the difference in the name of standardizing it. Her own editorials are in chaste Hindi of the Allahabadi guava flavour, but she is open to all kinds of Hindi and this is important.

At this point, I shall bring a strange fact of history which adds an ironical note to the politics of translation. Almost four years before Simone’s seminal text The Second Sex was published in France, Mahadevi Verma’s Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan, an independent collection of feminist articles originally published in early twenties, saw the light of the day. Published earlier as editorials to the womanist magazine ‘Chand’, Shrinkhala ki Kadiyan is as revolutionary as The Second Sex, but such is the politics of translation in the world, and such the politics of reception, that no one bothered to translate or even review it in the internationally acknowledged link language of the colonial master, despite its brilliant reflections on issues like ‘Women and War’, the ‘Economic Independence of Women’, ‘Women and the World’, etc.

Asian Mode of Translation

Because it is one of the primary objectives of Pashyantee to reach out to sister languages, it goes without saying that translation artists would be the key players here, and it is important that we talk a bit about the philosophy of translation that we are going to adopt.

Marx had once talked about the Asian mode of production. To my mind there is an Asian mode of translation too which can be best summed up in these two lines borrowed from Amir Khusrao:

Chap tilak sab cheeni re

Mose naina milai ke,

Apne hi rang rang lini re

Mose naina milai ke

(You looked straight in eyes and snatched off vanities

You looked straight in eyes and I stood translated into you)


When two civilisations look deep into each other’s eyes, after a good round of preeti-kalah or affectionate tug of war, they finally give in and colour each other’s perceptions. India definitely coloured the Western perception of translation because of its long history of Bhashya and retellings. You must have noticed that this is my rendering of Khusrao’s potent lines in the classically Indian style that Anandawardhan refers to as padarthaharan and Rajshekhar as parpur pravesh and anyanani wandhit. To my mind what has gained currency as the thick text in the post-colonial translation and as inter-textual dialogue or adaptation in the Western world is actually a grand mix of what our Acharayas called Vivartan, Bhashya, Arthakriya, and Sanskara Karma at the different stages of handling older material in the new texts. Anandwardhan refers to the dialogic texts as anyayoni. Texts which fail to be dialogic are referred to as ayoni. This yoni, I suppose, is some kind of gravity centre or aporia which could manifest in the form of a khand (a segment), a tailvindu, drop of oil spread all over, or in the form of a natenpata (actor’s costume).


Apne hi rang lini re


In the course of civilisational dialogue promoted by translational ventures across borders, India seems to have actually coloured the western perception of translation. Finally, the West also has come to acknowledge the translator as an efficient director who believes in equipoise or samyak drishti. Like an efficient director, an able translator does not overpower, nor does she let the actors (words, phrase and sentence) run wild, disrupting cohesion, coherence, situationality, informativity, salience and all that is expected of a decent translation.

In order words, the West also has finally come to the realisation that a non-exploitative recognition of deference is a must in any relationship—be it a relationship among different layers of texts/human hearts/ cultures. All these layers of rhetoric, logic, and silence are linked through translation. Thanks to Venuti and others, translation today in the West too is a way of enhancing the limit of inner boundaries, a way of breathing the music of otherness into each other.


The West also has come to the realisation that there are two paradigms involved in translation: the linguistic and the ontological. The linguistic paradigm ponders on the basic question of how words relate to their meaning, and Vak to the different dimensions of meaning, while the ontological paradigm on the larger question of how diverse cultures and human hearts relate to one another. To my mind, Indian philosophy visualises linguistic meaning as a shy bride gradually unfolding herself at the different levels of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Baikhari.


As an offshoot of this linguistic paradigm, an ontological paradigm can be visualised as a meditation on a more complex question of human hearts and diverse cultures, electrifying and flowing into one another in a divine, sexual congress, looking into each other’s eyes in the appreciative wonder of a Soofi looking into the eyes of the divine Mehboob. So intense is the flow of divine energies latent in different dimensions of the interacting beings and also in the different dimensions of the human culture that all hierarchies collapse Chheeni or snatching away is a playfully tilted expression here, not at all a violent imposition. Translation is virtually a labour of love where all rigidities between the self and the other get de-established. It is a subliminal space of non ending dialogue between the translator’s naina and the ‘actors’.  This dialogue starts with a Preeti-kalah, a leela, a playful tug of war but ultimately both the source and the target language are folded into each other, tenderly highlighting each other’s essence. In translation both the source language and the target language seek peace in wearing each other’s rang and even each other’s attires as in Jaidev’s Geetagovind where towards the end of the ‘Raas’, Radha stands dressed as Krishna and Krishna as Radha, deepening each other’s consciousness, expanding each other in 990 ways.


