Abstract: Indian women had been writing poetry in Prakrit, Pali, Sanskrit and the regional languages long before the problematics of nation-states, nationality, postcoloniality, feminism or naribad, nativism or desivad, power structures and the politics of identity and difference had claimed attention. From a Vedic hymn attributed to one Apala to the Buddhist Therighata of the Sixth century B.C., often regarded as the world’s oldest surviving collection of poems by Buddhist nuns, as well as the poems by the bhakti women poets, the poetry of women expressed overtly or covertly the powerlessness of women and their exploitation as subjects in a patriarchal society. After centuries of darkness, formal education for women in India became a reality in the nineteenth century.
Keywords: Indian women poets, postcolonial cultural disparity, creative expression, Sakritisation, Westernisation, media of expression, mother tongue, Anglo/Indo-Anglian writing, women’s poetry
Indian women have been writing poetry in Prakrit,Pali and Sanskrit and the regional languages long before the problematics of nation-states, nationality, postcoloniality, feminism or naribad, nativism or desivad, power structures and the politics of identity and difference had claimed attention. From a Vedic hymn attributed to one Apala, to the Buddhist Therighata of the sixth century B.C., often regarded as the world’s oldest surviving collection of poems by Buddhist nuns, as well as the poems by the bhakti women poets, the poetry of women expressed overtly or covertly the powerlessness of women and their exploitation as subjects in a patriarchal society. Many of them, as the talented Avantisundari, the wife of Rajshekhar, a ninth century poet, were forbidden to use Sanskrit, as the language was generally regarded as exclusive to male Brahmins. After centuries of darkness riven by plunder, rapine and frequent inter and intra civil strife between kings, tribes, factions and alien marauders, formal education for women in India became a reality in the nineteenth century.
Macaulay’s historically significant Minute On Education announced that it was possible to make the natives of India “good English scholars” and soon afterwards the British government passed the resolution in India, on March 7, 1835 that “the great object of the British government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science among the natives of India, and all funds appropriated for the purpose of education would be best employed on English education alone”. Macaulay, however, revealed his supreme ignorance of the culture of the people to the East of the Suez when he made that notorious statement of arrogance- “ a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole literature of India and Arabia”. In the fiftieth year of India’s Independence, Salman Rushdie asserted quite categorically, that Indian writing in English (read prose) is proving to be a stronger and a more important body of work, than most of what has been produced in the eighteen recognised languages in India, the so-called ‘vernacular’ languages, during the same time. Harish Trivedi stated in the ICLALS newsletter that the sheer audacity of the statement took one’s breath away. Despite his Eurocentric responses to India, Karl Marx had remarked with insight that the English were causing a “social revolution in India” by becoming “ the unconscious tool of history”. The urban affluent class and the urban middle class became proud Anglophiles and enthusiastically appropriated the coloniser’s culture, which Fanon has diagnosed as a common tendency among the colonised- “The native intellectual will try to make European culture his own. He will not be content to get to know Rabelais and Diderot, Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe; he will bind them to his intelligence as close as possible”.(Fanon:1970 p.176).
The first Indian woman poet Toru Dutt, knew Sanskrit, English and French and her English verses made Sir Edmund Thompson compare her to Sappho and Emily Bronte. After her untimely demise The Saturday Review opined, “There is every reason to believe that in intellectual power Toru Dutt was one of the most remarkable women that ever lived. Had George Sand or George Eliot died at the age of 21, they would certainly not have left behind them any proof of application or originality superior to those bequeathed to us by Toru Dutt”.(Sinha p.123).
In India as elsewhere, colonial culture and literature, customarily exuded the hegemonic norms, values and practices of the coloniser’s culture and admirable adaptations, mimicry, imitations and ventriloquising the coloniser’s voice were common features of the writings of the colonised. Gordon Bottomley had described Indian poetry in English as being curiously gender and garment specific, “Matthew Arnold in a saree”–Arnold as transvestite provokes the imagination but why not a dhoti Gordon Bottomley?– while the Indian poet, critic, V.K. Gokak, stated that such poetry could more appropriately be described as “Shakuntala in skirts”. (Kulshresthe 1980 p.27).M. K. Naik becomes extremely excited about possible sartorial preferences by British writers and suggests- “ or a Shelley in a salwar, or a Byron in a burkha or a Lawrence in a lungi, or a Joyce in jodhpurs or a Babu Beckett”.(Naik 1995 p.290).
