Writing the Body: A Feminist Reading of the Poems of Rajathi Salma and Kutti Revathy
Smithalekshmi S. is currently pursuing her doctoral research at the School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. Her areas of interest are studies in feminism and postcolonialism. She has authored a book on Muhammed Ali in her mother tongue Malayalam.
The women poets of the contemporary period have equipped their poetry with the power to react against the domineering authority. Barbara Harlow, the well known scholar of Third World literature, puts it rightly in her seminal book Resistance Literature ; “poetry…is itself an arena of struggle” (Harlow 33). Resistance literature encapsulates all such writings which aimed to challenge the regime of power structures. For manifesting resistance through their writings, they have employed various techniques like deconstructing mythical hero/heroine/ villain, rejecting the tools of patriarchy like religion and language and thus projecting the concealed. The female body created by the patriarchal mindset in writings was circumvented when women writers described their body with their first-hand knowledge. Women poets like Kamala Das have brought in body politics in their writings. For them poetry is a protest against the silence into which the female body has been trapped in, or more precisely, it is an act of giving representation to a misrepresented entity. These kinds of writings are characterized by highly metaphorical often unpunctuated flow in writing which represents female body processes in an emotional rhythm. They are not superseding biology but they prove how to give new meaning and values to the body. Tamil women poets and activists like Rajathi Salma and Kutti Revathy, representatives of new generation poets in Tamil Nadu, met with the charges of obscenity and immodesty when they depicted the female body in their poems. This study has taken some selected poems of these two women poets which were originally written in Tamil and were translated to English by the famous translator Lakshmi Holmstrom. The present paper tries to analyze the way in which women write women’s bodies in the context of their traumatic experiences. The presence of the female body in itself, outside its designated space within the household, is an affront to caste patriarchy. The woman should question the domineering patriarchal society that scrutinizes the dress that is worn by her, the time at which she walks alone or the person whom she accompanies. Being an integral part in both racial and sexual oppression, body is directly involved in a political field. Like Foucault’s articulation on body as a ‘site of power’, the study tries to place body as a space where various conflicting discourses converge to form a site of differences.
Keywords: body of woman, obscenity, privacy, resistance, moral policing, traumatic experiences, body politics.
Woman was traditionally assigned two major roles in society – one is of mother and the other is of wife. Of the two roles to perform, the role of wife is more significant because of her services to her husband. In Indian mythological texts, wife addresses her husband as ‘lord’ to indicate the status of woman as subservient to man. The female body has to achieve and sustain certain qualities to become a dutiful wife. Virginity is one among such standards framed by the male dominated society. Virginity is considered as a touchstone to purity in India. It is a widely accepted belief that a girl should protect and give more priority to her virginity than her life. There is a common notion existing in India that a virgin girl, alias the ‘pure’ girl, is considered as a token of gift to her husband and he can do whatever he wishes to do with her body. Society terms it as the birthright of the husband and nobody questions it as it is deemed to be ‘natural’. Thus, a wife’s body becomes the personal property of her husband but the husband’s body is retained as his own territory, as the analysis of the literary representations to follow make clear.
Additionally, in the context of this paper, we shall find that this is not mandatory in every marital relationship or in cohabitation, but most of the times it becomes obligatory. Female body becomes a site of contestation in such relationships. The dominance of the patriarchal society turns female body into an object to use or a territory to conquer. Like an unconquered land is conquered by men of power, the virginity of a girl is looted of by her ‘master’ husband or anyone else like her lover or a rapist, making her impure by taking away her ‘purity’. The colonial man has a ceaseless urge to conquer new lands and ‘civilize’ the native people living there. Colonization is a metaphor here because the man is uplifting the woman to become a mother, the most anticipated status a woman can dream of, thus ‘civilizing’ the woman. Later when she loses the charm after the child birth, the man will set out to find new lands. As the body of woman is a site to be explored as per the patriarchal notion, the conquered lands are attributed the identity of woman’s body in the colonial period itself. “…from the beginning of the colonial period till its end (and beyond), female bodies symbolize the conquered land. This metaphoric use of the female body varies in accordance with the exigencies and histories of particular colonial situations. For example, in comparison with the nakedness of America or Africa in early modern iconographic representations, Asia is always sumptuously clothed…” (Loomba 152).
