From Debotri Dhar, ed. with introduction, Love: Essays in Gender…

QuestionAnswered step-by-stepFrom Debotri Dhar, ed. with introduction, Love: Essays in Gender…From Debotri Dhar, ed. with introduction, Love: Essays in Gender and Culture (New Delhi: Speaking Tiger), 2019, forthcoming. Copyrighted. Seven Single Women, Self-love, and the Gender of Waiting Debotri Dhar Wait for him. Nothing is lovelier than a woman waiting for her man to return home, or on a date, in spite of him being late. He might feel bad once he comes in, but he will surely love you so much more just for the fact that you waited for him to come back. —11 Things that Mean More to Men than “I Love You”1 ‘Am I in love? Yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.’ This is Roland Barthes in A Lover’s Discourse,2 tracing the dark-light shapes of loving and waiting as shadow-selves, mutually and inextricably bound. Barthes: philosopher, post-structuralist, semiotician, literary critic. In working through the complex layers of his—his—fragments on love, a pronoun can also become a ‘writerly text’ amenable to multiple interpretations. So, death of the author3 or not, here is the reader—I, she—immersed in the impossibility of taking the man out of Barthes, and Barthes out of the man, to ask, by way of catharsis: what is the gender of love’s waiting? Also, might there be a link, howsoever tenuous, between that and the gender of the author? For women’s literature has, across cultures, functioned as a creative response to the historical marginalization of female experience within life and literature. Swinging between belonging and alienation within the rarefied ramparts of the mainstream—’malestream’—literary canon, women penned their protest through fiction. In A Literature of Their Own, Elaine Showalter 1 LikeLoveQuotes.com http://likelovequotes.com/11-things-that-mean-more-to-men-than-i-love-you/. Website accessed 5 August 2016. 2 Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, trans. Richard Howard (Hill and Wang, 1978). 3 In a 1967 essay titled ‘The Death of the Author,’ Roland Barthes argued that the author’s own identity, experiences, and intent are irrelevant to literary interpretation; instead, the author is merely a ‘scriptor,’ and each text is re-written in the here and now with each re-reading by its audience.   thus famously termed women’s writing a subculture.4 Of course a writer does not have to be a woman to authentically engage with women’s silenced histories, nor do all women writers necessarily use ‘gynocriticism,’ a framework proposed by Showalter to read texts though the lens of female experience. And why should literature even be identified by the gender of the author, for, as Joyce Carol Oates admits, a serious artistic voice concerns style and is sexless; but Oates herself argues later, to have a sex-determined voice is better than to have no voice at all.5 Would some such sex-determined voices move us away from traditional presentations in literature in order to represent (the gender of) love’s waiting differently: who waits for whom, why, and for how long? And, speaking of gender, what about single women? Must love—and love’s waiting —always be for the other? What, instead, of self-love, especially for those whose identities were traditionally dictated by gendered ideas of passivity, sacrifice, and denial of the self? It began with two male readers’ responses to my novel The Courtesans of Karim Street,6 whose plot may be described as women-centered. (The cast of characters does include many men, not to mention two countries, some trees, a smattering of old and new cities, languages, homes and histories, pasts and presents, and several pairs of emerald eyes. But alas, in the hallways of literary criticism, there is no such thing as an old-and-new-city-centered novel, or a tree-centered novel, much less an eye-centered one.) In any case, the novel’s two—or three, if we include the unnamed narrator—main female characters leave, albeit in different ways. Megan Adams, an American academic, leaves, well, American academia, to come to India on the trail of an anonymous letter and the promise of a red-gold tree; but since she travels over the university Christmas holidays and returns to America to resume teaching in the spring term—ah, the cruelties of academic contracts, but we digress—she is not the subject of our interrogation. Instead, for the purpose of this essay, we are interested in, first, the novel’s female narrator who has an extramarital affair, thus temporarily ‘leaving’ her husband and marriage; and second, Naina, an ambivalent inheritor of the courtesan tradition of north India, who decides to be single again and to travel abroad on a performing arts fellowship, leaving her relationship with a rather nice male character who remains back in India to work on the ruins of old Delhi (and for whom I, as the author, had begun to develop romantic feelings as I wrote him into being, such a heart he had, and such a soul…) The female narrator’s extramarital ‘affair’ of one afternoon invoked anger and disbelief in a male reader with whom I was personally acquainted; how could the wife of an important and 4 Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British women novelists from Brontë to Lessing (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). 