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Gendered Subalterns

Women Writing Gender: Marathi Fiction before Independence edited, translated and with an Introduction by Meera Kosambi (New Delhi: Permanent Black), 2012; pp 386, Rs 795.

Meera Kosambi has earlier enriched our knowledge of 19th century south Asian social history enormously with her incisive, pathbreaking work, in particular that on gender and women’s history in what we would today call Maharashtra, most notably with a focus on Pandita Ramabai, but also a host of others, mostly born between 1858 and 1870 – Anandibai Joshee, Rakhmabai, Kashibai Kanitkar, et al. It is Kashibai Kanitkar who forms the link and bridge between Kosambi’s earlier work on feminist social history and the book under review. This latest book is a project in the feminist socio­logy of literature – fascinating in its scope and ambition, yielding suggestive, adventurous results.

Kosambi sees literature by Marathi upper caste women from the very late 19th century to the 1940s as providing a space for discourse on reform. The journey starts with Kanitkar’s entry into the literary public sphere in the 1880s, and ends with Prema Kantak’s political fiction of the 1940s. The four other writers at the centre of Kosambi’s lens are Indira Sahasrabuddhe, Vibhavari Shirurkar, Geeta Sane and Shakuntala Paranjpye.

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