Think- Woman Cometh:The Questioning Gargis of our Times

Abstract: The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad presents an engaging interaction between sages Gargi and Yajnavalkya. It takes place in the palace of Janaka, the King of Videha, who performs a sacrifice where scholars from different lands are invited to present their Vedic knowledge. To the most erudite scholar, janaka wishes to offer one thousand cows on whose horns are fastened ten padas of gold each. He asks the cows to be confined in a pen, and tells the assembled brahmins that the best Vedic scholar among them may take the cows home. At this, Yajnavalkya asks one of his disciples to drive the cows home. Jealous over this exhibition of confidence, the other brahmins start challenging him by asking various questions, all of which he answers well. Then, Gargi, the daughter of Vachaknu, asks him numerous questions, all which he answers, too. Yet, in a while, nearly alarmed by her persistent inquiry wherein she leads their exchange from one question to the next in a naturally successive movement, he requests her to stop asking questions. Gargi obliges, but later demands to ask two final questions. When Yajnavalkya answers those, too, Gargi declares that there is no one better than him in Vedic knowledge.

Keywords: independent publisher, socio-cultural issues, gender studies, autobiographical narratives, women’s initiatives, women’s issues, Tulika books, Women Unlimited, young women

This Upanishadic episode is interesting at multiple levels. First, Gargi’s authority and eligibility to challenge Yanjavalkya are unquestioningly accepted by all in the court. Secondly, her presence and conduct among men are evidently that of a peer, if not of a superior. Thirdly, it is she who in effect declares Yanjavalkya the winner, and that shows the respectability accorded to her own scholarship.

One characteristic feature of Gargi’s questioning is the spontaneity of its expression – one question leads to another, giving a feeling that she is a true seeker of knowledge, and not a mere challenger of another person’s knowledge. So, when Yajnavalkya requests her to stop as she probes about Hiranyagarbha, the universal germ, she stops, realising that it is not his fear of loss that is making him request her to stop, but his concern for her.

Do not, O Gargi,” says he, “question too much, lest your head should fall off. You are questioning too much about a deity about whom we should not ask too much. Do not ask too much, O Gargi.”

One question that comes to one’s mind in this case is, if Gargi already knows the answers to all the questions, is not she eligible for the title of the most erudite Vedic scholar? Is there a reason why Gargi did not claim the title? In Gargi, one sees a quest to go beyond the limits and the trophies of various fields of knowledge, and arrive at a trans-episternic wisdom, the very truth of being. Stemming from this aspiration is a largeness that animates her way of questioning Yajnavalkya, and lends a quiet confidence and serenity to her demands and declarations in the court.

An objective quest for truth and a deep interest in research inherent in Gargi’s questioning are characteristic aspects of the inquiry of the women publishers who are under discussion here. Even as they work to open up think spaces in different academic areas and strive to bring out lesser known facets of and personalities in various epistemological fields, there seems a trans-epistemic quality to their quest – an aptitude for a certain understanding crossing borders.

Perhaps, the greatest collective achievement of the women publishers we discuss in this volume is the double-edged way they have opened out the feminist quest on the one hand, and created an organic editorial methodology for publishing in India. A rather political inquiry that started out with socio-cultural issues concerning women, and went on to become a space of creativity and conservation, women’s publishing in India has showed us a way to move ahead in the field of publishing. It has created for us a paradigm of quest – how could the publishing industry contribute to our times – how can it help an individual, a community or a nation evolve a methodology of creating itself in a relevant manner? Through their active responses to their immediate contexts, through their creative exploration of the available resources, by building cultural institutions that can disseminate the most relevant ideas and actions, and finally through conserving the best civilisational products, these women have indeed lent the largely weak-willed and unimaginative Indian publishing world, a guide map of sorts to chase its treasures. That is how these women go beyond the familiar feminist episteme available in the academy.

We will look at the cases of a few women in academic publishing in India to illustrate how they have initiated a trans-epistemic inquiry in the space of publishing, by offering the country and to the world at large, a paradigmatic action and a symbolic enterprise of seeking the truth most relevant to our times, going unwittingly beyond their own stated feminist and radical objectives. Beyond their serious epistemic considerations, they have almost inadvertently shown us a way to arrive at the truth, by all the time pushing the limits of conventional knowledge as well as its accepted processes of generation, dissemination and conservation.

