Gender Symp.: "'I am a Ruby Wrapped in a Rag' – The Poetry of a Secluded Woman in early 20th-Century India"
Fri, November 16, 2012 • 12:00 PM - 2:00 PM • GAR 1.102
The Department of History's Graduate Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality presents:
"'I am a Ruby Wrapped in a Rag' – The Poetry of a Secluded Woman in early 20th-Century India"
A talk by Dr. Gail Minault, Professor of History at The University of Texas at Austin
Zay Khay Sheen, or Zahida Khatun Sherwani (1894-1922), is an intriguing figure in early 20th century Indian literature and history. An accomplished poet, she observed complete purdah, to the point of never leaving her family home in Aligarh district in northern India. She also kept her identity under wraps, to the extent that admirers of her poetry, which appeared in Urdu literary magazines during her lifetime, were unsure whether she was male or female. For all her isolation and anonymity, she is nevertheless an important example of early women writers of Urdu, who expressed themselves in prose and poetry in the literary periodicals of the day, giving voice not only to women’s identity and social concerns, but also to involvement in the many political and cultural movements of the early Indian nationalist movement. The question to be addressed here is whether her writings, mostly poetry, can be considered autobiographical, or whether a self-portrait can be gleaned from her poetry. This case study will address the overall question of whether poetry can be deemed a source for individual or social history, or whether its images and emotions capture universals that make poetry a poor source for historical and autobiographical specificity.
The Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality has been a fixture in Department of History since 2001, offering a forum for graduate students and faculty to present papers and works-in-progress for discussion in a relaxed and collegial atmosphere.