Culture > A novel of thresholds
  • Careful Reader

    The ‘Ordinary Observer’ (henceforth OO) has certainly raised an important point. But as someone who has read the novel, I would want to say that he/she is being unfair in expecting explicit historical and political referencing in a novel like Basanti.
    It is true that the novel does not allude to the nationalist movement and to Gandhi. But does anybody seriously believe that explicit historical allusion is the indubitable criterion of literary merit? If that were the case, several great works of literature will have perished by the wayside by now. What better examples can we think of than the novels of Jane Austen (written during the time of the Napoleonic Wars) and Ulysses of James Joyce (written during the period of the First World War)? These novels do not allude to war and history the way OO would have demanded of them.
    Basanti is a deeply political novel in that it seeks to question unequal gender roles and imagine the new woman in the context of a new Odisha seeking reunification.
    Accepting the fact that there is no explicit mention of Gandhi in the novel, we may perhaps consider the words addressed to Gandhi by Sarala Devi, one of the 9 contributors to the multi-author novel and a major one at that. She wrote to Gandhi, demanding a space for the women of India that the Nationalists had withheld.
    Don’t we see in her move a marked shift of emphasis from the masculinist politics of the nationalist movement to the politics of gender? No wonder, Sarala Devi drafted a feminist manifesto in the nine chapters that she wrote in the novel. She was also one of the real-life exemplars of the new woman that OO talks about. And she joined 8 ‘Sabuja Age’ authors in creating a compelling portrait of an independent, educated, and enlightened woman.

  • Ordinary Observer

    It is indeed exciting to see so many writers collaborating to create a female character.
    The irony is a novel written during the heyday of the nationalist movement doesn’t so much as carry a word on the freedom struggle or Gandhi.
    By the time this novel was published, Odisha has already seen many courageous women, whose role in public life inspired ordinary women. So, Odisha already had a few exemplars, who were products of their time but also carried the necessary vision for a emancipatory future.

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