Tag Archives: India

Favourite Poems: March 2018

This year, I’ve decided to read a poem a day. It gets difficult to quantify, sometimes, mainly because a) I’m exploring what’s poetry supposed to mean, and b) I like reading poetry collections. In addition to poem/day, I’m also trying to read a poetry collection each month*. (But at this point I’m sure I’m just showing off.)

But, since I am doing this for myself, and I am too lazy to think of things to blog about (unless you read my poetry blog where I post more often) I thought hey, why not combine the two, and compile a list of great poems I’ve read every month!

The idea for this series is for me to post at least four poems (one poem/week) that I especially enjoyed every month. This way I can keep a check on myself (with respect to reading) and have something to blog about.

I know it’s mid-April, but I’ve been especially lazy, okay? Bear with me.

Fr March, I’d decided to read non-white/straight/male poets. So I read a lot of translations, women poets, contemporary poets, etc. And I’m not a hipster to talk about that as an “experience”, but I realized how hard it is to find poems like that online.

But, here’s a list of my favourite poems for March:

1) The Patriot, by Nissim Ezekiel

I am standing for peace and non-violence.
Why world is fighting fighting
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding.
Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
I should say even 200% correct,
But modern generation is neglecting –
Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.
Other day I’m reading newspaper
(Every day I’m reading Times of India
To improve my English Language)
How one goonda fellow
Threw stone at Indirabehn.
Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
Lend me the ears.
Everything is coming –
Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
Be patiently, brothers and sisters.
You want one glass lassi?
Very good for digestion.
With little salt, lovely drink,
Better than wine;
Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
I’m the total teetotaller, completely total,
But I say
Wine is for the drunkards only.
What you think of prospects of world peace?
Pakistan behaving like this,
China behaving like that,
It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
Really, most harassing me.
All men are brothers, no?
In India also
Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
All brothers –
Though some are having funny habits.
Still, you tolerate me,
I tolerate you,
One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.
You are going?
But you will visit again
Any time, any day,
I am not believing in ceremony
Always I am enjoying your company.

I’m assuming he wrote this during The Emergency, but it is still relevant, right? To the point that I couldn’t believe it was written so long ago!

2) The Brocade Border, by Kanaka Ha. Ma
Trans: Arundhathi Subramaniam (from Telugu)

Tell me, how can a brocade sari
without an embellished border
be beautiful?
Isn’t it the border that carries,
with the susurus of pleats,
the imperious swathe of body and pallu?

Flowers, creepers, mangoes, grape-clusters, temples, peacocks …
the body, a sea of dreams
the pallu, a night sky.
But it is the quivering earth-edged border
that takes the breath away.
A simple-bordered sari without body or pallu
like the artless mirth of a woman unadorned.

Were she to turn around,
she’d be a serpent-streak across the fence,
here one moment and gone the next.

Hint of foot, radiant flicker of toe beneath border,
her gait, a shimmer of mehendi.

Try as you might to unravel this sari –
game of dice darting between its folds –
it will not yield the secret of its infinitude.

Of course, brocades are necessary to enhance the allure
of lovely women.
And to pin down the vagrant stars and moon
a beguiling sari is all you need.
Yes, we must learn to resist its seductions
but here anyway is a tip:
in today’s world, civilized folk are advised to attach
a matching ‘fall’ to safeguard their borders.

In all honesty, I heard the poet read it out loud in Telugu in a poetry reading I attended in February, and boy, don’t I wish I knew the language! That was my reaction to the poem Lonavala Dawn as well, a rather visceral poem in Chinese (that’s what it says on the website, not sure which language they are referring to exactly) about Lonavala, a small hill station not an hour from where I stay.

