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.