Jasbir Jain, a Postcolonial critic, notes this woman–territory analogy during the Indian freedom struggle in her essay titled “Indian Feminisms: The Nature of Questioning and the Search for Space in Indian Women’s Writing”;
…the history of British rule in India has impacted women in three different ways which are conflictual and oppositional to each other: (i) women were the site on which imperial and colonial strategies were worked out. Child marriage, polygamy, sati and widow remarriage all became central issues. How far the intervention of the state was desirable or pro-woman is a larger question in itself. (ii) Women came to symbolize nationhood and with the myth of woman as the motherland being identified with them, they came to be treated as the custodians of culture. (iii) They found legitimate space which promised them identity and selfhood within the freedom struggle even if it was within conventional frameworks and moral values which valorized sacrifice and self- effacement. (29)
Here, woman is identified with the motherland unless and until she follows the conventional frameworks and moral values of the society. This analogy is only considered when the woman leads her life as per the norms formulated by the male dominated society. To become the custodians of culture, a patriarchal construct as well, women should have to immolate their bodies. Jain continues, in the same essay, “The State performed a patriarchal role in asserting its right to reclaim and rehabilitate women; women themselves by committing mass suicides in order to prevent rape or abduction followed the tradition of jauhar and sati” (31). Thus, it is very clear that the body of woman becomes a site to exert power by the various institutions of the society. The symbolic association of female body with territory/ territoriality is to be defended as it dehumanize woman to an object. Representing female body in writings can create a unique identity of its own. But writing on or about the body by women writers would need enormous courage and strength in a traditional Indian scenario. Helene Cixuous’ observation is pertinent to recall here:
Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes and rhetorics, regulations and codes, they must submerge, cut through, get beyond the ultimate reserve- discourse, including the one that laughs at the very idea of pronouncing the word ‘silence’… (886)
The phallocentric society will accuse such writings about female body by women writers as obscene and immodest. So it is hard to establish the authority over one’s own body by a woman who wants to negate the authority the man exercises over her body. To reveal her trauma she suffered, only strong imagery and powerful expressions are used. Luce Irigaray posits “woman’s writing” as that which evades the male monopoly and the risk of appropriation into the existing system by “establishing as its generative principle, in place of the monolithic phallus, the diversity, fluidity, and multiple possibilities inherent in the structure and erotic functioning of the female sexual organs and erogenous zones, and in the distinctive nature of female sexual experiences” (qtd. in Abrams 97).
The ‘ecriture feminine’ helps women to posit themselves from the ‘other’ to ‘Self’. Helene Cixous, who proposed the term, challenged women to express themselves without any hesitations by coming out of the cocoons made by man to suppress them. The unhappiness of the woman in living a ‘happy’ life as man dictates her to lead finds expression in the language she uses to demonstrate her feelings. The language and experiences of women are entirely different to that of man. The feminine language can be a threat to phallocentric culture, but it helps the woman to express her in new ways. Feminine mystique is a term which became popular by the title of the famous book by Betty Friedan which sparked the beginning of second- wave feminism. The very idea of this term was predominantly rooted in the society just like a myth, in the lives of women. Feminine mystique states that women naturally fulfil their meaning of life by devoting their lives to become housewives and mothers. It is a false conception regarding the identity of woman. She wants to identify herself as she is, not what she is to someone.
There exist a number of differences between man and woman, even if man and woman share equal political and legal rights on paper. Physique of woman is physiologically and genetically different to that of a man. As the difference in physique exists between them, the nudity of woman is more controversial in degree than that in man. The patriarchal world will define body of woman as a problematic entity when she gets raped or when her nudity becomes marketed in porn movies. More precisely, it is an action to make the body of woman a collective responsibility of the society and thus, a site of exploitation. The differences it possess with that of man’s is explicitly stated in Foucault’s observation on this matter.
The problem of how to conceive of the body without reducing its materiality to a fixed biological essence has been one of the key issues for feminist theory. At a fundamental level, a notion of the body is central to the feminist analysis of the oppression of women because biological differences between the sexes are the foundation that has served to ground and legitimize gender inequality. By means of an appeal to historical biological characteristics, the idea that women are inferior to men is naturalized and legitimized. This involves two related conceptual moves. Firstly, women's bodies are judged inferior with reference to norms and ideals based on men's physical capacities and, secondly, biological functions are collapsed into social characteristics” (Armstrong n.p.). When the inferior tries to express oneself, the superior persona will make some issues and exert its power to silence the freedom of expression of the ‘other’. The anecdote in the life of Rajathi Salma, one of the women poets selected for this study, shows how the patriarchal objections she faced throughout her life from all circles moulded her to become the fearless Salma that she is today.
