Self-narratives in Southasian Literatures

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Engelska parken 9-3042
  • Arrangör: Indologi och Forum för sydasienstudier
  • Kontaktperson: Heinz Werner Wessler
  • Konferens

A workshop on autobiographies and other forms of self-narratives in Southasian literatures

Self-Narratives in Southasian Literatures

Workshop in Uppsala (Sweden), 7.-8.7.2018


Ram Prasad Bhatt (Hamburg University, Germany):

Life and times of Śaileś Maṭiyānī : Writer and Rebel


Shailesh Matiyani an important Hindi fiction writer who is not much known in the western world wrote between the years 1950 and 1990. Like most Hindi fiction writers in Post-Independence India, Matiyani too carried on the literary tradition setup by the great Hindi author, Premchand but he is unique as he did not just wrote but also lived his characters in his fiction writing. He himself embodied his depiction of struggle, homelessness, poverty, caste discrimination and the fighting spirit of the lower and lower-middle class in his writings. Many times, he is compared with Tolstoy and Turgenev for bestowing the liveliness and dignity to his characters and with Jean Genet and Maxim Gorki for his biography and was hugely ignored and sidelined by mainstream Hindi authors of his time. Matiyani has not written an autobiography but he has written some memoirs. This paper analyzes Matiyani’s memoirs and attempts to reconstruct his biography and discuss him as a writer and as a family father. 


Monika Browarczyk (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland):

If I return this time I must return greater... Kunwar Narain’s Reminiscences and Retellings of the Past.


Kunwar Narain, the poet of the world, who chose to write in Hindi, passed away on November 15, 2017. In his interviews, introductions to published works and public speeches Narain at length had discussed matters connected to his writing, poetry and aesthetics, but was somewhat reluctant to share details of his private life. The intention of this paper, nevertheless, is to look at elusive glimpses of his life narrated in four poems (published in 1961, 2009 and 2002) and a short story (published posthumously in 2018). All of these works bring memories of Narain’s visits to Poland.


Alaka Chudal (Vienna University, Austria):

A collective (auto-)biography: Nepalese women in their sociocultural surroundings

This paper will study numerous personal narratives of Nepalese women collected in Svaastitvako khoj (2013) edited by Archana Thapa. It will try to discover the ‘individual’ vs. ‘social’ self as presented by those women in social, religious and cultural settings in the society they lived in. It will also analyse different socio-religious challenges, problems and inner stress those writers faced in the second half of the 20th Century. With the help of these narratives it will then locate “Nepalese women” in their sociocultural surroundings.


Alessandra Consolaro (Torino University, Italy):

(Impossible?) Adivasi autobiography: the expression of the self in Nirmala Putul and Jacinta Kerketta’s poems and in Rejina Marandi’s novel Becoming me.


The mainstream discourse on Adivasi literature is based on the notion that there is no individual self in the Adivasi cultures and therefore autobiography is impossible. In my presentation I will try to discover the individual self in the work by Nirmala Putul and Jacinta Kerketta, two Adivasi poets writing in Hindi, and in Rejina Marandi’s novel Becoming me.


Pär Eliasson (Uppsala University, Sweden):

Bahina Bai: God, Guru and the Self


Bahiṇābāī is a 17th century Marathi poet from southern Maharashtra, belonging to the Vārkarī movement. In her songs, she describes how she is between spiritual longing and wifely duties, trying to reconcile the both. My presentation will focus on how the interrelated themes of God, the guru and the self are elaborated in Bahiṇābāī’s autobiographical songs.


