Feminine voice in the Poetry from Nagaland Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

Feminine voice in the Poetry from Nagaland Prof. AJ Sebastian sdb

‘Feminism’ is centred on the inequality in the  relationships of  sexes, leading to various forms, championing the identity of women  and their rights. It also  studies sexism, gender privilege, and the critical theories formulated by the male dominated literary field. Thus it aims at establishing a feminine critical tradition.  Femininity as a cultural construct inscribes the society’s views about women through conventions and inhibit woman’s individuality. The statement ‘one is not born a woman, but one becomes one’ (Beauvoir 1997:295) calls attention to the issue under consideration. The term ‘feminine’ stands for woman herself and everything concerning  her womanhood. It is body, passion and nature  that define a woman’s feminine traits,  focussing on her  mental and physical nature of mothering and  nurturing life. A proper understanding of the issue  presented by feminists is essential for a better debate as ‘..They argue that feminism should work to liberate women from a system of male-centred values and beliefs, and should empower them to discover their own uniquely female identity’ ( Tolan 2006:323).

In this paper it is my endeavour to  present the feminine voice  as reflected in the selected poems from the women poets of Nagaland. They voice   their feminine concerns in a society that  has  defined them roles as per societal norms.

Introducing  her first book of verse entitled Weapons of Words on Pages of PainMonalisa Changkija writes: “ ‘To whom it may concern’ reflects some of my thoughts on battered and abused  women, on domestic violence and on women’s ability to rise above the ‘second class citizenry.’ Yes, I am  empathizing with and  also crying out at the same time along with women who have suffered and continue to suffer in a discriminate society”  (WWPP : i). Domestic violence against  woman haunts our society and has turned ‘political’  besides being ‘personal’(Ibidem i). Monalisa with her pithy verse is very emphatic throughout the collection calling attention to societal  concerns.

If God made man

In His own  Image,

Where shall the

Battered seek Justice? (Ibidem 1).

She terms oppression of women as a sign of  weakness on the part of men as it reveals male ‘inadequacies and insecurities.’  ‘Female  bonding’ (Furman 1978:182)  through language  of violence  continues unabated in her male dominated society.

Masculine hands

Raining blows

On bodies

Soft and feminine

To me

are battles lost

but not

wars won (WWPP 2).

Ironically the poet refers to bride burning of ‘Dowry-less brides / Penniless Wives…/Son-less Mothers’  (Ibidem 3). Feminine  strength continues to daunt  man with the  ‘unbroken spirits’ of  women who continue to nurture life as ‘Mother’  and ‘Wives’ despite being ‘battered, bruised and bent.’ (Ibidem 5).  Social evils such as dowry deaths, female feticide,  infanticide, rape, wife beating and desertion need eradication.

Monalisa  draws attention to the patriarchal society where man conceals his inferiority in ‘masculinity’ (Ibidem 8). She challenges  man   to come to his senses and to let her be ‘what I am’ (Ibidem 11). The poet becomes very articulate as she recounts the untold stories of  grieving women  as ‘weapons of words/ on …Pages of Pain’ (Ibidem 19).

 Ayangla Longkumer’s   “I am woman”  affirms her  strength of character exemplified through the power  of endurance. She is unafraid of  physical and mental  torture as she has to live with it by her very nature. She defines her role as creator of life, giving birth ‘through pain.’ As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak opines, ‘…in the womb, a tangible place of production, there is the possibility that pain exists within the concepts of normality and productivity .’ (Spivak 2003: 480). Seasoned thus  in the furnace of experience, she has a wisdom innate in her very nature as mother.

My silence is not weakness

My cries do not stem from weakness

My eyes

Reflect the light of wisdom

Gained through experience (PFN 33).

Patient endurance is her  proven strength through submission and sacrifice.   A woman’s creative power makes her survive despite  all obstacles of life.

That in my core

I have the power to create

My instinct is to nurture

I will endure

I will survive (Ibidem 33-4).