Tulika Books

Tulika Books is an independent publisher of scholarly and academic books in the humanities and social sciences, with a bioad left and democratic perspective. A sister concern of Tulika Publishers in Chennai and publishing since 1995, Tulika specialises in areas such as archaeology, architecture, art, critical theory, culture studies, development studies, economics, film studies, history, literary theory, politics, philosophy and sociology.

Tulika Books has since published some of India’s best known left intellectuals and academics. It is run by the Managing Editor Indira -Indu – Chandrasekhar, who started her career as a copy editor with Macmillan India in the 1980s. She taught in Bangalore and Delhi Universities, and later joined hands with Radhika Menon to mark her entry into publishing services (See Radhika Menon’s “Entering the World of Children’s Books”). Indu Chandrasekhar is a member of the India Chapter of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Tulika Books is one of the founder-members of the Independent Publishers’ Distribution Alternative of India and the Independent Publishing Group. In 2014, it won the Printed Book of the Year award from Publishing Next for the book Project Cinema City: Research Art and Documentary Practices, a collaborative inquiry into the links between cinema and city, curated by filmmaker Madhushree Dutta. The book falls into the Tulika Books’ line of ‘art books’, books on modern Indian art as well on modern Indian artists.

As the former Tulika editor Sudhanva Deshpande went on to work as the Managing Director of the explicitly Leftist publisher LeftWord Books, Tulika maintains links with LeftWord. Its books are provided on the LeftWord Book Club and Indu Chandrasekhar serves on the editorial advisory board of LeftWord. In this context, it may also be noted that Chandrasekhar was active in her protest in 2013 against the now Prime Minister Narendra Modi being invited to the ‘Romancing Print’ conference, which led to him finally not attending the conference.

Tulika has brought out many series of books on History and Culture of India, Agrarian Studies, Labour History, Modern Indian Thinkers, Muttukadu Papers. It has worked with authors such as Akeel Bilgrami, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Ben Fine, Irfan Habib, A. G. Noorani, K. M. Shrirnali, Prabhat Patnaik, Shereen Ratnagar, Jayati Ghosh, Sashi Kumar, Paritosh Sen, Arpita Singh, Gautam Bhatia, Devi Prasad, Vivan Sundaram, Barnita Bagchi, Amiya Kumar Bagchi, and Shireen Moosvi.

It is interesting to find the horizontal linkages among the concerns raised by these writers. Tulika here seems to be exploring, beyond epistemologies, a thread of connection that must lead the humanity to a greater understanding of the possibility of freedom in exploring knowledge and creativity.

Women Unlimited

Women Unlimited, a non-profit trust, is an associate of Kali for Women, about which we had discussed in detail in the first section of this volume. The house publishes scholarly and academic books in the social sciences; fiction; general interest non-fiction; books for young adults; pamphlets and monographs; and activist material. Women Unlimited is seen as continuing all the publishing activities initiated by Kali for Women. Thus it continues to explore new socio-cultural issues, anticipate trends in various fields of knowledge and expression, develop new perspectives and discourses, and offer the best of feminist scholarship, activist material and creative writing, at affordable prices.

Women Unlimited has published many pioneering feminist scholars and activists in South Asia and abroad such as Bina Agarwal, Paola Bacchetta, Kamla Bhasin, Radhika Chopra, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Neloufer de Mel, Zillah Eisenstein, Rada Ivekovic, Indira Jaising, Kumari Jayawardena, Kalpana Kannabiran, Nighat Said Khan, Fatima Mernissi, Chandra Mohanty, Martha Nussbaum, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Shahnaz Rouse, Vandana Shiva and Romila Thapar. Some of the finest creative writers of India including Bama, Ismat Chughtai, Esther David, Mridula Garg, Qurratulain Hyder and Nayantara Sahgal have also been published by the house.

