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31 October 2014
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Kathamanabi
Poetess Mallika Sengupta in "her voice".
Translated by Vaijayanti Gupta


I am "her" voice, recounting her tales,
from the vedic age to the 21st century.
The fire that has remained stifled in the ashes of history, smothered by time and age,
I am that woman - I speak of her.
I read tears, I write fire,
I live in infamy and consume its ashes.
I endure violence, and still breathe fire.
I live as long as this fire burns within me.

It is rather hard to endure the scorching heat of the flame that my words kindle. You do not like to hear a woman speak strong words….
You meet me very often;
After the initial exchanges, when you have known me better,
You are taken aback. 'How strange', you say, 'the traditional bindi adorns your face, your hair is braided casually, you look like any other woman. I expected you to be different…'
Tell me, to voice "her" protests, do I need
To dress in a different attire, shut my natural cravings to be affectionate or to be in love?
I want to rebel, despite being in love.
Along with my loveliness and charm, I want you to see the fire that burns within me.

O man, my equal partner in life,
If you are to ask how I would like to be treated- 'As an equal'.
The same answer that Porus gave king Alexander, 'treat me as befits a king'.

You have loved me, worshipped me, but never treated me like a human, as an equal.
Of course I will protest, should I not?
O earth, water, wind, fire and life (people)
Of India, I offer my humble prayers to you.
Let me speak of us, your women,
Trampled all through history, cornered and defeated.
Listen to my tales.

I was in Kshana's screams
When her tongue was cut and she was silenced,
Because her intellect outshone yours.
I was born as Kunti then, Kalpana Chawla now, the same story repeated.
I was Roop Kanwar in this century, and Sita in the vedic ages.
The cries of Anarkali are buried deep within me.
My clothes were torn off my body when I lived as Draupadi in Hastinapura.
My rape and humiliation still continues in the alleys of the metros in India.
I have walked along the banks of the ancient Saraswati and was born as Medha's spirit, in this age, to love and battle for a river.

I live in them, those that have borne this nation in their wombs, but are not the true guardians of those whom they bear.
I am the helplessness of the women Panchayat leaders, puppets of your political
schemes.
I exist in the women who kill their baby girls in their wombs, the blood of
infanticide staining their hands and souls.
In all mute, deaf, and disabled women,
Burdens of this society, I am alive in them.

Born of this earth, your daughter,
Full of emotions and sentiments and love
I salute you mother India,
I begin my story, the story of your women.

--------- **** -------

This poem is translated from the Bengali by Vaijayanti Gupta, who is a volunteer with the Association for India's Development in San Diego, CA.
December 2001

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