Author Shreya Ila Anasuya locates the fabled Lucknow courtesan – Umrao Jaan
Shreya Ila Anasuya (she/they) is a writer and researcher from Calcutta. With their book, ‘The invention of Umrao: Locating the Fabled Lucknow Courtesan in History’, to be relased on Prime Day, they delve deeply into literature, cinema and women performance history to understand the intriguing and fictional courtesan Umrao Jaan, one of the most enduring heroines in the South Asian imagination.
‘Umrao Jaan Ada’, which is one of the earliest successful Urdu novels, continues to be popular to this day, and so when asked to write about the literary and social context, Shreya jumped at the chance to do so. “Of course I said yes. I’ve been researching South Asian history, music and gender for a while. There is a wealth of academic research as well as some gorgeous non-fiction writing on professional women musicians. But there is an equal amount of misinterpretation and misrepresentation in our popular culture and imagination about remarkable real-life performers that have inspired fictional representations in literature and cinema. This was a chance to act as a bridge, to examine both the myths and the nuances of this remarkable text.” they said.
This (book) was a chance to act as a bridge, to examine both the myths and the nuances of this remarkable text.
While they are saddened by the reason behind why people have been turning to stories in the last 18 months of uncertainty and illness, as seen from Amazon’s sales data, Shreya says, “It is not surprisiing that people turned to stories when they were able to. It’s something people have always done, and will continue to do whenever they have access to books. Let me take a moment instead to heartily recommend two books – Tawaifnama by Saba Dewan, and Song Sung True by Malka Pukhraj, edited and translated by Saleem Kidwai.”
Besides research and writing, Shreya Ila Anasuya has also worked as an editor, performance artist and teacher. Their work explores – among other things – history, music and the senses, gender, the body, liminal spaces, and cultural memory. A liminal space is the “crossing over” space, or a threshold – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else. Their work has been recognised by the Otherwise Fellowship, the Toto Award for Creative Writing in English, the Sangam House Residency, and the UNFPA/Population First Laadli Media Award, among others.
Shreya had always worked primarily from home, but still felt the impact of the pandemic. She imagines a changed post-pandemic world, which recognises that the COVID-19 has not hit everyone equally hard or in the same ways, although all are reeling and grieving.
I hope we see arising from this, a welfare state, that takes into account the poverty caused by this pandemic and lockdowns.
“In some ways, my working routines were typical because I live with disability and chronic illness, and have worked from home for the last few years. When I can deeply focus on research and writing I can, for periods of time, travel immense distances psychically. But one always comes back to reality, and reality has been pretty grim in this time of political, social, and ecological crisis, that has been marked by the pandemic. I hope we see arising from this, a welfare state, that takes into account the poverty caused by this pandemic and lockdowns. A situation with universal, free, sensitive and affirmative healthcare for everyone.”
Amazon’s annual two-day shopping event for Prime members, Prime Day is just around the corner on July 26 & 27, and book-lovers have reason to be excited. Along with offers from top brands, Prime members also get premier views on curated books, best deals and blockbuster entertainment. A host of new releases are planned for Prime Day, with authors bringing you different slices of life, from essays to commentaries and fiction to fantasy.