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Feminist poetry that inspires: From Indian mystics such as Mirabai and Lalla Arifa to contemporary poets like Kishwar Naheed and Meena Kandasamy
Feminism isn’t a new invention of our age. It is a huge, rooted stem with profusely branching shoots. The many shoots have senesced over time and sprouted again to change with the changing times. Though there are many definitions attached to this highly dynamic term, historian and activist Cheris Kramarae crisply nailed it like this: Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.
Women have been actively raising their concerns about oppression dating back to the 14th century in India. Intrepid women like the Sufi poetess Lalla Arifa and the famous Krishna devotee and poet Mirabai didn’t give a hoot to their daunting in-laws even then. They must have realized the power of poetry as an effective form of expression and a means to transcend oneself. Both these women overstepped the conventional norms and went on to become great mystics.
Down the line as English grew popular dissemination of information was possible globally. English poets and others who used this universal language as a medium had much impact on the feminist ideology. For instance I have myself been very moved by the verses of Adrienne Rich, the very inspirational Maya Angelou, the bold and straight forward Kishwar Naheed, post modernist Susan Howe and many more contemporaries.
Maya Angelou’s statement “How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” stands as a testimony to her hard core feminist ideals. Her poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ brims with vibrancy, confidence and sunshine. It has a beautiful lyrical quality and the stunning usage of action words easily infuses the spirit of womanhood to every reader. She says:
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Adrienne Rich has come to be the most popular and loved feminist poet of our time and her demise on March 27th, 2012 was a sad day for all her adorers. Her poem ‘Power’ tells her conviction about the fortitude of women. On one hand while the tale the poem tells is sublime, on the other Adrienne’s profound feminist credo oozes out for readers to partake.
Living in the earth deposits of our history
Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test tube or pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
-Adrienne Rich, 1974
Another poem of hers, the very popular ‘Planetarium’ is full of energy, science, fun and most importantly “woman”.
‘I am not that woman’ by Kishwar Naheed, is a very brawny poem condemning the chauvinism she saw around her and the inappropriate representation of women in media. She powerfully claims her womanhood distinguishing herself from the chintzy women portrayed in posters and advertisements. The poem is an assertion of sorts where the poet lays her claim of not being the woman who sells shoes and. In the end she is confident that things are about to change and says:
I am the commodity you traded in,
My chastity, my motherhood, my loyalty.
Now it is time for me to flower free.
The woman on that poster, half-naked, selling socks and shoes-
No, no, I am not that woman!
Some other remarkable poems under the feminist arch include: ‘Spelling’ by Margaret Atwood which underlines the theme of women empowerment through the written word, The woman hanging from the thirteenth floor window written by Joy Harjo who is a poet and musician of acclaim. It is a gripping poem about a dejected woman who is at the end of it all and grapples with thoughts from the past about her life as a woman.
But in the Indian context the first contemporary poet whose words strike a deep chord in me is Meena Kandasamy’s. Her poems are hard-hitting and heartfelt as well. The poem Mascara for instance, is sure to keep you dazed for hours. There’s power, truth and feeling.
Poetry is vast and fulfilling. Fortunately we have had great words of wisdom embellish, popularise and impact the feeling of feminism. “At certain times, men regard poetry merely as a bright flame, but to women it was, and always will be, a warm fire” said Franz Grillparzer, the great Austrian drama writer. And I say let that warm fire burn and kindle the pot brewing with the yet silent voices of thousands of women subjugated to drudgery and injustice.
Aishwarya Rajamani is an undergraduate student by day and a writer otherwise. She reads passionately and dreams like an utopian idealist. And she wishes for a world where women can walk free in the true read more...
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I huffed, puffed and panted up the hill, taking many rest breaks along the way. My calf muscles pained, my heart protested, and my breathing became heavy at one stage.
“Let’s turn back,” my husband remarked. We stood at the foot of Shravanbelagola – one of the most revered Jain pilgrimage centres. “We will not climb the hill,” he continued.
My husband and I were vacationing in Karnataka. It was the month of May, and even at the early hour of 8 am in the morning, the sun scorched our backs. After visiting Bangalore and Mysore, we had made a planned stop at this holy site in the Southern part of the state en route to Hosur. Even while planning our vacation, my husband was very excited at the prospect of visiting this place and the 18 m high statue of Lord Gometeshwara, considered one of the world’s tallest free-standing monolithic statues.
What we hadn’t bargained for was there would be 1001 granite steps that needed to be climbed to have a close-up view of this colossal magic three thousand feet above sea level on a hilltop. It would be an understatement to term it as an arduous climb.
Why is the Social Media trend of young mothers of boys captioning their parenting video “Dear future Daughter-in-Law, you are welcome” deeply problematic and disturbing to me as a young mother of a girl?
I have recently come across a trend on social media started by young mothers of boys who share videos where they teach their sons to be sensitive and understanding and also make them actively participate in household chores.
However, the problematic part of this trend is that such reels or videos are almost always captioned, “To my future daughter-in-law, you are welcome.” I know your intentions are positive, but I would like to point out how you are failing the very purpose you wanted to accomplish by captioning the videos like this.
I know you are hurt—perhaps by a domestic household that lacks empathy, by a partner who either is emotionally unavailable, is a man-child adding to your burden of parenting instead of sharing it, or who is simply backed by overprotective and abusive in-laws who do not understand the tiring journey of a working woman left without any rest as doing the household chores timely is her responsibility only.
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