Soi-mela Boi-mela, 2005
Our dream of a book-fair with only women’s books came to being with our first Soi-mela Boi-mela in 2005. The stage was set in the Rabindra Sadan premises. The publishing houses of West Bengal were actively involved in the execution of our plans. Stalls were taken up by a wide range of publishing houses and institutions headed by Publishers’ and Book-sellers’ Guild, West Bengal, NBT, Thema, Stree and the Department of Women’s Studies, Calcutta University and many more. On 3rd May, Gopal Krishna Gandhi inaugurated Soi-mela . Dancer Amala Sankar and Gyanpith winning Assamese author Indira Goswami were our chief guests. Friends from Sahitya Akademi, Bangla Akademi, Book Sellers and Publishers Guild and from various publishing houses graced the occasion with their presence.
Each day at Soi-mela Boi-mela (3rd May to 6th May) saw assorted performances and presentations at Rabindra Sadan grounds. On the 4th, Soi was invited to Victoria Memorial for a poetry reading and discussion session. At the same time, Soi hosted ‘Anamika Sandhya’ in the Rabindra Sadan grounds – a platform for poetry reading and story reading for women who had never been published before. They were chosen after careful consideration of all the entries sent to Soi.
The publishers assured us that they had not run at a loss – plenty of books, all written by women, had been bought by visitors! Hurrah!
Soi-mela Boi-mela, 2006
The second Soi-mela Boi-mela, held in December, 2006, concentrated on East Indian Literatures. We were joined by Pratibha Ray and Manorama Biswal Mahapatra from Orissa, Nirupama Baragohain and Indira Goswami from Assam, Dr.Temsula Ao from Nagaland, Mamang Dai from Arunachal Pradesh and Meenakshi Sen from Tripura. Ten publishers from Delhi (eight of them women publishers from Independent Publishers group) and twenty more from Kolkata participated in Soi-mela Boi-mela, making us proud.
Ritu Menon (who started Kali for Women, the first women’s publishing house in India) inaugurated Soi-mela Boi-mela at the event organised in Victoria Memorial. Later, Nirupama Barogohain launched the third edition of Soi Short Story collection on the Soi-mela stage.
On this occasion, Soi published Soi-Sabud Anubaad Sankhya (translation issue of the Soi Magazine) and Panchakanya – a collection of stories by five major women writers Pratibha Basu, Mahashweta Devi, Nabaneeta DevSen, Bani Basu and Suchitra Bhattacharya.
‘Anamika Sandhya’ was held this year as well and two prizes were awarded to the best poem and the best short story writer at a follow-up gathering at the Bangla Akademi. Along with this, three volumes of Soi Baroyari (a collection of poetry by soi-s and two novels – one collectively written by five senior writers and another by twenty new writers) were inaugurated by Prof. Bharati Ray. This happens to be the first such initiative in the history of Indian literature.
Soimela returned in 2013 with a three day festival at ICCR. Celebrating her teens, Soi organised her first Soi-Samman, to honour the women authors of India. Shashi Deshpande (representing literature of the privileged class) and Urmila Pawar (from Marathi Dalit Literature) received the first awards of Rupees one lakh each.
On 24th November, Sunday morning, Mahashweta Devi lit the lamp and inaugurated the three-day programme, followed by a short performance by Usha Utthup. The awardees, Shashi Deshpande and Urmila Pawar accepted their awards with joy and grace. Soi-Sabud, Soi-Samman Special Number 2013 was launched by Amala Sankar.
All the three days saw discussions on perceptive topics: ‘Why I Write?’, ‘Growing up in Fear’ and ‘Being a Mother All by Yourself’. Creative women – friends of Soi, including Mridula Garg, Pratibha Ray, Vaidehi, Mamta Sagar and Eleena Banik shared their personal experiences on these subjects and each discussion was followed by an interactive question-answer session to engage the audience. There were various short performances, performance poetry, poetry and play readings by authors and performers like Arpita Ghosh, Urmimala Basu, Pranati Tagore, Krairi Mog Cowdhury and others. Exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography by prominent women artists like Uma Shiddhanta, Chandana Hore, Eleena Banik, Mala Mukhopadhyay etc. were held.