Ayangla’s thoughts are similar to Kamala Das who in her “Introduction” defines herself  despite the various  roles she has to play as a woman.

…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 too call myself I  (TGT 273).

Rosemary Dzüvichü in  “Womanhood” focuses on  gender inequality in her society. The  poet is very pointed in her queries with its didactic purpose. Her social criticism   through a series of  questions  put into the mouth of a young girl are  thought provoking. The poem aims to bring about a change in the mind-set of people.

                 Why

my brothers don’t carry water

from the distant  pond

Why

men sit and drink

from morn till dusk

as their women sweat

silently

Why

women  only cry (PFN 111-12).

The  child is puzzled by  her mother’s  stoic and enduring spirit that makes her suppress her sorrow. With a final question the  little girl   wants to enter into the mystery of her mother’s hidden grief. The intricate answer the child gets from her mother is that it is part of ‘motherhood.’ Rosemary vividly brings gender politics in her society that lives in a make-believe world of  gender equality.

Why

mother I have never

seen you cry

Where

did you hide

all your hurt

and your pain

and yet you tell me

this is Womanhood  (Ibidem 112).

From a young girl’s queries on gender politics in the previous poem  in  “Tell Me Mother” Easterine Iralu probes into questions of being a woman.  Having her mother as a role-model ‘… a  girl’s core gender identity is positive and built upon sameness, continuity, and identification with the mother’  (Showalter 2003:320). The girl as she matures to adolescence and adulthood, is embarrassed by her sudden physical growth. She finds herself very different  from  the boys of her age  p making her  afraid and ashamed of her womanhood.

Tell me mother,

What is like to be a woman?

Unafraid

Unashamed

Awkward with my limbs

Ashamed of my menstruation

Afraid of my womanhood? (KA 32).

Easterine’s  feminine  concerns   articulated  through the question  raised by the young girl can be contrasted with  Eunice De Souza’s character in  the poem  “de Souza Prabhu,” defining her role in a male dominated society.

I belong with the lame ducks.

I heard it said

My parents wanted a boy.

I’ve done my best to qualify.

I hid the bloodstains

On my clothes

And let my breasts sag.

Words weapon

To crucify  (  TMIP 119).

Anungla  Imdong Phong’s “Here I am” is a poem   affirming her feminine identity in a world that ignores her inner self and its brokenness. She compares herself to time’s  ‘broken vase’ which in its beauteous form was admired by searching eyes. Now as she withers with age she is turned like ‘a dry flower arrangement.’ The poet ruminates on the  brevity of life and beauty like Shakespeare in “Time and Love”: ‘When I have seen  by Time’s fell hand defaced/…But weep to have that which it fears to lose.’ Anungla speaks of her protagonist’s lonely existence with her unfulfilled dreams.

It is  often found that though the experience of motherhood  is  a unique experience of woman, yet the ‘institution of motherhood is controlled by man and this physical quality conditions her entire life’ (Rich 1976:35).

Here I stand

as mute witness

widowed, alone and lonely

Here I run

along with time

running and looking back –

and my unfulfilled spectrum

forever  (PFN 18).

The agony of a beleaguered old mother is the focal point of Anungla Longchari’s “An Old Mother’s Lament.”  She has lived her life for her  child’s sake and has  reached the end of her sojourn on earth.  She groans in pain:

I trudge along the last steps of my life,

Weary and tired of being alive;

No one to make joyous my last days on earth –

Not even you to whom I gave birth   (Ibidem 20).

She slaved, toiled and bled  to get her child to  reach the height of glory. Now the old lady is left in the lurch and has become a burden to her  daughter.   Recollecting nostalgic memories of the bygone days, the mother laments her pathetic situation and forewarns the daughter of   similar  abandonment in old age.

Tell me, is it too big a crime

To ask of you, my child, for me some time?

