Soi Creative Women: Who Are We?
‘The Guarded Tongue’, a series of workshops held across India regarding the obstacles faced by women in their expressions at home and beyond, brought together a number of women authors. Following the workshop in Bengal in late 2000, the participants wanted to nurture the safe space that had been created during the workshop.
So, before the month was over, on the 30th of November that year, Soi was born. It was the birthday of Radharani Debi, one of Bengal’s most courageous woman writers who had overcome enormous personal hurdles to give Bengali literature its first fearlessly female voice as Aparajita Debi, back in the early twentieth century.
‘Soi’, in Bengali, means three things: signature, a woman friend and ‘I tolerate’ (but not for long!). All the meanings allude to the salient functions of Soi.
Our wonderfully accomplished Soi is really, truly 16 now. There had been rumours: “Women’s organisation? Non-commercial, is it? Then it must be troublesome. Soi won’t last!” But then, we have flourished. This has been possible exclusively due to your indulgence.
Our journey, the journey of creative women, is across countless hazards and obstacles, armed with dreams and devotion. We are active and hard-working within the family and beyond, not just with the pen, but also with colours and brushes and cameras; on the stage and on screen, in the realms of music and songs: our laughter and tears brim over in each sphere.
In the last few years, Soi has developed herself yet more. From 2013, we have thought of ourselves as Soi Creative Women, not just Soi, Women Writers' Association. Our young plant, grown from the roots and soil of the pen and the Bengali language, has extended its branches to other Indian languages and to forms of art other than writing. Of course, this has been evident from the very first year of ‘Soi-Mela’, a celebration of women artists and their art that we organise. With much love, we have invited amongst us, women proficient in various art forms, women authors writing in different languages and scholars working in the field of Women's Studies. We have invited women editors and publishers across the country. All of them have responded from the core of their hearts.
We were never financially strong. We have failed to find magnanimous patrons and have not sought government aid. So we were bound to be irregular. In spite of earnest wishes, we have not been able to arrange Soi-Mela every year.
We want to tell our friends that through the turmoil of our wretched, much-beloved mother-land, Soi has been able to sustain as an independent and impartial entity. True, we are not rich in finances, but the love of our friends and the strength of our ideology enrich us. That is why we can return, time and again, with celebrations like SoiMela-BoiMela (a regular book fair, only with women's books), with publications of women’s writings and brand new ventures like our upcoming website. We do not know how long we can go on like this! Your blessings and the collective will-power of our members/friends keep us going.
What have we done so far?
A lot! Here are a few headers:
- Soi brought together 20 women writers to write the novel ‘Gatha-Bingshoti’ together! Five of the more accomplished Soi-sisters wrote ‘ChiroHorit’
- We have published Soi-Sabud, collections of women’s writings in Bengali and English, each year, 2000 onwards (sometimes, even thrice a year)
- Each year, Kolkata International Book Fair reserves one evening for Soi members to share their literary works
- In 2005, our first Soimelate Boimela was organised – a book fest with only women’s books!
- In 2006, Soimelate Boimela extended itself to include innovative translation workshops…
- In 2006, Soi was invited by Assam Lekhika Samaroha – in heart-warming sessions of discussions and sharing, the Assamese women authors present called themselves ‘Soi-s from afar’
- Soi has consistently promoted new talent by inviting women authors who have never published before, to share their writing in Soimelate Boimela. We have also encouraged them with awards.
- Soi-Boi, a publication initiative by Soi, has published a considerable number of women’s books including collections of poetry, novels, short prose, memoirs, travelogues and plays since 2009
- In 2013, Soi, to celebrate her teens, organised her first Soi-Samman, to honour the women authors of India. Shashi Deshpande representing India and Urmila Pawar representing Bharat received the first awards of Rupees one lakh each!
- In 2016, Soi organised a festival to celebrate the birth centenary of author Ismat Chughtai
- We have launched our website on the 30th of November, 2016, our 16th birthday, and Soi-Sabud web-magazine will follow soon after