Women Unlimited has done co-publication with Cappelan (Norway); Marcos y Marcos (Italy); New Directions (US); Oxford University Press (Pakistan); Philippe Picquier (France); Rutgers University Press (US); Spinifex (Australia); The Feminist Press (US); The Women’s Press (UK); Westview (US); Zed Books (UK and US) etc. Women Unlimited, with its declared feminist angle in publishing, allies itself with the global women’s and women’s studies movements. As a participant in feminist activism in our times, it strives to create spaces for feminist voices. One finds in its editorial methodology, an attempt to interweave theory and practice, allowing the insights of each to inspire and activate the other.

A series called Arabesque, initiated in 2012, presents the best writing from West Asia including the works of Suad Amiry, Hada Barakat, Hanifa Zangan a, Jean Makdisi, Raja Shehadeh, Karma Nabulsi, Mourid Barghouti, Susan Abulhawa, Lila Abu-Lughod, Adania Shibli, Mischa Hiller and others. The works of fiction, poetry, memoir and others in this series present the lives and literatures of societies on the brink of a transformation.

Another project that Women Unlimited has taken up is ‘Maiden Voices: The Young Women of India.’ In the present India where the population of young adults (18-24) is growing at the rate of 1.6 per cent a year, naturally, the fertility patterns of this segment will determine population trends. Women Unlimited believes that this vulnerable age group has to be listened to closely in order to understand the direction in which we are heading as a country. It is noted that among young adults, the ratio of women to men is on the decline. The female-male child sex ratio is declining even in the ‘developed states’ like Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat – despite higher literacy and education. The house seeks to unearth the views of India’s young adults on the question of son-preference in Indian society. In what way would their attitudes shape the socio-political and economic destiny of the country and its people?

Other issues that demand exploration are the growing conservatism and the re-emergence of casteism gripping the fast liberalising Indian society, which have placed new burdens on young women. Do the new opportunities that have arisen for young women in the form of jobs in call centres, the hospitality industry, and the software industry helping the status and safety of India’s girls? Are jobs making the women independent, or are they just becoming more eligible in the marriage market?

How do young women make sense of these jumbled signals from society? Where do they voice their doubts, anxieties, hopes, expectations? Who gives them the opportunity or the space to express themselves? They have a greater sense of balancing exhilarating thoughts of choices and freedoms, with maintaining some part of their customs and traditions. But how much and what do young women want to discard, and what do they want to keep? The Women Unlimited project on the young women of India seeks to throw light on all these questions.

As its mandate, thus, goes beyond textual knowledge-building, Women Unlimited collaborates on various projects with like-minded organisations from across the world. These include Women’s WORLD (World Organisation for Rights, Literature and Development); WISCOMP (Women In Security, Conflict Management and Peace); WIPSA (Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia); ICES (International Centre for Ethnic Studies); the Lawyers’ Collective, Asmita, Jagori and WFS (Women’s Feature Service), among others.

Women Unlimited is a founding member of the Independent Publishers’ Distribution Alternatives (Delhi) as well as a member of the Alliance of Independent Publishers (Paris), an international network publishing in five major languages: English, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese.


As the story of Stree-Samya has already been discussed along with the story Mandira Sen herself has shared, this short section is just to place the enterprise within the publishing sisterhood that has re-formulated the Indian academy.

The two imprints Stree and Samya that emerge from the partnership of Bhatkal and Sen, has since 1990, published many a path-breaking volume in Gender Studies, in English and in Bengali. It has taken up issues ranging from class relations, social institutions, religion, culture and ideology, and has done a great deal of translations to make available significant writings from across the country to the Bengali and English readership. Stree has always striven to present a greater exchange between the languages through its translations.

Samya’s focus on dissent has made it one of the country’s most important spaces engaged in the creation of scholarship in the field of subaltern and Dalit studies. This house was the first to publish the radical social justice scholar Kancha Ilaiah, when it brought out his Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Culture, Philosophy and Political Economy. The works of many of their authors like Omprakash Valmiki and Thirumaavalan appeared for the first time in. English when it published them.

Stree-Samya focuses on publishing knowledge generated within the country and distributing it within India and abroad. For the same reason, there is a special emphasis on identifying new writings, and showcasing them in editions reflecting the high quality of editorial and production skills available in India. In the times when Indian mainstream publishing is indulging in a mindlessly imitative trip of the Western Market trends that have no integral connection with the reading needs of India, Streets efforts to create new fields beyond existing epistemologies are remarkable and unique.


