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Rachna Singh, Editor The Wise Owl talks to Itirani Samanta about her book Shakuntala's Daughter

Talking Books

With Itirani  Samanta

Rachna Singh, Editor, The Wise Owl, talks to Dr Itirani Samanta about her book ‘Shakuntala’s Daughter’, a translation of Shakuntala ra jhia, written in Oriya language and translated by Dipty Patnaik. Iti Rani Samanta is an Indian columnist, journalist and film producer. She won the Odisha State Film Award in 2014 for the best Story Writer. She is also the editor of the hugely popular, monthly family magazine The Kadambini and the children’s magazine The Kunikatha.


Thank you so much Itirani, for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl.


RS: I finished reading your book Shakuntala’s Daughter just a few weeks back and what impressed me was the honesty of the narrative and the fact that without hesitation you talked about a subject that is considered taboo in our society. You have not hesitated to talk about how a widow becomes an easy target for the lust of male relatives in the family. Also, you talk about how a woman fights to carve an identity in a patriarchal society. Could you tell us why you picked this subject for your book?


IS: Thank you so very much Rachna for reading my Novel ‘Shakuntala’s Daughter’. I really appreciate your analysis of the theme, narration, presentation and characterisation of the novel. Again, I am very happy & thankful because we had a panel discussion at the Jaipur Literature festival. That time also I was touched by your discussion & questions about the novel. Now I would like to respond to  your question as to why I picked this subject!


Generally, in my writings I draw ideas and the subjects from my own surroundings, my own feelings towards the society. Being a woman, I always observed the journey of women belonging to several social status and age groups. My mother’s journey was full of struggle. She lost her husband (my father) at the age of forty, when I was only one month old, and we were seven siblings. Like my mother, my journey has also been full of struggle. I think the situations I faced in my life triggered my interest in the lives of women in our society. Particularly downtrodden women, their sentiment, their journey, their struggle and their success after their difficult journey. Being a creative writer and the editor of the Kadambini (most popular magazine of the state) for twenty-five years, I feel literature plays a revolutionary role in bringing change in the society, social taboo, injustice, misbeliefs and disparity.  Now we are in 21st century and ‘women empowerment’ the term is very much associated with us. No doubt empowerment is there, but there are several women who are still struggling with many social, economic, gender related issues and are victims of domestic violence. In particular, in my novel ‘Shakuntala’s daughter’ I have taken up a sensitive issue that still exists in our society. Whenever we talk about women empowerment, many mothers like Shakuntala of my novel, confront a similar situation. If we examine or discuss, in maximum cases only father’s name is attached with the children, there may be rare exceptions in some situations. But the problem is very much there.  As a writer I felt a deep responsibility to raise voice against these abnormal situations, problems of the marginalised and the oppressed. Through the character and narratives in ‘Shakuntala’s Daughter’, I aimed to humanize her struggles, her triumphs, and her resilience in the face of adversity. Furthermore, I wanted to highlight the complexities of human relationships and the interplay of power dynamics within families and communities. By depicting the ways in which widows are often exploited and marginalised within their own households, I hope to spark empathy and understanding among readers, fostering a greater sense of solidarity and support for those who face similar challenges. Ultimately, my goal with ‘Shakuntala’s Daughter’ was to offer a nuanced portrayal of the human experience, one that acknowledges the harsh realities of life while also celebrating the strength and resilience of woman spirit. I hope that by addressing difficult topics with honesty and compassion, my book can contribute to a more inclusive and empathetic society where all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender or social status. We should definitely raise our voice. If we don’t then who will…...? 


RS: I believe your book started as a story published in your magazine Kadambini and it was only much later that you developed it into a novel in Oriya and then it was translated into English. Walk us through your book’s journey.


