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 Pain, Monalisa 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.
Soft and feminine
are battles lost
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
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
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.
my brothers don’t carry water
from the distant pond
men sit and drink
from morn till dusk
as their women sweat
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.
mother I have never
seen you cry
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?
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.
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
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.
What you offer, is more
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.
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
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.
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