5 Joyce Carol Oates, “Is There a Female Voice? Joyce Carol Oates Replies” Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. Mary Eagleton (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1986) pp. 208-209. 6 Debotri Dhar, The Courtesans of Karim Street (New Delhi: Niyogi, 2014).  good man have an irresponsible, even if very brief, affair with just anybody, he opined —until I had to remind him of the literary, social and psychological context of the female narrator’s actions, her lifelong guilt, and that the ‘anybody’ in question was perhaps a ‘good man’ too, even if not as rich or ‘important’ as the husband. It also had to be pointed out to the reader in question, whose life choices we had been aware of for many years—and this is what had made me especially indignant—that he expected a fictional married woman in a novel to adhere to the laudable principle of marital fidelity, even for that one ‘errant’ afternoon, that he himself had never found necessary to adhere to over the course of his lifespan, in his real life as a married man. Interestingly enough, what had excessively troubled this male reader did not trouble many women, readers as well as reviewers, who interpreted the novel’s women to be ‘intelligible female characters with relatable predicaments.’7 Similarly, the character Naina’s decision to leave her relationship upset another male reader who otherwise loved the novel; how, he asked, could Naina end a sweet love-story just to pursue her career? ‘Your ideology got in the way of their love,’ he stated flatly, referring to my academic training in Women’s Studies, if not feminist beliefs. I conceded that writing is as deeply political an act as is reading; what we write and how we read are squarely situated within inherited and inhabited political and historical frames. Through our reading and writing practices, we either conform to or contest these frames; more frequently, we do both. In that sense, no art can be entirely devoid of ideology, not even dreamy romantic fiction, I said. Besides, the novel’s plot treats dance not just as a career or a profession—such bland, bland words—but also as passion, and resistance, despite the vicissitudes of history and the pathological framing of the courtesan tradition during the colonial era through a battery of imperialist laws, institutions, and medicalized narratives.8 ‘But still,’ he replied. Naina doesn’t want to end the relationship so much as she wants to find her own identity, I argued. Being from the walled city, the social class difference between him and her makes her uncomfortable in his boozy, glamorous South Delhi world; she wants to be more than just a rich man’s wife, and strikes out on her own despite her fears. That takes courage, I said. But still, my friend maintained. Fluctuating between indignation and angst—was he right? Was he wrong? Was it just a matter of perspective?—the writer in me re-read certain portions of the book where the first character, the narrator, speaks of her troubled childhood, foster-homes, the brief joys of a whirlwind wedding—’a time of such wild happiness, hotels with pretty balconies, beachfront restaurants, dancing in tune with the turquoise, tumbling music of the waves, foam in our faces, knolls of sand and seashells at our feet’ (p. 213). And then, neglect, hugging her own silences once again, feeling closer to an old city than to her husband— ‘Like me, this city is full of buried 7 Meha Pande, “Modern Day Courtesans,” The Pioneer, 18 October 2015. 8 For a socio-historical analysis, see for instance Veena Oldenberg, “Lifestyle as resistance: The Case of the Courtesans of Lucknow, India.” Feminist Studies Vol. 16, No. 2, Speaking for Others/Speaking for Self: Women of Color (Summer, 1990), pp. 259-287.  worlds; it speaks to me, it understands’ (p. 10)—her yearning for a ‘happy song’ (p. 110), the complexity of her choices, her illnesses, her guilt. Then, the passages where the second character, Naina, is afraid to leave, but not afraid enough to stay; and when her boyfriend asks her a hard question—’Do you really think it’s going to be a cakewalk abroad? No discrimination, an equal world, where you fit right in?’