It is, therefore, doubly remarkable that young Toru Dutt is able to transcend the hegemonic culture of the coloniser quite instinctively in her sonnet “Lotus”, which heralds the beginning of cultural fusion without surrendering indigenous identity. So, “Love” is personified, the Western classical literary tradition is invoked through the poet’s familiarity with the allusiveness integral to such referents as Flora, Juno, Psyche, as well as the conventional nuances that references to such traditional images as the rose, the lily, and the bard who sings their praise invoke. Also, remarkable, is Toru’s qualifying the bards as versifiers of power, thereby deviating significantly from Keats’celebrated romantic encomium to the bards of passion and mirth. The young poet’s ability to discern the power of poetic language, is indeed commendable. It is language that conveys and decodifies the inherent message of sense impressions and Toru was aware of the poet’s responsibility as the addresser of power. The cultural fusion is effected through harmonious assimilation of the Occidental red rose and white lily, the innate chemistry that empowers the lotus, the national flower of India. Toru answers Kipling’s oracular dictum that the East and West are irreconcilable, through the innovative projection of an apparently simple icon.Toru adroitly employs and fuses Western icons of mythic power to emphasise the superiority of the national icon. In this respect, the “Lotus” can be assessed as a profoundly political poem
Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honour. Bards of power
Had sung their claims.” the rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien”-
“ But is the lily lovelier?” Thus between;
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche’s bower.
“Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride”-
“ But of what colour?”- “Rose-red”, Love
Then prayed,-” No, lily-white,-or, both provide;”
And Flora gave the lotus,” rose-red “dyed,
And “lily-white”-the queenliest flower that blows.
Can this poem be cited as the trail-blazer of cultural decolonisation, a subtle but confident rejection of cultural hegemony of the West that seemed to appropriate the colonised urban Anglicised intellectuals’ psychic terrain?( Indian Literature pgs 208-209)
The other woman poet, who wrote inspired and impressive Romantic poetry, which skillfully appropriated the popular nineteenth century English lyric form, despite sometimes its excesses of rhythmic jingle was Sarojini Naidu(1879-1949).Edmund Gosse’s advice to her outlines the culture specific expectations of foreign readers from Indo Anglian poetry- “ I implored her to consider that from an Indian of extreme sensibility, who had mastered not merely the language but the prosody of the West, what we wished to receive was not a rechauffe of Anglo-Saxon sentiment in an Anglo-Saxon setting, but some revelation of the heart of India, some sincere penetrating analysis of native passion, of principles of antique religion and of such mysterious intimations as stirred the soul of the East long before the West had begun to dream that it had a soul.”(Sinha p.141) Of the many poems that Sarojini wrote, The Pardah Nashin is a short gender specific poem in three stanzas.It interrogates the suffocating constrictions of the segregated space of the antapur and the veiling of women. The ghunghat, burkha and chaddar are all gender specific garments specifically designed to provide anonymity to the female body, and even in the twenty first century, Hindu as well as Muslim women belonging to the disadvantaged classes are entrapped in clothes that mask their identity. So Sarojini reports:
|Her life is a revolving dream
Of languid and sequestered ease
…But though no hand unsanctioned dares
Unveil the mysteries of her grace,
Time lifts the curtain unawares,
And Sorrow looks into her face…
Who shall prevent the subtle years, Or shield a woman’s eyes
from tears? (Gokak p.149-150)
The referents in the first stanza – life, revolving, languid, sequestered ease promise the assurance of security and happiness, but the concluding third stanza debunks the myth and underscores the dis-ease as the signifiers time, sorrow and tears overwhelm that no pardah can shield. Sarojini used evasive strategies of indirection as she raised the issues of gender and marginalisation, but she left it to a much younger postcolonial poet Imtiaz Dharker(born 1954) also educated in Britain to powerfully interrogate, explore and expose the gender specific strait jacket, the politics of textile or women’s clothing in her first book of poems Purdah. Imtiaz writes in Purdah
|One day they said
she was old enough to learn some shame
She found it came quite naturally.
Purdah is a kind of safety.
The body finds a place to hide.
The cloth fans out against the skin
much like the earth that falls
on coffins after they put the dead men in.