IS: As I am always busy with several activities of my organisation, editing, advertisement, marketing & publication work of my magazine, it’s very difficult to take out time to finish a novel. Therefore, whenever I conceive any idea, I always try to give a shape to my creative idea at least in the form of a story before it vanishes from my mind. This is what happened with my novel, Shakuntala's daughter. I wrote the story first, then I expanded it into a novel. It was first published by Kadambini Media Pvt. Ltd. in the year 2017. The Odia readers appreciated the novel very much. I received several positive comments, letters from different critics & writers. Some of my well-wishers suggested reaching out to the people beyond the Odia boundaries, as the subject is a sensitive issue and is relevant to the entire country. Then I decided to translate it into other languages, especially Hindi & English. I would like to mention here the support of writer, translator Prof. Madam Dipty Pattnaik who used to read all my literary works. And she loves all my writings, very often she discusses it with me. She volunteered to take on the responsibility of translating my novel into English. I am very thankful to her. Great literary personality Madam Ms Namita Gokhale helped it to be published under Om book international. And the book was launched at Jaipur literature festival, the greatest literary show on Earth. I think it’s a great honour for me to launch the book at the Jaipur literature festival and that was my dream. I am very much grateful to Namita Gokhale ma’am. I am also thankful to Om books international. 


RS: Your book Shakuntala’s Daughter is a clarion call against a patriarchal society. Shakuntala refuses to give father’s name to her daughter because she feels that he did not want the child and the lineage of the child can be matrilineal rather than just patrilineal. What made you choose to write about the struggle for survival of women in Indian society?


IS: Recently I saw a news article in a television channel regarding female foeticide. Though law has been imposed, the mindset of the people in our society has not changed yet. Some people don’t hesitate to disown their own blood if the child is a girl child even today. I have been observing women and their struggles since my childhood. It always disturbed me when a woman does not get her rights, respect, and position in society. Women always have to struggle to get their rights, respect, and position in society. Yes, there are so many new laws made for the betterment of women, to give them their proper rights.  But still problems are there, struggles are inevitable. Even now in most places of our country the child is being identified by the name of his/her father rather than the mother. Whereas the mother plays a bigger role in the life of a child than the father. Therefore, the protagonist of my novel ‘Shakuntala’s daughter’ Shakuntala raises her voice to get her rights: –

The headmaster was now thoroughly irritated. He said, “Why are you repeating the mother’s name again and again? Does your child have a father or not?


“Yes! My daughter has a father. But I am not going to write his name on the form as Bharati’s father.  
He was a man who did not know how to respect his own blood. I don’t want my daughter to be known by the name of such a person.
Therefore, my daughter, Bharati, has only one identity. She is my daughter—the daughter of her mother! She is Shakuntala’s daughter!
My daughter will live in this world with the identity I give her and will walk confidently with her head high. She will create her own identity. She will be known by her own identity. She will show a new path to society.

The decision to focus on the struggle for survival of women in Indian society, as depicted in my novel ‘Shakuntala’s Daughte,’ was deeply rooted in my observations and experiences of the pervasive gender inequality and patriarchal norms that persist in many communities. Ultimately, ‘Shakuntala’s Daughter’ is a testament to the power of women's voices and the importance of standing up against injustice. By amplifying the stories of marginalized women and challenging entrenched patriarchal norms, I hope to contribute to a more inclusive and compassionate society where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and fulfil their potential in social, political and economic positions. 


RS: For the benefit of our readers please tell us why you picked up the title ‘Shakuntala’s daughter’ Does the name emerge from the character of Shakuntala as described in Adi Parva of Mahabharat or Kalidasa’s Abigyanshakuntalam. In fact, Shakuntala’s daughter, Bharati, is also an extension of the name Bharat. How does the mythological Shakuntala becoming reflective of the contemporary woman pushing against the fetters imposed by a patriarchal society?


IS: Yes, of course these symbolic names like Shakuntala and Bharati given by me emerged from the Adi Parva of Mahabharat written by Vyasa deva. But not from Kalidas’s  Abigyanashakuntalam. I am definitely inspired by the story of Shakuntala which has been narrated in the original Vyasa Mahabharata. I am impressed with that. If we go through the Vyasa Mahabharata in the narration of respect for women, rights of women, position of women everything is there. Here I can't talk much about that. It will take time and space both. But the Shakuntala’s story in Vyasa Mahabharata inspires me a lot, because I noticed in that age, in that ancient time, how the mythological Shakuntala raised her voice in the royal assembly of great king Dushyanta admits intellectuals for the rights of her son Bharat. But in my novel’s title ‘Shakuntala’s daughter’ I have not at all taken that story, or that struggle or that narration. My Shakuntala is a real character of our contemporary society. who was tortured and sexually harassed by her brother-in-law. Though Shakuntala is an archetype, I deliberately replaced Bharat with Bharati to justify my concern about female child and the problems faced by females in contemporary society. It’s a sensible topic. But I am happy I have written this, and I have given a message to society through my protagonist, Shakuntala.


