On a cool December 21, Saturday morning, the quiet lanes of Koregaon Park were abuzz with the anticipation of SheThePeople.TV’s flagship Women Writers’ Fest hosted at the very green Sunderban Resort and Spa, Pune. With rows of trees forming a canopy, birds tweeting, a pair of mongooses running around, and a peacock watching through the foliage, the fest saw a line-up of authors, translators, entrepreneurs, editors, poets, actors, and women from entertainment speaking their hearts out, telling their stories, sharing their journeys. The fest was co-curated by Ideas Editor, Kiran Manral, Author, Sudha Menon, Books Editor, Archana Pai Kulkarni and Opinions Writer, Yamini Pustake Bhalerao, with unstinting support from SheThePeople.TV Founder, Shaili Chopra.

Highlights From The Fest:

  • Writing must hold up a mirror to society, warts and all, force us to confront who we are, and ponder over issues.
  • An entrepreneur need not take it upon herself to do everything, and that it’s important to delegate or enlist help.
  • A good translation is one that does not seem like translation and that captures the sounds, smells and visuals well enough to appeal to the child reader.
  • It was difficult for readers to accept unconventional women protagonists, as they try to fit her into a mould, and when that doesn’t happen, reject her outright.
  • The TRPs of a particular serial tend to dictate the way the storyline moves, and often, quality gets compromised at the altar of popular taste.
  • Every age has thrown up subversive writing by women, and some voices have spoken louder than the others.
What Is The Role Of A Writer In The Society? Answers WWF Pune
What Is The Role Of A Writer In The Society? Answers WWF Pune

Content Chooses The Form

The third edition of the fest began with a panel discussion on ‘The Eternal Debate: Fact or Fiction’. Journalist Lalitha Suhasini moderated the discussion which saw panellists Manjiri Prabhu, Kiran Manral and Sudha Menon agreeing that the content chooses the form, and that they did not deliberately choose a specific genre. Kiran has both fiction and nonfiction books to her credit, and it was during a mid-life crisis that she felt that she had really nothing to show for the forty years of her life. That’s when she began writing her first book. That her mother was sitting on her head helped as much as the fact that her column on middle-age sexuality in a leading newspaper had been very well received. She was certainly not ready to go on the shelf. To author, television producer and filmmaker, Manjiri Prabhu, travel is oxygen. “It is liberating and I learn so much,” she said, as she spoke of writing in the most beautiful places. Manjiri advises writers to be observant, as among the many people she meets, some make a home in her imagination, and walk into her narratives later. She advocated that it is important for authors to talk about their books and to promote them unabashedly and that aspiring authors must prepare to step out and groom themselves for an active social life. Both Kiran and Sudha confessed that they had no social life to speak of. To Kiran, writing is riyaaz. “Keep tinkering with your work in progress every day; else you’ll lose the thread. Practise and revise a million times,” is her advice. “I’m a lazy writer. I wait for the build-up and it all pours out when I think I am going to explode. Earlier, I was finicky about my writing. Lately, I just write it down once and that’s it,” shared Sudha. Lalitha expressed her concern about the countrywide protests against the CAA and whether it would find its way into writing. Kiran reiterated that writing must hold up a mirror to society, warts and all, force us to confront who we are, and ponder over issues.

Keep tinkering with your work in progress every day; else you’ll lose the thread. Practise and revise a million times. -Kiran Manral

Also Read: Writers Can Hold Up A Mirror To Society: Women Authors At WWF Pune

Just Asking Opens Many Doors

“Ask and you shall get,” exhorted image consultant, Nancy Katyal, who confessed that her entire journey was an exercise in overcoming low self esteem. She spoke of how she allowed herself to be vulnerable and mustered the courage to ask when she did not know something. Just asking opened many doors for her. On this panel discussion were power women, who had scripted their stories on their own terms, traversing difficult paths to become entrepreneurs, to live their dreams. Food guru, Karen Anand, was candid that it was because she was thrown in at the deep end by the sudden death of a loved one that she had no choice but to take charge of her life. Of the firm belief that an entrepreneur need not take it upon herself to do everything, and that it’s important to delegate or enlist help, she advised women to jump into the fray only if they were prepared for a long haul. Designer Shruti Mahadev recounted how she was a small-town girl from Benares who had picked up the courage to relocate to Pune and how her passion for Benarasi weaves and her firm belief in herself led her to create her successful designer label, ‘Shruti Mangaaysh’. “Be kind to your team, as their contribution to your success is immense,” she emphasised. Nutritionist Shyma Menon was battling weight issues and looking for ways to source healthy and tasty dietary food, when it hit her that she could prepare it herself. She began by blogging about food, posting recipes and pictures, and soon went on to establish her brand Kilobeaters.