—she responds with, ‘I’ve never lived in an equal world. I’ve never fit in. Not with my own people. Not with yours…. I want to see new places, dance. I have hope. If we don’t have hope, what do we have?’ (p. 204) ‘And for that, you want to end our relationship!’ he says, to which she answers, ‘It doesn’t have to be forever. Afterwards…’ (p. 204). Tearful, she says it’s her fault— ‘I’ll never forgive myself for causing you, us, this pain’—and he responds with a Ghalib couplet: ‘Kee mere qatl ke baad usne jafaa se tauba, hae uss zud-pashiimaan ka pashiimaan hona’ (p. 204). Can their relationship be resumed if they remain in love with each other, he asks; she says yes. He wants to know if they will remain friends in the meantime; she reaches for his hand, their meeting thus ending on a note of hope. ‘Stillness fell upon them, as weighty as a promise. The two of them walked in silence, along the still, moonlit landscape, and through the drowsing trees’ (p. 204). Do these passages signal the death of love-in-fiction, wrought by heartless female characters? (Or even heartless female novelists—I, she—wielding the pen?) Butstillbutstill came the resounding answer, through the frozen stillness of winter nights, from across the seven seas, until I realized, with a shiver, where the problem lay: in the gender of who waits for love. * Even a cursory glance at world literatures, broadly defined to include mythologies, fables and fairy-tales, literary and popular fiction, poetry and drama, reveals that traditionally, it was the elite and/or middle class woman who waited for the man—for the father, husband and sons she loved—to return from work, or war, while tending lovingly to the home and hearth. Penelope, the wife of Odysseus in Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, waits twenty years for her husband’s return while he fights the Trojan War, turning away other suitors and remaining faithful to him as she stitches and un-stitches a burial shroud. Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind is ultimately left loving, and waiting for, Rhett Butler, who had ironically once loved her more. ‘Tomorrow is another day,’ Scarlett tells herself, as she stands framed against the looming silhouette of Tara, with the background music rising to a crescendo in the film version. For the middle class female protagonists of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and Usha Priyamvada’s Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein, love’s waiting is endlessly painful. Strolling into a more ancient world of moats and magic wands, one finds Snow Whites, Cinderellas, and princess Rapunzels all waiting for their princes to come a-riding and rescue them from glass caskets, evil stepmothers, towers and dungeons. One of the few exceptions among fairytales is, perhaps, Beauty and the Beast; here love holds more power than looks or wealth, and the man/beast waits  for her rather than she for him. What are some other instances of male literary characters waiting for love when the women leave, and under what circumstances? Speaking of bhasha literature, an early example that comes to mind is of Nikhil, from India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali novel Ghare-Baire.9 Set in the Swadeshi period of India’s struggle for independence, Ghare-Baire weaves a story around Nikhil, his wife Bimala, and his Swadeshi leader friend Sandip. Nikhil loves his wife deeply, encourages her education, and coaxes her to leave the traditional confines of the women’s quarters (zenana) to engage with the outside world. Interpreting her husband’s non-involvement in the freedom struggle as a lack of virility, Bimala becomes attracted to Sandip and his invocation of her as a powerful but chained symbol of India’s womanhood. Feminist scholarship has long argued that nationalist ideology sets up woman simultaneously as victim and goddess, with women being framed as carriers of national culture and signifiers of cultural difference. Critics such as Cynthia Leenerts and Ashis Nandy have therefore read Ghare-Baire as a national allegory,10 with Bimala representing India caught between the opposing ideologies of humanitarian internationalism and aggressive nationalism. Ghare-Baire mirrors Partha Chatterjee’s provocative essay which argues that nationalist ideology divided the domain of culture into the spiritual and the material, home and the world, ghar and bahir, educating the new woman outwardly but preserving her Indian femininity from within.11 Bimala