Bhatkal and Sen

Bhatkal and Sen

Bhatkal & Sen is a publishing partnership between Mandira Sen and Popular Prakashan, is based in Calcutta and publishes the imprints Stree and Samya. It is noted for publishing authors such as Kancha Ilaiah, Om Prakash Valmiki, Tirumaavalavan, Gail Omvedt, Manikuntala Sen, Ashok Mitra, V. Geetha, and Bani Basu, and has prominent scholars such as Susie Tharu and Maithreyi Krishnaraj as editors. It publishes academic works in the social sciences, memoirs and classic fiction in translation in English and Bengali.

Popular Prakashan is a Bombay-based publishing firm established in 1920 by Ganesh R. Bhatkal, a former employee of OUP Bombay. Popular Prakashan came into its own in the 1950s when it published the path-breaking historian D.D. Kosambi and the social scientists G.S. Ghurye and A.R. Desai.

Beginnings of Stree

Mandira Sen worked as a publisher's editor for Houghton Mifflin among others in the US, until she returned to India in 1978. She worked for a year for Orient Longman, then set up the venture Mandira which published bilingual children's books. This had English text on the verso pages and the same text in an Indian language on the recto. Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu and Gujarati versions were done. The books were intended for export to help the children of non-resident Indians to learn their mothertongues. Distribution was a major problem, and in 1986 Mandira Sen met Ramdas Bhatkal of Popular Prakashan at an international book fair. Bhatkal and Sen was set up in 1990, with the establishment of the imprint Stree, dealing with women's issues and social sciences. The two partners distributed each other's books in their respective territories and passed on rights and projects that were congenial to their respective publishing programmes.

The Early Years

During her time in the US Mandira Sen had come into contact with many activists of the women's movement, and she wished to use this experience to highlight the work that was being done (and had been done in the past) on women's issues in India, and to help educate people about the women's movement and its contributions to civil society. Stree's early titles fell into the following categories:

1. Scholarly translations of important texts in Indian languages by or about women that deserved to reach a wider audience.

2. Works of scholarship in the social sciences with an Indian context or sources, or by Indian scholars, with special reference to women, and

3. Popular works dealing with concepts and ideas of the women's movement with the objective of introducing them to Indian audiences.

Stree's first title was a translation of a Gujarati novel by S.J. Joshi, "Anandi Gopal", ( [ read review here] )a fictional retelling of the life of the first Indian woman to qualify as a doctor. Many scholarly titles followed, including "Women as Subjects: South Asian Histories" edited by Nita Kumar (ISBN 81-85604-03-7), "The Struggle Against Violence" edited by Chhaya Datar (ISBN 81-85604-01-1), and other works.

The Bengali List, and Samya

In 1996, the singer-songwriter Moushumi Bhowmik came to Stree as an editor. She began and developed Stree's Bengali lists, which included path-breaking works such as Sambuddha Chakrabarti's "Andare Antare" (Inside, Within), on the lives of Bengali bhadralok women in the nineteenth century. There was also "Pinjore Boshiya" (Inside the Cage), a collection of essays by Kalyani Dutta, edited by the School of Women's Studies at Jadavpur University. The third title was a translation of Kamla Bhasin's "What is Patriarchy?" into Bengali.

The year 1996 also saw the inception of the Samya imprint. The occasion for this was the publication of Kancha Ilaiah's "Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy". Ilaiah had been turned away by a number of publishers who felt his work was too controversial; Sen felt his critique of the caste system fitted in with Stree's parallel critique of patriarchy and gender, and began the Samya imprint (meaning 'equality' or 'fairness') in 1996 with his book. Since then Samya has published Om Prakash Valmiki's "Joothan", an account of a Dalit's growing up under caste oppression, and Tirumaalvalavan's "Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Awakening", translated by Meena Kandasamy.

Literary Translations

Stree also publishes an extensive list of works in translation by women writers past and present. These include Sulekha Sanyal's "Nabankur" (The Seedling's Tale), [ read review in the "Hindu" here] , Bani Basu's "The Birth of the Maitreya" (Maitreyo Jatak). MArathi works translated into English include Kamal Desai's "Dark Sun and The Woman Who Wore a Hat", Saroj Pathak's "Whom Can I Tell? How Can I Explain?" and Vibhavari Shirurkar's "Kharemaster". Many of these books form part of the Gender Culture Politics series edited by Susie Tharu.

Stree has helped to bring to a wider audience many forgotten memoirs by early women writers such as Lalithambika Antherjanam's "Cast Me Out If You Will" which documents Namboodiri oppression of Nair women in nineteenth century Kerala. In this category falls Manikuntala Sen's "In Search of Freedom: An Unfinished Journey", a translation of her "Shediner Kotha" which traces the early years of the Communist movement in India.


* Unpublished interview with the publisher, 4 February 2007, by Rimi B. Chatterjee.
* [ Stree's homepage]
* [ An old and now derelict homepage]
* [ An interview with Mandira Sen among others]

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