Be kind to your team, as their contribution to your success is immense. -Shruti Mahadev

Why Translations are Relevant and Important

On the panel discussion on ‘Why Translations are Relevant and Important’, moderated by Archana Pai Kulkarni,  poet and translator Dr Vijaya Deo revealed that for some time after retiring from her teaching job, she did absolutely nothing for a few years. Then, she wrote a poem which received a prestigious state award, and the golden opportunity to translate Dr Bhupen Hazarika’s songs came her way. “I grabbed it hungrily and began with the translation of his very popular song from Rudali, Dil hoom hoom kare,” she shared. “Translating poetry is different from translating prose. A word here and there doesn’t matter in prose, but when it comes to poetry or a song, one has to be extremely careful to retain its rhythm, style, beat, cadence, form and tune. One has to recreate the work by keeping aside one’s own flair and be true to the poet’s intent, content and accent. One cannot just break up the words any which way or compromise.” Dr Deo watched the videos of each song fifty times over four to five months.

Translating poetry is different from translating prose. A word here and there doesn’t matter in prose, but when it comes to poetry or a song, one has to be extremely careful to retain its rhythm, style, beat, cadence, form and tune. One has to recreate the work by keeping aside one’s own flair and be true to the poet’s intent, content and accent. -Dr Vijaya Deo

Also Read: Women Are Scripting Their Own Stories At Pune Women Writers’ Fest

Sandhya Taksale, Senior Editor, Pratham Books rued that seventy percent of the children’s books published in India are in English. The rest of them are in a few commonly spoken Indian languages. She stressed upon how important it was for children to get to read, to engage with words, to be entertained and stimulated, and most of all, to receive it in their mother tongues and discover the joy of reading. To her, a good translation is one that does not seem like translation and that captures the sounds, smells and visuals well enough to appeal to the child reader. Author, poet, translator and German scholar, Jayashree Hari Joshi spoke of how translations have given us a window of empathy. She feels it is important to interact with the author of the original work. She did so while translating Turkish sociologist and author, Oya Baydar’s work to establish the context in which she had written some parts of her book, especially the twist in the end. In her experience, authors are more than happy to have their works translated, and she seeks them out for discussions if need be. It creates a positive energy. Translation, she avers, is hard work. While the process varies for each genre, it requires multiple readings of the text and painstaking research to set the frame and even the pronunciations of proper names right, she shared.

A good translation is one that does not seem like translation and that captures the sounds, smells and visuals well enough to appeal to the child reader. -Sandhya Taksale

Yojana Yadav, poet, author, and Production Head of Mehta Publishing House spoke of how the challenge of translation begins with the title of the book. She added that most regional readers are not too receptive of a translated book if the title is in English or an alien language. The title must resonate, and often, the right one remains elusive for months. Apart from the success of the original book, the yardstick to choose a book for translation is whether the core values of the book resonate with the reader and there is an appealing common thread that binds the two cultures. She played up the importance of acknowledging the translator’s huge contribution, and how she ensures that the translator gets due credit in the form of a photograph and biography published prominently in the book. All four panellists were optimistic and excited about the future of translation, considering that technology has given it a huge boost by coming up with software that facilitates quick translations.

Also Read: Of Translations, Writing And Bringing Social Change Through Literature

Unconventional Women Protagonists

The next panel discussion was on ‘The Unlikeable Female Protagonist’, moderated by Kiran Manral, whose book Missing Presumed Dead had a protagonist who battles mental health issues and who, compelled by circumstances, walks out of her home leaving her children behind. The discussion began with the contention that it was difficult for readers to accept unconventional women protagonists, as they try to fit her into a mould, and when that doesn’t happen, reject her outright. Journalist and author Sunanda Mehta, whose book on Sunanda Pushkar explored her extraordinary life and death, spoke of how people judged Sunanda every step of the way, and how, having known her way before she became famous, she felt compelled to set the record straight, especially because Sunanda Pushkar is no longer around to defend herself. She had to keep her friendship with Sunanda aside and approach the book as a journalist and author to ensure objectivity. She rued the fact that a female divorcee who is glamorous, ambitious and successful is embellished with unflattering adjectives but a male with the same credentials gets away with it. It was important for her to write a sensitive and not a sensational book. Yamini Pustake Bhalerao’s Laundry Girl series, has a protagonist who is a fixer, private investigator, hustler, ex-convict, and a street fighter.  The character emerged from the fact that she could not find a protagonist who was all that readers expected a female protagonist to be and also badass. She wanted her protagonist to tick all the boxes that hadn’t been ticked before, and to her joy, she was well received by readers, leading to the second book from the same series.