leaves her love for Nikhil owing to Sandip’s firebrand nationalism; but with her subsequent realization of her folly, Ghare-Baire resolves Bimala’s question on the same lines as Chatterjee’s argument. Hence I have earlier read Ghare-Baire through the metaphor of ‘home,’ whether understood as material dwellings, geographical spaces, socio-psychic identities or imagined communities, and functioning as potential sites of confirmation and contradiction that not just protect, but have historically been organized around a pattern of inclusions and exclusions to keep the other out.12 However, now re-thinking the novel’s climax, a new and fascinating angle on love, gender and waiting presents itself. Roving eyes and multiple mistresses were then an accepted norm for wealthy zamindars, but Nikhil is devoted to Bimala; when she 9 Rabindranath Tagore, Ghare Baire, in Rabindra-Rachanabali Volume 8 (Calcutta: Vishwabharati, 1941) pp. 141-334. English translation by Surendranath Tagore, The Home and the World, ed. Ajanta Dutt (Delhi: Doaba Publications, 2002). 10 Cynthia A. Leenerts, “Rabindranath Tagore’s and Satyajit Ray’s ‘New Woman’: Writing and Rewriting Bimala,” in Rabindranath Tagore: Universality and Tradition, ed. Patrick Colm Hogan and Lalita Pandit (London: Associated University Presses, 2003); and Ashis Nandy, ‘The Novels: The Home and the World’, in The Home and the World, trans. Surendranath Tagore, ed. Ajanta Dutt (Delhi: Doaba Publications, 2002). 11 Partha Chatterjee, “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women’s Question,” in Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology, ed. Gregory Castle (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), pp. 152-65. 12 Debotri Dhar, “Women, Homes, Histories: Main Trends in Modern Indian Literary Fiction,” in India: Histories of the Present, ed. Saurabh Dube and Ishita Banerjee, Istor 59, Dec 2014.  ‘leaves’ him, he waits patiently for her to return. Hence Bimala becoming a widow on the level of the plot—during a social period marked by tremendous ill-treatment and ostracism of widows, and despite her heart’s ultimate restoration ‘home’ to her husband—functions as a literary trope, a punishment for her transgression of gender norms governing love, and who is allowed to leave. Of course, ‘Indian’ or bhasha literature is not a monolith any more than ‘Eastern’ or ‘Western’ or ‘English’ literature is. Instead, varied literary and linguistic expressions find their unique identity within a shifting field of meanings, of centers and peripheries, and the named and unnamed positions in-between. Edna O’Brien’s short story ‘Inner Cowboy,’ a more contemporary piece bearing witness to the rich literary traditions of Anglo-Irish literatures, offers yet another interesting instance of a man who waits for love. ‘Flat, watery land. Big lakes, little lakes, turloughs that filled up in the rain, and rivers a red-dish brown from the iron in the soil.’13 (p. 103) This is the Irish countryside of cut turf, mist and flying dust that is home to the story’s main character, Curly. Peaceful, talks-to-himself, works-hard-and-does-not-quit-even-when-kicked-and-called-a-retard-by-his-boss Curly, who prefers the dun-brown bogs to the black, gritty quarries. Curly, briefly a hero after having delivered a calf, suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of the law for helping a friend hide some money that belongs to the big men with shiny chrome cars and shinier wives. He goes missing in the bog, his body stiff and blue from being in freezing water for hours when it is finally discovered. Curly, who always wanted to do something really wild, and to have a girlfriend to love. Love here is blue—blue as water, as watery land, as big lakes of hope and little lakes of despair—inking its absence through his life, and death; an eternal wait for living, and for love. Another interesting male character who waits for love is the Tiger, in the allegorical novel The Tiger’s Wife by Belgrade-born Tea Obreht.14 The author’s family left Yugoslavia when the war broke out, and war forms a charred backdrop to this tale that imaginatively weaves myth, history, and politics. A tiger escapes from a zoo bombed by the Nazis and heads for the fictional mountain village of Galina, whose inhabitants include the brooding butcher-musician Luca, his deaf-mute Muslim wife, and a young boy. Luca, hounded by his own demons, inflicts unimaginable terrors on his wife, mangling her ribs, scalding her skin, bludgeoning, breaking her body and soul. Luca disappears one day; and when she begins to stroll smilingly around the village, bruiseless and free, and her belly begins to swell, the village is rife with gossip that ‘The tiger is her husband. He comes into her house each night and takes off his skin’ (p. 219). Even the famed hunter Darisa, there to kill the tiger, hallucinates that he stands ‘in front of the house of the tiger’s wife and watched the return of her husband, broad-shouldered, red skin glinting in the moonlight, cross the square and come down the road, the night behind him drawing in like the hem of a dress. The 13 Edna O’Brien, “Inner Cowboy,” in Saints and Sinners (New York: Back Bay Books, 2011), p. 103 -129. 