The genesis of Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW) is indeed a story that reflects the abiding will power of women; it makes for a conservatory of determination. In the second half of 1980s, a few women, who were later to become the trustees of SPARROW, met several times to discuss the possibilities of setting up a Women’s Archives with a difference – a vibrant and communicative space to understand women’s histories in the country. The need for such a special archives beyond the functions of a collection centre, had emerged from their own work in Women’s Studies. Slowly, the proposal for this women’s archive grew to be the blueprint of an organisation which would bring people together; an archive which would be an agent of change.

In 1988, the papers were drawn up, and SPARROW was formed with C. S. Lakshmi, Neera Desai and Maithreyi Krishna Raj as trustees. Before the founding of SPARROW, C. S. Lakshmi and Maithreyi Krishna Raj were involved in bringing out feminist calendars and diaries under the banner of Reaching Out, a feminist group consisting of these two women and Jyoti Randive. The cost of the first calendar was covered by individual donations, and more calendars and diaries were brought out using the revenue from the sale of the first one. The first SPARROW letterhead owed to the sales of those calendars and diaries.

Chelna Desai, who had helped in designing the earlier calendars, designed the SPARROW letterhead, too. Printed on ribbed paper it looked elegant and impressive. That was the beginning. The address given on the letterhead was B-32, Jeet Nagar, J.P.Road, Versova, which was C. S. Lakshmi’s residence. SPARROW occupied the small bedroom of that 500 square feet flat overlooking the sea.

SPARROW did several important photographic and other collections in the first four years with the help of donations from friends and supporters. A lot of time was spent on writing to funding agencies, but nothing substantial came by way of supporting the cause. SPARROW’s struggle is indicative of a plague that is still affecting the social sector. The government departments as well as fund granting agencies assume that knowledge generation, dissemination and conservation are not the priorities of a third world country. Non-profits in this country are supposed to worry about slums, environment, legal aid for women, health care, rural development and so on. The situation is still more or less the same today.

So, setting up a Women’s Archives did not figure anywhere in anybody’s scheme of things either in India or abroad in 1988. The SPARROW trustees met many government officials, and some of them were surprised that ‘chit-chat’ by women can be called ‘history’ at all -al or otherwise.

Office space was another challenge that SPARROW faced. In 1991, during the efforts to raise funds, Pheroza Godrej, the owner of Cymroza Gallery, became a friend of SPARROW, and that was a turning point. With her help and with generous contributions from many painters in the then Bombay and elsewhere, SPARROW organised a painting exhibition in 1992. The initial funds to launch the exhibition came from Grindlays Bank with support from Jyotsna and Ravi Shekar. Some funds came from Dhorabji Tata Trust. For a while SPARROW could only think of paintings.

The catalogue brought out for the exhibition was called A Nest for SPARROW. The short note in the catalogue expressed all that SPARROW had gone through.

The note began with this line: Some dreams are like stubborn foetuses in the mind refusing to die; waiting for life to be breathed into them. Setting up Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW) has been one such dream.

The note ended with this paragraph: There is the story of a Zen master who spent years in seclusion. When asked what he had learnt all these years, he took out his flute and blew out a short, sweet note and left. Maybe we can afford to do that a few years from now. When people ask us what we have done all these years, we will reply in one word: SPARROW.

The exhibition gave SPARROW some visibility and attention. It also brought enough to hire a tiny room above a wooden staircase. A part-time librarian was employed and many friends came and helped on a voluntary basis. A wooden table with decorative edges, a steel cupboard and a steel shelf were bought as the first infrastructural assets of SPARROW.

In 1994, while the city was still awakening from the shock of the communal riots. SPARROW organised a three-day oral history and visual summer workshop for college students in Bombay. The funds for this came partly from the Ministry of Human Resources and Development, Dhorabji Tata Trust and Vikas Adhyayan Kendra. At that point, unexpectedly, SPARROW had to move out of its rented room, and they ended up in a garage with work again shifting to Lakshmi’s residence for the next two years.

