This CfP is for a proposed panel at the 46th Annual Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) Convention at Toronto, Ontario (Canada). The dates are April 30-May 3, 2015, and the convention will be hosted by Ryerson University. Although the word 'memsahib' has colonial echoes in India, in this panel, we seek to explore its connotations in postcolonial India.
Memsahib – the term literally means “Sahib’s wife” or the “lady mistress” – is usually associated with white women in British India. For this reason, despite the fact that the term continues to be used today in independent India, its use cannot be divorced from its colonial conception because, more often than not, especially in the academic scholarship, the term’s association with British colonialism in India is analyzed. Examining the image of memsahibs and the nexus between gender and imperialism in India has garnered considerable scholarly attention (e.g. Claire Midgley, Indrani Sen and Margaret Strobel, among others).
However, in postcolonial India, the term lives on, usually referring to women from an affluent background. The term is no longer exclusively associated with white-skinned women. This transformation complicates the dialectical relationship among race, gender, colonial heritage and postcolonial identity-formation. Therefore, we may safely infer that the power play and politics of nuances associated with the term is far more complex than the mere literal meaning of “Sahib’s wife” or “mistress”.
Hence, we propose this session to be able to delve deeper into understanding and re-defining this term.
Scholarly papers are invited for this session. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
Origins and etymological meaning of the term
Evolution of the meaning of the term (the different meanings that it has taken on over the ages, both in colonial and postcolonial times)
Race, class, skin-color politics (for instance, in colonial India, even the lower-class white women are called ‘mem’ by virtue of their skin color)
Colonial and postcolonial connotation
Exploring the postcolonial undertones and implications of the term
Depiction of the memsahib figure in literature, social media, films, folklore, etc.
Contempt towards the ‘brown memsahib’ in Raj days
Memsahib vs. ideal Indian womanhood
Negative associations with the term in today’s India
The diminished regard for the mem-figure in modern-day India (for instance, the rape cases of foreign women in India these days, as well as the role of representation of such issues in journalism and media)
Depiction in Bollywood films
Echoes of the term in daily life and laymen usage in modern-day India (for instance, a female snob is often dubbed a mem)
The ‘mem-effect’ in preference for fair-skinned appearance of actresses in movies
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