Workshop Blues

I am just back from a gruelling ten-day Fellowship workshop on CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT – FEMINIST CROSSINGS organised by the Jadavpur University’s Department of Women’s Studies.

The workshop was held at Lataguri, right in the midst of Gorumara Wildlife Sanctuary in North Bengal. The environment was lush, green and very romantic. So, having to discuss, hear and listen to arguments across the table on Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Capabilities Approach’, followed by Shefali Mitra’s gender neutral approach to theories of sex and gender, Freud’s theory of psycho-analysis was incongruity at its Bengali best.

The ambience was very informal where men went to dine in shorts and tee-shirts and women wore everything from dowdy maxies to sporty shorts. The one thing common between men and women is that both groups smoked and drank to their heart’s content while very unromantic teetotallers like yours truly tried to compensate for being one by joining in the Santhali dance at night without knowing a single step.

We took off on a midnight safari trip into the jungle hoping to spot a bison or a deer or at the most, a peacock, but no luck there. All we could glimpse was a half moon peeping out of some bare branches of a beautiful tree.

Then, we all parked ourselves on the parapet of the banks of the Mukti river while some of the girls began to belt out a Tagore song in chorus while the rest of the girls went on a leg-pulling spree of Debashish, the law graduate who is a MCP in theory and is determined not to learn to cook because ‘what will my wife do them?’ talk in practice.

The director, Samita Sen, was a classic model in cool-headedness while Hardik, who is involved in a project of recording photographs of the Bengali Housewife down the past century, was downright arrogant. Among the resource persons, we had three medical doctors who have switched over to cultural and ethnographic studies and psychoanalysis after having practiced for a few years.

Dr. Ranjita Biswas was a trained psychiatrist who headed the psychiatric unit of a noted mental institution in Kolkata but is now doing her Ph.D. on the epistemology of rape. Dr. Anup Dhar is deputy head of a Cultural Studies school in Bangalore who is researching the colonial mad woman, whatever that means while Dr. Anirban Das is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences in Kolkata.

Surprisingly, I learnt that I was the senior most among the entire group of 40, including the resource persons and the faculty and even the office staff. I also learnt the new definitions of marriage where the husband and wife live away from each other in different cities because one of them is pursuing Ph.D. while the other is working somewhere.

My presentation was on THE POSTMODERN WOMAN IN MAINSTREAM HINDI CINEMA – 2000-2009 which was completely Greek and Latin to almost all participants and resource persons in general and to those who do not watch Hindi films in particular. So, who are these postmodern celluloid women? Sunheri, the international thief in Dhoom 2 is the first name that came to mind.

Her character defies all modernist norms of right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. She is also pluralistic by nature, containing within herself, several personas. She has no compunctions about using her beauty and sex appeal to seduce the hero Aryan who is an international thief. She is a now-generation girl who also thieves for a living and has no moral stand on trading her confidentiality and honesty to seek her freedom. She dances beautifully in skimpy outfits without looking vulgar, and has the physical agility to bungee-jump, leap, do karate chops as and when necessary without having to sacrifice her intense femininity.

The definition of a postmodern woman – in cinema, or art, or literature, lies in its very resistance to any fixed or rigid definition. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi offers a classic example, though there are variations, of the postmodern woman in Hindi cinema. The film itself is a brilliant example of a postmodern film. There is nostalgia, pastiche, parody, and an ideal symbol of the postmodern woman in Taani, portrayed beautifully by Anushka Sharma. Taani exudes an air of infinity and a plurality of purpose and persona.

The workshop taught me that life is not just a learning process, it is a way of evolving and that is what happened over these ten days. The big fat book that was gifted to us as part of our homework before the workshop began, lies on my work table, winking at me, rubbing shoulders with my numerous paper clippings, list of articles to be written, the computer, the music system, my mother’s photograph smiling down at me from the frame where an article on her by me keeps hanging on the wall, reminding me that I must hurry, or things might get a bit too late, what with age chasing me like a frightening hound.

Deadlines are glaring at me from the monitor and my mail-box. The cell-phone continues to remind me that a press conference is waiting to be attended with warm ‘cold’ drinks and yesterday’s patties and some soggy wafers to keep company.

But life goes on and so must I.

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  1. I simply loved the article … Knowing Shomadi for quite sometime now and her brief exchanges amidst a huge city crowd at Premiers and Press Conferences I can indeed visualise her amidst the greens of Gorumara speaking with the same exuberance to a different crowd … her example of Post Modern Women seems so acceptable if one looks into it with open eyes .

  2. Lovely piece of engaged blogging. I really liked it! But this is a little bit of corrigendum write on your behalf…..

    1. It was no Fellowship workshop, it was just a poor residential workshop!
    2. Women’s Studies is no department, but a School.
    3. Gorumara is not a Wildlife Sanctuary, but a National Park.
    4. Shefali is not Mitra but Moitra.
    5. All teetotalers are not very unromantic!
    6. Peacocks (and peahens} generally like to sleep at night, so you were hoping an odd!
    7. There is no institute of Social Science in Kolkata but a Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. {http://www.cssscal.org/}Where Dr. Das is fellow in Cultural Studies.
    8. There is another one Centre for the study of Culture and Society [but no Cultural Studies School] [http://www.cscsarchive.org/] where Dr. Dhar is Associate Professor.
    9. There is a project housed at the School of Women’s Studies that deals with the visual representations of Bengali Urban Middle Class Women from the 1890s-1970s. Unfortunately it does not only record ‘Photographs of Bengali Housewife’.
    10. Apart from understanding in various ways what is a Hindi film, a few at the workshop even understood the Greek and Latin part! At the workshop there was even a Reader from the Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University. I hope he understands a little bit of ‘Hindi Films’. Ipshita Chanda’s presentation also had along list of Hindi movies and she had spelt out why it was there.
    11. Have we ever heard of any ‘National Thief’ as against the character of Sunehri, the International Thief! We have in very early times heard of figures like the Thief of Baghdad or Jewel Thief who used to stick to certain geographical boundaries as there were not frequent international flights to operate globally.

    Sincerely, as a senior columnist you should at least get to the facts and give us a more clear picture. Thanks for your effort and hope to blog with you many more times. Regards.

  3. The piece is very well written. To the two women Shoma di you have mentioned, I wil like to add the character of Katrina Kaif in film Race. She has a negative character and she has played it to perfection.

    As far the workshop is concerned it is full of study and no play which makes Jack (here Shoma Di a dull girl.) a dull boy.

  4. I loved the write up. Yes, life goes on and perhaps we often fail to seize the moment, drowned in the din of deadlines and list of things to do.

  5. Hi shomadi, good to hear you, literally.
    on the side of the ‘residential course’, which is an annual affair (and any of shomadi’s blog respondents and readers might be tempted, sometime in the future), the very fact that we lived in such close proximity (should that be we DARED TO LIVE IN CLOSE PROXIMITY ?) was enough of an education. I can even suggest that it was almost a feminist education. and i shall take issue with the organisers for scheduling your paper when i was not there to hear it, maybe that exchange that did not happen would have left both of us the wiser, as many of the exchanges i had with you actually did…

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