Gender, Sex and the City explores the cosmopolitan sensibilities of Urdu poetry written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, especially in the city of Lucknow, which was the centre of a flourishing Indo-Persian culture. Through its ground-breaking analysis, it demonstrates how rekhti (a type of Urdu poetry whose distinguishing features are a female speaker and a focus on women's lives) and to some degree, non-mystical rekhta (mainstream Urdu poetry with a male speaker), for the first time in Urdu represent women (both of conventional families and courtesan households) as important shapers of urban culture, especially urban speech.
Vanita analyses how rekhti becomes a catalyst for the transformation of the ghazal, first, by focusing it not on love alone but on the practices, spaces and rituals of everyday life; second, by bringing subordinated figures, such as women as well as servants centre-stage; and, third, by challenging the ghazal's ideal of perfect love as framed by separation and suffering.
Women characters in rekhti fall in love, but they also work, shop, dress, sing, dance, eat, fast, chat, quarrel, pray, invoke spirits, and voice opinions on many matters. The author explores the way rekhti reconfigures the city from women's perspective, depicting a parallel world of urban women's meeting places, networks and rituals.
The first book-length study in English of rekhti and also of non-mystical rekhta, it demonstrates the interplay between the twoin language, form and content. Including many first-time translations and also analyses of neglected poems, such as Rangin's Masnawi Dilpazir and Jur'at's Khwaja Hasan-o Bakhshi Twaif, (a romance with a courtesan heroine), it also studies in detail the works of Insha and Nisbat, among others.
With several more transcribed poems than in its US edition, this book is a must-read for students and scholars of literature, history, sociology, gender and sexuality studies, South Asian studies and culture studies.