Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What's the story?

That's what we wanted to know. All of us at Prajnya love to read and between us, there's probably no genre of fiction that remains explored although of course, each one has their favourites. None of us reads to make a point about ourselves, and we love talking about books.

When you think about it, it's quite surprising that we hadn't organised a discussion about gender violence in fiction all these years. We've done other literary things--creative writing and poetry readings galore--but nothing with fiction.

Once the idea occurred to us, the format and the structure were both no-brainers. We wanted discussion leaders to start off the conversation but in an almost-off-the-cuff way and briefly. We knew what we wanted them to ruminate over. What is it that is so seductive about patriarchy that we continue to read fiction that starts and ends with patriarchal assumptions--for instance, romance novels? What do we make of fiction where the 'hero' is a 'heroine'--or to put it in more inclusive terms, where the protagonist is not a man? If those books are to be classified as 'literature', do they have to have violence? Is violence the hallmark of realism and realism the prerequisite of something being called 'literature'? And what about consent? What is the place of consent in fiction?

Of course, the four avid readers we invited to lead the discussion used our questions as a point of departure for their own explorations, rather than exam question papers!

Lavanya Gopinath spoke about Regency Romances and raised questions about contemporary romantic fiction that she invited the audience to answer. Archanaa Seker systematically reviewed several kinds of popular fiction in search of the protagonist who is not a man. Samyuktha PC contempated the ubiquitous violence in young adult fiction, concluding provocatively that it was perhaps essential! Archana Venkatesh discussed consent in a few different books including Perumal Murugan's One Part Woman--incidentally this was perhaps the only South Asian work that was discussed that day!

The discussion that followed was spirited as people spoke in defence of literature they loved as well as with outrage about the things that infuriated them. Clearly there is a place in this town for regular book discussions and there is no shortage of passionate readers!

Crossword generously partnered with us to provide the venue for this event. We look forward to working with them in the future.

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