Freedom from love
The issue of self-censorship in women's writing is incomplete without an attention to the compulsion to candour, says RAJI NARASIMHAN, analysing the latest book of poems by Sunita Jain.
DO women subject themselves to self-censorship in their writing? The issue was judged in the affirmative at a seminar held in Hyderabad some time ago. Perhaps it is true. But a companion proposition, as true and as much prompted by deep-seated feminine impulses is that candour and soul-baring are just as often the mainsprings of women's writing. In the hard-hitting verse of, for example, Kamala Das, Sunita Jain, Eunice D'Souza and some other women poets, a clear line of evolution is seen in their first-person writing.
For Sunita Jain, the "I-You" axis is the launch pad of much of her poetry. <11,0m>In her latest selection of poems.
Sensum, the section "A Song for Myself" richly and sensuously exploits the dialogic potential of the axis. "Slips my thought/ into my song and of you/ is my song" she says, just when sure "I/ love you not/ love you at all."
This droopy state of at-ease between the "I" and the "You", captured neatly in the little jump upward of the voice at the word "You" before the phrase "is my song", is the base note in the octave of her "I-You" song. From this base the tone rises progressively, and intensifies. It sinks and clambers out of the existential pitfalls of the "I-You" yoking. It taps awake the quarter-tones and semi-tones contained in the song's octave, and eventually presents the whole song of the "I-You" convergence, explores the states writ in the configuration.
There is elation in this song. Side by side with the elation run disbelief, premonition and misgivings about the time when "summer will end its mirage" and "the agents of claim/ return". When that happens, how, she asks, "shall I/ console/ or you deny?" But premonition is held at bay, and a heavy quiescence is taken recourse to which gives the poetry a poise at once complex and mature. "You needed the arches of my body... I needed... / your ribcage hardness/ the shoulders' bowwidth."
The poise and self-collectedness collapse, of course, as had been foreseen all along. The voice abandons lyrical softness, soaks in irony, and gathers momentum for uttering brutal truths. "I shall/ when pain no longer/ gnaws at my soul/ blistered by your lies/ sing once again/ of all that you killed." Finally decorum and restraint are swept aside, and the voice explodes, white with anger. "A spent straw" or "Fake like Sears' Santa Claus" are some of the noun-adjectives thrown at the "You". These serve as stepping-stones to bare phrases, stripped of simile, to climax in guttural statements in which whole lines become single-syllabic phrases or sentences. "Hate licks at my soul... / the leper yells for death... "
An epilogue rounds off the outbursts and the song of love they record. "Don't make me fall in love again/ don't make me lose my kerchief world... " This thin-smiled, quivery resoluteness matures into a firm-set face, the smile absorbed into the voice, when, "after suicides/ not committed... / I am happily trim... Forgetfulness is habit." Stability intensifies during a Lancôme facial in New York when "you walk into my mind as I lie," and recall happens not only without agitation, but with good humour and God bless.
The "You" of the "I-You" configuration is a figure seen, inevitably, through the eyes of the narrating "I". It is an indirect, passive presence. But in the inexplicable shifts and reversals that take place in the reader's sympathies in the reading of any text, this "You", this acted upon presence, stirs the ethical balancings of the "I-Reader-You" tri-pass. The reader begins to ask, as he takes on, one after the other, the assaults of the "I" upon the "You", how much of this barrage is permissible, how much transgression of privacy.
What one looks for in such unleashing of passion, legitimate yet pronounceable by readers' verdicts, are retroactive endings to the verse, in which the "I" subsumes the "You", and emerges a consolidated and augmented figure in the arena, restoring the reader to his natural role of observer. This happens fairly often, when the voice becomes monologic in the end lines, the "I" a single surviving presence.
For the most part, though, the consolidations remain faint and anticipatory, the "You" vulnerable, not yet proof enough against the spray and spume of the fulminating "I". This is so till the very last poem, "PS", where the re-constituted and transformed "I" is audible from beginning to end in steady articulation, subtly yet perceptibly affecting the timbre of the poetry.
But this sparseness in the final resolution is more a semantic detail about these poems, both as poetry and as social reality. As poetry, they need little persuasion. But can they be called self-censored by any stretch of imagination? And by extension, shouldn't the question of self-censorship in women's writing be supplemented by a question on the compulsion to candour that equally animates their writing? Sunita Jain's poems implicitly articulate these questions.
Sensum, Sunita Jain, My Word Press, Calcutta, 2000.
The writer is a novelist, whose Atonement was published recently by Laburnum Books.
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