At least in the translational politics of our times even in the West has started dreaming about the world as a circuit of 990 tongues reaching out to each other, fighting linguistic feudalism, letting everyone have a fair play, conserve the essence of even dying languages through techniques of retentions, footnoting and inter-textual take offs.


Thanks to the constant efforts of people like Homi Bhabha, Talat Asad, Gayatri Spivak and Harish Trivedi, translation both in the East and the West today is a rich interdisciplinary venture with portfolios of fields that have individually developed quasi technical expertise in various modes and media: adaptation, film studies, studies of musical renditions, dance, drama, operas, etc.


We should also mention the debt of German Romantics like Goethe, Humboldt, and the Schleal brothers in elevating the status of translators in the Western world. The way every sensible human being today is dreaming of something like a world religion to come up in the canon, these German scholars and translators had visualised the importance of world literature in the late nineteenth century. Originating in Marlin Zulhew’s theory of gestalt and deep flowing through Benjamin and Rosenzweig, this German tradition of translation seems to be deeply immersed in the sophisticated traditions of Hegelian dialectics as it tries out a pluralistic spectrum of methods, remaining polite and open-ended to the core:


“Just as our soil itself has no doubt become richer and more fertile and our climate milder and more pleasant only after much transplantation of foreign flora, just so we sense that our language...can thrive in all freshness...only through the most many sided contacts with the foreign.”


Thanks to the constant efforts of translators both in the East and the West, people have started hailing the Aesthetics of cultural pluralism. Post-colonial translators have played a magnificent double role in bridging linguistic and cultural gaps through the native wisdom of ‘parpurapravesh’ , ‘fan yi’ or turning over of the embriodary (as in the Chinese tradition) lapia or story telling (as in Nigerian tradition or cannibalisation (as in Brazilian tradition).


Prabha Khetan and the Feminist Translators in India


This goes without saying that Modernism was a great movement in arts and aesthetics because it created many East-Wests encounters and resulted in instressing and in escapingof all kinds. By the end of the two world wars, the need for a spirited dialogue made a clear mark and cultural activities all the world over translated as much as they could to reach out to the larger world, breathe the music of otherness in their own beings and enhance the limits of inner boundaries. Not only philosophers like Marx and psychologists like Freud, Jung and Adler but also poets from different colonies and nations, old and new. This was the time that Existential philosophers like Sartre and Simone also made their inroads with different languages in South Asia and India they made inroads through the translation of feminists like Prabha Khetan. During her stay in the west, she not only published a book on the reception of Sartre in India but also translated the seminal work of Simone, The Second Sex, into Hindi and here she did adopt the Asian technique of translation which Anandwardhan refers to as “Padarthaharan” in the heightened state of spiritual identification, in pen forms a leela, lumps down the text and reshapes it to open it up to new interpretations. This whole process of mystical union sums to be saying: out of the many bonds that we share, we can choose to take a fancy flight on one out of the many meanings that an Ananyayoni, complete text generates, let’s play with at least one.

It is through such a translation that civilisation look up deep into each others’ eyes. It is through such a translation that marriage of minds take place. Such a translation plays a great role in knowing each other in essence. Knowing each other in essence is a mystical process basically because it dissolves all boundaries and takes us to the moment of deep identification where one can’t help falling in love with each other. In the womanist sense of the world is the heightened awareness of the sisterhood of souls where you drop down social constructs like class, caste and creed like a soul dropping body behind like clothes.

Existentialism too talked of the essence. It did talk of the essential choices to drop down the base and embrace the essence that is why Lefebure called it “new mysticism” and Camus endured it as an offshoot of surrealism. At offering an anthropological interpretation of her phenomenology of spirits, Kojeve also had read existentialism as the course of human consciousness throughout history.


Sartre, I suppose, was the first to realise that Husserlian phenomenology ought not to content itself with being just another ideal that moves sufferings, hunger and war. Both Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had aligned themselves at the end of the war as closely as possible with Marxism, though without communist party in order to preserve their freedom of manoeuvre.

Simone de Beauvoir the classic example of this new formed freedom: a freedom of tone, tool and style. Though she was an agregee in philosophy, she did not pursue an academic career. She preferred to read, write and travel – in a word, to live. Her very first book became the Bible of French Feminism where in the mechanising of alienation ( a concept that went back beyond Marx’s early writings, to Hegel) in women, in retracting how women have wound up internalising the conditions of being subordinate to men.

Beauvoir literally illustrated through so many examples how one is not born a woman but becomes a woman. This argument was to all more warmly received and by a vast public, since Beauvoir , far from claiming it to adopt a scientific stance knew how to speak for herself and how to strike the right tone to press the simplest thing—the things of everyday life.