Barbara Lotz (Wuerzburg University, Germany):

Reading Indian Trans* Autobiographies: A Narratological Approach


Transgender autobiographies have emerged as a prominent sector within the self-writing literature of marginalized groups such as Dalits, Adivasis or women in India. Considering their texts as manifestos, the authors narrate not only personal experiences as members of Third Gender communities, but situate their work in a context of activism towards civil rights of trans*persons in India. For the reader of these autobiographies, a high degree of authenticity and ‘truth’ derives from the proclaimed or assumed synonymity of the protagonist with the author as well as the narrating “I” of the life story in the sense of Lejeune’s autobiographical pact; yet a narratological approach would take a closer look at questions of authorship and self-fictualization, or at narrative strategies in possible anticipation of the readers’ expectations. Three Indian autobiographies will be discussed: “I am Vidya” by Living Smile Vidya (2007), “The Truth about Me. A Hijra Life Story” by A. Revathi (2010), and “Me Hijra, Me Laxmi” by Laxminarayan Tripathi (2015). For comparative reasons, two recent German Trans*autobiographies might be consulted in an exemplary way: “Trans im Glück” by Livia Prüll (2016) and “Die transzendierte Frau” by Jean Lessenich (2012).


Nabila Rehman (University of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan):

Female self-narratives in modern Panjabi literature


Female poetic expression existed from the very beginning of Punjabi literature in the form of folk songs, which contain a wide range of expressions of the female self. Besides these mostly anonymous traditions, the composition of poetry under male pseudonym – pen name or name of any male member of the family – has been quite common. In early twentieth century, some female writers appear in the world of fiction writing. The first autobiography proper has been published in 1976 in Indian Punjab written by Amrita Pritam, the perhaps boldest female Punjabi writer altogether. Since then, some more autobiographies composed by female authors in Punjabi have come out, but neither of them reached the level of reflexivity and literary quality of Amrita Pritam. Nevertheless, the more recent autobiographies can be very expressive, and display profound philosophical and intellectual self-narratives.


Marina Rimscha (Hebrew University, Jerusalem Israel):

Men without women or women without men? A literary analysis of Dalit autobiographies


While Dalit literature has been mainly researched for its sociopolitical significance, its literary analysis has in most cases been limited to content analysis while very little attention has been paid to diverse literary strategies used by Dalit authors.

As part of my dissertation project that analyzes narrative strategies, language, imagery etc. used by Dalit writers in their autobiographies, this short study of Kausalyā Baisantrī’s Dohrā Abhiśāp, Omprakāś Vālmīki’s Jūṭhan and Tulsīrām’s Murdahiyā and Maṇikarṇikā illustrates how Dalit autobiographers avoid mentioning the other sex and deal with gender inequality.


Rosine Vuille (Zuerich University, Switzerland)

Sobti-Hashmat: the plural identity of the writer


The phenomenon of writers creating a “double”, a pen name, is well-known. The pen name can constitute a cover, a means of hiding one’s true identity. It can also be the marker of a division in the work of a writer, between two or more quite different genres or styles. For women writers, the adoption of a male pen name has long been a way of asserting the equal quality of their works to that of men writers (George Sand, George Eliot). In the case of Krishna Sobti (b. 1925), the creation of a double seems however more complicated, since Hashmat, her “alter ego”, is not a pen name in the usual understanding of the term but rather another identity of the writing voice, offering other perspectives on writing and questioning the identity of narratives voices. Through the examination of Sobti’s creation of an “alter ego”, this paper will present reflections on writing and identity as well as on the construction and the perception of the self in texts which border on autobiography.


Heinz Werner Wessler (Uppsala University, Sweden):

On Vinod Kumar’s ādivāsī jīvan-jagat, the author’s self, and the epistemology of empathy


I will try to present my reading of a short story collection of Vinod Kumar on the background of the anubhūti and sahānubhuti binary that is of central importance in the discourse on the Dalit literary self. I will try to relate this discourse to theories of literary empathy, particularly Karl Morrison and Susanne Keen. The vivid description of complex internal psychology under external adversity allows readers the experience of an imaginative immersion in another individual’s sufferings (and possibly, but not necessarily, joys), an experience of feeling with or feeling as. The discovery, however, of difference (not empathetic identity) is not less important. While empowerment, questions of cultural representation, exploration of the collective nature of experience and resistance to individualism are key issues to minorities’ discovery of the self, I will try to explore the value of the literary empathy of a non-Adivasi author, whose primary literary concern – similar to Mahasveta Devi - is Adivasi marginalization.