Tag Archives: indian writing

An Old Playhouse!

The last time I was here I told you that I was reading Indian literature, and in that somewhere I lost track of what exactly I needed to read and what I wanted to read. You know there is really a very thin line between these two and I seemed to have crossed that route. So somehow I started with Sarojini Naidu, Aurobindo Ghosh, Henry Derozio, and eventually I landed up on my most favourite, (honestly just for the sake of reading her, I mean if it’s literature and I cannot and will not finfish without reading her) to Kamala Das. And of course I started with my most loved piece of hers which is An introduction. From there it went on to her other works including The Sunshine Cat, Summer in Calcutta, In Love, my Grandmothers House, the Stone Age and so on. My first thought was to share An Introduction here with you guys but then I remembered I had already done it, not once but more than twice, and I know not all of you are obsessed with her. So then I decided that it’s time I share something more and beyond that one poem. Which brings me to this poem.

I hope you love this piece as much as I love her.

You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky. It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body’s response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the rudder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always
Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man’s technique is
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water’s edge, haunted
By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.

-Kamala Das

PS: The featured image is chosen intentionally with the review!

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Half World!

Reading Indian Writing, I came across a wonderful Telugu poem. Unfortunately my lack of knowledge in language, forced me to read the English translation.  Nonetheless, it definitely reached my favourites.

I could not find it over the internet, but I take the liberty to share the translation here, which I found in a Pdf file.

 

Half World

Arthanareeswara – half woman, half Eswar

You say, or, half of the sky

Both sound the same.

Cleaving the globe vertically into two

Half light and half darkness

Darkness is only the shadow of light

That’s the lesson taught at school in childhood.

 

Three rooms in our home:

Drawing room, bedroom, and kitchen

One half is mine

For my hubby the drawing room

For me the kitchen

For us both, the bed

Responsibilities we share half-and-half

Bearing the baby mine,

Giving the family name, his.

 

When dusk falls

Shivers in the spine

Wailing hearts

On being raped

As though rising from graves

Before lamps run out of oil

Spent matchsticks

If these snigger and tease

If wan and feeling wretched

The differences aeon-long

Are those of light and dark.

 

Groping in the dark

Claiming half world as mine

How long can I feign Urmila’s* sleep?

Not in the answer sheets in the exams alone

For life too should a margin be given.

Life should be securely held and protected:

Even from the one to whom the heart is given.

 

(*Lakshmana’s wife in the Ramayana. She spends all her life in sleep during his exile.)

 

-S. Jaya

This reminds me of so many poets, Plath, Kamala Das… And all I can do is read this again and again.

 

An Introduction

I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.
I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queerness
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love … I met a man, loved him. Call
Him not by any name, he is every man
Who wants. a woman, just as I am every
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

 

-Kamala Das