(31 March 1932 – 31 May 2009)
To many she was a shameless bitch to others she represented the fearless Indian woman who wasn’t ashamed of expressing herself and questioning the orthodoxies of Indian society.
When I read her for the first time, I have to admit, I was both stumped and scandalized by her poetry.
The long drugged male chauvinist in me suddenly woke and questioned the morality of her works, “how dare she write something like this?”
Further reading only made me admire her courage, what might have it been to write feminist and erotic poetry in her time;to question male supremacy?
Her death is sure to leave a vacuum in Indian Feminist Poetry for a long time to come.
I leave you with two of my favorite Kamala Surayya poems.
THE OLD PLAYHOUSE
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 dribbles 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 tea and
to offer at the right moment 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 ruder breezes
of the fall and the smoke from burning leaves. Your room is
always lit by artificial light, your windows, always
shut. Even the air-conditioned 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
is always the same. He serves his love in lethal doses
for love is Narcissus at the water’s edge haunted
by its 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.
Do not look into Radha’s eyes O friends
For her soul lies dead inside
As cobwebs block the doorways, unused,
Grief now mars her lonely eyes
He has been gone for years, that Krishna who
Once was hers alone. Perhaps
Another holds him now, a lovelier and
More fortunate one. And yet
Poor Radha must live on, for life is long.