Following decolonization, Hindi writers of the Nayī Kahānī Movement and Tamil writers belonging to the publishing house Eḻuttu popularized the short story as a major genre of Indian literature. However, references to Hindu–Muslim conflict or anti-Brahmin resistance—which loomed large in the Indian cultural imaginary—were scarcely evident in their fiction. This talk explores why this was the case. I show that by focusing on the apprehensions surrounding the new woman’s desires, Hindi and Tamil writers emphasized the problem of feminine desire above religious and caste contentions. Hindi writers subsumed the injuries of Partition beneath the inscrutability of the new woman’s wants, the anguish of unrequited love, and the inadequacy of masculine agency. Tamil writers, by contrast, masked the fault lines of South Indian caste hierarchy by articulating the Brahmin woman’s desires for reform as a broader appeal for cultural modernization. In both cases, the new woman’s ambitions became a horizon for realigning communal and caste questions along the axis of heterosexual relations.
Preetha Mani is Assistant Professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literature and Core Faculty in the Program in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. She is currently finishing her book, titled The Idea of Indian Literature: Gender, Genre, and Comparative Method. She has recent and forthcoming essays and translations in journals including Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; Comparative Literature; South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies; and SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal; as well as in edited volumes. Her research and teaching interests include modern Hindi, Tamil, and Indian literature; women’s writing; feminisms in South Asia; world literature, translation studies, postcolonial studies, realism, and modernisms.