The works of twenty-one women poets collected in this volume highlight the diversity of voices available in contemporary Indian English poetry. Included are established poets like Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Shanta Acharya, Menka Shivdasani and Smita Agarwal who have been writing for over two decades, along with 'new' poets like Mamang Dai, Arundhati Subramaniam, Anjum Hasan, Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Mukta Sambrani.
The poets included represent a variety of perspectives and attitudes ranging from ironic and visionary to lyrical and sentimental. There are poems probing myths and memories, also ones that explore relationships in contemporary society. All in all, this is a comprehensive collection for those interested in the poetry scene in India.
E V Ramakrishnan is a bilingual writer who has published poetry and criticism in English and Malayalam. Among his most recent publications is a volume of poems in English, Terms of Seeing: New and Selected Poems. He is also a translator and has edited a volume of poetry translation, Tree of Tongues: An Anthology of Modern Indian Poetry. For Sahitya Akademi he has edited Indian Short Story 1900-2000 and Narrating India: The Novel in Search of the Nation. He is a Professor of English at Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, Surat.
Anju Makhija is a poet, playwright and translator. Her books include View from Web (poems); seeking the Beloved, a translation of the verse of 16th century sufi mystic Shah Abdul Latif; and If Wishes were Horses and Other Plays. She has co-edited an anthology of partition poetry, Freedom and Fissures and a 3-volume series of Indo English plays. Makhija has won several awards including the BBC World Poetry Prize (2002) and the All India Poetry Prize (1995) sponsored by the British Council and Poetry Society of India.
The need for this anthology was felt largely because of the diversity of women's voices in contemporary Indian English poetry. Most of the poets represented here emerged in the nineties and have already published their first volume of poems. One of the functions of an anthology is to bring together works of poets to a wider audience: Anthologies also identify changing trends and indicate shifts in sensibility. The poets assembled here do not belong to a single trend or- a common sensibility but they do share concerns and attitudes that justify their inclusion in a single volume. An anthology is a place where poems and poets speak to one another and in the process discover new configurations of metaphors and meanings. That these poets cannot be reduced to any single trait or theme makes this volume all the more a document of contemporary creative expression.
It is no more possible to reduce woman's poetry to feminist or 'womanise concerns or issues alone. In an anthology such as Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology edited by Eunice de Souza (published in 1997) where, apart from the editor, Kamala Das, Mamta Kalia, Melanie Silgardo, Imtiaz Dharkar, Smita Agarwal, Sujata Bhatt, Charmayne D'Souza and Tara Patel are represented, this trend can already be seen. While the poets of the sixties and seventies question their assigned roles as women, the poets of the nineties move away from a strident and aggressive tone of assertion. The poets included here have internalized the lessons of women's movements and are sensitive to social oppressions of all kinds. Perhaps the new attitude results from the dissemination of feminist ideas in our society and their impact on socio-political attitudes. Women's studies have emerged as a major interdisciplinary area of academic study in the University system and the civic sphere has seen greater activist involvement in women's issues. Though patriarchy is firmly in place in much that is central to everyday living in India, the question of woman's identity and gender equality have found their way into our social agenda. The content of Indian English poetry by women may be responding to such macro-level changes in Indian society. It also has to be added that Indian poetry in English is less of a metropolitan phenomenon now than in the seventies and eighties.
The angst-ridden, confessional and existentialist writing of the sixties and seventies has given way to a self-assured critical voice that probes all aspects of living including gender from an inclusive social perspective.
This shift could be illustrated with the poems of Mamang Dai and Anjum Hasan. Mamang Dai who left a career in Indian Administrative Service to be a journalist lives in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. She is acutely sensitive to the memories of her land. In 'The Missing Link', she speaks of the Sang river which remained unexplored when the Survey of India was undertaken in this part of the country. She speaks of the river as `the green and white vein of our lives/linking new terrain' and asks: 'Where else could we be born,/ where else could we belong, if not of memory, defining life and form out of silence?' In remembering the river's voice she is reclaiming history where 'all is changed but not ended.' In the poem "Tapu" a ritual dance which once had associations with war and fertility is now evoked in the context of barrenness: 'Across the barren earth/ the fence stretches the boundaries/ of the natural world'. Faith can counter fear. The land bristles with memories of confrontations and mindless violence. The poem "Man and Brother" is based on the belief that man and tiger are born of the same mother. She invokes the river repeatedly since, like mountains, they hold out the promise of transcendence in an otherwise bleak cycle of stagnated lives: 'The river has a soul. Sometimes,/ sometimes, I think it holds its breath/seeking the land of fish and stars." In "The Beginning of the World" behind the individual voice, one can sense the lament of a besieged community: 'How the dark evening called us/how the dark evening called us, mother!/ Like a sheet of fire/like a cry of love/the wind carried us away." In the poem "The Voice of the Mountains" she brings folk simplicity and vissionary intensity together. Incidentally, the title of this anthology volume comes from her poem. In Mamang Dai's poetry one is always aware of several narratives of community-those of myth, memory, ritual and shared beliefs -informing the imaginative space of poetry.
Anjum Hasan's voice is more personal compared to Mamang's. She was born in Shillong, Meghalaya but lives and works in Bangalore now. As she says in "My Folks": 'We have hills in our blood.' They travel and settle elsewhere but always feel 'unsettled' by a past that haunts them.
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