14 Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife (New York: Random House, 2011).  door of the butcher’s house would open, and then, through the window, Darisa could see the tiger rise upright and embrace the girl…’ (p. 260). To the young boy who grows up to be the narrator’s grandfather, however, ‘the baby was incidental. He had no need to guess that it was a result of some drunken stupor of Luca’s, or rape by some unnamed villager, and that the baby had been there before the tiger had come to Galina’ (p. 220). Instead, he longs for his Shere Khan, both real and imagined, and wonders why the villagers cannot understand that the cold, hungry tiger means no harm, that he sees ‘the girl as she had seen him: without judgment, fear, foolishness, and somehow the two of them understood each other without exchanging a single sound’ (p. 220). When the girl doesn’t come, the tiger waits. He agonizes when he has to go ‘a week without the warmth of the village and the smokehouse smell of her hair, though he had found faint traces of her in the air now and then, almost always at night’ (p. 261). When the pain of separation could no longer be borne, ‘Once or twice he had gone to her, had tracked her down in the blackness of the trees, but she had always led him back’ (p. 261). Can this tender story of a woman and a tiger—interspecies love, as it were—have a conventionally happy ending? Of one thing we can be sure: male, but not human, and entirely unschooled in the gendered rituals of ‘civilized’ society, the tiger is able to love, to surrender, and to wait, with the fullness and humanity that perhaps only an animal sometimes can. Several other literary works offer interesting perspectives on the complex relationship between love, gender, and waiting. Vikram Seth’s novels A Suitable Boy (1993) and An Equal Music (1999) are an instance. A Suitable Boy is set in post-independence India, and weaves together a range of sub-plots including political and economic reforms, caste relations, and religious tension as the backdrop to a mother’s search for a suitable groom for her daughter. An Equal Music is the story of a professional violinist who finds his lost love—a pianist who is now married, has a young son, and is slowly going deaf—and has an affair with her, only to lose her again. Both novels are ultimately love stories, their sensitive exploration of romance and relationships being not just one dimension of Seth’s oeuvre but an overarching theme uniting disparate works that has been noted by several critics, making Seth one of the few male writers in contemporary Indian English literature who has received critical and popular acclaim for penning fiction in this under-theorized and largely misunderstood genre. What is interesting is that in Seth’s literary world, men and women are broadly similar; men suffer political, social and personal loss alongside women, women are as capable of inflicting pain, and love’s waiting is un-gendered. It might be argued that this is how it is in life too, and that the pains inflicted in and by love have never been middle class heterosexual women’s alone. Here we might reference ‘intersectionality,’ the idea that gender is by no means the only form of discrimination, given the ways in which gender intersects with the insistent inequalities of race, class, caste, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation, locally and globally, to create complex structures of power. But here too, many women writers have probed deeper into the larger structural conditions that  weigh against particular women in particular ways, demonstrating that no matter how privileged a certain section of society may be, the women of that section are less so. Much like the forbidden love in Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things (1997), the story of a traditional Syrian Christian family in Ayemenem, Kerala, whose divorced daughter Ammu falls in love with the ‘low caste’ Velutha. The discovery of Ammu’s relationship coincides with the accidental death of Sophie, Ammu’s Oxford-returned brother’s daughter from his English ex-wife. Velutha is