RS: Iti, you are a novelist, an editor of the popular magazine, Kadambini and also an award-winning filmmaker. Your novels/films/TV serials are pivoted around social ills- be it women matters as in Shakuntala’s Daughter or transgender issues as in your TV serial ‘Bhinna Manish Bhinna Katha’ or krantidhara, a film about a harried housewife. What inspires you to pick up themes which would normally be relegated to the background by writers and filmmakers?


IS: Being a sensitive, creative person, one shouldn’t overlook the burning issues in the contemporary society around him/her. As a woman I genuinely feel the pain, sufferings, helplessness of women in various sectors since my early childhood. I pick the characters who poked me and pinched me all the time. I penned these with my creation. Here I would like to give an example about an incident from my childhood. When I was only fifteen years old one incident wrenched my heart. I saw an abandoned newborn child who may have been thrown by his mother on the roadside. I could never digest that incident. How can a mother throw her child? It pains me a lot. Then I wrote a story at that time. There was a sentence in my story- ‘’Maa, you always say that there is nothing more difficult than childbirth. Women take a second birth by bringing a child from her womb to the earth. No matter how hard it is, a woman can bear all the hardships with a smile to hear a precious call that is ‘maa’. After being a mother who has endured so much, how can she throw away her precious gem like a dog or like a cat??’’ So, from the beginning these kind of things touched me. When I was only five or six years old, I saw a person in our village market place who had makeup on & was dressed up like a lady. I was shocked and surprised to see the person. I asked so many questions about his body language, talking style and costume etc to my mother, brother and my relatives. They tried to convince me in different ways but I was not at all satisfied by their answers. My inquisitiveness was there inside me. Which in the latter stage again dragged me towards them. As the editor of the popular magazine The Kadambini I used to take unique and sensible issues for my magazine. At that time (2017) as a magazine for the first time I did a complete issue of 200 pages dealing with the struggle and sorrowful life of transgender. We organised a special get-together of around one to two thousand transgenders across the state to discuss their issues, their struggle, and to find suitable solutions. Kadambini took a bold step in our state Odisha for mainstreaming of transgenders. I also did a series of programmes on them titled ‘Bhinna manisha bhinna katha’. I have also taken issues like LGBTIQA, acid survivors etc. My intention is to bring forth the untold stories of marginalised characters. Kadambini is the first magazine that covered our great sprinter Dutee Chand with her fiancé. Same thing happened when I wrote the story ‘jhada para ra surjya’ (the film krantidhara). It also became a milestone. The recent reservation policy allows more women to take part in grassroot level politics. I was very much surprised when I saw a woman, who is the sarpanch, do all her household work as per the instruction of her husband or family members, while her husband acts like a sarpanch. In true sense the real sarpanch became a dummy. This is the reality of our society in grassroot level politics. The political scenario of women at village level compelled me to write the story ‘Jhada para ra surjya’(The film Krantidhara) in order to create realisation among women about their political rights and duties towards the society. Later it became the film Krantidhara. The film and the story both received tremendous appreciation.


RS: Do you feel that the status of women in India has improved over the years? Do you think that the improvement is limited to urban centers or has some of the positive change percolated to villages and women living in rural areas?


IS: Yes definitely. Over the years women in India have made progress in education, politics, media, sports, business sectors, service sectors, entrepreneurship and so many other sectors. We may say in all sectors. The big thing is that the constitution of India guarantees equality to all Indian women. They are not discriminated by the state in getting equal opportunities like men. The change is not limited only into urban areas; we observed significant changes of women in rural areas also. Today the rural women are socially, economically, professionally empowered. Overall, the status of women in India has improved significantly over the years. But still problems are there, struggles are there. 


