Indian Women Poets Writing in English

Indian women poets writing in English from Toru Dutt to Kamla Das and from Sarojini Naidu to Suniti Namjoshi reveal the mind-boggling variety of theme as well as style that poetry is capable of offering. In the last fifty years absorbing a variety of influences, dealing with a range of themes and generating diverse strategies of poetic expression. Each one of them has tried to speak in a distinctly personal voice, yet they form a part of chorus, a collective voice asserting the autonomy of women. It needs to be remembered that poetry written by women need not be viewed only as feminist poetry. In fact the belief that one is a woman is almost as absurd and obscurantist as the belief that is a man. However, literature by women tends to get marginalized because of the disparate tendencies of reception to their writings. In writing and particularly in writing poetry women are allotted personal but not public spaces, a private but not a political or rhetorical voice. Women poets have often raised their voice against social and cultural conventions that constrained their freedom and perpetrated a sort of institutional subjection of women. Women writers assert that the creation of a community of women is necessary antidote to the excess of individualism. They believe that women need to explore their collective consciousness and shared experience in order to transcend the fragmentation and isolation of their lives. With regards to the new trends and techniques in women‘s poetry there is a remarkable movement connecting the domestic with the public spheres of work. Increased metropolitan activities, sophisticated life styles, globalization, urbanized influences of pop, disco and cafe culture, Anglo-Americanization and the public and convent education of the present generation of women poets have made their poetic language, chiselled, sharp, pithy and effortless. The deconstructive strategies of narrative and conceptual frames, along with the simultaneous assimilation of pan-Indian elements have made their poetry a formidable area of study and research. Other than the skillful use of standard poetic devices, the semiotic, symbolical and metaphorical properties of language help to emphasize the feminist strategies of interrogation. The fissures and fragments of post-modern life are questioned and reflected in the highly experimental diction. The problems of sociological vis-à-vis literary politics, of gender inequities of margilization and sub- humanisation of women, of their social and artistic exclusion and of the dominant need for inclusion and democratization, all contribute towards the distinctive character of this poetry. For the first time, mapping out new terrains the poetry of such Indian women poets bring forth the suppressed desires, lust, sexuality and gestational experiences. This new poetry in new forms of new thematic concerns of contemporary issues has changed the course of human civilization as the country entered the new millennium. As such, it does not remain isolated from the global trends and can be corroborated by the fact that it has incorporated itself the manifestations of the feminist movements that swept through Europe, America, Canada, and Australia since 1960s. At the same time in India appeared the poetry of Kamla Das, Eunice de Souza, Mamta Kalia, Tara Patel, Imtiaz Kalia, Gauri Deshpande, Suniti Namjoshi, Gauri Pant, Lakshmi Kannan, Vimla Rao, Meena Alexander, Margaret Chatterjee, Charmayne D‘Souza, Mamta Kalia, Sujata Bhatt, etc.

Tejdeep Menka Shivdasni and a few other women poets who not only totally upset the phallogocentric discourse of Indian English poetry by introducing in it a new array of thematic contents in new voices, but relate their experiences in their art from a broad spectrum of styles.

Kamla Das is one of pioneering post-independence Indian English poets who have contributed immensely to the growth and development of modern Indian English poetry. Her poetry could be divided into three categories – positive poems, negative poems and poems about her grandmother and ancestral house, leaving aside of few poems of some minor observations. The love poems where she expresses her happiness and the poems where she expresses her resentment against unfulfilled love may be termed as positive and negative poems respectively.

The Freaks is a negative poem in which love turns to lust. The woman in the poem complains bitterly against the attitude of her man because there is no love between them and what keeps them together for a moment is the lust of the blood. The physical appearance of the man is repelling to the woman because his cheek is Sunstained‘, mouth ̳a bark cavern‘ and teeth ̳uneven‘. There is no love between them and as he puts his right hand on her knee, ―they only wander, tripping / Idly over puddles of Desire‖. Desire‘ here is personified. It stands for lust – mere carnal desire devoid of warmth of love and affection.

