Recovering Tost^ Texts
Women Writing in India, 600 BC to the Present, Vol. I. Edited by Susie Tharu and K. Lalita. First edition. The Feminist Press, New York, 1991, 525 pp. Indian edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1991,537 pp., Rs 525.
By recovering lost texts and giving visibility to writers and composers who have so far inhabited the margins of literature, this unusual anthology demonstrates that women's writing is not an appendix to what is considered to be the mainstream of Indian literary tradition, but an integral component. This recognition might necessitate a readjustment of what is perceived as literary. Creativity has never been absent in women, but what they sang or narrated was not always seen as texts worthy of preservation.
The editors of the volume have tried to create a context in which women's writing can be read 'not as new monuments to existing institutions and culture (classics are by definition monuments), but as documents' that record the minute texture of daily life and preserve, often in symbolic language, the nuances of changes in society. The texts collected here make us aware of the diverse and oblique ways in which women have, through the centuries, negotiated a restrictive ideological grid to articulate their experiences. The objective of this bold and impressive venture seems to be not only the enrichment of the existing institution of literature, but also a transformation of its conceptual categories.
Locating and translating texts for this anthology from different Indian languages, and across many centuries, must have been a daunting task, but equally challenging was the need to evolve a critical frame for the selection and presentation of the collected material. In the Introduction the editors talk about these two dimensions of their enterprise: 'At one level the two volumes of Women Writing in India are a joyous retrieval of artefacts that signify women's achievement. At another they represent a difficult and inventive moment in the theory and practice of feminist criticism.'
A meticulously researched 36-page-long General Introduction to the first volume