This website assembles critical and creative documents as well as visual texts about the tawaifs and devadasis of India, whom we jointly designate as courtesans, and aims to deepen and enrich our understandings of these women, particularly within the frameworks of British colonialism, Indian nationalism, and the normative construction of gender identity in India. It offers an extensive, though not exhaustive, annotated bibliography, which includes citations of scholarly articles and books, films, novels, memoirs, short stories, and certain archival documents, followed by descriptions of their contents. Some of the annotations raise questions that readers might want to consider. You’ll also find here photographs, pictures, video interviews, and various other kinds of visual texts.
“Courtesans of India” is one part of a larger research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The principal investigators of this project are Dr. Nandi Bhatia of the University of Western Ontario and Dr. Teresa Hubel of Huron University College, both in London, Ontario, Canada.
We envision these pages as a resource for anyone interested in this subject.
Dr. Teresa Hubel
A professor of English and Cultural studies, Teresa Hubel has published widely on the literature, dance, film, and history of India from both the colonial and postcolonial periods. Her book, Whose India? The Independence Struggle in British and Indian Fiction and History, examines literary and historical texts by the British and Indian writers who gave meaning to the construct “India” during the final decades of the Empire, while Literature and Racial Ambiguity, (co-edited with Neil Brooks) explores the representation of hybridity in various literary texts. She has also published numerous essays in journals as well as chapters in various books and is especially interested in how class, gender, and caste inform any particular representation, believing that a “view from below” not only radically alters what we can perceive but has the potential to create alterations in public practice.
Dr. Nandi Bhatia
A specialist in Postcolonial Literature and theory, Nandi explores the connections between literary and theatrical practices, nationalism, and colonialism, and examines the ruptures and crossovers that resulted from the British Empire’s longstanding engagement with India. Such connections have been analyzed in her monographs, Acts of Authority/Acts of Resistance: Theatre and Politics in Colonial and Postcolonial India, Performing Women/ Performing Womanhood: Theatre, Politics and Dissent in North India, and Partitioned Lives: Narratives of Home, Displacement and Relocation (co-ed. with Anjali Gera-Roy) and in journal articles and anthologies. For her research, she has been awarded the John Charles Polanyi Prize for Literature and was named UWO Faculty Scholar.
Anmol is a restless reader who watches Netflix for research and laughs at her own jokes. A former Shastri fellow, she is a PhD student in English and Writing Studies at Western. Her doctoral research explores the transnational implications of Netflix India’s dialogue between culture, re-presentation and ‘protecting sensibilities’ in 2020s’ India.
Like Sherri and Jordan, Anmol sources, gathers, and annotates resources and citations that are listed on Courtesans of India.
Sherri is an aspiring voice actress, feminist killjoy, and professional cat mom. She graduated from English and Cultural Studies at Huron and currently works with several projects in neurodiversity, accessibility, media, communications, and comically large hat collections.
Sherri gathered and annotated many of the journal-based citations you’ll find on Courtesans of India, and she collaborated with Jordan to create the “Questions to Consider” sections on selected courtesan films. She pops back in occasionally to ensure the layout is user-friendly and navigable. (Sadly, she’s never been able to figure out the mystery of the dual search bars.)
Jordan is a graduate of English Literature from Huron University College, where his primariy interest was in postcolonial literature. He is currently living in Toronto, working, reading far too many books on game design, and occasionally writing.
Jordan, in addition to collaborating with Sherri on annotating courtesan films and articles, has gone down in history as Courtesans of India’s Gallery Builder Extraordinaire: he gathered, sourced, and organized almost all of the images you’ll find on the site.