Thank you so much Itirani, for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. We are indeed delighted to talk to you. We wish you the best in all your literary & creative pursuits. We hope that you continue writing books that will throw light upon social ills that pervade Indian society even today.


IS: Thank you so very much you too. I am really very happy to talk with you. Dear, your questions are so nice and new. It also gives a new dimension to my novel. My voice and my write up will reach a larger audience through this interview. I am again thankful to you and The Wise Owl. Namaskar!

About Itirani Samanta
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Dr. Itirani Samanta, an eminent writer, journalist, editor and national award winning film producer occupies a very significant position in contemporary Odisha. Writing is her first love. In fact, from early childhood, she started cuddling up emotions and scribbled down her feelings on a regular basis. That in later stage culminated into stories, novels, poems, dramas, features, articles of social relevance, women empowerment & gender related issues. She has been continuously writing her editorials in ‘The Kadambini’, the most popular family magazine in Odisha on women related issues, women empowerment and current social problems since two decade. She rediscovered various facets of characters portrayed in the great epics of ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’.  Her book Shakuntala ra jhia has been translated as Shakuntala's Daughter by Dr Dipty Patnaik and was released at the Jaipur Literature Festival

About Dr Rachna Singh
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A doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, Rachna Singh has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). She has authored Phoenix in Flames, a book about eight ordinary women from different walks of life who become extraordinary on account of their fortitude & grit. She writes regularly for National Dailies and has also been reviewing books for the The Tribune for more than a decade. She runs a YouTube Channel, Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein, which brings to the viewers poetry of established poets of Hindi & Urdu. She loves music and is learning to play the piano. Nurturing literature & art is her passion and to make that happen she has founded The Wise Owl, a literary & art magazine that provides a free platform for upcoming poets, writers & artists. 

Talking Books

Anmol Sandhu talks to Sonia Chauhan about her book This Maze of Mirrors

Hi Joanna. Thanks for talking to The Wise Owl


RS: Your collection of Cherita ‘river lanterns’ has been released recently. Our readers would be eager to know (as I am) what inspired you to write this beautiful collection of 90 virgin Cherita. 


JA:  I have been published in Ai Li’s Cherita journals for a while and love writing in this form.  I mentioned in my email correspondence to Ai Li that I aspired to have my own Cherita collection published.  She offered to edit my selection of poems from a large selection that I sent her.  I would say my inspiration came from reading Ai Li’s own collections of her Cherita verse, they are so beautiful. 


When I began writing these, I was mindful to really show me as not only a writer but as the person beneath and how the Cherita form bends to the art of storytelling.  It took me some time to write these and I am delighted with the narrative that Ai Li made with her choices for my book.  When another person chooses, they can distance themselves from your work and look critically at what you have sent.  It was a real honour for me to entrust the creator of the Cherita with my work.



RS: Your book is a collection of Cherita verse. Cherita is a genre of recent origin (1997). Tell us what attracted you to this genre of poetry. Were there any creative influences in your life that encouraged you to adopt this genre as your own.


JA:  I am attracted to this genre of poetry as I hold a deep reverence for Ai Li’s poetry and the short form poetry forms as a collective.  I was excited to see that Ai Li had developed this new genre.  She published my short form verse in the 1990s in her journal Still and I was sad when this was no longer in print.  I enjoyed the challenge of learning how to write this new form and find it really resonates with me as a writer.


I discovered her new form of Cherita and was hooked by these story gems.  I really admire the way that the Cherita journals are produced and enjoy reading the work within these.  As a writer it is important to keep on working at your craft and I love it when I get to enjoy the work of a fellow poet in the same genre. 


RS: River Lanterns has been edited and published by ai li, the creator of Cherita as a genre. How was the experience of connecting with the doyen of Cherita and having her select your Cherita?


JA:  As I mentioned earlier Ai Li had published my work in the 90s, then through offering Cherita to her for publication, the connection was reborn.  I have always enjoyed reading Ai Li’s poetry and I have found her to be a gracious supporter of my Cherita.  Sending my work to the creator of the genre I think really made me conscious that I had to elevate my writing to meet the standards to have enough quality Cherita for my own individual collection.  The experience is something that I will treasure as I now have a collection published other people can enjoy and will hopefully encourage them to do the same.