(De Souza p.50)
By juxtaposing the referents in an ironic combination as purdah, safety, hide, coffins and dead men Imtiaz privileges her agenda of de-mythification and demystification of women in purdah. In her poem, “An Introduction”, Kamala Das exposes the social and cultural construction of femininity-
|…Dress in sarees, be girl,
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorisers.
( Gokak 1995 p.273)
The post-Independence Indian woman poet writing in English is in a double bind, firstly she experiences the marginality of gender, the inevitable biological construct, and the associated cultural construct, and secondly her choice of the English language for creative expression, doubly marginalises her. The critic, M.K. Naik announces the agenda of post independence Indo Anglian poetry and deplores the aping of British poetry- “One expects the Indian poet in English not to repeat parrot-like, with greater or less efficiency, what his master of the day has been saying; we have had enough of Indian Miltons and Indian Shelleys and Indian Eliots- what we really need is the “Indian” Indian poet in English.(Kulshresthe 1980 p.36). The post-independence Indo-Anglian poets experienced a most debilitating embarrassment for using the language of the Other, that was alien to indigenous culture. English was accepted as the link language for communication, higher education and technical knowledge. But English, as the medium of expression for creative writing, invited censure and such poets felt not only marginalised, but ostracised. So, S.K. Desai observed,” Marginality affects the Indian writing in English in a significant way, even with regard to where he should stay. He chooses to do one of the following: either he goes to England or America and be an exile there or stay here in India and be an exile here.”[ Indian Journal of English Studies xxvi].
Oppressed by a guilty conscience, the Indian poets, both male and female writing in English shared a sense of identity-crisis and as a result their integrity was flawed by lack of confidence, uncertainty and indecision. Their distress and desperation, are registered in their poems which clearly signal their uneasiness and their simultaneous inability to use the mother tongue for the purpose of writing poetry. Tension, anxiety and schizophrenia are some of the recurrent problems of such poetry and the insecurity as well as the agony of the poet are expressed in such lines as
|He had spent his youth whoring
after English gods
There is something to be said for exile:
you learn roots are deep.
That language is a tree loses colour
under another sky.
Both male and female poets share this guilt syndrome in opting for English as a medium for their creative expression. The extract from R. Parthasarathy’s poem Rough Passage written over a period of fifteen years between 1961 and 1975, grew out of lived experience and moral dilemma. The long poem is divided into three sections, “Exile” “Trial” and “Homecoming” and the quoted extract is from “Exile”. Parthasarathy further reiterated his schizophrenic distress, as he lamented:
|My tongue in English chains,
I return, after a generation, to you.
I am at the end
of my dravidic tether,
hunger for you unassuaged.
I falter, stumble.
( Parthasarathy 1994 p.80 )
In “An Introduction,” however, the woman poet Kamala Das, seems more self confident as she engages in a debate with the accusing Other, arguing that her medium of expression is a sincere and natural choice, and does not in any way interfere with her Indianness or nativism-
|I am Indian, very brown, born in
Malabar,I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one
… Don’t write in English, they said,
English is not your mother -tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half
Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,…
(Gokak 1995 p.273)
In an interesting essay on multiculturalism, G. N. Devy, identifies a triple decker structure of cultural narratives emanating from indigenous inspiration and cross-cultural fertilisation. Locating relationships between the categories, Sanskritisation and westernisation generates an impression of a dynamic bicultural intellectual environment. The three co-ordinates that Devy locates are (1) the marga traditions –of Sanskrit, scriptural, and brahminic origin –(2) the alien or videsi traditions –gradually nativised, but of Arabic, Persian or English origin–,and (3) the desi tradition –of local, indigenous regional-language origin. – A serious cultural split is often the result of the Indian English writer’s endeavour to translate and fuse the marga and desi traditions into English or the videsi linguistic patterns. Devy further locates four distinct styles in Indian English writing that emanate as a result of the multicultural context
|(1)Style in which internationalism and nationalism meet and collaborate, where the alien cultural features work together with the marga cultural features.
(2)Style in which nationalism or the marga cultural features merge with the local or the desi cultural features
(4)Style in which the national and the regional , the marga and the desi cultural features are at cross purposes.
(Devy p.17 ).
