Hot off the Press: Hee Dukha Kunya Janmache Seema Gaikwad and Ketki Ranade
Hee Dukha Kunya Janmache | Mangala Athlekar
Seema Gaikwad and Ketki Ranade
Hee Dukha Kunya Janmache, literally translated as ‘These sorrows are from which lifetime?’ is a book written in Marathi by Mangala Athlekar on lives of women with same-sex desires. This is one of the first books in Marathi that puts forth narratives of lesbian-identified women and describes their concerns in their own words. Rajhans publication is a well-known publishing house among Marathi readers and is considered to be of great repute among writers and intellectuals in Pune city. This is significant because a couple of years ago, a gay friend and activist, who runs a gay organisation and support space in Pune was looking for publishers for a biographical account written by him on growing up gay in a heterosexist world, had approached the same publishing house among many others. His work was rejected stating that it does not conform to the literary standards of this publishing company. He finally had to fund the publication himself, despite the fact that his work would again have been one of the first mainstream publications in Marathi on gay life.
To see the same Rajhans publishers publishing Athlekar’s book makes one wonder whether this choice is based on the fact that this book has been written by a writer of repute, who has written books such as Gargi Azun Jeevant Ahey (Gargi is still alive) in the past. Also, the fact that this book engages with the issues of same-sex desire more from a social, political and intellectual perspective and not so much from an experiential, narrative style may have influenced the decision.
To write a book in Marathi on such an invisible and almost ‘prohibited’ issue such as same-sex sexual desire and relationships is commendable. Although there are several gaps and many instances of oversimplifications and naïve generalisations, one of the most significant achievements of this book has been to make visible lives that are unseen, voices that are unheard, and experiences and desires that are (un) named.
I heard about this book for the first time from a client who approached our psychotherapy centre. She had been married for four years and had a three year old child. She said that, she had always been attracted to women and had had her share of rejection from a straight best friend in college, and so on, before getting married. She had always known this about herself but thought that she was ‘the only one’ and never voiced her desires to anyone. She had also done all the routine of praying to God and asking for forgiveness of her ‘sinful’ desire etc. So after four years of marriage, she happened to find this book, which not only gave a ‘name’ to her feelings but also the discovery of a community of women with the same desires. That to my mind is the relevance of a book like this.
The book has a clear intent of providing information on issues and perspectives on same-sex desire to the general reader. It deals with issues such as: what being lesbian means, the process of the self-discovery, that a lesbian relationship or any same-sex relationship just like any other romantic relationship does not necessarily exist merely on the physical-sexual plane, that this identity may develop at any age and that it is possible that an individual may acknowledge this aspect of their being at any age. The author has effectively used examples from narratives of lesbian women to get this information across.
That same-sex relationships are not merely a western phenomenon or a fad of upper class, urban young women has been brought out well by Athlekar. Through citing examples of urban, rural, upper class, lower class, literate, and illiterate women the writer makes a valid case for the above claim. In order to further this argument, the writer has cited about fifteen reports from several local newspapers in the country.
The writer has described individual narratives of lesbian women in their own words. These women belong to various age groups, and socio-economic backgrounds in the cities of Pune and Mumbai in Maharashtra, India. What these women would like to say about their own identities, about how they view their own selves is brought forward in their own language. However, more in-depth information, especially on an experiential day-to-day level does not come through very clearly. A lot of the writing style is political in nature. This might be due to the fact that the women the author spoke to have been activists and leaders of organisations and support groups working on issues of same-sex sexuality. It may also be a reflection of the fact that while most of these activists have spoken primarily about queer politics, identities etc. the nuanced everyday realities of these women’s lives, often in the form of subtexts to the main narratives, have not been brought out clearly by the writer, who has for the first time in her writing career attempted to write about the subject of same-sex desire and identities.
The book does not dwell much on the many complex and positive or even celebratory aspects of same-sex desire and relationships. One of the biggest problems with the book is that, at the outset, the writer presents an analysis of patriarchy as well as family systems in order to understand and situate choices of ‘same-sex sexuality’. However, in her attempt to provide a commentary on women’s oppression within patriarchal systems, the author situates the choice of women to be ‘single’ as a way of rejecting male power. The discussion of single women, widowed women, divorced women alongside lesbian-identified women becomes very confusing. Also, in an attempt to draw upon similarities of experiences of women with various other intersecting identities, there is an oversimplification and conflation of many issues. There is an implication that all women face similar kinds of problems in living out their lives in a male-dominated world. Moreover, the aspect of sexual control placed upon individuals, especially women in patriarchy does not come through clearly. Instead a lot of analysis sounds like individual interpretation rather than a comprehensive commentary on patriarchy and its tools of control.
Many lesbian women, whose interviews are presented in the book, have talked of their sexuality as being their choice. Despite this, the writer writes on the cover page,
‘Same-sex relationships! Who are we to accept or reject? Who would have chosen this kind of a body, this kind of a mind, if she had a choice would she choose this kind of a pain as a companion for a lifetime…’ A quote like this on the cover page along with the title, ‘These sorrows are from which lifetime?’ epitomises helplessness, deficit, shame and anything that maybe associated with the negative.
Seema Gaikwad, a psychologist, is Programme Co-ordinator with Seher, a psychotherapy and counselling centre in Pune, India. She has been associated with several women’s groups and feminist organisations as a trainer, mental health professional and activist.
Ketki Ranade, a trained psychiatric social worker, started Seher. Seher is an LGBT-friendly mental health service and programme informed by feminist and human rights principles. A Research Fellow on the HPIF Fellowship of the Population Council, India, Ketki is conducting research to understand the mental health concerns of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, as well as the perspectives of medical personnel about same-sex desires.