Women have been a crucial part of our history. Their ideas, beliefs, thoughts, struggles and lives, in general, have shaped the contemporary world. People across the globe draw inspiration from these women whose heroic narratives are being written and read enthusiastically. SheThePeople in its first-ever two-day-long SheThePeople Summit Online, had a discussion on Women in History: Narratives, Writings, Revival with authors Aanchal Malhotra and Ira Mukhoty Jayal. The session was moderated by the SheThePeople.TV’s founder Shaili Chopra.
Preservation of History
About the partition that affected millions across the subcontinent, Aanchal says, “India is a country of stories and it has remained a country of stories, and within every family, we have these nuggets of history.” So she has always tried to bring to light these personal accounts and the small anecdotes that are often neglected by the numbers. She believes that any colossal event can only be understood by its various perspectives.
Malhotra adds “No matter what your family is, where you are from, what your class is, what your religion is, you still have something to add to national history in whatever small way we can.” Aanchal feels that the greatest learning of the millennial generation is the art of listening. She also emphasised that India is a country of oral traditions which needs to be preserved.
India is a country of stories and it has remained a country of stories, and within every family, we have these nuggets of history.
Tracing women in history
“The written records that we have, starting from 5,000 BCE, ninety-five percent of those are the stories of men. All that we’ve inherited, all the ways we have of thinking, of seeing the past, we see it firmly through the lens of men,” Ira remarks. She adds, “The women who are considered heroines are those who follow a sort of a male model for heroism. For example, Rani Lakshmibai, is considered a heroic woman because she took to the battlefield and died on the battlefield. We know about only a few years leading up to that role which showed her diplomacy, communicating skills, her wish to govern her land.” She feels that it is not that women are not present in history, they are just harder to find and those who are interested should dig deep enough to retrieve these remnants of history.
All that we’ve inherited, all the ways we have of thinking, of seeing the past, we see it firmly through the lens of men.
Ira gives an equal weightage to crafting the book as she works on the subject matter. She says, “I think about my phrases, my sentences, the structure of my book, that’s very important to me. I want people to want to read the books as stories, because what is history, if not stories.”
Aanchal says, “I travel across the country a lot, I speak to people a lot, the voice is such a powerful medium, the way people say things, the accent, where they become emotional, all these things really matter in making an evocative text and trying to transport your reader to another time period.” She has a habit of reading out loud whatever she writes, the accent, the modulation, everything because she feels, “if it sounds natural, it will read natural to a person as well.”
Sometimes people accuse feminism of being an imported western concept and that’s not at all true.
Toying between facts and fiction
Ira affirms, “When we are writing history, we need to be incredibly careful with the facts that you are writing about.” She talks about how for her book on Akbar she brought forward the perspectives of the three primary sources.
Since she is a memory keeper, Aanchal relies on what people remember. “Sometimes,” she says, “we can draw conclusions if people remember the same things, but it is equally as interesting to see how people remember the same things differently.” She approaches history through a variety of narratives.
Feminism in History
“Sometimes people accuse feminism of being an imported western concept and that’s not at all true. We’ve had our great feminist voices from the time of Gargi and before. There are wonderful women who left society to follow their paths, Mirabai was a feminist” says Ira. She further adds, “The fact that Indian women have been looking for a way to get their messages across and to live their life the way they see it, for thousands of years, it’s just that we’ve forgotten them and now we say that feminism is coming from the west and is spreading in our culture, but this is not true. In our culture, we’ve had strong women, opinionated women for a very very long time.”
Saavriti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV