10 Best Women Writers from India
Have you been reading? Reading women writers? May you read, read more and read more women writers. If you ask why, I believe that women have been adding more sensitivity to writing in India. I have been brought up on a staple of books written by women in Bangla, and they are all amazingly touching and close to reality. Women have emerged from the interiors of households where they have been kept to dwell and look after the family, and it is this element that has been manifested in their writings. Sadly enough, while I sat writing this piece on 10 prominent women writers in Indian regional languages, I could not find significant numbers other than Bangla, Assamese and Gujarati. Knowing the scenario in Bangla literature where there is no dearth of women writers, it is astonishing to learn about the other languages. I can only hope more women will emerge in the future to write in their own languages, as I wish to write in Bangla too.
Amrita Pritam – Punjabi
Born in 1919, she’s considered to be the first prominent novelist and poet in Punjabi, which is a rich and flamboyant language. Amrita broke all rules and created her own. She wrote over 100 books in all forms and her most famous work is Pinjar (1950) which was made into a motion picture in 2003. It reflected the violence and torture on women caused by the partition. She received the Sahitya Akademi Award, Bharatiya Jnanpith, Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan in her lifetime.
Suchitra Bhattacharya – Bangla
She’s closest to my heart as I have read all her books already. Suchitra might not be the best woman writer in Bangla, but she was the most popular alright. She began writing about us, middle class women in such easy prose that everyone could relate to it. She wrote 24 novels and innumerable short stories, and died in harness in 2015. Her novels like Dahan, Aleek Sukh, Hemanter Pakhi, Anyo Basanta have been made into successful films till date.
Kamala Das – Malayalam
Born as Kamala Surayya in 1934, she wrote in English and Malayalam under the pen names of Madhavikutty and Kamala Das. She mostly wrote short stories in Malayalam, essays in English and was known for her honest treatment of female sexuality. She lived between Calcutta and Kerala, and was a major English poet during the Naxal movement in 1960s. Her autobiography, was originally written in Malayalam as Ente Katha (1976) and she translated it into English. She converted to Islam at the age of 65 and named herself Kamala Surayya.
Krishna Sobti – Hindi
Born in 1925 and recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award, Krishna Sobti is known as the Grande Dame of Hindi literature. She hails from Gujarat in erstwhile Pakistan and has won a number of awards for her work. Her most famous novel is Mitro Marajani, based on a married woman’s unapologetic portrayal of sexuality. She declined the Padma Bhushan in 2010, stating that she has to maintain from the establishment and she thinks that is the right thing to do.
Ismat Chughtai – Urdu
Perhaps the most controversial woman writer India has ever seen, Ismat Chughtai still remains a path breaker with her writing. Born in 1925, she did her B.A. and B.Ed and became the first Indian Muslim woman to earn both together. She was considered a fierce feminist and ideologist that reflected in her books and got a few of them banned at different times. She won the Ghalib Award for her play Terhi Lakeer and the Filmfare award of best story for Garam Hawa. Read her if you wish to get a real picture of Indian women in all strata of the society.
Dhiruben Patel – Gujarati
She has been the editor of a Gujarati magazine Sudha for a long time. Residing in Mumbai, Dhiruben taught English Literature and wrote in both English and Guajarati. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award for her novel Agantuk, and has been the president of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. Not considering herself a feminist writer, Dhiruben also wrote a number of plays for children.
Anuradha Ramanan – Tamil
Anuradha Ramanan started her career as an artist but after unsuccessful stints, she began writing and joined a Tamil magazine, Mangai. In over 30 years, she wrote 800 novels and 1230 short stories, perhaps the most by any woman writer in India. Her books like Kootu Puzhukkal, Oru Malarin Payanam and Oru Veedu Iruvasal were made into films in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. She also won the Chief Minister’s Gold Medal for writing.
Shanta Shelke – Marathi
Shanta Shelke was the master of all trades. She was a writer, poet, journalist, professor, composer, story writer, and translator and wrote for children too. She was an M.A. in Marathi and Sanskrit and stood first in Mumbai University. She penned songs for 300 Marathi films and also wrote Lavanis and Ghazals.
Arupa Kalita Patangia – Assamese
A Ph.D from Guwahati University on literature and an English teacher, Arupa is a prominent writer in Assamese. She has more than 10 novels and short stories collections to her credit and has won the Sahitya Akademi Award as well as the Katha Prize. She writes on women and has declined the award from Assam Sahitya Sabha because it featured her in the women-only category.
Sarojini Sahoo – Odiya
Apart from being a novelist and poet, Sarojini is the associate editor of Indian Age magazine in Chennai. She’s a Ph.D in Odiya Literature and a Bachelor of Law from Utkal University. Having written 8 novels, she won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Bhubaneshwar Book Fair Award for her short story collection Amrutare Pratikshare. Her work is considered as feminist and her novel Gambhiri Ghara has been translated into English as The Dark Abode and published as a collage with artist Ed Baker’s 23 sketches.
These women write for women and everyone. Go read their books in the language you can, and explore the life of Indian women.