Now when I ask you for a shoulder

To rest my weary  head,

Or soon, as am I,

You will  be in the very same state

When you, like me, become

As old and mellow! (Ibidem 20).

Josephine Changkija’s “Eve” is a fusion of myth and reality articulating her feminine voice. Reflecting on   man’s original sin, she recalls the Biblical account of the first fall: “So when the woman saw that  the tree was good for food, and that it was  a delight to the eyes… she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened” (Genesis 3:6-7). The poet plays on words rendering the poem a modern metaphor of betrayals. Is the woman alone to be blamed for her beauty left at the feet of the man she loved? But at the end it is   the woman  who stands accused of  the proto sin.

With her beauty

Standing out among

The unbelievable orchard

Where the only man she loved

Left her at Eden one day

And let her lust roam

Till it found

The slithering evil

And

Salivated

The curse  (PFN 56).

In “Man and  Whore,” Nini Lungalang examines the basic distorted gender positions  in a male-female dialogue. The  title itself reflects the woman in the darker  side as the whore. He on the contrary remains the unsullied man. Is he not a whore too?  For a dialogue to be successful, both the parties have to be on an equal pedestal. But the case in hand  is of  the man who begins with a male dominated position of looking down upon his female counterpart as a whore. He is excellent in his dissembling and looks down upon her only  as a   plaything of  his lust.

He: Woman,

What you offer, is more

Coarse relief

Cheaper than the garland

Of pink pearls

Slung around your neck

By a past lover  (TMY 40).

The poem projects the woman   as  a  subaltern in her victim position. Her utterances are very mellowed. She  addresses him as  ‘brother’ with great respect,  though he is  the villain who exploits her femininity. Her speech is one of subordination as she   is nothing more than a whore to him.  She becomes a mere cog in the machine of his lust.

She: Brother, I’ll meet you there

Anonymous and furtive

The hot dark passage

Our common ground;

Brother, I’ll leave you there,

And leave behind

A spark of my essence

With yours (Ibidem 40).

In “Mirror” Nini sees  herself  identical to her mother. She longs to  determine her personal identity without any mirror image of the other.  She presents her ‘Matrophobia’ which is the fear   of becoming one’s mother. Though she hates to be her mother’s replica  there is  an  underlying mysterious pull towards the mother   (Rich 1976:62).

They say I look a lot like mother:

She’s put much of herself into my making.

After my birth, as well as before;

Sometimes I’d see that phantom child

And it would anger me to unreasoning hatred,

I’d see it in the things she’d say

And I would weep in wild frustration,

Yes, I look a lot like my mother

And my daughter looks

A lot like me (PFN  86-7).

In “The Tale of a Woman” Thejangü-ü  Zümvü projects the agony of a girl as she passes through the various stages of growth to womanhood  and  to motherhood. She makes her resolve to break with   an androcentric society.  The story  begins with the father longing to have a male issue to head his clan.

And…

When my mother bore me,

His poor heart fell,

His head dropped heavy in disappointment

I grew up then,

Envying my brothers

who grudgingly trotted off to school

While I laboured with mother

Till a man proposed

to tie a nuptial knot (Ibidem 149-50).

Marriage being the destiny traditionally offered to women by society,  she is  married to a stranger at the  tender age of fifteen.  From then on her sufferings begin as she recounts:

He battered me,

Destroying my young body and health.

I knew no love

From my husband,

who savagely ravished me every night

In drunken frenzy (Ibidem 152).

Trotting  back  on   memory lane,  she  recollects how her own mother  suffered  in silence in the hands of her father.   And as she  now beholds  her  first born daughter in her arms she is resolved to protect her from  gender abuse.  Disregarding all barriers and threats she is determined  to educate  her daughter to be free from the shackles of gender oppression.

And    I heard my own voice

Calling out, to rise up;

To break free

From the laws of man,

From the shackles of tradition   (Ibidem  153).

