Chitra Mudgal is a renowned and respected writer of modern literature in Hindi. The 58-year-old writer-activist was born on December 10, 1944 in Chennai and educated in Mumbai. possessing pungent rationality, she has led a life full of bitter and sweet experiences. She has worked among the different communities of the society, especially the dalits, and the weak. She is deeply involved with several revolutionary organisations.
A staunch believer in equal rights for women, she not only works as a writer for the society but also as a social worker. She has nine collections of short stories, two novels, five children'sbooks and two translations from Gujrati to her credit. She received the Phanishwarnath ?Renu? award for her novel Ek Zameen Apni. Her path-breaking novel, Anwa, was honoured with the International Indu Sharma Award for South Asian writers and Kirti Samman, amongst others. She has also received the Vidula Samman for social work. At present she is working as a member of Prasar Bharti. She talked to Preeti Sharma of Organiser and shared her life experiences and the works she is executing for the uplift of women.
I had a rebellious and dissatisfied nature right since my student days. Moreover, I felt it important to convey my dissatisfaction to the people. I am the daughter of a naval commodore and have seen the discipline and social life of the Navy. I often used to question the secluded life of my mother, a woman from the Thakur clan. My feelings were not confined to my mother only because she would think it to be a young-age enthusiasm and push it under the carpet. The gender bias related to girl and boy was not acceptable to me. I felt it important to convey to my father what I felt was right or wrong. Whenever we visited our village in Uttar Pradesh, I found to my surprise that my mother, sister and I were told to enter from the back door, unlike my father and brother who could enter from the front. While going out of the house, the women had to drape themselves with a sheet of cloth. Slowly, I realised that while my brothers studied in convent schools, my sister and I had to study in the Central school.
I was interested in painting and secured a diploma in fine arts. But soon afterwards, I started to feel that I had so much to convey to the society, which could not be said through colours alone. I needed to vent the anger that was simmering inside me. Soon I took to writing short stories and poems in newspapers and magazines while earning when doing so.
I met Datta Samant, a powerful trade union leader at my house one day. He had come to complain to my father about the construction of a wall fencing around the naval dockyard that would close the short-cut that thousands of factory workers took to reach their workplaces. To this, my father retorted in his strict voice, ?The naval areas have to be protected always and we are not accountable to anybody. You might be a good leader but that does not mean that you can interfere in the government'swork.? I objected and asked him, ?What are you saying? After all, whose government is this and from whom has the Navy to be protected? Are you accountable only to the rich but not to the slum-dwellers? This is undoubtedly a serious issue. Why don'tyou accept his application and think over it? Why do you consider the poor people as thieves? You can easily open a small door for them and recruit two watchmen to keep guard.?
Slowly, I got involved with Datta Samant'strade union movement. He introduced me to other women activists like Mira Tai, Mrinal Gore and Bimlaji. My rebellious nature found fertile ground and that proved a turning point in my life. I joined the women'scell of the workers? trade union and started attending to the grievances of the factory workers. My father was strictly opposed to it but I began to derive immense self-satisfaction.
I married a Brahmin journalist, Shri Awadh Narain Mudgal, former editor of Sarika. My father opposed my marriage as much as he could, but I was firm on my decision. I did not approve of the life as a woman wearing heavy sarees and jewellery and ruling over the servants in a lavish haveli, somewhere in Lucknow. Instead, I started my married life in a hovel in a slum. Though I had to face many challenges in life, I met very nice people at every step. I worked with Mira Tai and other women activists to address the grievances of the maids and their families living in the slums. These were the women who had to look after the children who did not go to school, work whole day to earn and at the night get beaten by their drunken husbands.
The brutal murder of Mira Tai in broad daylight at Bhandup Railway station came as an immense shock to me. She was harassed and stabbed in the back?because she pointed out the weaknesses in trade unions and did not surrender before them. They couldn'taccept a woman as an individual with a mind of her own. Even the eyewitnesses to the tragic incident remained mute onlookers. Gradually, drawing closer, I discovered that the trade unions themselves were divided over issues. There was rivalry between the two trade unions, which often culminated in brutal violence and murders.
I shifted to Delhi with my husband in 1983 as he had been transferred there. Delhi'sair-conditioned social working style has surprised and disappointed me. Here one works for the society by sitting in an air-conditioned office and receives dollars and pounds as foreign aid to hold meetings and seminars. I believe in working for the society right at the grassroot level, looking after the under-privileged women, the children of slums and construction sites. Helping the poor and the needy is the only way to help the society.
Samanvay is my own initiative for the betterment of women. It is not registered on paper as I feel that not paperwork but actual social work that is required. We are a small group of people who collect money cooperatively and help the poor and needy women of Trilokpuri and other neighbourhood areas. Some girls, who began to acquire education through our help, have now passed their school exams and are interested to study further. We are making arrangements for them. Some girls have sought employment in tailoring and other petty works. At the time of the landslide in Uttaranchal and earthquake in Gujarat, we collected food, clothes and other household items and distributed to those affected. Besides I?m also working with the Stree Shakti and the Mahila Manch of Uttar Pradesh.
My first novel was Ek Zameen Apni (1990), which sensitively explores the status of a woman and her rights and the question of her identity in this everchanging world. Awan (1999), meaning ?the oven?, was penned down on the basis of my own sweet and bitter experiences while working with the trade unions. I regret I could not show it to Datta Samant. He was shot dead when the novel was being written.
Literature is a mirror to the society. It connects the person to the society and to the country. It will always be more powerful than the other mediums, like, the television. Writers today need to go to the people to understand them so as to create more life-like characters that tug at the reader'sheart. As long as women do not forge solidarity with each other, we cannot think of ourselves as either free women or free writers.
People say I always support Atalji. But he is undoubtedly a great and experienced politician. Definitely Sonia Gandhi is yet to achieve that status. Being a woman, her progressive steps amuse yet assure me a lot.
The new government has been formed with no actual mandate and is all set to face great responsibilities. The people in the Indian democracy are the king-makers but they think from their hearts. Cultural and emotional thoughts always dominate their minds. I wish luck to the new government and ask them to perform well as per the people'sexpectations because if they don?t, people would dethrone them.