Rajathi Salma is a popular activist and politician in Tamil Nadu. Her real name is Rokkiah Begum. Before becoming a renowned poetess as now, she led a cloistered life like other Muslim girls of her age who reached their puberty. Her love for reading the books she got from the nearby library with the help of her mother sustained her life. Her extensive reading never allowed the newspaper bits used for cladding the household things to stray away. But when she got married in her teens like other Muslim girls, her husband and in-laws drew a controlling line to announce their authority over her. To come out of this servitude, she started writing her poems without the knowledge of her husband. Her husband was hostile to her writing and so she selected a pen name ‘Salma’ for anonymity. Salma published her poems under this pen name with the help of her mother and Kannan Sundaram, the Publisher of the journal Kalachuvadu. When her husband detected her as the ‘sensational’ Salma, she had to face physical abuse from him. He threatened her of acid attack. In order to defend,she began to sleep at nights hugging their son tightly. Fate had something else in store for her. She became a representative of people in her Panchayat and from that point onwards, nothing could stop her from being herself. The story of Salma proves to be an instance of victory and a source of inspiration to all those people who aspire to write their own story by expressing themselves fearlessly as she did. She is a survivor who subverts the impositions of a male-dominated social order. For truthful depiction of this traumatic experience, the writers would try their best to intermingle a certain radicalism of imagery like breasts, vagina, etc. which are taboo as subjects of discussion and inherently embedded in notions of chastity, chivalry, and purity.
The inculcation of such imagery in their writing gives it a political importance, the much needed utility for these kinds of writings. The reaction from the society is uncontrollable when the personal is turned political. The translator of the poems of Salma and Kutty Revathy, Lakshmi Holmstrom recalls,
In 2003, at a time when politicians and other establishment figures of Tamil Nadu were caught up in a surge of Tamil chauvinism, a group of men and women, setting themselves up as guardians of Tamil culture, objected publicly to the language of a new generation of women poets, particularly in the work of Malathi Maithri, Salma, Kutti Revathy and Sukirtharani. They charged the women with obscenity and immodesty. (99)
The themes of their poetry like relationship of woman with her body and the politics of sexuality incensed the fury of the mob.
The poets received abusive letters from individuals as well as literary organizations. … A popular song writer for films gave a much publicized interview to a literary journal condemning women writers in general. After this, another film- song writer, Snehithan, appeared on television declaring that these women should be lined up on Mount Road in Chennai, doused with kerosene oil and burnt alive. (100)
The incensed Tamil male dominance wished to show its ascendance by ‘witch hunting’ these free willed women poets. These destructive criticisms aimed at annihilating their spirit of openness, only added to their outspokenness.
“The Contract” is a poem written by Rajathi Salma in which she calls marital relationship as a contract. In marital life, both husband and wife are the persons who entered into the vow of living together. When the bond goes balanced as both get the same privilege and same acceptance, there will be nothing to worry. If someone in the bond is forced to do sacrifice for leading the marital life in equilibrium, then problem will arise. This is the issue in most cases of marital breakdowns and to restore it into normal is not an easy task to achieve. Salma begins the poem by calling her to be the guilty “for all that goes wrong in the bedroom” (34) by her own mother and sister. The hegemonic atmosphere where one has been brought up can exert pressure on the cognitive domain and thus act as an enemy to the same sex. The mother and sister in this poem act like the blind followers of patriarchy. They are criticizing the narrator to surrender before her tyrannizing husband.
The dominating husband’s rhetorical question “So what is it, today?” becomes the first and last words in the bedroom. This shows how powerless she is in her private room where she shares her powerlessness with her powerful husband. Her husband has treated her as a sexual object and so she degrades herself as a whore. Among all these traumatic experiences she bore, she still yearns for the love of her husband.
To receive a little love
from you (35)
These lines show the acceptance and care she desperately is in need of. Even if the love from her husband is “tarnished” in nature, she craves for it. She wishes her husband to buy “sanitary napkins and contraceptives” and “many other little favours” .. More importantly she wants “to hold a little authority over [her husband] if possible, To strengthen what authority [she has] just a little” (35).
