If you were looking for two great authors brought together at one event then Asia House did just that, packing a punch with author Preti Taneja (pictured right) and also Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay.(pictured left)
Preti Taneja author of her new novel We That Are Young (published by Gallery Begger Press) is a virtuoso retelling of King Lear set in modern-day India, described by Andrew Motion as “utterly unique and breath-taking“.
Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay`s novel Panty tells of a woman who upon arriving alone in Kolkata, taking refuge in a deserted apartment finds a stained pair of leopard print panties in the otherwise-empty wardrobe she begins to fantasise about their former owner, whose imagined life comes to blur with and overlap her own.
Published in 2004, the novel sparked controversy for its risque writing but here`s the real rub, are we any more liberated in our beliefs now ? And just how are women portrayed in literature ? Chair Deborah Smith co-winner of International Manbooker prize 2016 for Han Kang`s novel The Vegetarian, navigated us through the discussion.
Smith picks apart the novel Panty and frames one of its core themes, the omnipotent idea of being faceless or having the ability to be anonymous as Bandyopadhyay explains;
“Anonymity is a form of freedom [a form of the characters and of the places in the time structures, where nothing is mentioned, where the beginning can be the end and middle can be the end and so on”
Deborah Smith talked about the experience of writing novels for a particular audience. How do you write for a particular audience ? How aware are you of the audience? Author Preti Taneja definitely doesn`t let the audience shape her writing as she reveals;
“I think when you are writing, you just have to do the writing because if I start thinking about this English speaking audience who might read. [i think] are they English speaking from India, or are they diaspora . So I’m starting to create divisions in my mind, divisions of identity because I don’t think people read like that actually. I don’t think like that“
As far as Bandyopadhyay`s novel is concerned, Panty is a powerful story, partly because it is written from a female perspective. Yet in the past, so many erotic novels have been written by male authors, who have arguably objectified women, adding in usual voyeurism to boot. Did her novel address this imbalance and are there more novels now written by women ?
“In Bengal I can tell you there are 3 or 4 writers who have written about feminism. Men too but they did not write about the sufferings or the pains. Men have not written it as women have, women have written it as blood and flesh. There have been very few women [authors] after me… No one talks about it because of women`s rights or feminism”.”