Rosalyn D'mello: Here's to our literary godmothers
So much is said about the loneliness of the life of a writer, but the embrace of other women in the literary world can soften one's landing
I was excited about spending time with other writers, getting intoxicated over Commander in Chief rum toddy and red wine. Representation Pic/Thinkstock
The only reason I didn't buy a copy of Tishani Doshi's Girls Are Coming out of the Woods immediately after her Delhi launch on Wednesday evening was out of fear of losing my copy. Insobriety was on my agenda for the after-party I had conspired to host with Janice Pariat, who will soon unveil her own latest book, The Nine-Chambered Heart, and Akanksha Sharma, who, in her mid-20s, is probably IKEA's youngest designer. You must understand how there was a time when I used to describe myself as an alcoholic with a writing problem. However, in the wake of my surgery, I've been so well-behaved, I can spend the whole evening at an art opening, usually a site where the booze flows, so to speak, completely sober and enjoy the experience. But last night was about letting one's hair down, about daring to have a terrace party because the pollution level had gone down from severe to very unhealthy, not something one should really be celebrating, I know, but Nilanjana Roy made a lovely point during her conversation with Tishani, about the importance of indulging in delight, and Tishani spoke about her first book being titled The Pleasure Seekers, proof enough of her innate hedonism.
It has something to do with existing between different worlds. I have established so many deep and meaningful friendships with people across many industries, and I also have my fair share of friend circles that have nothing to do with any of those other worlds that I inhabit like a nomad. I was excited about spending time with other writers, getting intoxicated over Commander in Chief rum toddy and copious amounts of red wine, helpings of sushi, and fishy things Akanksha got back from Sweden. This morning I woke up with no hangover, a miracle, to say the least, but I found myself piecing together bits from last evening, how much we laughed, how indulgent we were, how we spent three hours on the table on the terrace chuckling and ranting and being absolutely hilarious. It was one of those nights where the details of what transpired are irrelevant, but the feeling it left you with, the aftertaste, is everything.
It also reminded me of the strength and resilience of the women I know in the literary world, the writers who do not hesitate to be passionate and daring and to commit to a solidarity with other women. Tishani has always embodied that for me, along with so many other writers who are my seniors, as such, but who embraced me back when I only had ambitions of being a writer and had yet to evolve the substance that would make me one… women like Mridula Koshy, Annie Zaidi, Monica Mody, Nisha Susan, Margaret Mascarenhas, Venita Coelho, Urvashi Butalia, the list just goes on. They're like my literary godmothers, and I cannot emphasise how soft the landing has been for me because they had been paving the way all along.
Writers need their communities. So much is said about the loneliness of the act, the solitudinal nature of building word upon word, inventing worlds, cushioning the souls of one's protagonists, and surviving the daily insecurities that come with the territory; the bouts of self-loathing, doubt, and despair. I learned long ago that the best survival strategy was to fortify oneself with well meaning friends, and perhaps reaching out to women came more naturally than reaching out to male writers, though I'm glad to say I have more than my fair share of male writers who've respected and nourished me, and continue to add to the bounty. There are many delightful things about Tishani's book, but I think most of all I love the title and how it communicates the emergence of a feminine consciousness that is pronouncing itself with more eagerness than before, a collective adventure, women not just speaking to each other in whispers or hiding behind veils, but coming out in droves and venturing towards a common destination. The titles of the poems are delicious too, and Nilanjana wonderfully listed her favourites during the conversation at the launch. I think this one wins — Your Body Language Is Not Indian! Or Where I Am Snubbed at a Cocktail Party by a Bharatnatyam Dancer, all the funnier because Tishani is a dancer. Precious, witty lines abound, alongside moments of tender ordinariness… This stretch from a poem she calls Clumps of Happiness really resonated, because she speaks about how, in certain moments, she thanks "he whom I don't believe in for being a poet."
"Because if it weren't for this mouse-spiced air, this particular desire to be anywhere but here, how else to turn the howl into song? How else to trawl through tundra and beach, excavating vast, treeless stretches for clumps of happiness?"
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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