RS: Cherita is said to be a unique form of storytelling…storytelling in 6 lines. M Kei says that Cherita verse ‘combine the evocative power of tanka with the narrative of a personal story, like the vignettes we glimpse as we sit in a café and watch the world go by.’ Do you agree ? For the benefit of the readers would you please elaborate on this.


JA:  Yes, I think M Kei’s insight is correct.  Cherita to me contain the voice/song/whispers around the campfire as the stories unfold.  They can be written about such a wide range of experiences, focused through the lens of the individual. I love the power of tanka, and I see Cherita as a close cousin, both forms use beautiful language to sing a fragment of the world that we live in.


RS: I feel what differentiates Cherita from narrative storytelling, is that it tells a story about life & our spiritual journey. This is very true of your Cherita:


have you
found it yet

the fun arcade

where wishes
are the alchemy
of breath


What are your thoughts on this?


JA:  Yes, I feel a real connection with Cherita and my spiritual side.  This is an element that attracts me to using this form.  It allows me to explore and highlight aspects that may not be accepted in other types of verse.  The Cherita can be used as a blank canvas for me to embed my perspective of my inner and outer world through stories. 


RS: What are the themes or stories you have touched upon in your various Cherita verse?


JA:  Where to begin…  The Cherita in this collection provides a map of my highs and lows.  They reveal how I see the world and feel about it.  I enjoy adding elements of fairytales, myths, rich imagery, and aspects of the natural world.  The importance of love, loss, friendship, connections, truth etc. all are within.  The Cherita captures a moment of beauty, in time, often of universal things that happen to all of us but told from the narrator’s perspective.    Often there is a vein of spirituality running through the verse.



RS: There are some cherita terbalik also in your collection. For the benefit of our readers please tell us how this form is different from Cherita and why we need a different syllable arrangement for this form of poetic storytelling


JA:  The Cherita terbalik also tells a story but ‘terbalik’ is the Malay word for upside down or reversal (   It is a different arrangement of the original Cherita stanza format.  By using another variation of the Cherita format it enables the writer to alter the flow of the story that they are telling, such as the example from my collection below:


the ruby shoes

the glass slipper

the fairy dust


as a child

I imagined all


in my cupboard


To me this verse is stronger with the terbalik arrangement.  Writing Cherita I make a judgement as to which stanza suits the flow of the story.


RS: Do you also write in other genres like haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun on a regular basis?  Which is your favorite genre among all these genres (we know your fondness for Cherita of course)


JA:  Yes, I also write in other genres such as haiku, senryu, tanka, Haibun and other short form verse.  I began writing contemporary poetry first and then I discovered haiku when I was looking for poetry journals to read and subscribe to.   I fell in love with haiku and feel that they are the guardians of nature and our world.  I find short form poetry very special; these dewdrops of tiny forms really capture a sense of the world around us. 


I see the bonds between these genres as strings from the same bow –


the heart harp


wind and rainfall

skeins from sky


this humming

of a melody

our soul bonds


Selecting a favourite is like asking a parent to choose a child.  They all hold a place in my heart.  I began with haiku and then progressed to tanka – aspects of the heart.  These are the two that led me into this world of short form poetry and were my entry point for exploring and discovering other genres.  I wouldn’t like to be without any one of them as they each offer a different way to express aspects of the world and my own life journey. 


RS: What advice would you give budding poets of Cherita verse?


JA:  The advice I would give to writers of any verse is to READ, READ, READ.  Study the form, work on your craft, support the journals that publish them – if you want to write them, then surely you will enjoy reading them. Write, keep on writing and honing, learning the form, find your own style/voice, make connections in the writing world – even if online and listen and appreciate editorial advice – they have a vast range of experience, and this is how you grow as a writer.  The short form poetry world is a beautiful, supportive place.  When you buy a journal that publishes Cherita verse or another genre, be open to learning and see how well other writers use the form.  Try and buy the collections of writers that you admire, this keeps our writers’ world vibrant and alive.


Thank you, Joanna, for taking time out to talk to The Wise owl about your beautiful book. We wish you the best and hope you make this unique storytelling genre rich with your verse.


Thank you so much for asking me to talk to you. 

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