Then began the trips to the Municipal Corporation, seeking a space. At one point it almost seemed that SPARROW would be allotted a couple of rooms in a Municipal School that had a new building. But that was a structure with no water or electricity, surrounded by overgrown thorny bushes. After that, S N D T University was approached, but to no avail. A private college with a supportive Principal again raised hopes, which were soon shattered by the trustees of the college. In 1996, Rohini Banaji, a writer, scholar and an activist, allowed SPARROW to use her small flat at Yari Road, Versova. Individual donations still came in and to secure more donations, SPARROW printed a brochure with a donation form. Donations began to trickle in from friends and organisations that believed in the cause.

Thus it was a very nomadic SPARROW that was bringing to us a number of so-far unheard stories of women from the recesses of this country. Through various unsettlements, the Nest grew – SPARROW’s last rented space was a 2000 square feet residential area where 23 professionals worked. Finally, after a decade of its existence, in January 2008, SPARROW shifted to its own building in Dahisar, acquired with a generous grant from HIVOS, whose officials were so shocked by the contrast between the modesty of the space and the grandeur of the dream when they first came to visit SPARROW at Yari Road. Many donations from friends and supporters also helped to set up what is officially today, The Nest. Indeed, when a SPARROW decides to fly, the sky is the limit!


While we talk about the struggles of these women publishers, who are not merely ‘publishers’ but thinkers who belong to a horizontal connective of ideas for all times, Women’s Initiatives, founded by G. S. Jayasree in 2001 deserves special mention. This not-for-profit organisation of academics and professionals is committed to instilling the spirit of self-awareness in women. It opens up the narrative on women’s issues and turns an academic spotlight on a broad range of women-centric themes. This collective seeks to explore culture-specific relationships between women and their social environment.

Women’s Initiatives is active in research, publication and dissemination of knowledge relating to women’s issues. Its research activities happen under the aegis of Samyukta Research Foundation, while publication and dissemination are carried out through Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies. The Journal and the Foundation interlock their initiatives to utilise all available forums to advance the objectives of the Women’s Initiatives. This volume itself, as mentioned in the preface, is a direct outcome of Jayasree’s abiding interest in and support for the cause.

A journal that systematically addresses the silencing that women have endured through the ages, Samyukta: A Journal of Women’s Studies, seeks to address a long-felt need for an exclusive forum of publication for women in India. It must be noted that the only other journal devoted to Women’s Studies in India is the Indian Journal of Gender Studies brought out by Sage. Comprehensive research articles in Women’s Studies, autobiographical narratives, in-depth interviews, detailed profiles of eminent feminists, the best in creative writing and translation, book reviews – all find a place in Samyukta. A bi-annual publication of Women’s Initiatives, this is now into its successful fifteenth year in the challenging world of publishing, It is serendipitous that the present volume marks its 15th anniversary.

Based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Women’s Initiatives was registered with the aim of establishing a forum for research and studies on women’s issues with particular reference to India in the global context. Today Samyukta is widely cited, with a place in the curricula of more than 12 universities in India and abroad. The ‘New Venture’ award in 2004 from Women in Publishing, a UK based women’s group that works to promote the status of women working in publishing, has been a worthy recognition to the initiative.

As a matter of policy, the journal promotes substantial writing by women in the languages of India by publishing translations of women’s voices that are often unheard. In 2004 Samyukta published a special number on short stories by women in 12 Indian languages. It brought to the national scene many women writers who have since won wide recognition. In 2006, Women Unlimited came out with Onion Curry & the Nine Times Table: The Samyukta Anthology of Malayalam Stories, a selection of the best stories published in Samyukta. This volume remains a fine pointer to the collaborative direction Women’s publishing initiatives must take in these times.

Interdisciplinary in nature, each issue of Samyukta has a specific topic as primary focus. The inaugural issue of Samyukta carried articles on an important mode of women’s expression – autobiography. Autobiographical narratives have always been a part of Samyukta and the selection offered is eclectic, with narratives from women of varied backgrounds and different perspectives. They are tracts showing women’s courage and their efforts to gain visibility, inspiring and true tales that are records of the times. The lives of K. R. Gouriamma, the veteran political leader; C. K. Janu, the best heard Adivasi voice; Devaki Nilayangode, the Nanaboodiri writer and social activist; P. Vatsala, the well-known writer, are attempts to map the regional history, documenting life of the past one century.