falsely implicated, arrested and brutally tortured by the police, and dies in custody. Ammu’s children are taken away from her and from each other, and she commits suicide far away from home. Love and loss are inseparably intertwined here, a rebellious woman from a middle class ‘respectable’ family and a lower caste man saddled by centuries of caste oppression ultimately united in their powerlessness. Here, too, waiting is forever, with not just love but also justice being endlessly deferred. * Thus, a closer examination of the vast corpus of world literatures, broadly defined, reveals that if much of literature is about love, leaving and waiting, then our literary imaginations have historically been profoundly gendered. In many cases, a tenuous link also emerges between the gender of the author and their representation, stylization, voice. Thus fairy-tales written mostly by men deployed convenient categories and simplistic binaries: the princess, the damsel in distress, the evil stepmother, the witch. This would also be true of Homer’s Odysseus and, with some qualifications, of many religious epics. Speaking of Bengali renaissance literature, penned at a time when the fight for women’s emancipation was led by elite men (unlike in the United States, where first-wave feminism was led by elite women) such that male writers like Tagore wrote about women’s issues, we still find subtle differences between their work which subordinated gender to ‘larger’ themes such as family, religion and critiques of aggressive nationalism, and that of women writers like Asha Purna Debi who foregrounded the women’s movement. The same might be said for later writers discussed earlier, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Usha Priyamvada, and many others such as Anita Nair, whose novel Mistress I have elsewhere interpreted to be a postcolonial feminist reworking of the Radha-Krishna love story.15 Therefore, while women writers have taken up a variety of literary themes and positions such that it is impossible to generalize, one might tentatively conclude that any link between gender and work also extends to the thematic and stylistic treatment of leaving and waiting. In reflecting upon my own conscious and subconscious literary choices in this regard, I realized that I was, since childhood, filled with a desire to re-write—re-gender, as it were—mythology, fairy tales and folklore, both ‘Indian’ and ‘Western’. I wanted to somehow undo my 15 Debotri Dhar, “Radha’s Revenge: Feminist Agency, Postcoloniality and the Politics of Desire in Anita Nair’s Mistress,” Postcolonial Text, Vol 7, No 4 (2012).  beloved Krishna’s leaving Radha for the ‘larger’ pursuit of statecraft, and Ram’s treatment of Sita, and always felt that Snow White should have married one of the dwarfs; who knows how the rich, handsome prince would turn out, but the dwarfs with their surpassing beauty and tender strengths would love her forever. The exquisite brutality of The Little Mermaid still sits inside me like a knife; that fish-tailed nymph, swimming out of the seas for the love of her prince, only to find herself in a bluer world where love’s waiting never ends. My first novel was published when I was a teenager, and while it drew upon some themes dear to my heart—women’s independence, travel, cultural collisions, and love—the resolution of love’s dilemma played out in conventional terms, with the woman waiting for the man. However, in my short story collection Postcards from Oxford: Stories of Women and Travel, women travelers had begun to cross not just geographical but also social, economic, emotional and psychic boundaries of all kinds. As a review in the New York Journal of Books noted: ‘The trajectory of the road was once considered a strictly masculine pursuit. A lady’s place was in the parlor, or perhaps the boudoir. Yes, female walkers certainly existed, including George Sand, Rene Vivien and Djuna Barnes to name but a few; however, the urban adventurer was predominantly male. The women we encounter in Ms. Dhar’s work seize the trajectory of the road and navigate it on their own terms. As a body of work, they examine what it means for a 21st century woman to travel.’16 The Courtesans of Karim Street carried forward this theme of women’s travel, and of female friendships across divides; yet, the two male readers’ reactions that sparked this essay point to the dogged persistence of gender asymmetries. Or else, given our cultural appreciation of men who focus on issues ‘larger’ than love (even as one or more women wait for them to return), why would a literary sub-plot featuring a man who waits for the love of a woman while she travels overseas