What They Learned: Bela Khanna ’24

Khanna wrote “Playing House,” which explores themes of freedom and futurity against the backdrop of masculine violence and psychological imprisonment.

The campy tropes that course through supermarket romance and erotica novels may seem like an unlikely place from which to embark upon a thesis, but that’s exactly where Bela Khanna ’24 began. Khanna, who double majored in philosophy and English with a concentration in creative writing, authored a story called “Playing House,” which she describes as an exploratory piece that found its footing in the power dynamics that run rampant through the genre.

“This work was inspired by a lot of thinking, both academic and personal, about the role of romantic love in self-creation or self-destruction, especially when it’s heterosexual love, which has so often proven more of a threat to, than a tool for, women’s self-actualization,” Khanna says.

Khanna developed “Playing House” as a way to explore themes of freedom and futurity against the backdrop of masculine violence and psychological imprisonment. She once described it as “an exposure of the existential, gendered catch-22 that lurks behind the appearance of a postfeminist reality.” She says she hopes anyone who reads the story can use it as a springboard for imagining love that transcends its heroine’s conditions and ultimate unhappy ending.

Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing Asali Solomon was Khanna’s thesis advisor, and she credits Solomon for a “kind, no-nonsense approach” that ultimately allowed the story’s central message to shine through. When she began writing, Khanna says, “Playing House” was more akin to an experimental art project than a true work of fiction. But Solomon’s guidance, she says, allowed her to develop a plot, characters, and conflict that give the finished work its texture.

“This thesis was an exercise in writing and rewriting. By the end, I wrote five complete drafts, not to mention the graveyard of half-drafts that never made it to completion,” Khanna says. That said, my biggest takeaway from this project was that it is impossible to produce good work in a vacuum. My thesis partner, Alex Behm ’24, my advisor, and my friends and family were invaluable to the end result of this thesis process.”

Writing “Playing House” reinforced Khanna’s belief that stories can do much more than entertain us. They hold the power, she says, to generate meaningful change and generate new understandings. Whether or not she becomes a novelist one day, she says, her experience at Haverford helped her realize her obligation to equity and justice.

“If I had a hundred lifetimes, I’d run for office, work as a conservationist, write books, teach English abroad, be a civil rights or environmental lawyer, a homemaker, a professional singer, get my PhD, and teach philosophy in prisons or universities,” Khanna says. “All that to say, I don’t really know what I want to do with my life, but I’m excited to put what I’ve learned over these four years to good use, serving my communities however I can — and I’m excited to see where the future takes me!”