As a fitting conclusion to the analysis of feminine concerns in this discourse, let me     probe into Temsula Ao’s  fable “Bat Cloud ” with   allegorical  significance.

Once upon a time

There lived two bats

A mother and her

Albino daughter.

Even among the outcasts

They were a class apart

Living in a dark cave… (SHT 8).

Their peaceful life in the cave  was disturbed by  some creatures with gun on their shoulders. The little daughter ‘crouched and shivered’ while the bat-mother comforted her. As the mother  prayed for protection from cave-goddess she was told:

But only one of you

And are you willing to pay the price?

The bat-mother responded

Any price mother, any price,

Please save my daughter (Ibidem 9).

As the bat-mother consented to the sacrifice,  a gun shot was heard that hit  the mother and opened  the cave-roof.  As  she lay dying the mother  prompted her daughter to take her flight to freedom.

Fly my little girl, fly

Fly to the sky

The little one then began to fly

With her mother’s whisper

Ringing in her ear (Ibidem 10-11).

The women poets from Nagaland have very  thought provokingly  presented their feminine voices articulating their personal experiences in a society that ignores  their right to be themselves.  It is  relevant  to reflect on the statement of Luce Irigari: “It is also necessary for us to discover and assert that we are always mothers once we are women. We bring something other than children into the world, we  engender…love, desire, language, art, the social, the political, the religious… and we must  reappropriate the   maternal dimension that belongs to us as women” (Irigary 2003:420-1).

Women   suffer   betrayals and are often victims of    patriarchy in  manifold ways.    However they do not   ‘constitute a  muted group, the boundaries of whose culture and reality overlap, but are not wholly contained by,  the   dominant (male) group’  (Showalter 2003:322) since they  have come forward   asserting  their role in society, seeking equal opportunities.

 

References:

Beauvoir, Simone De.1997. The Second Sex. trans.H.M.Parshley. London: Vintage.

Furman, Nelly. 1978. The Study of Women and Language: Comment Vol.3, No.3  Signs 4.

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Irigaray, Luce. 2003. “The Bodily Encounter with the Mother.” lModern Criticism and

Theory. David Lodge, Nigel Wood. 2nd ed. Delhi: Pearson Education.

Pearce, Lynne. 1997. Feminism and Politics of Reading. London: Arnold.

Rich, Adrienne. 1976. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and  Institution.

New  York: W.W. Norton.

Showalter, Elaine. 2003. “Feminist criticism in the wilderness.” Modern Criticism and

Theory. David Lodge, Nigel Wood. 2nd ed. Delhi: Pearson Education.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 2003. “Feminism and Critical Theory.” Modern Criticism and

Theory. David Lodge, Nigel Wood. 2nd ed. Delhi: Pearson Education.

Tolan, Fiona. 2006. “Feminism.” Literary  Theory and Criticism.   Ed. Patricia Waugh. New

Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Works Cited:

Ao, Temsula. 2003.  Songs from Here nad There. Shillong: NEHU Publications.

Abbreviated SHT.

Changkija,  Monalisa. 1993. Weaspons of Words on Pages of Pain.Dimapur: Write-on

Publication.Abbreviated: WWPP.

Department of English. Ed. 2005. Poetry from Nagaland.   New Delhi: Savio

Publications.    Abbreviated  PFN.

Gokak, Vinayak Krishna. 1992.  The Golden Treasure of Indo-Anglian Poetry.  New Delhi:

Sahitya Academy. Abbreviated : TGT.

Kire, Easterine. 1982.  Kelhoukevira.  Calcutta: J.B.Lama. Abbreviated : KA.

Melhrotra, Arvind Krishna. 2003. The Oxford India Anthology  of Twelve Modern Indian 

         Poets.  New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Abbreviated: TMIP.

Nini. 1994. The Morning Years. Dimapur:  Write-on Publication. Abbreviated : TMY.

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. London: Catholic Trust Society. 1966.

(All  references  are  taken from  this edition).