Samyukta has since its inception carried interviews with leading political and literary figures, including Lakshmi Sahgal, Kamala Das and Sara Joseph. It uses the interview as a mode of enquiry to tease out details of the lives of individuals that might otherwise go unrecorded. The free-ranging nature of the interview allows the speaker to re-capture the mood of the events of her life. The authenticity of the first-person voice makes it a valuable source in feminist historiography.

The different dimensions of ‘Women and Power’ have been examined in detail in Samyukta with articles on women negotiating power in the Namboodiri community, male hegemony in the unique matrilineal system of Kerala effected through the karanavar, the eldest male, and the depiction of power relations in contemporary Malayalam fiction. Samyukta has also dealt with a significant topic yet to receive the attention it deserves -problems confronted by women in healthcare. A history of women’s involvement in health from the 1850s to the present in India published in Samyukta has won wide appreciation. Significantly, it also brought to light issues like reproductive and child health, legal and social implications of the right to abortion, women’s perspectives on HIV/AIDS, a health agenda for sex workers and discriminatory acts against women in mental health care. The articles in this number have been extensively reproduced and are widely used in classrooms and gender training programmes.

Samyukta has also discussed major topics such as ‘Women and Education,”Women and Development; ‘Women’s Movements in India,’ and ‘Women and the Bhakti Movement.’ The January 2006 issue focused on the history of education of women in Kerala from 1819 to 1947. Apart from an article on the subject by Hepsi Gladston, this issue of Samyukta also carried the complete text of the historical narrative entitled The Land of the Conch Shell first published more than a century ago by Augusta Blandford, a woman missionary belonging to the Church of England Zenana Mission Society. Reproducing texts of historical importance, not easily available at present, has been a policy with Samyukta. The journal took the initiative to translate and publish Parangodi Parinayam, a burlesque on Indulekha, which can be read as a critique of the colonial stand on the English language and marriage practices.

G. S. Jayasree, the Head of Institute of English, University of Kerala, is the Founder-Editor of the journal. The editorial team includes Jayasree Ramakrishnan Nair (Senior Associate Editor), Hema Nair R. Associate Editor), P. Radhika (Assistant Editor) and M. Supriya (Assistant Editor). The collective effort of the editors ensures that the articles included are of high quality and are original contributions to that particular area of research. Some of the finest names in women’s studies and women publishing such as Shirin Kutchedkar, Vibhuti Patel, Malashri Lal, Alladi Uma, and Ritu Menon have been associated with Salnyukta in the capacity of guest editors of its journal.

The journal holds that the most important among the reasons leading to women occupying limited social space when compared to men, is censorship of the voices of women for reasons political, ideological and cultural. In Jayasree’s words, “the liberation of women from the structures of patriarchy can be achieved only through an examination of how women are silenced and why they remain silent. The woman’s voice is always considered deviant and hence censorship works both at the public and the private level, more specifically at the levels of politics, religion and sexuality, to extract obedience.”

In its effort to counter forces of censorship in order to liberate women’s voices, Samyukta has established itself as a major publication in the field of Women’s Studies.

Social Science Press

Another noteworthy woman publisher is Esha Beteille of the Social Science Press, endeavouring to publish books on themes that are important and of wide concern. SSP strives to achieve its goal using the mode of ‘simple prose’, written by specialists but intended for wider dissemination. The house’s list draws on subjects such as Sociology, Social Anthropology, Environment Studies, Economics, History and Gender. It has a prestigious academic and scholarly list featuring eminent academics from India and abroad. Social Science Press accepts books for publication only after getting peer reviews done. The production quality is closely supervised and made competitive with international standards.