The contraceptives in her wishlist denotes a politics of its own. Pregnancy becomes a problem to woman alone. Man has less concern over it as it does not affect him primarily. Hence the speaker of the poem “The Contract”, a woman, yearns for contraceptives and sanitary napkins to be bought by her husband. Buying sanitary napkins by man is unusual in ordinary society, but the poetess wants him to buy it. Like a new woman, she wants to make man buy it. The cultural inhibition stops man from buying sanitary napkins. Being a poetess of resistance, Salma speaks out the indigestible and breaks the cultural taboo. She gravely wants to have a little authority over her husband, even though it is “just a little”.
The speaker in the poem who accuses herself of being a whore to her own husband is trying to be good in bedroom, just to get a little favours from him. She once states that she needs the ‘tarnished’ love from her husband “to fulfil my responsibility as [her husband’s] child’s mother” (35). It can be noted as a resistance to the venerable customs that are blindly followed for generations. Here the poetess is questioning the tradition as the tradition teaches us the duty of mother is to look after her children. The mother of her children or the wife of the man in the poem is not a stereotyped woman of Indian social traditions; she is very different from the commonly believed woman created by the patriarchal society we live in. Here, we find a new woman who questions the traditional way of attributing certain duties that are bestowed upon woman to commit solely to woman. She wants to resist the existing pattern of victimizing woman with the burden of familial duties. The traditional woman may be proud of the childbirth marks, but the new woman presented by Salma calls it as her ‘downfall’. The traditional mother may not mind it at all. Yet the poem concludes with the lines, “In full knowledge of all this, my vagina opens” (35). Here, the opening of vagina is marked as a demerit of woman. The speaker ridicules the opening of her vagina as the only thing it knows to do. Amidst the boasting of womb power as woman power, the poetess points out that woman’s own body traps her to be victimized before the dominance of man. This is highly metaphorical expression of female sexuality.
“A midnight tale” is another poem by Salma which portrays the longing for her lost chastity and beauty. The Speaker in the poem is a married woman who laments on her indifferent husband who shows sexual dissatisfaction to her as she has lost her past charm due to childbirth.
following the children’s birth
you seek, dissatisfied,
within the nakedness you know so well,
my once unblemished beauty. (32)
Here, the speaker of the poem is lamenting about her faded beauty after childbirth, not because the childbirth was unwanted but she became unwanted for her husband after it. The sexual satisfaction sought by her husband “within the nakedness [her husband] know[s] so well” is not there now and so he becomes dissatisfied. The speaker, the wife, is mourning on her “once unblemished beauty”. The usage of the word ‘unblemished’ is very apt here as the body has undergone natural changes after childbirth.
Childbirth is considered, in the patriarchal construct, as the exaltation of conjugal relation. For achieving this extreme happiness, the body of woman undergoes many pressures and sufferings. Jasbir Jain in her essay “Indian Feminisms” perceives motherhood as a “cultural imposition which denies woman personhood” (32). The pain of childbirth often goes unmentioned and also the mental trauma that is experienced in post-partum may not even noticed by others. But when the father discards the mother for her blemished body after childbirth, one cannot tolerate the pain it creates.
You are much repelled,
by a thickened body
and a belly criss-crossed with birthmarks;
my body, though, is unchanging
today, hereafter and forevermore. (32)
Interestingly, the woman, having internalized the repressive mechanisms under which she exists, seemingly attributes this critique of her body to her husband. The husband is said to be dissatisfied with the “thickened body” of his wife. He observes that her belly is now “criss-crossed with birthmarks”. He continues that these changes that caused to her body are “unchanging”.
your body is not like mine:
it proclaims itself,
it stands manifest.
Before this too,
your children, perhaps, were born
in many places, to many others;
you may be proud
you bear no traces of their birth. (32-33)
After facing the body shaming comments by her husband, the narrator is comparing her body with his. The body of a woman was controlled by the patriarchal morality, and by the roles of wifehood and motherhood. But when her husband humiliates her by pointing out the changes happened on her body, she seeks out to establish her right to her body. Her endeavour to establish selfhood or project her subjectivity has to work through her body – “[her husband] bear[s] no traces of their birth” – is a very powerful line which contains the soul of feminist spirit. The difference between the body of man and woman is explicitly stated here by mentioning the culturally attributed function of it.
These birthmarks cannot be
repaired, any more than my own decline-
this body isn’t paper
to cut and paste together, or restore.
