Pardey ke peeche kya hai: Women of the past

12 Mar 2002, 0152 hrs IST,Vandana Shukla,TNN


<chandigarh: a former diplomat and advisor to the un, pran nevile, is a punjabi who migrated from lahore to this part of the country during the partition and wrote a bestseller, lahore: a sentimental journey (allied and harper collins). the book evoked feelings of nostalgia that pran never quite got over. since then, all his works have been travels back in time. and each time that he has taken a plunge into the past, he has come up with jewels. what brought the delhi-based pran to the literary limelight was his pioneering work on the nautch girls of india, a subject not many from his generation would feel comfortable with. talking to times news network while on a visit to the city for a seminar, pran said, “since my childhood, the films i watched, the books i read… i found that the tawaif, the nautch girl was almost always portrayed as a home breaker. at the same time i was fascinated by the magnificence of her persona. the costumes, the ornaments, her posture, gait, art and etiquettes were anything but bewitching. then i saw films like amrapali and chitralekha, i was intrigued to observe the dichotomy that existed in the place given to a dance girl in ancient india and during the british raj. i wanted to know why and how her status came down from that of a nagarvadhu (a woman who was selected on the basis of her artistic skills as a state representative) to a courtesan.” and thus began his journey of demystifying this aspect of womanhood, from apsara to tawaif, the woman artiste whose status was constantly lowered in the society due to various outside influences and changing socioeconomic factors. “since the britishers were the ones who first started running down indian culture, i collected material, produced by the british themselves, that glorifies indian womanhood in totality.” hence, his book, beyond the veil , is full of quotes from the british aristocracy almost bending over in praise of indian women. here’s one, “captain mundy was greatly impressed by the sari and considered it ‘infinitely more graceful and even more decent than the evening costumes of the belles of more sophisticated regions’.” “most of the material used in my books nautch girls of india rare glimpses of the raj and beyond the veilcame from the library of congress, victoria albert museum, london, aga khan gallery, geneva, yale centre for british art and others. it took me five years to compile the material for beyond the veil .” this book is all about indian women of the past, aristocrats, village women, bibis and mistresses, public entertainers and women at work and in marriages. the book also offers interesting insights into the fascination the british had for indian aristocracy, a portrait shows a british officer attired as a nawab, with his two indian bibis, the senior and the junior. “the status given to women in any society is the yardstick to measure its height, and women in india were always given a place of eminence, even by the outsiders’ says pran who spent about rs 10 lakh to compile this work and published it on his own.