Tag Archives: feminism

How, then, to begin, to begin?

If the subject – here, the writer of colour – is unaware of the absence of speech, then where does he/she begin? Or, as Roy Miki asks, “How, then, to begin, to begin?” – an excerpt from the final essay I wrote for Dr. Smaro Kamboureli’s graduate English class at University of Toronto end April 2015.

On 24th November 2015, I was invited by Dr. Jing Jing Chang to give a short talk to her undergrad class on Bollywood films at Wilfrid Laurier University. The talk addresses my existence as a South Asian person/academic/artist in Canada, and negotiating that identity through creative writing and academia.

The talk ends with a performance of my most recent work of poetry, “elephant in the room.”

Since I don’t completely despise how I sound, here is the talk in its entirety:

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Filed under event, poetry, Thinking Aloud, Writing about writing

When Poems come to Roost

venn

I rarely write poetry nowadays.

The last time I wrote a poem, it was for a boy I had just met. He was leaving, I wanted him to have something of me to remember by etc. You know how that story goes. Especially if you are a poet, then you have definitely been in that boat at some point.

Most of my poems are personal. Some of them are political. While others are healing.

And then, there are those that are all three, like that sweet spot in a beautiful Venn diagram.

Two of my poems, “Badaun Sisters” and “Origa-me,” are in The Feminist Wire. You can read them here.

Also(!), The Feminist Wire happens to be one of the publications on my Top 30 list!

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Some Dirty Laundry with Europa’s Lament

“Dirty Laundry” : Taken on the ghats of Varanasi, India, my photo is in issue # 4 of Black Fox Literary Magazine (page 131).

I came across Europa during my research on rape and trauma. It was incidental. She was a myth. Not the real women of war that I was reading about. One of the many theorists happened to refer to her. Allegedly, this Phoenician princess had been kidnapped by Jupiter, the ruler of Crete, and taken away to be his wife and queen. Ovid had immortalised her rape in his Metamorphoses.

I was curious. She reminded me of Leda. Her rape by Zeus (in the form of a swan) had been similarly immortalised in poetry and art over the past few centuries.

Michelangelo’s “Leda and the Swan” romanticized Leda’s rape.

She reminded me of Raavan. The man who kidnapped Sita, but didn’t rape her. He was condemned anyway, while Sita had to prove her chastity. Twice.

She reminded me of the traumatic events I was researching and how every incident had more than just one side to it.

So in a poem, I attempted to question dominant interpretations of myths, especially by male writers, poets and/or artists.

And, what did Europa have to say? Find out.

My poem, “Europa’s Lament,” is in Black Fox Literary Magazine. Read it here (pages 11 and 12 of Issue 4). Incidentally, my photograph, “Dirty Laundry,” taken on the ghats of Varanasi, India, is also in the same issue (page 131).

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Crossing the Lakshmanrekha, with impunity

A still from Sita Sings the Blues (2008), directed by Nina Paley

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd October 2011 .

“You know your Lakshmanrekha. Don’t cross it.”

Err, mom. Where exactly are the boundaries again? Spell it out, will you?

Any Indian (Hindu) woman growing up will attest to being subjected to this refrain. The meaning of the Lakshmanrekha of course, depended on how “liberal” one’s parents were. It could mean anything from not talking to a guy, to PDAs, to dressing in a certain way, to indulging into sexual activities, to taking drugs, to… anything that symbolised that a nice Indian girl was going out of control. For some reason, the rekha, or line, is mostly seen as a reference to interaction with the opposite sex, and only applies to women. None of my guy friends have even heard of this rekha business.

Yesterday at lunch, Mom was grandly telling me, “Sure, date. Just don’t cross the Lakshmanrekha.”

“What is the rekha? What is it that you don’t want me to do?”

“You know.”

“Umm… no, I don’t.”

“Well, you should.”

See what I mean? The actual boundaries are never spelt out. I mean, honestly, where does the damn thing begin and end? The ambiguity of the rekha is rather baffling.

I think the trouble started when a bunch of Indian Hindu men decided to come up with the Ramayan (Yes, I believe it’s a myth. They call it Hindu mythology for a reason.) that spelt out ambiguous rules and regulations to overlook the Indian Hindu women’s behaviour towards the opposite sex.

[Insert Indian accent]

Man 1: We must do something to protect our women’s chastity.

Man 2: You are absolutely right!

Man 3: Our women must be under our control!

Je-sus.

Think about it. Lakshman, Sita’s brother-in-law, draws this protective rekha (a boundary, if you will) around her to protect her from the lustful nazaar (or, eyes) of unknown men (here, Raavan). Not only is it a warning tale to young women about the consequences of defying the rekha (I mean, poor chick gets kidnapped, then disowned in a pregnant state despite proving her chastity through fire acrobatics… twice!), but the rekha itself symbolises the many boundaries imposed upon female sexuality while growing up.

In my case, the “rekha,” or the allusion to the sacred line drawn by Lakshman to protect Sita, changed meaning as I grew older. In fact, even as recently as 2007, I was not allowed to stay out all night. Even though it was on New Year’s, I remember cabbing it back from Niagara Falls all alone back to my suburban home, just because staying out all night would have been crossing the rekha. And yet, I have been at a crazy bachelorette party at the same Falls in 2010 doing things that would have certainly fallen outside the sacred line. Irony ahoy!

I think parents forget that just like boys, girls will be girls. Seriously, now. Do you think we do not get up to mischief? That we do not cross the goddamn rekha that you have not specified for us? You are wrong. We do. All the time. We are just too damn clever about hiding it.

But why should we go undercover? Why pretend? Why is it such a taboo to flaunt our sexuality? Why can’t I kiss a boy openly if I like him enough to? Do I become a slut? A whore? Such tired comparisons. Why can’t I be compared to a classy courtesan for a change? Or, one of those talented geishas? Hats off to those women for owning their sexualities.

So, when my dad said, “We should not have to spell out your boundaries for you. You should know them by now,”

I said, “If I can face myself in the mirror unflinchingly and without shame, I have no one else to answer to.”

I draw my own rekha. Lakshman can keep his.

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