Ritu Menon, Padma Shri recipient is the founder of Women Unlimited is a feminist writer and publisher.
In a conversation with Kabuliwala Kamal Pruthi, Padma Shri Ritu Menon shares her story of getting into feminist publishing, her views on the role awards play in a writer’s life, her visions for Women Unlimited in the coming year et al.
What are you currently working on? What keeps you busy these days?
At Women Unlimited, we are currently working on three very important books — a hitherto unpublished translation of Qurratulain Hyder’s novel, Chandni Begum (translated by Saleem Kidwai); an anthology of Ismat Chughtai’s called Chughtai on Childhood, consisting of two short stories, one autobiographical essay, and an excerpt from her great novel, The Crooked Line; and Vandana Shiva’s new book, Who Really Feeds the World? Plus our usual academic titles — one on caste and gender; another on Muslim women and the law; on masculinities and femininities in Indian politics, etc.
And personally, I’m now working on a biography of Zohra Segal. All this keeps me more than busy!
Share your own untold story with our readers.
Umm, I don’t know that I have one!
What was the drive behind you becoming a feminist writer and publisher?
Gosh, this is a long story. Professionally, I had been developing a feminist list for the publishing house I was working for at the time, Vikas; personally, it seemed like a good idea to team up with my then colleague, Urvashi Butalia who was returning to India with the idea of setting up a feminist press; and politically, it was exactly the right time to be a bridge between the very active women’s movement and the women’s studies movement. This was the `1980s, a very politically conscious time, with many social movements in the country, and lots of energy. All working for social change — progressive social change, that is. We all know what regressive social change looks like… Publishing was our activism, and a feminist politics was very much part of our self-definition.
Writing seemed to flow organically from this personal/political combination. What would a women’s oral history of the Partition look like? A feminist biography? A feminist understanding of religion? Of nationalism and nation? Of censorship? And so on. It seemed one had to research and write from this perspective in order to make this understanding part of the record and part of the analysis.
What is your role at Women Unlimited? How is it different from your role at Kali?
No different, except that I’m writing more!
What have been the highlights and most challenging aspects of your career?
Kali & Women Unlimited! And my writing.
What are the topmost visions for Women unlimited in 2016-2017?
To keep going, and to keep pushing the envelope as far as the books we publish go. Discover new writers, anticipate new issues. Currently developing a list on mental health, which is very exciting.
You are a recipient of Padma Shri award. What role do awards play in a writer’s life?
They don’t play a role as such, they’re a recognition of work that you’ve done, and that’s always nice. But they don’t affect you or the work you do in any way. You would continue to do it, with or without an award.
If you were not a feminist publisher, what would you be?
Why would I want to be anything else? It’s the best combination ever!
You are conducting a masterclass titled “Publishing 101” during Publishing Next 2016? Tell us about that. What will be the highlights of that?
Still thinking about it, but I guess I will highlight the very special activity that publishing is, because you are at the fountainhead of cutting edge ideas and creativity. You’re instrumental in making them happen.
Publishing Next is an annual gathering of publishers, authors, editors, translators, librarians, book retailers, printers, technologists, service providers and policymakers from all over India and abroad. The event is organized by Goa-based CinnamonTeal Publishing, since 2011.
Dates: 15th 16th 17th September 2016
Venue: Kochi, Kerala