Despite, Devy’s pioneering efforts, at erecting a scaffolding of structured theoretical principles for Indian writing in English, simple determinants as the above ignore the multifarious problematisation that such texts incorporate. From an initial space of cultural confusion to a space of existential fusion and acculturation and more commonly hybridism, are some common routes that Indo-Anglian literature pursued, as the hyphenated term “IndoAnglian” highlights. The main problem with the use of the English language in creative writing, is that it is not the language of any regional space, and therefore lacks a following and tradition at the grassroots level where it remains as alien as when it was introduced as a formal discipline of study in the nineteenth century. Rather than acculturation, therefore hybridism or the blending of different cultural influences seems to be a natural consequence of such cultural conditioning. Generally the descendants of settlers, the nativised Indians and the affluent sections of the natives themselves who have studied English as their first language feel the urge to express themselves in English, rather than their mother tongues. “Is it possible to feel in English?” is a common query that the Indo-Anglian poet invariably faces from even discerning writers and critics who use their mother tongues as their medium of expression.
Bruce King responds to this question by stating,“ English is no longer the language of colonial rulers; it is a language of modern India in which words and expressions have recognised national rather than imported significances and references, attending to local realities, traditions and ways of feeling.” ( King p.45) However, the problem seems to emerge from the fact that the English language continues to occupy a distinct position of privilege and power as it is the language commonly used by metropolitan intellectuals, English medium school educated members of the urban bourgeois and petty bourgeois class.In the process , privileging of the language despite decolonisation, leads to the language remaining alien and elitist.In India, English is still the language of a minority group,it is economic class specific in application especially in the areas of creative writing and non-technical intellectual discourse.
Aijaz Ahmad, however argues that English has survived in India because it has undergone a process of steady Indianisation , a characteristic of Indian civilisational ethos that transforms the intruder into a native- “ English is simply one of India’s own languages now, and what is at issue at present is not the possibility of its ejection but the mode of its assimilation into our social fabric, and the manner in which this language, like any substantial structure of linguistic difference, is used in the processes of class formation and social privilege, here and now.”[Ahmad:1994 pg.77].Nevertheless advocates of nativism or desivad spearheaded by Ganesh Devy argue that English as a medium of creative expression is not viable or authentic, being a curious maladjusted synthetic synthesis of Sanskritisation and Westernisation. They suggest that the colonial legacy, English language, can be put to effective use as the target language in translating regional texts.
So, the elements of guilt, hesitation, uncertainty and alienation linger in the psyche of Indian poets writing in English, and therefore the problem of the choice of language medium for Indo Anglian writers is common to both men and women. Ketaki Kushari Dyson who is a widely known bilingual poet writes in her English poem, “Dialogues” about her sense of uneasiness in using English in creative writing to express herself
|A dialogue in English
can be difficult for me.
Like talking to a flighty friend
while trying to clear a rain forest.
I cut down a tree
He is hiding behind another
I’m afraid I might axe
In the concluding section of the poem, Ketaki, expresses her sense of ease as she writes in her mother tongue-
|A dialogue in Bengali
is arrival in that space won from the jungle.
Hut is thatched, pumpkin planted,
cow tethered, milk frothy in bowl.
Child plays in beaten-earth yard,
naked, without nappies.
Beyond, sun shines
on ridge-divided rice-fields.
We rest for a while in a charmed circle.
But if in these lines I have made some meanings clear
I shall have overcome, I shall have overcome.
(Dyson: 1983 p.70).
Interestingly, again, it will be noticed that Indian women poets who write in English have either received their education in first world countries or have worked for a considerable period in the metropolitan centre or are expatriates or if residing in India have mostly studied English as their first language. They belong to an exclusive minority group, alienated from the desi mainstream. Among them Kamala Das, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Mamata Kalia and Sujata Bhatt are bilingual poets writing in their mother tongues as well as English. Ironically, however, sometimes it seems that the poet is more at ease writing in English than in her mother tongue.
Dr. Shefali Balsari-Shah critically analyses Sujata Bhatt’s bi-lingual poem significantly titled “Search for my tongue”. It is an eight page poem using Gujrati, extensively followed by Romanised script and the translation of the same in English. Dr. Balsari-Shah’s comments on Sujata Bhatt’s poem highlight the peculiar problem of an Indian poet writing in English:
|“Sujata Bhatt’s experiments in bi-lingual poetry explore the
conflict of the self divided between different cultures. While some
of the poems which make extensive use of Gujrati are elaborately
wrought and can occasionally seduce the bi-lingual reader into
easy, instant empathy, they don’t necessarily work as good poetry.