The grand finale was an exhibition debate among eminent males in the fields of writing, publishing and journalism including Suman Chattopadhyay, Pracheta Gupta, Anil Acharya, Swapnomoy Chatterjee, Shankarlal Bhattacharya and Tridib Chattopadhyay over the motion “There is No Need for Soi”! The motion was dropped by the audience of a huge majority.
Soimela 2015 was held at ICCR, from 9th to 12th January, 2015. Soi celebrated the birth centenary of PratibhaBasu who was one of the founder members of Soi. The lamp was lit by the senior poets Shankha Ghosh and Aloke Ranjan Dasgupta. Professor Geraldine Forbes inaugurated the event. She was joined by Selina Hossain from Bangladesh and Prabhasini Mahakund from Orissa.
There were plays, songs, poetry-readings, story-telling and talks on all the four days. Prof. Forbes spoke on the topic, ‘Where are We Going with Women’s History?’ Performer friends of Soi – Usha Ganguly, Sohini Sengupta, Suranjana Dasgupta, Senjuti Mukhopadhyay, Ramanjit Kaur and others joined in with their art. Soi also show cased paintings and sculptures by prominent women artists and posters and stills from women film makers and theatre directors of West Bengal. Among artistes participating in the exhibition were Veena Bhargav, Jayashree Chakraborty, Arpita Basu, Banasree Khan, Chaitali Chanda and others.
In 2016, Soi decided to celebrate the birth centenary of eminent Urdu author Ismat Chughtai. Since Chughtai is little known in Bengal outside of the academic circle, we wanted to introduce the Bengali readers to Chughtai, through engaging discussions by scholars and entertaining plays based on Chughtai’s works.
With this theme, Soi-mela Boi-mela 2016 was organized at Sisir Mancha, Kolkata, on the 26th and 27th of February. In the inaugural session, the lamp was lit by Shankha Ghosh, Bharati Roy, F.S. Ejaz, Usha Ganguly, and Miratun Nahar, followed by Usha Ganguly’s reading of ‘Ismat Chughtai’ – Sadat Hasan Manto’s sketch of the author.
An inviting panel discussion on the topic ‘Ismat Chughtai – a Feminist Writer?’ was chaired by Professor Ipshita Chanda. The second day witnessed a stirring debate on the theme ‘Sorir, sorir, tomar monnai Kusum?’ (‘Body, body, don’t you have a heart, Kusum?’) moderated by AntaraDev Sen. Both the sessions were graced by the participation of scholars, authors and journalists like Suman Chattopadhyay, Tilottama Majumdar , Pracheta Gupta, Saswati Ghosh, Jashodhara Roychowdhury, Ranjan Bandopadhyay, Miratun Nahar, Esha Dey, F.S. Ejaz and Ipsita Halder.
Phoenix Malda presented a play based on Chughtai’s short story ‘Do haat’ on the 27th, followed by a generously attended screening of Junoon, a film for which Chughtai had penned dialogues and also acted in. The film was introduced by Mainak Biswas.
On the second day, there were performances by the Soi-s and a play based on Chughtai’s short stories by team ‘Dilki Duniya’. The festival concluded with Madhuja Mukherjee’s talk on the film ‘Garam Hawa’, based on a story by Ismat Chugtai. The program was closed by showing two videos: one of Padma Sachdev on her memories of Ismat Chughtai and another about the two contemporary woman authors, Qurratulain Hyder and Ismat Chughtai.
Almost every year since its inception Soi has organised various programmes and/or stalls at the Kolkata International Book-fair. The city saw 15 women authors from Soi with their publications, sharing the stage at the UBI auditorium in the Book-fair premises – a rare sight!