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Respectability

Hindi Writers' Workshop

Scissors to cut with, a needle and thread to sew my lips with. If I write my subconscious, the earth will be covered with paper.
Anamika

The enormous pressure exerted by cultural censorship on women's sub-conscious makes the conflict between public and private unbearable. Anamika said that in her 15 years of writing experience as a poet and essayist, she had imposed a kind of "spiritual dieting'" on herself. She spoke eloquently of the "needle-and-thread" syndrome in women's lives, keeping their lips properly sealed, observing a stern "aesthetics of silence". For middle class women like her, this aesthetics has been particularly oppressive. What are we so ashamed of and why? Who are we hiding from? she asked. Family honour, the compulsion to be a good daughter, a good wife and a good mother locked her into the "good girl syndrome". She tried to find role models in early women's writing and turned to women in her own family. She discovered that they all wrote furiously, but the values of forbearance and patience, of restraint and refinement had paralysed them.

My aunts, buas, chachis, masis, wrote letters that they never posted. One of them wrote directly to god, but they remained in a half-way house, between private and public. The feminine mystique created around this was really detrimental to my writing. I felt I was caught in a plot not of my making—l was acculturated to believe that it is only the second-rate, the underclass, who "speak"— the very young, the aged, prostitutes, witches and slave girls.

Even now, she says, she cannot write directly about religion, politics or personal relationships, and the fear of hurting others by exposing oppression remains. . . .

Ritu Menon, Hindi