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A dangerous dance for women

Carlo Pizzati

– India has made great strides forward in terms of sexual and gender freedoms. But still the stories of horror continue, says Tishani Doshi.

Tishani Doshi, who is performing both as a dancer and as a writer at this year’s LitFestBergen, is a jack of many trades. The well-renowned author’s career includes stints as a cricket columnist, a synchronised swimmer and as lead dancer in the Chandraleka Troupe. Her authorship is more concentrated: Aspects of womanhood, violence and desire are central, and usually viewed through a multicultural perspective.

How to negotiate fear

– The title poem of your last collection, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, deals with acts of violence against women. How does the threat of violence affect women in India in their everyday life?

– Fear, once it begins to settle, is a terrible thing to banish. When you are a woman in India, no matter how safe or not you feel, there is a low level, ever-present attention to your surroundings, and your safety. The statistics show that it’s a dangerous place for women, but the stories coming out of India that involve women are also glorious and immensely empowering. I think it's a question of how to negotiate these fears, to not get cowed down by them, to insist upon beauty and freedom in life - but also to see how movements can change society.

– I feel we are going through an extraordinarily transformative moment in India despite the fact that politically it is a dark time. There is a sense that young people are demanding something different, they are making their protests known, they want greater transparency. There have been judicial decisions that have made great strides forward in terms of sexual and gender freedoms. But still the stories of horror continue, so it remains to be seen how taking one step forward and two steps back will affect us. I hope that someday that dance will change.

Hybridity at the core

– The protagonist of Small days and nights is of half-Indian, half-Italian descent. You yourself are of Welsh-Indian descent, and you have lived in the U.S. for quite a few years. How has your connection with different cultures influenced your writing?

 – Hybridity is the core of my understanding of the world. I can't imagine what it would be like to look at something through a filter that is not hybrid. I have written about the freedom that belonging to several cultures offers - that sense that you can feel at home anywhere. However, I've also written about the outsider's bruising – and we are living in a time where this is particularly exacerbated – and how those who have a sense of birth right and those who are migrating are set up against one another. I think this exposure to otherness has been key in my becoming a writer in the first place - and it continues to fuel me.

New poems

– Last year you released the novel Small Days and Nightsand besides writing, you have an established career as a dancer. What projects are you working on at the moment? 

– Currently, I'm teaching at New York University, Abu Dhabi, and so I spend a lot of time with my students and their work, and it's been a fascinating project to take on this mentorship role. However, I do have new poems that I'm working on, and I would like to begin work on a book that is potentially a memoir, potentially a contemplation, on the body and dance. 

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