We go back long way. It is conversation and confession, need and normalcy, words and value, depending on the day and the mood. I read and write it just like many of us do and it never ceases to inspire, amaze or give me cause for pause. In this world of instant gratification, nothing gratifies quite as instantly or as completely as this does. This four-part column attempts to create a space for one of life’s simple pleasures- Poetry.
“Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
An experienced journalist, a founding member of the Bombay Poetry Circle and of the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association, a media person and a recognised poet — that is Menka Shivdasani for you. For me, she was an unknown entity whom I stumbled upon during my research.
I was drawn to her work — hard-hitting and deeply personal. It deals with a variety of themes — the woman and her position in life, human race and its material state and man’s connection to God. Her poems shed an unflinching light on a woman’s existence, be it the anxieties, issues and the sometimes painful circumstances she needs to deal with.
Her work expresses the condition of the urban woman and the hypocrisy of the ‘civilised’ world that she encounters. Even in her first collection of verse, one could see themes like memory, relationships and loss. In ‘Hinges’, a poem from the collection, she says, “I found my body hinged like any other door. It could open and close with just a push, It had been pushed too often — one hinge was insecure, but the other firm as iron, No tool seemed to work when I tried unhinging myself, and carpenters charged exorbitant rates. So I decided to leave it where it was. Now I’m building another body for myself.”
Now I am building another body for myself. The lines drip with weariness. But they are also symbolic of a woman who doesn’t give a damn of what she’s expected to be like. She takes charge of her own destiny, refusing to allow others to control her life. The imagery in the poem is stark, often ironic and teeming with the many questions of identity and belonging that women ask and answer at some point of time in their lives.
Her book, Freedom and Fissures carries the pain of the Partition and its effect on a people. It is an important document, urging as it does, the protection of a language and ethos that seem to be in danger of being supplanted.
Shivdasani’s poetry is not the loud shouting of an empty voice. She’s a keen observer who chooses to reveal her thoughts in a quiet way, almost detached from what she’s experiencing. In ‘Are You There’, she writes I’m looking for a god. Not the stone kind — I found that too hard. Wooden ones caught fire and paper ones tore too easily. Metal gods, I found, were rusted, and god is supposed to be brilliant. I have a sneaking suspicion God died of indigestion. The raw rice they kept giving him must have proved too much.
The last two lines make you smile, even laugh, even as you ask questions about your idea of this power.
Shivdasani sees writing as “(…) an act of catharsis”. She also said, that poetry also needs to “make itself heard over the daily din.” This is an astonishing statement for the poet to make and goes to show, perhaps, how poetry is still finding its way into mainstream acceptance. It also highlights the struggles of daily life that overtake the creative process. Women poets do not have the luxury to sit in a corner and write. There are homes to run and many demands on their time. During the renowned Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, Shivdasani curated the theme of ‘Poems for Peace’. Part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change banner, the event was deeply personal to her. Imagine the thought – poets in different languages, of different nationalities and citizenships, all talking one language- the language of peace.
Shivdasani says, “You don’t write poetry because you are going a make a packet out of it. You write because it grabs you by the throat.”
Srividya Sivakumar has recently published a collection of poems called The Blue Note. You can find her work at www.rumwrapt.blogspot.com
You can mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org