Kamla Das`s poetry reveals that the gap between the larger feminist consciousness of women whose issues were being voiced has reduced considerably. The colonial exotic has now redefined not only her sexuality but also created suitable alternatives. Gauri Despande is a name that the critic and reader of Indian English poetry cannot bypass without leaving a conspicuous lacuna in his repertoire.

Menka Shivadasni‘s poetry holds together a private world of chaotic emotions through its logical development and its strikingly imaginative icons. Her Nirvana at Ten Rupees (1990) is a careful selection spanning twelve year‘s work. Shivdasni, a well-travelled journalist who worked for a year in Honkong, was one of the founding members of the Bombay Poetry Circle in 1986. In her poetry, she had anticipated many of the new characteristics of Bombay poetry as it would develop during the 1990s. Her poems can be broadly categorized under three types of skeptical attitudes which reveal the writer‘s preoccupation with pessimism. The first category deals with the relationship between man and God the second, with the human predicament; and the third with the women‘s condition. In all three cases the life has hit her so hard that the situation is desperate and pathetic and death seems to be the only escape from the generally disturbing experiences of life. Her horrors and temptations of living alone in a small flat, the anxieties of a single life which get complicated by being a woman, the sordid world of sex, drugs, broken relationship and the aftermath are portrayed in strake reality. She traces her own transition from a believer to an atheist in the very first poem of the collection, The Atheist‘s Confession. The poem starts with nostalgia of rosy faith in the “earth god” when she “ate Prasad only after a bath” is contrasted with a later stage when “gods no longer smiled when I prayed” because she had framed her cold logic that “They couldn‘t / They were of stone /” and eventually comes the final word that “God didn‘t exist.” The writer‘s uncertainly regarding the existence of God is further evidenced in the poems Are You Three and Somewhere on the Streets. The tedious nature, the sheer monotony of the modern mechanized existence is described in Destination where the daily commuter‘s journey in the second class railway compartment is between Church gate and insanity. Another poem Schoolgirl No More displays the modern women‘s predicament that having spent a lifetime in acquiring bookish knowledge at school, “nothing measures up to what it should.

Geography taught her the vastness of space, history not to live in the past and English Literature “That I belong nowhere”. Physics, Einstein and his theory of relativity taught her to hate everything including herself. So mere acquisition of knowledge is fruitless without its moderation through contact with wisdom, seems to be the let motif of many of Shivdasani‘s poems. In the poem Safe – I Think, ̳the human being is compared with a palm tree, the coconuts of which are likened to the tears of human beings. The coconuts are ―wrenched‖ for profit. Despite thinking that it is safe for the next one hundred and fifty years the trees are surviving under the permanent fear of destruction. The modern man‘s threatened condition is reflected in the concluding lines that offer a comment on the ever-growing materialistic attitude of people who are simply not concerned with the life and feelings of others : Highly metaphoric, at times almost surreal, her poems show a woman alienated from the expected conventions of social life, strongly aware of sexuality and mental unrest where her inner and outer life is at odds. In the above mentioned poem, though Shivdasni apparently mocks at the heart of the volume lurks a similar wage for a paradise or a nirvana, something better than the anxieties, dishonesties, repression, false needs, hypocrisy and basic ugliness of ordinary life.

The woman is still a ̳football‘ who is kicked around, used and abused and when the man ―scores his goals,‖ he leaves her into the drain where it belongs once the game is over. She gets disturbed and angry at the maltreatment meted out to her but is there anything that she can do to alleviate her miserable plight? Another woman poet, who is aware of the discrimination of the genders in the society, is Tejdeep. The alienation and marginalization as the inevitable fate of woman in patriarchy is portrayed by her in her volume of poems entitled Five Feet Six and a Half Inches (1977), abbreviated F. Though subjective and limited in scope, the works of Tejdeep compel the reader to take note of the underlying significant intent of her verse where she is trying to raise her lonely voice not only for herself but for many upcoming Tejdeeps to charter a new territory for themselves. As an Indian English woman poet, Mamta Kalia has left her mark in the field of Indian English Poetry. She got two collections of poems published from Writers Workshop, Calcutta. They are Tribute to Papa and Other Poems [1970] and Poems 1978 (1979). Mamta Kalia defines the phenomenon of the educated urban working women. In a poem entitled Compulsions the poet expresses her desire to defy social norms.

