Speaking of the Self

Gender, Performance, and Autobiography in South Asia

Speaking of the Self

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 15 illustrations Published: November 2015

Asian Studies > South Asia, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theater and Performance > Performance Art

Many consider the autobiography to be a Western genre that represents the self as fully autonomous. The contributors to Speaking of the Self challenge this presumption by examining a wide range of women's autobiographical writing from South Asia. Expanding the definition of what kinds of writing can be considered autobiographical, the contributors analyze everything from poetry, songs, mystical experiences, and diaries to prose, fiction, architecture, and religious treatises. The authors they study are just as diverse: a Mughal princess, an eighteenth-century courtesan from Hyderabad, a nineteenth-century Muslim prostitute in Punjab, a housewife in colonial Bengal, a Muslim Gandhian devotee of Krishna, several female Indian and Pakistani novelists, and two male actors who worked as female impersonators. The contributors find that in these autobiographies the authors construct their gendered selves in relational terms. Throughout, they show how autobiographical writing—in whatever form it takes—provides the means toward more fully understanding the historical, social, and cultural milieu in which the author performs herself and creates her subjectivity.

Contributors: Asiya Alam, Afshan Bokhari, Uma Chakravarti, Kathryn Hansen, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, Anshu Malhotra, Ritu Menon, Shubhra Ray, Shweta Sachdeva Jha, Sylvia Vatuk



"The authors . . . present a significant corpus of scholarship relating to autobiography and gender which can apply broadly not only in South Asia but beyond. By carefully exploring important theoretical aspects and alternative examples of autobiography, the authors open new grounds and sources to critique autobiographical writing and methods." — Niroshini Somasundaram, IIAS Newsletter

"Speaking of the Self is a significant contribution to understanding the complexities of representing the self by women . . . in South Asian cultures across regions and ages. It sensitizes the reader to the importance of the social, cultural, political, regional, and historical milieu in which the autobiographical narratives are played out." — Monika Browarczyk, Biography

“These ten essays, along with a helpful introduction, come together to form an interesting and excellent collection. . . . All of these essays should be of interest to scholars and graduate students working on gender and women’s history in South Asia. Many would be useable within an undergraduate class on a wide range of related subjects." — Judith Walsh, Journal of Asian Studies

"With sophisticated, crisply written, and well-documented essays, Speaking of the Self makes a distinctive and significant contribution to several fields, including comparative autobiography, women's studies, and South Asian history. A tour de force, the editors' introduction is a major statement on autobiographical writing, and the essays, like the introduction, are accessible to a wide audience. Speaking of the Self broadens the genres of what should be considered under the broad umbrella of autobiography with cogent analysis." — Barbara Ramusack, author of The Indian Princes and their States

"In analyzing material from South Asia, across contexts and time periods, Speaking of the Self is a novel contribution to the flourishing field of autobiography studies. The contributors present material little known to Anglophone audiences that will stimulate thinking by specialists who have heretofore been mostly focused on 'Western' texts and contexts."  — Marilyn Booth, author of Classes of Ladies of Cloistered Spaces


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Anshu Malhotra is Associate Professor of History at the University of Delhi and the author of Gender, Caste, and Religious Identities: Restructuring Class in Colonial Punjab.

Siobhan Lambert-Hurley is Reader in International History at the University of Sheffield and author of Muslim Women, Reform and Princely Patronage: Nawab Sultan Jahan Begam of Bhopal

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Gender, Performance, and Autobiography in South Asia / Anshu Malhotra and Siobhan Lambert-Hurley  1

Part I. Negotiating Autobiography: Between Assertion and Subversion

1. A Passion for Reading: The Role of Early Twentieth-Century Urdu Novels in the Construction of an Individual Female Identity in 1930s Hyderabad / Sylvia Vatuk  33

2. Pentimento: The Self beneath the Surface / Ritu Menon  56

3. Interrupted Stories: The Self-Narratives of Nazr Sajjad Hyder / Asiya Alam  72

4. Kailashabashini Debi's Janaika Grihabadhur Diary: A Women "Constructing" Her "Self" in Nineteenth-Century Bengal? / Shudhra Ray  95

Part II. Forms and Modes of Self-Fashioning

5. Betrayal, Anger, and Loss: Women Write the Partition in Pakistan / Uma Chakravarti  121

6. Tawa'if as Poet and Patron: Rethinking Women's Self-Representation / Shweta Sachdeva Jha  141

7. Masculine Modes of Female Subjectivity: The Case of Jahanara Begam / Afshan Bokhari  165

Part III. Destabilizing the Normative: The Heterogeneous Self

8. Performing a Persona: Reading Piro's Kafis / Anshu Malhotra  205

9. The Heart of a Gopi: Raihana Tyabji's Bhakti Devotionalism as Self-Representation / Siobhan Lambert-Hurley  230

10. Performing Gender and Faith in Indian Theater Autobiographies / Kathryn Hansen  255

Select Bibliography  281

Contributors  301

Index  305
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5991-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5983-8
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