#100PENMembers No.9: Sophia Wadia

Sophia Wadia founded the Indian Branch of the PEN in 1933, and even ran it from her home, before relocating it to ‘Theosophy Hall’ in Bombay in the mid 50s.

Sophia Wadia

Under Wadia’s directorship, the All-India PEN centre was one of the most prominent and successful of all global PEN centres. From the start, she enlisted the participation of major Indian writers and pro-Independence politicians, receiving the enthusiastic support of Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini Naidu, and also future Prime Ministers and Presidents of India, Nehru, (India’s first Prime Minister) Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (future President of India 1962-67), and Zakir Husain (President of India from 1967 -1968), all of whom played an active role in PEN. She received the Padma shri (one of the highest civilian awards in India) from the hands of Nehru in 1960.

Wadia had been born Sophia Camacho in Columbia, but married theosophist B. P Wadia in 1927, and then settled in Bombay. At the 1947 Benares Conference Sarojini Naidu described Wadia as “the founder, the god-mother, the nurse, the ayah, the guardian, she was everything of this P.E.N.” 

Wadia was, indeed, a formidable and inescapable presence , and a tireless organizer. She edited The Indian PEN magazine, as well as the series of “introductions” to Assamese, Bengali, Indo-Anglian, Telugu and other regional literatures which the Center started to publish in 1941.  [under the name “P. E. N. Books. The Indian Literatures”.] In her foreword to the series, Sophia Wadia explained that the project represented a systematic attempt to “popularise the story of the Indian literatures”, and the first line also gives the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial thrust of the project, i.e.: “India’s ruling passion is for freedom from colonial domination.” 

She was also instrumental in organizing the ‘All-India Writers’ Conferences”, starting in 1945 in Jaipur and then regularly all over India (Banares, Baroda, Bhubhaneshwar, etc.-)

She represented India at many of PEN’s international Congresses and was an extremely vocal (and respected) voice in these congresses, where she championed not only the voice of India, but the voice of the “East”, which could not be excluded “if the PEN is to be truly international” 

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