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This new edition of Quest for Roots has been extensively updated and augmented with many new profiles of remarkable women. Some of them are of great women who have sadly passed away since the first edition in 1999, and have thus become eligible for inclusion,. Other new additions are profiles of women whom we ought to have included in the first edition but hadn’t then discovered. We now have an even more diverse, pan-Indian and comprehensive list than we had before, and this list is likely to grow both in scope and in variety with time.

The experience of compiling this book has been a voyage of discovery. One area where we have been able to add many interesting new profiles is that of science, technology and medicine, thus belying the general impression that these are fields where excellence is reserved for men. Another field that is still woefully under represented is sports, because women’s entry there is relatively new.

out there whose names and stories we have not yet heard, in many fields of life. However, there are some encouraging signs. Women’s lives are now better documented, and society is more likely to recognize their achievements today than fifty or even ten years ago. This is in contrast with the practice even in recent times when women’s names were routinely changed on marriage, and their whole histories before that event might simply be wiped away. Female celebrities now rate obituaries in the press and notices on a par with men, and the tone that the media takes when writing or speaking about them is much less patronizing. What is more, the ‘private’ sphere of the home is no longer so closely guarded a place, and the woman who inhabits it is no longer expected to shun the light of public attention. There is still a long way to go, but the perception is increasing that women’s triumphs are noteworthy in their own right. Society is less likely now to congratulate the husbands and fathers for a woman’s successes, or to be surprised if the achievements of a woman in some field of endeavour are as good as the men’s.

Nearly all the women in this book are here because they built something that lives on after them, whether it was an institution, an art form or oeuvre, a structure, a philosophy, a technology or a social movement. They braved disincentives and prohibitions to go out of the secluded spaces of their lives and connect with a wider world. Sometimes they were supported by those around them, and sometimes they were hindered, but they never gave up. They in turn became inspirations for those who came after, who followed in their footsteps and built on their foundations. By collecting their stories, we are creating a tradition and a set of precedents that women today can use to inspire and improve their own lives. Read as a single text, the stories of these women’s lives form a richly varied tapestry. When each profile is placed in the whole, patterns and motifs become visible, as if many needles had worked on the quilt and covered it with beautiful designs. We can see that women as diverse as scientists and queens have faced similar problems in their lives, and have solved those problems with the same courage and determination. Singers and activists have faced the threat of being silenced, and have spoken regardless of the consequences. Actors and politicians have been stigmatized for showing their faces outside the confines of the home, but they persevered. Writers and mothers have nurtured their offspring, whether of the body or the mind.

In spite of our best efforts, we were not able to double check all the facts and dates mentioned here, or in a few cases find the dates of death and birth of our subjects. We must therefore ask our readers to forgive errors and omissions. For some ancient and medieval women, the lack of any contemporary custom of recording the births of girls makes it impossible to ascertain these dates. We have had to place them to the nearest century, or use the dates of their rule (if they ruled). Even in the case of modern women, the lack of records about quite important personalities is frankly appalling. We have had to rely largely on secondary sources, as researching each and every personality from primary material would have been an enormous task. However, we have done our best to cross check our facts and use works based on primary sources.

It has been a commonplace in the discourse of men celebrating women’s contributions to history from their own perspective, to say that women are like tender creepers, winding their delicate leaves round the bulk of some large tree, that is the man in their lives, whether he be father, husband or guide. We have found, to the contrary, that these women independently developed into ‘trees’. Furthermore, the best of them had such vigour and life in them that they were like mighty, multi-stemmed Bodhi trees, spreading the soft shade of their nurturing attention over many initiatives, organisations, causes, works and visions. Each of them, in her own way, learnt to spread her branches and seek the light.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of our advisory board, the contributors and the sub editor Rimi B. Chatterjee and copy editor Avijit Chatterjee. I would also like to thank Neeru Poddar for her suggestions for cover design. Rita Dalmiya needs a special mention for without her enthusiasm and constant support, this book would never have happened. Finally I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Late Dr Vidya Niwas Misra, Prof. Gerry Forbes and Dr Anuradha Chanda.

Kolkata, 2009
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