Paracetamol legends I know
For rising fevers, as pain-relievers—
Of my people—father’s father’s mother’s
Mother, dark lush hair caressing her ankles
Sometimes, sweeping earth, deep-honey skin,
Amber eyes—not beauty alone they say—she
Married a man who murdered thirteen men and one
Lonely summer afternoon her rice-white teeth tore
Through layers of khaki, and golden white skin to spill
The bloodied guts of a British soldier who tried to colonize her. . .
Of my land—uniform blue open skies,
Mad-artist palettes of green lands and lily-filled lakes that
Mirror all—not peace or tranquil alone, he shudders—some
Young woman near my father’s home, with a drunken husband
Who never changed; she bore his beatings everyday until on one
Stormy night, in fury, she killed him by stomping his seedbags. . .
We: their daughters.
We: the daughters of their soil.
We, mostly, write.
I like the poem not just for its essentially feminist theme but for the distinct way the English language is used to convey the oppression of women by men .It is as if Indian women are a subject class themselves,not forming a part of the Indian community. English in India is the language of the dominant class ,not just when India was under the British rule but even after the colonial rulers had gone leaving their language as an instrument for gaining economic and social superiority over the less privileged sections. Thus it is interesting to see how the feminist poets use the oppressor’s language to fight oppression. We mostly write. In English.
Now first of all a woman in India has to come to terms with her birth as a less preferred gender and once born and accepted into the family,has to lead her life as a poor second . Her voice is stifled in a dominantly patriarchal society of fathers,husbands,sons. Her pain is a continuous one, that can only be dulled by a paracetamol, that is not aimed at curing the underlying cause .
Such paracetamol reliefs are drawn from the family’s collective conscious -the legends of women in the family who had overthrown an oppressive male regime . But they are only temporary reliefs and the fact that we are daughters of their soil does not provide a permanent cure. So we write,mostly.
Now ,what are the legends? This woman was a pretty one with a dark lustrous hair that touched her ankles and “sometimes sweeping earth”(that is when the hair is not bound in an obedient knot), and amber eyes. Some times she lets hair down, so it can sweep the earth.
But she is not merely beautiful but has a murderer husband, who has killed thirteen men.But that is hardly a consolation because a white soldier violated her trying to colonise her. But she did not take it lying down and just bit her rice-white teeth in his khakhi , through his white gold skin , spilled his guts out .Just pit a honey-brown skin color, a rice-white teeth against khakhi on a gold white skin, the bloodied guts of the same red color that is below skins of all colors. What a medley of colors!
She is indeed a legend just like the freedom fighters of India who had fought the British and successfully drove them out. The British would colonise countries , while their soldiers colonised helpless subject women on lonely afternoons. The oppression of women is at two levels -one at the level of humanity forming 50% of the subject race and the other as a member of the female sex always at the receiving end of male brutality.
Love the use of the word”colonise”. A man’s predatory sexuality is no different from an oppressive colonial regime. Colonise signifies adding newer women to the colonial power’s sexual conquests.
The second legend is of our land whose tranquil beauty is not what it seems on the artist’s palette- a mad artist’s palette of green lands and lily-filled lakes that mirror all-so translucent as to give a feeling of still beauty. The beauty hides an ugliness behind, the picture of a woman who bore her daily beatings from husband patiently for years till one fine evening she killed him by stomping on his seedbags. Isnt it a gratifying thing that our ancestor woman could finally assert herself against a husband’s mindless violence? She has to be a larger than a life version of a Indian woman.
The violence of the husband is drawn largely from a virile male ego that humiliates by conquering the female body and subjecting it to his will. The only antidote is to castrate him and remove the root cause of his ego. So she grabs him by his seedbags and stomps on them till they are no more. Violence against violence. The seedbags are emptied of all seed that is the source of his male ego. A larger than life heroine , of whom we daughters are proud inheritors.
We are their daughters :: ( of a woman of long hair who bit rice teeth in khakhi)
We are the daughters of their soil :: (the soil that produced the seedbag stomping woman)