Ruth Vanita is an Indian academic, activist and author who specialises in British and Indian literary history with a focus on gender and sexuality studies, and [lesbian] and [gay] studies, ]. She also teaches and writes on Hindu philosophy.
Early life and education
Ruth was born in Rangoon, Burma to an Indian Christian family. In her late twenties she gradually began a return to Hinduism, which she sees not as a conversion but as a return to the practices of her ancestors. She has now been a Hindu for most of her life. Her father was Tamilian and her mother half Gujarati and quarter Bengali, with an element of Punjabi, Rajasthani and perhaps Armenian along the way. She comes from a family of educators; her maternal grandfather, Walter Sadgun Desai, was a historian of Burma, her paternal grandfather, Robert Paul, was a high school principal. Her maternal grandmother, Victoria Nirmalini Desai (nee Mukherjee) ran her own nursery school. Her maternal uncle, Rupin Walter Desai, is retired Professor of English, Delhi University. Her mother, Lila Marilla Paul, who had a double MA in English and Philosophy, ran her own nursery school at which Ruth taught as a teenager; later, her mother became a high school teacher at St Thomas Girls School, Delhi. Ruth's parents, who were Indian citizens, moved to New Delhi, India when she was two and she grew up there. She attended Springdales school. When she was in 8th grade, the doctor advised her mother to discontinue her studies due to Ruth's acute myopia and as he thought she had already received sufficient education for a girl. Her mother was a teacher and home schooled her, until Ruth graduated high school, standing first in the board exams, and went on to attend Miranda House college in Delhi University. She completed her B.A. with English, Hindi and Philosophy as subjects, and her M.A. in English, receiving gold medals for topping both final exams. After completing her MA at age 20, she became a lecturer in English, Miranda House, from 1976 to 1994. She registered for a PhD on Keats as a critic, but left it midway to co-found and work on Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society, from 1978 to 1991. This was unpaid work, as she continued to teach at Miranda House while doing this voluntary work. She completed her PhD in 1992 on the writings of Virginia Woolf. She was Reader, Department of English, Delhi University,1994-1997.
Writings and career
While living in Delhi in 1978, Vanita co-founded Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society, a journal that combined academic research and grassroots activism. She served as the journal's unpaid, volunteer co-editor from 1979 to 1991. She has held fellowships from the Society for Humanities, Cornell University; Fulbright; NEH-ASLC-SSRC; and in 2017 received a Franklin grant funded by the British Academy and the American Philosophical Society. She is the author of several books, namely, Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (Columbia UP 1996); A Play of Light: Selected Poems (Penguin India 1994); Love's Rite:Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West (Penguin India & Palgrave-Macmillan New York, 2005); Gandhi's Tiger and Sita's Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture (Yoda Press, 2005); Gender, Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry 1780-1870 (Palgrave Macmillan NY and Orient Longman Delhi 2012), and Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema (Speaking Tiger Delhi and Bloomsbury New York, 2018). She co-edited the pioneering Same-Sex Love in India with Saleem Kidwai (2000; updated edition Penguin India 2008), and also edited India and the World: Indian Literature, Postcolonialism and Translation (Pencraft 2016), and Queering India (Routledge 2002). She has published many translations of Hindi and Urdu fiction and poetry, such as Chocolate and Other Stories on Male-Male Desire by Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugra (Duke University Press, North Carolina, and OUP Delhi 2008); About Me: the Autobiography of Pandey Bechan Sharma Ugra (Penguin India); The Co-Wife and Other Stories by Premchand (Penguin India); The Great Feast by Mannu Bhandari (Orient Longman), Strangers on the Roof by Rajendra Yadav (Penguin India). She has published over 50 academic articles on a range of topics from Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf to Indian literature in journals such as Shakespeare Survey, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Comparative Drama, Postcolonial Studies, GLQ and Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. She is now a professor of the humanities and Women's Studies at the University of Montana where she directs South & South-East Asian Studies which she founded at the University along with G. G. Weix. She teaches many India-related courses, including Talking to God: the Bhagavad Gita and Gender & Sexuality in Bombay Cinema, as well as courses on the Western canon. From 2015 onwards the Program has successfully applied for Fulbright instructors from India to teach Hindi language at the University of Montana. Vanita voluntarily supervises Hindi teaching and participates in it.
- Vanita, Ruth, Gender, Sex and the City: Urdu Rekhti Poetry in India 1780-1870 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan and New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2012).
- Vanita, Ruth ed., India and the World: Postcolonialism, Translation and Indian Literature (New Delhi: Pencraft, 2014).
- Vanita, Ruth, Dancing with the Nation: Courtesans in Bombay Cinema ( Bloomsbury Press, New York, and Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2018)
- Vanita, Ruth, A Play of Light: Selected Poems (Penguin India, 1994)
- Vanita, Ruth, Sappho and the Virgin Mary: Same-Sex Love and the English Literary Imagination (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)
- Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai (eds.) (2000) Same-Sex love in India: Readings from Literature and History. London: Palgrave Macmillan. New Delhi: Macmillan. Updated edition forthcoming from Penguin India, 2008. ISBN 0-312-22169-X
- Vanita, Ruth ed., Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 2002)
- Vanita, Ruth, Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan; New Delhi: Penguin India, 2005)
Co-edited with Madhu Kishwar, "In Search of Answers: Indian Women’s Voices from Manushi" (London: Zed Books, 1984, revised edition Horizon Books, Delhi, 1991).*Vanita, Ruth (2005). Gandhi's Tiger and Sita's Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture. New Delhi: Yoda Press. ISBN 978-81-902272-5-4. OCLC 70008421.
- Yadav, Rajendra. Strangers on the Roof, translated by Ruth Vanita, Penguin India, 1994 (updated edition with a new introduction 2014)
- Detha, Vijay Dan. Dilemma and Other Stories, translated by Ruth Vanita, Manushi Prakashan, 1997
- Pandey Bechan Sharma "Ugra," Chocolate and Other Stories on Male-Male Desire, translated with an introduction by Ruth Vanita (New Delhi:Oxford University Press, 2006).
- The Great Feast (English translation of Mannu Bhandari’s Hindi novel, Mahabhoj) (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2003).
- Twenty Short Stories by Premchand ( Penguin India 2008)
- About Me (Apni Khabar) - Autobiography of Pande Bechan Sharma Ugra ( Penguin India 2007)
Alone Together: Selected Stories of Mannu Bhandari, Rajee Seth and Archana Varma (New Delhi: Women Unlimited Press, 2013).
- "Ruth Vanita". University of Montana. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- Ayyar, Raj. (2001-03-05). "Reclaiming Gay India with Ruth Vanita". GayToday. Retrieved on 2007-07-11.
- "Gay historians: Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai," QueerIndia, 5 March 2005
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