Also Read: Women Are Scripting Their Own Stories At Pune Women Writers’ Fest

Women in Entertainment

In the panel discussion on Women in Entertainment, popular actor of Faster Fene fame, Parna Pethe spoke of how what was happening around her was affecting her in many ways. She shared that her social media accounts had been hacked the day before and she had accepted trolling as something which comes with the territory of her profession, though it’s certainly not pleasant to deal with. Also, people still expect stereotypical behaviour from women. “When I decided to get married at a young age, there was much apprehension. People tried discouraging me saying that it would affect my professional life.” Not one to adhere to this stereotypical way of thinking, Parna went ahead and got married and is a successful actor despite her marital status. She wondered, “Do we underestimate the power of our audiences? I doubt that they lead such regressive lives, as are depicted on celluloid.” While enjoying the sway television actors have over their audiences, actor, author and screenplay writer, Rigvedi Pradhan regrets that mass conditioning prevents them from accepting anything that veers away from the conventional. At the same time, she is optimistic that fed in small, measured doses, these changes can be brought about over a period of time. She acknowledges that the TRPs of a particular serial tend to dictate the way the storyline moves, and often, quality gets compromised at the altar of popular taste. Columnist and author of children’s books, Sowmya Rajendran feels that a lot depends on how the viewer is consuming the content. A homemaker pottering about in the kitchen while a woman smoking and drinking appears on her television screen, may squirm and feel uncomfortable, if her family is around. Yet, girls and women have been turning in large groups to watch films with bold female protagonists and radical storylines, as it’s easier to watch them under the cover of darkness without being judged. A woman may feel comfortable watching it on the phone too.

Do we underestimate the power of our audiences? I doubt that they lead such regressive lives, as are depicted on celluloid. – Parna Pethe

Also Read: Female Poets Retrace Their Journeys At Hyderabad Women Writers’ Fest

Every Age Has Thrown up Subversive Writing By Women

On the panel discussion about ‘Women Past, Women Present, Women Future’, poet and academician Madhuri Maitra spoke about being an army brat and having had a lot of inspiring women around her. Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre are among her favourite protagonists. Poet and author, Rochelle Potkar shared her painful memories of the violence her mother received at her father’s hands and how the world outside was safer for her mother than her own home. She spoke of early lessons in courage and resilience from her mother, who would turn up at the school where she taught, her black eye covered by dark glasses, and teach, with her chin held high. Rochelle spoke of how it was important to speak the truth without shame. Poet Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal spoke of a privileged childhood and being surrounded by extremely strong women – a grandmother who gave the sagest advice to her politician grandfather when approached, and an educationist mother who broke the glass ceiling ages ago. In fact, so strong were these women and their influence on her that she had to consciously tone herself down, as it was difficult for people to accept or deal with such strength. As a poet, she does not feel pressured to depict women in a particular way, as she feels that people hardly read poetry. All the panellists agreed that they wouldn’t risk their life and limb to write on political issues but would certainly not shy away from writing on social issues. “Our domestic wars aren’t over yet,” said Rochelle, while Aparna spoke of how she was writing uninhibitedly on the themes of sexuality and mental health. Madhuri was of the opinion that not everyone reads for inspiration, and regretted that as a book reviewer she had recently come across a spate of terrible books. “We still have to sort out issues closer home,” she said. The discussion ended with the panellists agreeing that every age has thrown up subversive writing by women, and some voices have spoken louder than the others. Times have changed and there is more acceptance and support, while some things have remained unchanged.

Our domestic wars aren’t over yet. – Rochelle Potkar

It was a day of intense sharing and bonding, and the fest was concluded on a note of bonhomie as the audience mingled freely with the panellists.

Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV

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