for work and also supports her family, invite angst or condemnation? The irony here is also that modern India is filled with real instances of women travelling alone for education and work, especially among the urban middle classes, such that the phenomenon is not unknown at all. Indeed, it would be incorrect to identify this social phenomenon as restricted only to the urban middle classes, their economic or other privileges notwithstanding; if anything, the sheer numbers of women from rural areas and small towns who travel to urban and cosmopolitan centers in India for education and work is as impressive. Nor would it be impossible to find single women from earlier periods of history who defied their own social circumstances to travel alone such that the differences within and across time periods, then, pertain largely to context and scale. And to the extent that women have travelled, there must have been men who waited—for them, for love, for marriage. But still?    It may, in fact, be validly argued that in 2018, why do the goalposts for women compulsorily need to be marriage and motherhood? Not all single women are ‘waiting’, or being waited for, by possible partners. Many women are not just getting married later and later in life, but also choosing not to get married at all. More importantly, remaining single in today’s times does not necessarily mean that one is celibate, ‘on the shelf,’ or spinsters in a traditional sense who were once framed as bitter or unhappy figures worthy only of pity and social condescension. Instead, some women, especially from more privileged sections of society, see singlehood as a choice that may allow greater professional and creative focus, a way to explore and establish one’s own identity in the world. It goes without saying that the choice to remain single holds intriguing implications for women writers and the characters they pen. In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf had spoken passionately of the material, educational, and social limitations faced by women to argue that a woman must have money and ‘a room of her own’ if she is to write. Since such money for women was, at the time, a consequence primarily of birth and marriage—i.e. a rich father and/or socially highly positioned husband—the traditional route for women writers was (and, in some settings, still continues to be) one that continued to uphold marriage as the norm for women. For all the social acceptance and economic support that such a traditional route historically provided for middle class women, singlehood has allowed women artists, especially those who are positioned to avail of the opportunities afforded by education and social milieu, the space to focus more on their craft. As bell hooks writes in ‘Women Artists: The Creative Process’ about ‘what it means to have the luxury of time—time spent collecting one’s thoughts, time to work undisturbed. This time is space for contemplation and reverie. It enhances our capacity to create…it is this stillness, this quietude, needed for the continued nurturance of any devotion to artistic practice—to one’s work—that remains a space that women (irrespective of race, class, nationality etc.) struggle to find…We have yet to create a culture so transformed by feminist practice that it would be common sense that the nurturance of brilliance or the creation of a body of work fundamentally requires such undisturbed hours. In such a world it would make perfect sense for women who devote themselves to artistic practice to rightfully claim that space.’17 For those whose identities were historically constructed around gendered ideas of (often one-sided) sacrifice and denial of the self, learning to love one’s self and cultivating one’s own talents can be liberating. Yet for all the changes in society, ancient patterns do find ways to reassert themselves. A case in point is the Airtel advertisement where a professionally qualified modern Indian couple are not just each other’s office colleagues, but the wife is the husband’s boss; while the ‘boss’ asks her subordinate to work overtime and complete the project, the wife in her rushes back home to prepare dinner. While an outrage on Twitter followed, many defended 17 bell hooks, Art on my Mind: Visual Politics (New York: The New Press, 1995), pp. 125-6.  the ad with ‘what is wrong with a wife cooking dinner for an overworked husband,’ ‘perhaps she likes to cook,’ ‘Indian women are different from Western women,’ etc., etc. While even I like to cook—the culinary is an art form, I would argue—it does seem that the third defense is problematic because of its

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