4) Nani, by Kamala Das

Nani, the pregnant maid hanged herself
In the privy one day. For three long hours
Until the police came, she was hanging there
A clumsy puppet, and when the wind blew
Turning her gently on the rope, it seemed
To us who were children then, that Nani
Was doing, to delight us, a comic
Dance…..The shrubs grew fast. Before
the summer’s end
The yellow flowers had hugged the doorway
and the walls. The privy, so abandoned,
Became an altar then, a lonely shrine
For a goddess who was dead. Another
Year or two, and, I asked my grandmother
One day, don’t you remember Nani, the dark
Plump one who bathed me near the well?
Grandmother
Shifted the reading glasses on her nose
And stared at me. Nani, she asked, who is she?
With that question ended Nani. Each truth
Ends thus with a query. It is this designed
Deafness that turns mortality into
Immortality, the definite into
The soft indefinite. They are lucky
Who ask questions and move on before
The answers come, those wise ones who reside
In a blue silent zone, unscratched by doubts
For theirs is the clotted peace embedded
In life, like music in the Koel’s egg,
Like lust in the blood, or like the sap in a tree.

I definitely didn’t expect what was going to happen in this poem, and good lord, was I shocked! I thought about the lines They are lucky/ Who ask questions and move on before/ The answers come for an unhealthily long time, and don’t think I’ll forget them any time soon.

5) Advice to women, by Eunice de Souza

Keep cats
if you want to learn to cope with
the otherness of lovers.
Otherness is not always neglect –
Cats return to their litter trays
when they need to.
Don’t cuss out of the window
at their enemies.
That stare of perpetual surprise
in those great green eyes
will teach you
to die alone.

*I read The Weary Blues, by Langston Hughes as my poetry collection for the month, and again, I loved most of the poems in it.

Advertisements

Shares of the Pie: The Sexist World We Live In

What is it about being a woman that you’re proud of?

It was a Counseling Psychology class, where this question was posed to us. They called the module Counseling Diverse Populations. We got a range of responses, some saying they like the fact that they could wear pretty clothes and others saying they wouldn’t form their identity based on gender roles. What was it that made me proud of being a woman? While I was trying to understand how to respond to this question for class, I thought of feminism discourses that I’d so frequently engaged in- with my parents, friends, and other relatives. How was I, as a woman, different from my male counter-parts? And how much of it was based on only the fact that I was a woman?

Growing up with only a sister for a sibling, both of us were never had to question gender differences. Perhaps, giving every need and luxury was only based on what we required and earned never taught us much about feminism. And as over-achieving children, we never had to question if we were better than the boys in our classes. We knew we were better, and the only differences were where we were seated in class. Nobody dared tell me, in my elementary or middle school that I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. And I wasn’t barred from having a fair share of guy friends, with whom I was as comfortable as I was with my girl friends. The only time we hung out seperately was during P.E., and that was because I, for one, hated sports.

It was during high school, when I’d moved cities that such differences were highlighted. It was a bigger city-a metro. You’d expect people to be more egalitarian, but they were not. There was a (friendly?) sense of competitiveness for just about everything- who got to use the better computers, who would be group leaders, who should do the homework, so we could copy it off?
Girls are better and Boys are better war-cries were everyday incidents. Girls did the artsy-craftsy things, while guys played sport. Girls sang and danced, while guys played sport. Girls volunteered to do elocutions and debates, while guys would volunteer, at most, for science exhibitions. And let’s not even begin to talk about the teachers! A particular female professor exhibited blatant sexism even while teaching! She would look only at the boys’ rows while lecturing, with her back towards the girls! She would only encourage boys’ doubts, while shushing the girls! And she would frown and yell at the girls, while happily pulling guys’ cheek and shuffling their hair. She would even give them more marks than the girls, for the exact answers. Once, she even blatantly declared something along the lines of Of course! Why would I tell them anything? Girls are good only at gossiping. Another teacher, this time a male, would joke around only with guys, and give them more marks. And to think these people were supposed to be role models!

