Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breast stories of Kutti Revathi

This post supports every woman’s right to her own body, to speak about it or to do anything with it as she pleases. Her body is hers and hers only. On this post, any woman or man who wishes to take this right away from her, by shaming her, trying to hide her body or slandering her with vicious words and acts, because she dares to break away from the Silence, is requested to leave right now. No justifications, comments or voices will be accepted whose sole purpose is to help to keep the Silence surrounding a woman’s body alive.

- Kutti Revathi

Breasts are bubbles rising
in wet swamps

I wondrously watched and guarded,
Their gradual swell and blooming
At the edges of my youth’s season

Saying nothing to anyone else
They sing along
With me alone always;
Of heartbreak

To the nurseries of my turning seasons
They never once failed or forgot
To bring arousal

During my penance, they seem to want to break free
And in the fierce pull of lust, they rise
Engorged with memories of musical trance

Like two teardrops of an unfulfilled love
That cannot ever be wiped away
They brim, as in a still puddle
(English translation by N Kalyan Raman)

20th March, 2010. The winter chills are far away in Bhopal and the Cultural Bonanza is on. People are coming out of their homes every day, attending one or the other event happening around Bhopal. Bharat Bhavan, the Cultural capital, a la India Habitat Centre in Delhi, hosted a three day Kavi Sammelan, where Kutti Revathi stormed the auditorium with her bold poems.

Kutti Revathi has been often misunderstood as one who is trying to draw attention to herself by using shock value. When Mulaigal (Breasts) was first published in 2002, needless to say it drew a huge amount of flak from the conservative Tamil society. But Kutti Revathi, which is the pen name of Dr S Revathi, is unapologetic. “As we poke into a word and turn it over,” she writes in her essay, “the history buried in its innards rises up, along with images, memories . . . and poetry too.”

Breasts are central to a woman’s body. They are her obsession too. Needless to say, most men spend a lot of time thinking about them.

Every woman is in one way or the other involved with her body. It is her personal domain. What is problematic is that on their own, men have set “rights” over woman’s body by snatching away even a woman’s right to speak, share thoughts about her body or parts of it, with herself or with others. Men, have made both the woman’s body, especially her breasts, objects of desire by making it a taboo subject and grabbing a woman’s claim over her own body. By trying to “hide”, place shame and guilt over a woman’s body, they have tried for centuries to make women disown her own body and hand over the “power” to men.
Therefore, the more women speak about their bodies, the more she reclaims what is hers.

The demons that affect us – Kutti Revathi

Sister…. Like potters, lets fashion
Many more breasts now
When breasts brought life by stoning
And at knifepoint are being consumed.
There is no fences to protect these
Nor the world’s newest foodgrains.

Why do vultures indulge
In the plunder of grains?
The old woman’s breasts, alive through
Eating the sun and enjoying open spaces
Hang down, pushing against her heart
like demons that afflict her.

Those demons too, are but boundary maps
of dried up history. So sister
We shall not turn breasts that once were
Water ponds to quench our thirst
Into vessels of unending agony.
We’ll turn them into stone someday
And fling them away using slings,
We’ll wander, even with a lone breast
Bearing the weight of the sun.
(English translation by N Kalyan Raman)

Kutti Revathi is the pen name of Dr S. Revathi. A Chennai-based Tamil poet, her poetry seeks to evolve a subversive language to explore and reclaim a long-colonised realm of experience – “the map of a Tamil woman’s body”.

More on Kutti Revathi:

N Kalyan Raman took up translation in the mid 1990s. His translations of Tamil short stories have been included in several collections of Indian language fiction in translation. He has translated three volumes of Ashokamitran’s fiction into English: The Colours of Evil, Sand and other stories and Mole!, besides a novel by Vaasanthi, published as At the Cusp of Ages.

More on N Kalyan Raman

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Book Review - The Englishman's Cameo

Three murders in a row and an innocent man in jail. Not a story many of us have not heard of in times such as these, but wait, no hasty conclusions please, until you have joined Muzaffar Jang, our erstwhile, aristocrat detective in his search to find the real murderer of all three.

And God forbid, if there is more than one killer….

Muzaffer Jang is an aristocrat in Shahjahan’s Dilli but is humble enough to have friends among the lesser mortals. One such, Faisal, has been put behind bars for the murder of Mirza Murad Begh, who was at one time a wealthy landlord. Apparently given to the guiles of the most beautiful courtesan – Mehtab Banu, it is not really clear where his money is wasted and why and therefore, it is suspected that his coffers are emptying themselves at the feet of Mehtab Banu.

So was it then, the irresistible Mehtab Banu, who was behind the murder? Why not? But then, if she was, why did she herself eat that paan that seemed to have done Murad Begh in?

Lusting after every man, of handsome features and jingling pockets, Mehtab Banu had not ceased to distract Muzaffer Jang as well – “This woman would make a man forget his very self.” But Muzaffer Jang was not a man with a weak heart, so easily given. He was a man with a mission to find the killer of Murad Begh, so that his poor friend could be released.

For Muzaffer Jang, being a detective was not a profession. But an obsession that kept him chasing the murder story, even at the risk of his own life.

However, he was not the only one on the chase. His brother-in-law, Farid Khan, the Kotwal of Shahjahanabad, (now purani Dilli) already had his hands on the case – Yusuf Hasan, his trusted assistant had been chasing the case religiously. And yet, it is Muzaffer Jang, the Reader joins in his relentless search for truth. Through havelis and mansions, galis and ghats, through Dilli and Bihar, even to the Mehramgarh, past many suspects – man and women alike, desi and videshi sailors and dealers, the Reader rushes through alleys and allies, friend and foe, to arrive at one of the most important lead – The Englishman’s Cameo. Who is the culprit? What is the motive? Whodunit? Read all and everything, in an amazing piece of literature, The Englishman’s Cameo.

The story is set in the era of 1627 – 1658, when the fifth Mughal emperor, Shahjahan had shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi and created what is today purani Dilli – which was called Shajahanabad, around the Red Fort, Dilli, with all its nawabi grandeur.

Madhulika Liddle’s The English Cameo, is not only a detective story, but is steeped in paragraph after paragraph with descriptive literature which can make any Reader, who loves good writing and the luxury of words that describe a situation or a thing in such exquisite fashion, coo with delight. Over and above it is a well researched book placed in an authentic part of Mughal history.

“ Murad Begh’s haveli was a sprawling mansion of grey quartzite embellished with red sandstone and even a few stray inlays in white marble. The fa├žade of the house, a series of beautifully cusped arches, shone through the screen of neem trees that framed it….”

Such exquisite language dots the 278 pages of the novel throughout. Add to that a nosy, stickler for facts and figures of the murder mystery, Muzaffer Jang and what you get is an Editor, who got so absorbed in the tale that the last few pages which could have been tightened to make for a one-two-three-and you-are-caught kind of quick ending, escaped her mind.

Publisher: Hachette India, 612/614 (6th Floor), Time Tower, MG Road, Sector 28, Gurgaon – 122001. India Website: www.hachetteindia.com
Author: Madhulika Liddle
Pages: 278; Price: Rs 295
Available at all major Book Shops across India and on www.oxfordbookstore.com and www.flipkart.com
About the author: Madhulika Liddle lives in Delhi and has worked in hospitality, advertising and instructional design. Her stories have won several awards, including the top prize at the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. This is her first novel.

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