Written by Sameer Manekar
“I have been a rebel since I was young,” says 81-year-old Prabha Mathur, a novelist, poet, playwright and musician. “I simply cannot bear injustice and oppression, especially against women and transgenders. So what if you are the husband? So what if you are a man with more physical power? We have our own lives, we have our own dignity and self-respect. You cannot dictate what and how we women should be leading our lives,” she says, her anguish and resolution for empowerment evident in her shaky yet fervent voice.
Based in Pune, Mathur has been writing consistently in Hindi on social issues, women’s rights and transgender oppression. Her previous works, like Aadi Kriti, Cigarette ke Tote, and several other short stories, talk about the oppression of women, prostitutes and transgenders, and their sidelining from society due to stereotypes. Her oeuvre consists of more than 3,000 poems, six novels, numerous short stories, and also delves into plays and songs of her own composition.
Speaking about her latest novel, Alta Lage Paun, Mathur says, “It is the quest of a man, married to a prostitute’s daughter, to rehabilitate prostitutes and transgenders by establishing an ashram for them, trying to get them married and employed. Through his struggle against a stereotypical society that casts aside these oppressed people, I have tried to bring light on the rigidity of our society.”
Mathur, who was also a part of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj during her stay in Kanpur, began writing at the age of 12. Proficient in tabla, sitar and vocals, she credits her grandfather and father for influencing and inspiring her to write. “My grandfather used to write in Farsi. He used to tell me to never leave writing, or any hobby for that matter, to my whims. There has to be a discipline to it, only then will you realise yourself as an artist. I was influenced by the environment of music and writing at our home, brought forth by grandfather and father. They encouraged me, corrected me where I went wrong, and led me to writing independently in Hindi.”
Being a homemaker and mother to a daughter, the octogenarian realises the pressure of balancing work, home and hobbies. To working women, she has only one thing to say: “Do not buckle under any pressure. It will not do to brush aside your hobbies, saying the husband needs you or the family needs you. If you have the desire and passion for your hobby, you should face everything that comes your way, and keep on pursuing it, no matter what.”
Appreciated and lauded for her works by late former president Gyani Zail Singh and former prime minister, late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, among others, Mathur’s latest novel will be released on January 14 at Garware College, Pune.