One of the many reasons why the Dhaka Literary Festival turns out to be such a success each year, is the sheer number of literary luminaries and celebrities it brings together, all in one event. The many panel sessions that are organised throughout the three days give visitors a chance to not only see but listen to some of the most notable authors, publishers, actors and activists of our time, as they talk about current local and global issues.
One such panel session was moderated by author and journalist Udisa Islam, who started the discussion by mentioning the topic: “Women and womanhood.” The panel session, which took place at the KK Tea Stage on the second day of DLF 2016, sought to shed light on the views of urban women The panellists included authors Sadia Mehzabin Imam, Nasima Anis, Sangeeta Bandapaddhay, and Papri Rahman. Udisa Islam left the floor to the panellists after a brief introduction and adding that how women are presented in the literary works is also immensely important.
Sadia Mehzabin Imam took up the discussion from there by commenting that to her the meaning of “woman” is to embody a physical entity that was assigned to someone by birth. In other words the physical incarnation of a woman is her identity. But womanhood is larger than that. Womanhood is the personality of women that complete the “woman” identity. At one point during the discussion she noted how women are being bogged down because of this identity of being a women even when they are superior in merit. Even as a writer she cannot bring up sensuality, homosexuality because of her identity as a woman writer.
Sangeeta interjected there saying that writers must not self-censor. “It is true that I can’t be truly divorced from my womanhood when I write but my woman persona is not devoid of the ability to make moral judgement,” she said. A long time journalist, Sangeeta is now a full time writer. She refuses to over-think her role and writes what she wants to write, no matter what people say.
Nasima Anis related her own experience on this matter mentioning that her prize winning novel is on the lives of ‘hijra’ (hermaphrodites). She thinks she was able to break convention and taboo as a woman.
Papri Rahman added that women are endowed with the extraordinary power of giving birth, which, she said, is a unique power a man can never fully comprehend. Only a woman can manage to be so multi-faceted in her role in life, she added.
Udisa Islam brought up that modern men are more inclined than before to assist women in her endeavours. The others agreed.
The topic of ‘strife of women’ animated the stage. Sangeeta said that women must choose which one is her fight and which one is not. A life of struggle is not always worth embarking on, she said. The audience supported her with applause and laughter.
On the topic of philosophy of writing, Sadia said that all writings do not necessarily fall neatly within philosophical views. Papri Rahman disagreed saying all writings do have philosophies behind them. Some are apparent but others are embedded within the writing. Sangeeta agreed with that view. Papri Rahman expressed disappointment regarding the presentation of women in men’s writings. But Sangeeta disagreed noting that many classic works presented women brilliantly.
Sadia Mehzabin Imam is an award winning writer and journalist. Sangeeta Bandapaddhay worked in Banglabazar newspaper but now she is a fulltime writer. Nasima Anis is an award winning writer. Papri Rahman’s works focus on the aspects of human personalities.
The panel was conducted in Bengali with live translation.