At the most obvious level the Gujrati sections serve to shut out, rather than include the general reader for whom presumably the poems are written. One could of course argue that the incomprehensibility is a deliberate part of the poet’s design to draw the reader into her own sense of otherness in order to experience a predicament which allows only a fragmented or peripheral existence.
The mother–tongue foreign language controversy has several aspects which are open to debate. One rather facile assumption is that the Indian self can be truly defined only in purely Indian terms whether of ethos, myth or language; all genuine feeling can only be in the mother- tongue. But Sujata Bhatt’s poetry works against this ideology. Her Gujrati is plodding, unremarkable, or simply banal, nowhere conveying the ineffable quality that eludes translation, while her poetic voice in English can be sensitive, vivid and evocative.”(D’Souza p.71 ) Eunice D’Souza makes similar comments about the Hindi poems of Mamata Kalia, and states that her poems in English are more compact and organised.
Another significant aspect, apart from the language issue in Indian women’s poetry in English, is the extremely personal confessional mode in which these post-independence women poets write. Their arena of representation is restricted to their microcosms of personal experience, and the macrocosm of public issues and the world of ideas occupy them only as a part of indirect experience. In this respect, they might seem rather elitist and exclusivist, obviously alienated from the local culture, the poetry being affluent English-speaking-Indian class specific. Interestingly, though, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, Imtiaz Dharker, Meena Alexander and Gauri Deshpande prioritise woman’s independence, poets such as Kamala Das, Mamta Kalia, Tara Patel among others merely record their bitterness as the second sex, in a patriarchal society and crave harmonious interdependent androgynous relationships. Such poetry, is often monologic due to intense pre-occupation with the self. They speak of their marginalisation, oppression, and exploitation, but do not have any concerted agenda for consciousness raising and demanding of equal rights, rather they seem to weakly implore understanding and compatible heterosexual relations.
It is, indeed, in this respect that Indian women poets writing in English differ from their Indian sisters writing in the regional languages. In Indo Anglian women’s poetry rarely does a poet interrogate the humiliation of Sita in the Ramayana as Ketaki does in her Bangla poetry, no poet demands an explanation from Marx and Freud about gender inequality, unpaid domestic labour, and marginalisation, as Mallika Sengupta does. There is rarely any evidence of privileging of a political agenda, interrogating the marginalisation of women in Indo Anglian women’s poetry, as we find in many overtly feminist Bengali poems written by women. In Freudke Khola Chiti –Open Letter to Freud– written in Bangla, Mallika interrogates patriarchal complacency with scathing sarcasm and self confidence-
|This is primal man’s sexual politics
Freud, because you belong to the extra limb group
You assume women are inferior and hence envious.
During my childhood I felt no penis envy
My self assurance was total
Even today I am a confident, complete woman
A sensitive dark girl of the Third World
Shall stand against you from today
Who is inferior who superior which is more or which less
Who has given you the responsibility of solving
Such a diplomatic debate Mr. Freud?
Interestingly, like Mallika, who writes in Bangla, the Pakistani woman poet, Kishwar Naheed, who writes in Urdu, has been accused of obscenity and inflammatory feminist writing. In a poem titled, “We Sinful Women,” Kishwar Naheed writes
|.It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns
who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.
It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvest of our bodies
become exalted become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.
It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find the tongues which could speak have been severed….
(Mongia 1997 p. 345).
For Indo Anglian women poets the personal is the political and their poems are overtly monologic, but there are exceptions too. In an ardent voice, but not without irony, and a sense of outrage, Ketaki implores, in her poem in English titled “After Reading Nawal El Saadawi’s book The Hidden Face of Eve”-
|Peeling Egyptian potatoes in my kitchen,
I reflect that the
women who helped to grow them
had probably had their clitorises cut off.
In such a world, where we
come to each other so maimed
fractions, not integers, less than our whole selves.
What can our laughter,
our articulate loves,
art, science or
separate lusts achieve?
Clitorises? Tongues? Hair?
Noses? Uteri? Breasts?
The centuries. And all of us connivers.
Words. Silences. Structures we uphold;
those ornate arches
we so love to laud.
I implore you,
all who read my lines,
if you have mothers,
sisters, wives, or daughters,
who have been forced to pay
in the high-inflated currency of pain
for being born women.
