Spinning and whirling like a top,
bouncing up and down like a ball,
she didn’t know
a woman body lay coiled on her
she must not roam in her undergarments,.
she must not bathe in the open,
she must not have fun with friends.
The raindrops invite her:
come, come, don’t stop, do come!
The breeze whispers: come,
Oh come, but the woman body shakes a forefinger every time,
and she goes a step behind her friends.
Until the grip in her chest tightens,
until the whirlpool in her stomach rages,
she keeps struggling.
With her coiled woman body
rises every month a storm of pain,
the squeezing coils,
the spearheads of taboos,
the flood of blood.
Then a miracle happens,
she suddenly finds her body
a fabulous pearl
She enters the woman body through the mouth
and reaches the belly.
As if in a trance, the body begins to dance
to rhythms unknown,
but trapped within the maze of the bowels,
she slowly digests
the whispered rules:
the body is yours—decorate it for our pleasure!
the body is yours—we’ll use it for our pleasure!
the body is yours—turn it or twist it for our pleasure!
Oh, where is she? And where is her enemy, the woman body?
It is found only when her skin
has been turned into footwear,
her fangs begin to spurt venom,
the tightening coils grip her throat .. .
Dreams, clouds, birds, sky
are but the swing of the imagination;
friends, lovers, and confidants, . . .
The sole truth is the woman body,
those bowels have digested her up:
to realize this truth doesn’t take much time,
but does she get the time to realize it?
Eve, Shraddha, Draupadi, Sita:
their knowledge still wanders
Over their own bodies nobody has any right:
After all, their effort is not self-realization
Here there is no happiness, no divine bliss;
the sacrifice of the body and the salvation are only for those
who have used the body as a tool.
the helplessness of the woman body is different:
she has to decorate herself—for someone else;
she has to toil hard—for someone else;
she has to wake up or sleep—for someone else.
and breeding weeds out of her body,
decorated on the outside, but drying up within,
that woman body has become a mere body.
She has lost herself
within that self-same enemy, the woman body.
the venom from her tooth has become an antidote,
her skin has become footwear,
her flesh has been roasted—
what is left of her?
Has she vanished into nothingness?
Has she attained self-realization?
No—she continues to cry,
she groans with pain.
“Take not my self away from me.
Give me only one life, just for me.
My body and I are one principle:
my body is my identity.
The storms that swell in it,
the pains that swim in it,
all are mine!. . .”
The sky is mute, so is the earth.
even emptiness is empty:,
unechoed lamentations may be taking birth elsewhere.
She searches for herself within herself,
within her body
within the woman body
Translated from Hindi by P. Radhika
Rati Saxena is a popular Hindi poetess whose fame in Kerala rests primarily on her status as a translator of Malayalam masterpieces. Her Hindi translations of the works of Lailithambika Antharjanam, Thakazhi, Karoor, K. Satchidanandan, Ayyappa Paniker and others have been received with much acclaim in north India. She is a recipient of the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award (2000) for her translation of Ayyappa Panikerude Kavithakal (Vol. II). Her translation of Kamala Das’s Nirmaathalam Poothakaalam is under publication.
She has three collections to her credit and has won the State Bank of Travancore Award for her poetic output. Her Ajanmi Kavitha ki Kokh se Janmi Kavitha (2001) was selected by the Rajasthan State Sahitya Akademi for publication. Her poems generally display a casual treatment of unconventional subjects. “Washing Clothes”, “The Question of the Owl”, “The Sea that Dreams”, “The Ignorant Rock”and “The Aesthetics of the Spider” deal with everyday, unpoetic, material. But beneath the layer of seeming light-heartedness and non¬conformity, one finds her profound awareness of the common Indian ethos that runs through the diverse streams of regional cultures.
The poems betray a genuine sympathy for the marginalised people of society, particularly women, and hit hard at the taboos threatening their freedom as well .as identity. The freshness of her perspective and the uniqueness of her vision are evident in her ‘Woman Poetry’, as it lashes out—through the use of satire, symbols and the language of protest — against the traditional, oppressive attitude towards women. Many of them have been translated into English, Malayalam and Punjabi and published in prestigious journals and magazines.
Rati Saxena had her education in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Her Ph.D. is in Sanskrit on the Atharva Veda. She has been living in Kerala for the past 27 years.
“The Coiled Serpent in the Woman-body”, taken from the collection titled Ajanmi Kavitha ki Kokh se Janmi Kavitha, owes its power and pungency largely to the rawness of vocabulary and the interweaving of multiple voices. Rendered into English, the diction of the poem and the sentiments it conveys may not appear particularly revolutionary or even offensive. But these very factors are perhaps what brand Rati Saxena’s poems as iconoclastic and bold in the tradition of Hindi poetry. This poem succinctly presents some of the paradoxes in a woman’s life. Puberty inflicts pain but it also confers beauty on her; her body traumatises her immensely but she is also proud of it. Society thrusts a warped identity on her but also proceeds to use and destroy it.