As Women, We Most Apologise For Our Appearance: Zero Apologies

Posted: January 30, 2016

‘Zero apologies’ was a poetic evening organised by Prajnya, an NGO based out of Chennai. It had 6 contemporary women poets reading their individual work.

What would life look like, if we stopped apologising for how we look?

What would our words sound like, if we stopped apologising for what we thought?

Prajnya, a non-profit based out of Chennai, recently held a Poetry Reading along the same lines. With the apt and daring theme of ‘Zero Apologies’, the event initiated several important conversations and was successful in questioning and commenting on social conditions, in a manner that could only be described as beautiful.

“It can be difficult to talk about important, but highly controversial topics in a public forum,” says Ragamalika Karthikeyan, one of the volunteers behind the event. “Poetry has the power to transcend that.” Of the six hand-picked poets in the panel, three delivered their work in Tamil, the vernacular language, and further brought out the transcending quality of poetry – for none of the messages were lost in translation.

The first to read was Kutti Revathi, an established Tamil poet, who also has the credit of founding Panikkudam, the first Tamil feminist publication. Known for her subversive efforts to evolve the language, she embraced the theme fearlessly, and her poem for Rohit Vemula stunned the room into silence.

Srilata K, an English poet and professor of English at IIT Madras, bashfully confessed that she was rather apologetic herself. “Guilt is an emotion you carry,” she explained, and focused her poetry on subtly bringing out the importance of knowing what to apologise for, and what not to; such as in ‘Brown’, which featured the girl to ‘fold’ her skin: skin that was the glorious color of the Earth, skin that was determining the making of a marriage.

This notion was further supported by Sharanya Manivannan, whose work has been described as sensuous and spiritual, agreed that sorry was a beautiful word when used appropriately. She chose to read her poetry along the lines of appearance as a form of self expression, a conviction she stands for. “As women, we most apologise for our appearance,” she says, in dismay. “By apologising for the way we look, we are often apologising for our sexuality.”

Sukirtharani, renowned Tamil poet and Tamil teacher, was delighted to be aligning with the cause again, having read for it several times before. Penning down a new poem especially for the event, she got the audience to consider an entirely different meaning to the theme.  “There is no safety for a woman – not on any road, in any house, under any roof,” she asserts, pointing out the sad plight of rape culture: a topic that upcoming poet, Manushi, also embraced in her work. “This is a land of Nirbhayas,” she observed, referring to the lives of women in history such as Kannagi and Surphanakha.

For Smruthi Kannan, an upcoming poet who was reading for the cause for the very first time, the theme meant that she had to be honest with herself. Reading out her poetry that she has never uttered out loud before, she unapologetically accepted incidents of her past. “I feel open and brave in poetry,” she offered, perfectly providing a segue for the open mic sessions to start. Several newcomers gradually signed up to read their interpretations of the theme, deriving inspiration from the poets.

The event ended on a high note, with diverse, insightful takes on the theme been discussed and pondered over, forcing everyone to think: what would the World be like, if we all stopped apologising for who we are?

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Cover image via Shutterstock

 

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