And should a woman
dare to speak out loud
about how she has been
mauled by love or hate,
suffer her to speak.
Do not shut her up.
(Dyson 1983 p. 75-76)
Also, in a powerful poem, that interrogates Hindu marital rituals and relationships, Charmayne D’Souza uses irony with disturbing effect-
|I have marked this woman out
We will be tied together
by the scarlet sari
of her blood.
Seven times around
the fire of my shots.
What I have done
for all my unborn sons.
will be a bullet
to her breast,
a hempen rope
around my neck
and a swift sharp
(Charmayne D’Souza p. 4)
In general, contemporary Indian women poets, writing in English apart from Ketaki and more recently Imtiaz Dharker rarely address public issues. Probably, they share the diffidence that Arundhati Roy’s Rahel, a sensitive symbol of Yuppie culture does, in The God of Small Things- “That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance. Then Small God (cosy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterised, laughing humbly at his own temerity. Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent. Nothing mattered much. Nothing much mattered. And the less it mattered, the less it mattered. It was never important enough. Because Worse Things had happened. In the country that she came from poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace, Worse Things kept happening.”( Italics mine- Roy 1997 p.19).
Expectedly, therefore, we find Charmayne D’Souza, whose first book of poems, A Spelling Guide to Woman includes such titles as “I Would Like to Have a Movie Cowboy for a Husband,” comments about her neutral culture as represented in her poetry: “The poet must write as if he had no brother nor sister, no cousin, aunt, uncle nor constitution. I’m tempted to say no country, but then I have always been accused of writing as if I did not have one. It’s not that I have a sense of rootlessness and alienation, but I think I write about vivid inner experiences rather than of localised spaces. Maybe I will change as I become far-sighted with age.”( D’Souza p.82). Quite inadvertently, Charmayne raises the formidable issue of the presence or absence of local, global and national issues in a poetic text. She, however, steers clear of such problematisations by stating that with age she might change and become “farsighted” but experience tells us that even inner experiences discourage near sightedness.
Boehmer perhaps sums up the presence of such neutrality and cross cultural elements with insight “… a crucial feature of postcolonial women’s writing is its mosaic or composite quality: the intermingling of forms derived from indigenous, nationalist, and European literary traditions. Coming from very different cultural contexts themselves, writers emphasise the need for a lively heterogeneity of styles and speaking positions in their work.”( Boehmer 1995 p.227). Also Boehmer forecasts, “ In the 1990s the generic postcolonial writer is more likely to be a cultural traveller, or an “extra-territorial”, than a national. Ex-colonial by birth, ‘THIRD World’ in cultural interest, cosmopolitan in almost every other way, he or she works within the precincts of the Western metropolis while at the same time retaining and/or political connections with a national background.”(Boehmer 1995 p.233).
Indian women poets writing in English use intensely personal, subjective and confessional modes of creative expression and their rage, protest and dissatisfaction, are therefore sometimes uncomfortably, candid and sincere. The poems mostly lack aesthetic distancing, effected through skilful ironic and parodic strategies, that generate a willing suspension of disbelief. Whether a dialogic free for all, is superior to a monologic representation is a matter of individual response to any text.Nevertheless, the post independence Indo Anglian women poets speak with their own authentic voices of power and have proved that their voices are not merely an echo of British and American poetry“ unafraid, motivated, clear-sighted… they use English with a sense of ease. Their language, style, rhythms and forms are inventive, original and contemporary.”( De Souza 1997 p.6).I shall conclude with references to two poems that illustrate the double bind in which Indo Anglian women poets write– the politics of gender and the politics of language for creative expression. So Sujata Bhatt queries and dismisses the politics of using the alien or videsi language as being imported, a consumable commodity with no links with the native soil in, “A Different History”
has not been the oppressor’s tongue?
truly meant to murder someone?
And how does it happen
that after the torture,
after the soul has been cropped
with a long scythe swooping out
of the conqueror’s face-
the unborn children
grow to love that strange language.
(D’Souza 1997 p.76)
On the other hand, Tara Patel in her poem, “Woman”, expresses her sense of exploitation at being born a woman and pathetically confesses her intense yearning for love, care and understanding, as she is traumatised by the phallocratic establishment’s indifference and utter callousness. Her peculiarly powerful poem engages a dual, sadist- masochist approach, of torture and self flagellation and an escape that merely intensifies the longing to be healed and cared for. Her poem, as most Indo Anglian women’s poetry, does not outline any feminist agenda but claims and compels attention as woman in search for identity, recognition and a space of her own obliterating the barbed margins
|.A woman’s life is a reaction
to a crack of a whip.