The other day, my sister (who’s now in the same high school that I went to) was annoyed at yet another sexist rule the school had exercised. They had decided that only boys will be made the President and the Vice President (the top two positions) of the student body, regardless of the number of votes, while girls will only get to be the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Thus, the face of the school in all inter-school competitions and events would be a boy, by default. My sister was furious about this, because she was close friends with both the guy and the girl who were the President and the Prime Minister, and was of the opinion that the girl definitely deserved the title much more than the guy (and when I am in Class 11, and allowed to stand for the elections, I will definitely protest)

When I finally moved on to college, I found a worse kind of differentiation. In my class of 110 students, only 10 were guys! Over the next couple of months we found out that there were more guys (maybe 15 to our 10) in the class which had Math as an elective, while those classes which were dedicated to the Science stream (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and the other hard science subjects; as opposed to our Arts Stream, consisting of Psychology, Sociology, History and the other Social Sciences/Humanities subjects).

One of the papers I took in college was Economics, which had 75% of the guys in our batch. The class consisted of an approximate 60:40 ratio, which was a huge achievement considering the fact that my other paper was Psychology, and we hardly had, again 10 guys in a class of 120. By the time we entered our final year of college, there was no guy wanting to major in Psychology, and most of the 75% in the Econ class chose Econ as their major.

On the other hand, my friends over at the various Engineering Colleges across the country cribbed about not having girls in their class. Some of them said in a class of 800, an odd 75 were girls, and most of them specializing in Computer Science (and the good looking ones, to their dismay, either committed or swung the other way, but I’m swinging dangerously away from the point).

For those who are Statistics-averse, this means bad news! Not only are we exercising inequality in the way women are treated in general, but also in the kind of careers they choose! Like they say in the movie 3 Idiots, If a boy is born, he’ll be an engineer, and if it’s a girl, we’ll make her a doctor! Not only are those poor sods opinionless in what kind of careers they get to choose, the careers are tailored for their gender!

So when in a Counselling Psychology class, they taught us about Counselling for the Female population, it pissed me off. I do not understand why Females are considered a ‘Diverse’ Population. Was Therapy only meant for men? (Definitely not!) Why couldn’t we look at Females and Males as not seperate from each other and treat them with the same levels of empathy, and unconditional positive regard? Why is there that need to seperate on the one discipline that urges you to see your client on the same level as you and everyone else- the one that propogates equality?

They say the reason why patriarchy is so irresistible for men and feminism as a movement is like a slap in their faces. This is explained through the following analogy:

Imagine the resources and freedom and every other thing in the world as a pie. Traditionally, the pie was divided as 70:30 in favor of men. So, of the 10 pieces, the boy child in the house got 7 pieces, while the girl child got only 3. Now, as the girl started understanding the unfairness of the situation, she started demanding an equal share of the pie. The next time, the boy got only 6 pieces, while the girl got 4. The boy suddenly noticed that he’s getting 1 piece less as compared to what he was getting earlier. And hence, he lashed out against the girl for stealing what was rightfully his own.

So, apart from the issue of fragility of a man’s ego and other such complex issues, the backlash for feminism can be understood as because of a simple reason. It is rooted in men getting lesser shares of the pie, and not in women getting a larger share.

Sexism isn’t only about if women are in a purdah, or are raped by the minute, or how it’s unsafe for them to get out of their house after dark. It is about how everyone gives them a questioning look if they wear short shorts, or their boyfriends get them pink teddies on their one month anniversary. It isn’t just about gender-specific jobs, and glass ceilings; it is also about the classes they are allowed to be interested in, and excel in. It isn’t just about a GI Joe vs a Barbie debate, it is about how the infant girl’s nursery is painted pink and that of the boy is blue. It isn’t just about infanticide or foeticide; it is how much nutrition the mother gets after knowing it is a girl, rather than a boy.

Do you also see other kinds of discrimination around you? Do you disagree with the points I have to make? Let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you guys see in your communities!

This post has been evolving since February, 2015. That probably explains the inconsistency, if you may find any
Twitter: @WallflowerBlack


Untouchable.

The soft silk of her skin touched the rough brash of his hardened skin and her whole life realigned for her.