Sujata Bhatt born in India and educated in the United States, now living in Germany has been shaped by cross-cutural experiences as reflected in her three collections : Brunizem (1988) which won the Commonwealth Poetry prize (Asian Section), Monkey Shadows (1991) won a poetry Book Society Recommendation and her third anthology the The Stinking Rose (1997) is the recent book with a selection from the first three books introduced by one new poem. Rajana Ash in The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry describes Sujata‘s poetry as ―the anguish of immigrants when they start lose their first language,‖ and she comments approvingly on the poet‘s attempt to use Gujarati line interspersed with English ones‖, onomatopoeia effect, and because for her certain subjects cannot be described in English.‖ In fact, her bi-lingual poem explores the conflict of the self fragmented between different cultures. One can argue that incomprehensibility thus created is poet‘s deliberate design to draw the reader into her own sense of otherness in order to experience a predicament which allows only a peripheral existence. At the beginning of Search For My Tongue, an eight page poem, the Gujarati sentences are translated quite literally into English. As the poem progresses the Gujarati lines remain flat, prosaic and closed, while the English sentences that flow become longer and richer, spinning off associations and graphically building on them so that they work quite independently of the Gujarati original.

Bhatt seems to be obsessed with the question of language, which she looks at from different points of view at different times.

Bhatt‘s recent work evinces her growing interest in the character sketch and its more evolved form, the dramatic monologue. Her exceptionally wide range of reference enables her to present characters as diverse as a young Indian girl during the partition and an old Spanish woman working in her field. The monologues are more numerous; a swimmer in New England, the snake-catcher; the artist in Dublin; Jane addressing Tarzen; and even Hannibal‘s personal elephant Surus talking to its master. What is generally missing however, is the undercurrent of irony which constitutes the chief strength of Browning‘s dramatic monologues.

In many other places, almost the same urge of exploring the implications of dislocations and tensions of living in an alien land get evident as in the poem The One Who Goes Away from the book The Stinking Rose where she is searching for a place in order to keep her soul from wondering.

Moving between countries and cultures, Bhatt is concerned with the construction of the self and its relationship with memory, history and identity. While honouring the importance of her heritage, she also seems to be striving to discover who she is; she fosters both the values of her birthplace and her Western self- confidence, at the same time she reveals her sense of alienation in the environment of the country of her domicile. The poems, therefore, in general are marked by the twin metaphors of loss and recovery. While the loss is real in terms of spatial and temporal distance from the motherland, the recovery can only be imaginary – or at best aesthetic. It is indeed remarkable that Sujata Bhatt has not only the right idiom at her command but also a native mode to express a new consciousness. Meena Alexander`s A House of a Thousand Doors for instance is an Indian woman living in United States. She often hears voices of the village women she left behind. During her birthing pains in New York these women come in dream to deliver her. In a moment of this primeval pain, all barriers collapse and women come together in mutual sympathy, understanding and concern. Suniti Namjoshi directly addresses the need to legitimize lesbianism and argues that a woman`s love for a woman is both natural and quite ancient She complains that books, stories and society all collude in propagating the myths of compulsory heterosexuality and in all these versions men love women and women love men, and men ride off and have all sorts of adventures while women stay at home. In a number of poems included in her collections Jackass and the Lady and Blue Donkey Fables, Namjoshi celebrates lesbian eroticism.

These and many more recent women poets bring out the conflict of gender through the Indian female psyche in its interaction and correlation with the male psyche. Written in a personal and confessional style, their poetry acts as a social document because they themselves are victims and agents of social change. In the twilight zone in which the creative mind dwells, there is a natural feminine ability to turn inwards, to accept intuition and tenderness as values long with the gentle sensitivity to one‘s natural environment and to the latent communications among human beings which mobilize the feelings and imageries and bring forth the new feminine voices creating new terrains. Female bonding in literature has thus taken a variety of forms. The agenda being common, women need to come together and call into question all the diverse strategies of patriarchy.

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