Feminism in India received French ethics as the new civic religion of a non coercive society that democracy proposes. The relative continuity of the roles of male and female was elevated in context- body, love, seduction, work and political power. At least this is how Prabha reads it in her brilliant translation of the text and in her own feminism treatise published after globalisation, she took the debate to the next level, concluding that the democratic dynamism at the centre of the movement in the post globalisation years has failed to reach its full potential at least in South Asia.   Advanced democratic ideas were instrumental in bridging the gap between the genders but they fail to deliver the full interchangibility of the roles.

The conflict between egalitarian logic and the social logic of altercrity did not end, so both co-exist and the differences persist. Both genders have acquired the components needed for autonomy at least in the educated middle class and the self-employed women of the higher income group, but among the South Asian women the postmodern social preference for the complete autonomy of the subject has not achieved an all-encompassing rupture with the past.


Recent Debates on Existential Choices About How To Connect With The Past


This is the point where we could bring in the recent debates in India and existential choices about how to connect with the past. In Hindi this debate took off way back 1992 when Prabha received by book, <hindi> in Itans. In this long received article Prabha had basically underlined my womanist deconstruction of Indian Devis and has focussed especially on my constructive study of how they figure in scriptures and in the folklore but she had also warned me against my tendency to read too much into tradition. Actually she was arguing on the lines of Eagleton, problematizes all states of sublimity as excessive and I kept wondering how to fit in the Buddhist notion of the middle path, to join notion of the ‘Anekantmend’ the Hindu and the Sikh notion of Stithpragnata and the Sufi notion of praising a Subzbah, an echoing green parallel to the dark woods of the oblivion into this Western mindset of visualising universe as a pendulum shuttling between a series of binaries—victory and failure, infinity and mortality, order and anarchy, self-affirmation and self-dispossession.

My basic argument was that the guiding principle of both Faith and Marxism were the same—ego, dissolution, an Altruism of the highest order, and cause that left both Faith and Marxism down was also the same—self righteousness, the Holier than Thou attitude of the most vulgar kind which reduces truth to a neatly folded hanky lying and cure in no man’s pocket.

The real challenge of womanism in Asia today is to underline the pitfalls of their central crisis of faith in life—be it the faith in oneself, the faith in others or the faith in an integrated value system.

They show that so many years of cosmic groundlessness have promoted important markets as the new good market economy offers so many healthy packaged therapies and counselling sessions too spiritual orphans, little realisation that the best thing in life can’t be bought <word>, sex can be bought not love, facilities can be bought but peace of mind at no cost. One has to invest one’s whole being for achieving the higher order of love and peace the ultimate that one can wish, comes only with faith in oneself, faith in others, and faith also in the integrated value system metaphorised as god.

The spectrum of spiritual values is also a spectrum of basic human values, but many centuries of terror, partition and riots have made it obvious that spiritual values institutionalised with religion could be as problematic as the idea of love institutionalised into marriage. So the agenda should be to let literature play the God.

This was the argument I developed in my next few books and Prabha Khetan smiled with the dignity of difference that we honour so much in Womanism.

After the Gujrat riots, this whole debate took a different form, and the ethical ambivalence of resistant violence came into question in the face of mounting militarism not only in India but the whole of South Asia, womanists turned to anti-state, liberating movements in the region that employ violence to achieve their political aims. Scholars like Shrila Roy argued how some of the ethical quandaries that arise from the embrace of such violence particularly for feminist for whom practical violence and militarism is today a moot point. It goes without saying that feminists’ response towards resistant political violence has been less straightforward than towards violence of state suggesting a more ambivalent ethical position towards the former. The nature of this ambivalent ethical position can be located in a post colonial feminist ethics than is conceptually committed to the use of political violence only in exceptional circumstances on the basis of the ethical ends that this violence serves (and opposed to other repressive violence.)

In opening up this ethical ambivalence and ethics of ambiguity as Beauvoir says- to interrogation and reflection, most of the feminists in south Asia today underscores the difficulties involved in ethically discriminating between forms of violence, especially when they consider the manner in which such distinctions rely on and reproduce gendered modes of power. This raises particular problems for current feminist appraisals of resistant political violence as an expression of women’s empowerment and agency.

The grants the movement a kind of existential crisis as in makes it impermeable for feminists in South Asia to partake in the painfulness of an indefinite questioning (de Beauvoir, 76, 135 in which morality and power may co-exist).


Why Pashyanti?

Of the four layers of the linguistic subconscious that Bhartrihari talks about at length in “Vaakyapadeeyam”, we have chosen the second layer of “Pashyanti” as the name of this first womanist journal of its kind in the Hindi-Urdu pubic sphere primarily because that is the stage in which almost with the onrush of the ganga descending from the peaks of the Himalayas the primary vibration of thought descends from the ideational plane ( para – stage) onto the pre-linguistic stage of conceptual crystallization before descending down on concrete earthly plains or green valleys of Madhya and Baikhari.


~ Anamika.