One Day in the Life of Sita’s Sisters: A Review of Sanjukta Dasgupta’s Sita’s Sisters

Sita’s Sisters by Sanjukta Dasgupta
Kolkata: Hawakal Publishers, 2019
Pp. 80
₹ 300.00 INR

Review by Amit Shankar Saha

In the Preamble to Sita’s Sisters Sanjukta Dasgupta writes: “In selecting ‘Sita’s Sisters’ as the title poem of my sixth volume of poetry, I feel the battle for gender equality and gender justice will have to go on, in a resolute and concerted manner… and urge my readers to read these poems as texts of resistance and resilience, confidently gesturing towards inevitable social change.” The first four poems of the volume are titled “Sita’s Sisters”, “Sita’s Lament”, “Sita and the Golden Deer” and “Sita Meets Lakshmi”. These four poems form a trajectory of how the mythological character of Sita transcends into the lives of her innumerable sisters populating the world who live as good women “belonging” to their men. These women, “Sita’s sad sister”, wait for Mother Earth to split open and rescue them but it no longer happens. Sita’s “incessant unbearable cries” turn to lament of her unfulfilled wishes to be free to “spread arms like a bird and fly away”. But she is not free to run off with the mythical golden deer because the men of the world have subverted the golden deer into bait and use it to satisfy their illegitimate wanton desires. And paradoxically they blame the women for making them chase a chimera. This kind of contradictory argument has been the basis of all patriarchal dominance.
The trope of the golden deer is often used by the male society to designate woman as the root of all evil and yet there is a total elision of the complicit and rather explicit conniving of the male characters in the mythologies to produce a desired result. Once such a situation is created, it is isolated from its context and maliciously used to justify the blame they put on women. This kind of subversion and oppression can only be overcome, as Sanjukta Dasgupta says, when “Sita Meets Lakshmi” because here Lakshmi is not “Lakshmi bound” but “Lakshmi unbound”. Sita is said to be an avatar of Goddess Lakshmi who is mythologized as eternally bound to hearth and home. But Sanjukta Dasgupta’s Lakshmi is out of doors and she is calling Sita and all her suffering sisters to join her. Sita joins her out of doors and paradoxically this act of transgression becomes an act of self-realization: “Sita stepped out/ To step into her own being”. Long ago in England Virginia Woolf had said something similar when in her works like “A Room of One’s Own” and “My Three Guineas” she had argued how material conditions are necessary to free a woman’s mind. Lakshmi represents that material aspect that makes it possible for a woman to venture out of doors and thereby to free her mind from the shackles of male bondage and think freely not only for her own self but for the entire world as an inclusive domain of prosperity.
So is this volume of poems a feminist manifesto? But then every writing by a woman is a feminist manifesto in guise because it rends a gash in a male-dominated literary canon of thousands of years. In fact the very act of writing by a woman itself is an act of rebellion. How can one not be a feminist? Sanjukta Dasgupta writes in “Why I am a Feminist”:
If only I had eyes which could not see
If only I had ears that could not hear
If only I had a mind that couldn’t think
If only I had a heart that couldn’t feel
If only I had been a puppet on a string
A robot, an Alexa, a programmed AI performer
Definitely then I would not have been a feminist!

A privileged empowered woman is one who has in her own awareness an awareness of all the women who have not been and still are not in her position of privilege and freedom. And for that matter how can any human being of conscience not be a feminist after having such an awareness? It is this sensitiveness that makes one a feminist and it is shown even when Sanjukta Dasgupta is writing about Kashmir in “Heaven on Earth” and “Valley of Fear”. When she writes a personal poem like “My Mother’s Harmonium” she still has that sensitiveness: “Trapped in a dark wooden coffin for years/ My mother’s harmonium resurrected”. Sanjukta Dasgupta becomes nostalgic and says that tonight she will let her fingers play old tunes on the old harmonium. In her poem “Though…” she writes that “Though we slept in the same bed for years/ You dreamt of hills, I dreamt of the seven seas.” The poem has a tenderness that makes the reader plunge into a private narrative but then comes a line like “You just wanted tea I wanted a new world”, which makes the reader think that there is a deep-seated desire not only for personal liberation but for a new world of freedom for all because a free mind is not truly free if the entire world is not free.
Poems like “Easter in Krakow”, “Park Street”, “A Failed Dream” (reworking on Tagore’s “Where the Mind is Without Fear”), “Texting vs Meeting” and some others are not explicitly feminist as they don’t have the context of gender in them. They are commentaries on places, cultures, societies, politics and current affairs. But still they have the compassion which is characteristic of being sensitive to the issue of gender. In poems like “That Night” and “Tropic of Cancer” she deals with diseases and maladies in an innovative way. In poems like “Calcutta/ Kolkata” and “Two in One: Calcutta” she shows her attachment with her native city. There are two cow poems, “Cows Blazing” and “The Dumb Cow”, where she uses humour to satirize the current affairs of the country. There are also two Gandhi poems, “One Hundred and Fifty Years Young” and “Dhoti Dance”. In the poem “Protest” she speaks of a “strange automated land” where “not a single voice rises in protest”. In these poems she gives socio-political insights and shows a kind of attitude that is needed to raise the status of Sita’s sisters at least for one day. That day will break the stereotype and essentialist designation of women. For Sanjukta Dasgupta that day, once it arrives in the lives of Sita’s sisters, will become emblematic of all the succeeding days. In that journey of emancipation she expects everyone to support Sita’s sisters.

Poet's bio:
Sanjukta Dasgupta: Former Professor and Former Head, Dept of English and Former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Calcutta University is a poet, critic and translator. She is the recipient of numerous national and international grants and fellowships and has lectured, taught and read her poems in India, Europe, USA and Australia. She was the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, United Kingdom. Dasgupta’s published books are The Novels of Huxley and Hemingway: A Study in Two Planes of Reality, Responses: Selected Essays, Snapshots (poetry), Dilemma (poetry), First Language (poetry), More Light (poetry), Her Stories (translations), Manimahesh (translation), The IndianFamily in Transition (co-edited SAGE). Media, Gender andPopular Culture in India: Tracking Change and Continuity (co- author, SAGE, 2012) ,Tagore: At Home in the World (co-editor SAGE 2013), Radical Rabindranath:Nation, Family and Gender in Tagore’s Fiction and Films (co-author, Orient Blackswan 2013), SWADES- Tagore’s Patriotic Songs (translation, VisvaBharati Publication Division, 2013), Abuse and Other Short Stories (Dasgupta Book Company, 2013), Towards Tagore A collection of Essays (ed. with introduction – Visva Bharati Publications, 2014), Golpo Sankalan: Translated Contemporary Bengali Short Stories (SahityaAkademi New Delhi 2016 reprinted 2018), Lakshmi Unbound (Poetry) 2017. Claiming Space for Australian Women’s Writing (co-edited. Publisher: Pan Macmillan, USA), 2017.

Reviewer's bio:
Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is an award-winning poet and short story writer. He has won the Poiesis Award,, Wordweavers Prize, Nissim International Runner-up Prize. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets, Assistant Secretary of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Fiction Editor of Ethos Literary Journal and Chief Executive Editor of Virasat Art Publication. His two collections of poems are titled "Balconies of Time" and "Fugitive Words". He has a PhD in English from Calcutta University and teaches in the English Department of Seacom Skills University.

1 comment :

  1. wonderful review by a wonderful poet for wonderful poems on women empowerment.


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