She learns to dodge it as it whistles
but sometimes it lands on the thick,
distorted welt of her memory,
reminding her of lessons learned
in the past.
Then in rebellion she turned her face
to the whip,
till pain became a river in flood
She ran away to live as an escaped convict,
or a refugee,
or a yogi in the wilderness of civilisation.
Beneath the thick, distorted welt of her memory,
Anyone could have touched baby-smooth skin
(D’Souza 1997 p.90)
Indian women poets writing in English express, interrogate and deconstruct the double bind with power and understanding, though often a need for traversing a wider trajectory of the cultural diversity arises along with the ideological positionality of the subject’s voice of power, both features more readily represented in the poetry of Indian women writing poetry in the regional languages.
1. See Tharu and Lalita, Women Writing In India vol 1& II, OUP, India 1993. This is an excellent pioneering endeavour that anthologises quite comprehensively representations of Indian women’s writing from the 6th century B.C. onwards.
2. Some relevant paragraphs from my essay “ Post Independence Indian English Poetry” published in Indian Literature vol. 187, 1998 has been included after due revision. The essay was intially presented as a paper at the Oxford Conference on Teaching Poetry held at Corpus Christie College, Oxford in 1997.
3. The seriousness and the magnitude of this problematic issue can be gauged from the Sunday Express, 23 January,1994 news item titled “Thumb imprint will do for burqa-clad;EC” records that certain sections may be averse to getting themselves photographed so the Election Commission has decided to “show relaxation in the case of burqa-clad women…In a recent order the Commission said”: In any area where- due to sentimental and other reasons- electors are averse to being photographed, the thumb impression may be affixed to the card instead of the photograph. A similar exception may be made in the case of pardanashin women.”
4. See my translations of Mallika Sengupta’s poetry in KAVYA BHARATI 12. SCILET Madurai, India as well as my interview with Mallika in the same issue. My translations of Mallika’s poetry can also be read in Indian Literature vol 184, 1997 and Exchanges, No 10, 1998 Iowa University journal.
Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory. India: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Boehmer, Elleke’ Colonial and Postcolonial Literature. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Dasgupta, Sanjukta. Indian Literature. India: Sahitya Akademi, vol 187 Sept-Oct 1998 Devy, G. N. In Another Tongue. India: Macmillan, 1995.
De Souza Eunice. Nine Indian Women Poets, India: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Dyson, Ketaki Kushari. Spaces I Inhabit, India: Navana 1983.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched Of The Earth, United Kingdom: Penguin, 1970.
Gokak, V.K.. The Golden Treasury Of Indo Anglian Poetry, India: Sahitya Akademi 1995.
King, Bruce. Three Indian Poets. India: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Kaul, H. K. Poetry India. India: Virgo Publications, 1993.
Kulshrestha, Chirantan. Contemporary Indian English VerseAnEvaluation. India: Arnold, Heinemann, 1980.
Mongia Padmini. Contemporary Postcolonial Theory Oxford University Press, 1997, 1997.
Naik, M. K. A History Of Indian English Literature India: Sahitya Akademi, 1995.
Roy, Arundhuti. The God Of Small Things, India: India Ink, 1997.
Rushdie, Salman ed. The Vintage Book Of Indian Writing, United Kingdom: Vintage, 1997.
Sharma, T. R. Essays on Nissim Ezekiel, India: Shahab Bahashan, 1995.
Sinha, R. P. N. Indo Anglian Poetry. India: Reliance Publishing House, 1987.
SANJUKTA DASGUPTA. Head, Department of English, Calcutta University. She is a poet, critic and translator. Her published books are The Novels of Huxley and Hemingway : A Study in Two Planes of Reality and Snapshots. Participated in the Oxford Conference on Teaching Poetry held at Corpus Christie College, Oxford in 1997. She received the British Council Scholar grant and the FulbrightPostdoctoral research fellowship. Member of many councils and associations including the Women’s Studies Research Center, Calcutta University. Associate Editor of The Journal of Women’s Studies, Calcutta University.