Ask any professor or linguist to name a few women writers, and they might just end up taking the names of Indian writers with female pen-names.
Pen names have had a certain place of their own in the world of writing. Pen names or ‘nom de plumes’ are something which every writer comes across at some time in their careers. As Guy de Maupassant once said,“In order to escape the Eiffel Tower, you have to go inside it.” Similarly, to understand the connection of writers and the age-old practice of using pen names, you need to read on.
Globally, many a writer chose a pen name to suit the genre they wrote. However, that is not quite the case amongst our Indian writers. The history of Indian authors using pen-names dates back to the pre-independence period. The suppression of Indians was not only for the physical violence and social status but also to the suppression of self-identity in their thoughts and prose as well.
Prominent Indian writers chose to use their names in certain ways that their identity was not revealed and they could express their thoughts freely. But, unlike their European counterparts, Indian authors chose names of the feminine gender for their writings. There are quite a few writers who chose these names for different personal reasons. Some chose to honour their idol, some chose to respect femininity while others simply chose to use a pen-name in order to find the best way for their work to be known to the world.
The most celebrated Indian author to use a pen name is Rabindranath Tagore. His best known pen-name was BhanuSimha. However, many believe he published different works of literature under different nom de plumes. While he was just teenager, he published his works with the name of his sister-in-law. They were mistaken for her writings and ever since the works were known to the world under her name. Born in 1861, Rabindranath was one-of-a-kind author who chose to continue with his sister-in-law’s name in honour of her courage during the freedom fighting era. Following in his footsteps, there are many Bengali writers who wrote under female pen names in order to honour their lady idol. Saratchandra Chatterjee, Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay are some who wrote with the names Anita Devi and Kamalkanta respectively.
Apart from this particular trend, Rabindranath was also known for using different pen names (all of them were feminine); the trend which was probably followed by different authors from the writing community all over the world. The best known example could be Dean Koontz or his better known name – Stephen King who writes under more than 10 different pen names.
Another lot of writers who used pen-names are the writers who wrote in the Marathi language. V.V. Shirvadkar, Govind Karandikar, C.T.Khanolkar are some famous names who used women names when publishing their works.
V.V. Shirvadkar, wrote under the name Kusumagraj that cannot be fully construed as female name, yet certainly has a feminine leaning. The idea of writing under this name was to have a different identity that could liberate his identity in the world of writing whilst allowing his mellow side to show through his work.
Vinda however, has a more personal reason to take this particular pseudonym. In the initial stage, Govind Karandikar a.k.a Vinda was keen on publishing his poems. However, every time his work was rejected and returned back to him with no justification. His wife once commented snidely that he should to put himself out in the literary world as a woman poet. Mischievous, Vinda thought he’d give it a try. Much to his amazement, his poem was published. He then went on to write different novels under the same nom de plume. Once whilst on the dais as Chief Guest for a function, another fellow guest asked him if he had met the author, Mrs. Vinda Karandikar. Amused, he played along with the guest’s curiosity and didn’t reveal himself until his name was called for felicitation.
As opposed to these, there is another Marathi writer, Vyankatesh Madgulkar, went by the pen name Colonel Bahadur. Many know Vyankatesh Madgulkar for his realistic writings on village life and social issues corresponding to it, but, Colonel Bahadur famously worked in English mostly translations and interpretations. Although Vyankatesh Madgulkar is an well-known entity for writing the harsh truths and struggles of a commoner, Colonel Bahadur is known for interpreting different ecological writings in fresh perspective.
They say, the language changes its course every 20 kms. Well, for literature not only distance but the changing times matter as well. That was the then era and now is this era of liberation, thought-provoking and bold phenomenon of writing. The struggle of writing and publication will never die. The challenges will change, but, the bottom line fundamentals will prevail. Therefore, the reason to use and choose pen names might change, but pen-names for writers will never die. Today, there are writers that self-publish themselves, choose anagrams as their pen names or simply enter into a world of fantasy through their writings.