As the name suggests, SSP publishes academic trade books in the social sciences, and it is quite epistemologically grounded, as different from the mode of enquiry of many of the other publishers mentioned here. But it is curious, how staying within that banner, it has managed to bring some literary works into the framework of the social sciences. Its books mainly deal with sociology, social anthropology, environment studies, economics, politics, history and gender. It has drawn its authors from some of the best centres of learning from all over the world. SSP claims that its books have an internal coherence. All of them focus on making significant knowledge accessible to more people. Hence, they are lucidly written, allowing them to lend clarity and cogency to the confusions of everyday life. It, thus, aspires to bring to its readers a better understanding of their socio-political world. One other difference of SSP from other women publishers discussed here is in the area of distribution of books. Its exclusive distributor in. South Asia is Orient Blackswan that has an extensive network of dealings with wholesale market and retail booksellers.

Not to Conclude…

One sees that the endeavours of most women publishers who have tried to bring in the Women’s Studies perspective into various areas of knowledge have at some point crossed the limitations of their stated purposes. Beyond the goal of creating epistemological fields, they almost always went in search of the conscience of our societies and cultures, trying to seek out the truth concerning women, and thus, necessarily, all of humanity. Their practice shows how the implications of Women’s Studies can reformulate the ground of Indian publishing towards an organic understanding of epistemes, thus turning itself into a trans-epistemic force.

The above understanding would help one see how Tulika Books, in the current year, despite its limited resources, could bring out a dossier on Gandhi’s assassination as well as a book on transnational reproductive formation. They seem different epistemological projects. But looking closely, one finds a trans-epistemic connection between them: a contemplation on death; a study on birth. A historical turning point, and a certain attitude of nation-building.

SPARROW’s project on the late Maya Kamath, cartoonist, the ‘lady in a men’s world’, that led to the publication of the book The World of Maya is another evidence of the truth inquiry of a woman publisher. In a cartoon that, through a sleight of hand, magically inverts the meaning of a verbal curse cast on women through many a patriarchal century, Maya draws a bunch of women standing in front of the parliament house with a placard: A woman’s place is in the House! Maya Kamath, thus forms a paradigm of inversion for a woman, to transform history into her story. Hence, what SPARROW achieves with its archive of 8000 cartoons by Maya, is not the establishment of an epistemology, but a cartography of how to make publishing an instrument of aspirations, an illustration of how to converge one’s beliefs and means of living.

In one of its most recent books, Women Unlimited presents Reshma Valliappan who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 22. In Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenist Reshma tells us of her life with therapies and medication, surviving suicide attempts, finding support groups, and finally coming into her own: “First, the mind screws up…then there is this body which has a life of its own.” From such blankness where the body falls, still standing, Reshma bursts into this utter mindfulness: “I honestly spend time doing the thandavas in the rain with Thor and engaging in fictitious tantric encounters with the dead. And spend at least three hours a day with my cats learning their moves and drives to become a kickass samurai ninja.”

One gets a feeling that these women are doing something beyond publishing, finding and choosing things beyond the epistemic purposes of the publishing industry as well as the academy, to which they apparently belong. Every book becomes a seeking, a truth project, an experiment with life.

There are many such stories to tell, and it requires a different kind of archiving enterprise to capture the spirit of these women publishers. Perhaps, that is why they don’t go all out to publicise themselves as publishers, even as they document many worlds with utmost rigour. They talk about projects, not about products. They are ongoing quests, not pre-planned destinations.

In the ‘Stories They Tell us’ two of the women publishers we have discussed in this section directly tell the reader how they have been conducting this journey. All others who are not directly featured here due to various constraints, also reflect similar aspects of womanhood. C. S. Lakshmi of SPARROW here tells us how, with their limited resources, doing publishing of their kind is addictive. It means many trips to the printer and designer and waiting eagerly and anxiously with bated breath for the first printed pages, wondering if the pages would look like what they dreamed. But, she continues to say that they are prepared – prepared to encounter anything in order to bring out the truth and beauty of things. G. S. Jayasree of Samyukta narrates her personal story – the story of a young woman whose activist spirit has led her to a search for an ideal – Samyukta, in every sense.

These two stories that reveal the epistemic and trans-epistemic dimensions of women’s publishing in India, also point to the need to engage well. They remind us that the publisher is not merely a manufacturer and seller, she is a dreamer, a maker, a connector. These stories must tell us of the trans-epistemic potential of our women publishers- the possibility of creating a road map from information to knowledge to wisdom through a profound engagement with the word.

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