Women in Dark Times: Gender, Culture and Politics
In the dark times Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing about the dark times.
While I was going through whatever details I could get of Janaki Ammal's life, I found the thoughts behind this paper crystallising in my mind. Driven by poverty to the career of a child-actress, growing up to be a highly-paid lead player through sheer talent, Janaki Ammal deliberately moved out of professional theatre in order to join the Nationalist Movement. Subsequently she became a communist working in the Kisan Sabha and also played a role in founding the All Indian Democratic Women's Association. It was in connection with her political work that she continued to use her talents as singer and actress. These were not forgotten although these became secondary to her other work. For her all these widely-ranging activities were interrelated. A continuous and conscious articulation of gender and culture as political issues is the key-theme of Janaki Ammal's career. And this is the message she seems to have left for women of our own times.
I have described these times, covering the span of the last ten years or so in our country as 'dark times'. For me, this term is not the rhetoric of despair. I use it to describe some specific historical features of these years, and in doing so purposely recall Hanna Arendt's use of it to describe the period of the rise and growth of fascism in Europe.1 She describes how until the very moment when catastrophe overtook everything and everybody 'the disorder and hunger, the massacres and slaughters, outrage over injustice, and the despair where there was only wrong and no outrage' went on taking place publicly with nothing secret or mysterious about it—it was still by no means visible to all as
Department of Comparative Literature, Jadvapur University.
Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1994