Don’t touch people like him, her mother had told her. You’d have to have a bath again, honey. She hated baths, so she went out of her way to avoid him. She tried not to catch him while playing run and catch, and tried not to find him while playing hide and seek. She would see the smile on his face falter everytime she did that.

The next summer she’d forgotten all about him, till he peeped into her window and called her ‘Miss’ and bowed, grinning. She looked at him awkwardly, but grinned back nonetheless. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t touch him- he looked like her, only a shade or two darker. This summer, he climbed trees and plucked out flowers for her.

The summer after that, she went away to a hill station, and the next summer, she went off to a camp, and after that she had broken her leg, so she couldn’t go back to her parent’s native.

When she went three summers later, she was sixteen and he was eighteen, and she had a vague memory of a boy who plucked out flowers for her and whom she wasn’t allowed to touch, and whose smile faltered every time she’d go out of her way to not touch.
She sat in her room with her cousins when he entered and bowed. One of her cousins asked him to join them and he drew out a mat and sat separately. They played cards and carrom, and Atlas and charades. Every time they locked eyes, he grinned at her and she looked away in embarrassment. Later, it was just her, him, and one of her cousins whom he was close friends with. Her cousin teased her relentlessly and he laughed at her with him.
The next day he came back and when he sat down, she scowled at him, unforgiving of yesterday’s jokes. Your best friend isn’t here, she said in mock-bitterness. You’re enough, he said as he winked at her. Her other cousins didn’t treat him with much respect. He got up and left before lunch.
The next day Arjun sat next to him, and he was at ease once again. This time he sat till late at night and the three of them laughed till they clutched their stomachs.
This time she knew she wouldn’t forget him.

The next summer, when she came back, he was away in college the first two weeks. She couldn’t wait, and bothered Arjun more than it was acceptable. And when he was back, there was a bounce to her gait, and her smile was broader, and her laugh more livelier. Now every night the three of them sat up till later than it was acceptable and she returned his every bow with a curtsey of her own. Every night she’d want to ask him to stay over, but she knew it wasn’t her place. So every night, as the clock struck 10, he’d walk through the dark streets and begin his hike towards his house a kilometer away. A couple of days later, when she asked him to give Arjun a missed call, as soon as he reached home, she earned a guffaw from Arjun, and a grin from him. How about giving you a missed call, Miss? he asked her with a wink. And that’s how they exchanged numbers.

The next Summer, she went on a tour up to Kashmir with her friends, but they continued texting each other, especially during the weeks she was supposed to be with them. Your cousins are humorless, Miss, he said.
Stop calling me Miss, sir, she replied.
No, Miss 😉 was his text.
Don’t be a tosser, sir.
Whatever you say, Miss.
Stop calling me Miss is what I say, sir!

The summer after that, when her mum wanted her to go to Europe to explore colleges for post grad, she requested her to let her go back. There’s a year left to think about that mum, she’d said.
This time was his last Summer, and when he’d told her he was planning to move to the States, she’d almost called him and yelled at him. I’ve won a scholarship to North Carolina, he’d said.
This time the two of them sat up later than Arjun did, earning scowls from her other relatives. He told her about his dreams of entrepreneurship, and she hers of spending a summer as a street poet. He laughed at her anecdotes and she at his stupid jokes. And as the summer drew to an end, they’d promised to meet each other at the other end of the world- vastly different from this small village, where the streets, like the practices and dreams of its villagers, are dark, ancient, and nameless.

So when five Summers later, she was in New York, for her PhD in Comparative Literature, he was there to welcome her to his world. And when they shook hands for the very first time, in a little awkward gesture, she welcomed him to her world, with a little street poem in his memory. And when he asked her to come over to his house every weekend for lunch, she made it. And when she spent a summer in the streets of New York, he was her last customer every day, at exact 10 PM. And when he had his first baby, she was there to help him and his wife. And when she thought she had everything in life, he called her out with Whatever you think is right, Miss.

Twitter: @WallflowerBlack