Monday, March 08, 2010

Women's Day: Little Poetry, Little Pondering

It's Women's Day today. Women colleagues at the office were cajoled to treat us with some dhokla and gulab jamuns. But there must be more to this day of the feminine. Wife is away, so the second-best thing is to celebrate it with poetry. Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Women" is a hit with most women. I am immediately drawn to few poems of my own liking. I think of Nissim Ezekiel's "Poet, Lover and Birdwatcher" in which the "woman slowly turns around" as "myths of light/With darkness at core" or twists frantically in pain as the mother in the "Night of the Scorpion", who is grateful even after having been bitten by the scorpion when she says "Thank God the scorpion picked on me/And spared my children". The sensuousness of the former, in particular, has transfixed me every time I read it. This to me is one of the ultimate "woman" poems, besides some Neruda.

But then, also follow lines from Jayanta Mahapatra's "The Lost Children of America" (the text once available online is now only found in fragments), in which the poet makes a reference to a horrific event:
In the Hanuman Temple last night
the priest’s pomaded jean-clad son
raped the squint-eyed fourteen-year fisher girl
on the cracked stone platform behind the shrine
and this morning
her father found her at the police station
assaulted over and over again by four policemen
dripping of darkness and of scarlet death.
Oh! I wanted to concentrate on the positives. But tragedy is quite inextricably woven in the acts of reflection on contemporary times. How I wanted to identify with Ezekiel the aesthete but am not able to shake off the crude reality of violence that's so much a part of men's psyche. Wait! Why only men's psyche? Sujata Bhatt interrogates the revered figure of mother in "Voice of the Unwanted Girl". Extracts from the poem follow:
Mother, I am the one
you sent away
when the doctor told you
I would be
a girl – In the end they had to
give me an injection to kill me.
Before I died I heard
the traffic rushing outside, the monsoon
slush, the wind sulking through
your beloved Mumbai –
I could have clutched the neon blue one wanted –

No one wanted
to touch me – except later in the autopsy room
when they knew my mouth would not search
for anything – and my head could be measured
and bent and cut apart.
I looked like a sliced pomegranate.
The fruit you never touched.
Mother, I am the one you sent away
when the doctor told you
I would be a girl – your second girl.
These are the first two paragraphs; the actual poem is slightly longer. It is from Sujata Bhatt's anthology My Mother's Way of Wearing a Sari (New Delhi: Penguin, 2000).

As I had a baby, a son, recently I can in a strange way relate with this poem. The instinctive actions and reactions of a child (my mouth would not search for anything) are so vivid in my mind that it breaks my heart to read this poem. I am also aware of unspoken yet tremendous pressure created by family, society and part of our inner selves to bring forth a son, that I think I will always feel tender for a girl child.


Shaheen Chander said...

The post is a good blend of positives n negatives affecting a woman's life.The poems also are perfect for the day n bringforth several aspects of womanhood.. Really enjoyed reading every bit of it! It was fun celebrating our 'special day' with all the colleagues:)

Naini said...

Today's woman still stands where she used to stand. Vulnerable and exposed to the predators which range from the family to the next man on the street. The men on the roads make it difficult for women to venture out. They veil women so as to control their own libido. And I have realised lately that fact men will always be men. Their outlook towards women will never be one of equality, no matter their qualification.
And the falling sex ratio indicates the the country needs women. And why, because it causes an imbalance in society. Plus, women are needed for procreation. Don't women contribute more than this to the society.
As a woman, all I would like from my male counterparts is to stop looking at women as a woman. Look at her as a human being who has more to than her gender.