Nature has been
more perfidious to me
than even you;
but from you began
the first stage of my downfall. (33)
The assertion on body as “not a paper to cut and paste together or restore” is not only a play of words with the commands in this computer era, but also signaling on the damage caused by it not healed with a single stroke of any machines. The poetess strongly declares that the body of woman is not a machine that can be restored or reformed into the unblemished beauty once it owns. “Closure” is also a poem written by Salma where she says “Always/ you have plucked away/ by force/ all that was mine” (38). These lines reiterate the idea depicted in the poem “A midnight tale” on deprivation of chastity which is believed as a sin.
Kutti Revathi, one of the bold women poets and a contemporary of Salma, became a well-known personality of Tamil literature when her poem titled “Breasts” got published. Apart from the traditional view of reducing breasts as a sexual organ, Revathy appraises it as any other part of the body like eyes or nose. A doctor by profession, Dr. S. Revathy, generally known by her pen name Kutti Revathy is a practitioner of Siddha medicine. The profession of Kutti Revathy gave more importance to body, so her poems are full of images of human body. The poetess strives to bring out the physical and emotional impact of them. Kutti Revathy, it may be presumed, does not have any hesitation in giving a title like “Breasts” to her poem. She uses a disruptive language to represent a colonized entity like body of woman and the emotions it owns inside. Calling a spade a spade is heroic deed when it is done by an upper class man, but when a woman does it or a Dalit does it, the misogynist and anti- Dalit high class society will harshly criticize that practice. Kutty Revathy was influenced by the village legend of Nangeli, a bold woman from Kerala who resisted against paying breast tax. This tax was collected in order to prevent lower class women from wearing upper body clothes. Nangeli, unable to pay the tax, cut off her breasts in protest. She treated her breasts as any other organ on human body like hands or legs. Nangeli raised her voice of resistance against the patriarchal supremacy with her body. This incident influenced Kutty Revathy to write a poem on breasts. She acknowledges this in an interview to N. Kalyana Raman, a famous translator of Tamil Nadu.
The poetess handles breasts as a ‘normal’ body part, not something that should be whispered in shame, in her poem “Breasts”. The speaker of the poem watches the growth of breasts ‘in amazement’. The poetess tries to draw her connection with breastsboth physically and emotionally during her “changing seasons”.
At times of penance
They struggle and strain;
and at the thrust and pull of lust
like the proud ascent of music
they stand erect.
From the press of an embrace
they distil love; from the shock
milk, flowing from blood. (58-59)
Unlike the common notion of seeing breasts merely as a sexual object, the poetess is attributing a place of companionship to it. Breasts are a living reality for her and not a commodity that is projected on the body of woman to extend ‘its’ market value. Society will crucify the poet for using ‘such a dishonourable’ image in poems to win popularity. But the male gaze of society can only see breasts as a sexual organ of woman and hence denounce Kutty Revathy as a poet who uses such images to get attention from the public. Breasts are compared to ‘bubbles, rising from marshlands’ and ‘two teardrops’ in her poem. These two comparisons show the impermanence of everything around us which was once a part of us. The shape of the bubbles and teardrops instills the image of the object in reader’s mind. Sometimes articulating the very name of breasts is considered as a taboo, even though all the human beings and animals are directly connected to it by sustaining their lives. Yet the ‘so called’ morality of the society punishes those who are outspoken. The publication of the poem “Breasts” evoked a controversial situation in Tamil Nadu.
Other than “Breasts”, there are several other poems by Kutti Revathy which bear the idea of body of woman. Her “Childbirth” is an example of such kind of poems. In “Childbirth”, she says
on the very day I put forth
a cluster of flowers, ready to fruit,
your sickle felled me,
flayed me, tore apart my body.
All the same, around my feet,
right up to my ankles,
again and again they will rear their heads
my majestic crests. (71)
Here, the poet is accusing a dominant power for plundering what she has. Her body was “ready to fruit” but the ‘sickle’ of dominating power tore her apart. The poetess may be speaking about a rape that took place within or outside a conjugal relationship. Marriage is considered as a sacred relation, but at times it can become scary in the sense that marital rapes have increased . According to a report,
Every third women, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in the country, reported the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4) released by the Union health ministry. (Saaliq n.p.)
In another instance, Kutti Revathy draws out what she needs in a marital life but what it turns out to be. The poem “I have invited this summer for you” shows what she expects from her nuptial relation;
My body is tender and limp
as if it needs to be wrapped around
with many hands. (69)
But it turns out to be an utter failure as she states it;
my body is a land that is alive,
and our quarrels stained with salt tears,
has been opened, between my sleeping
and waking. (70)
“Rain-River” is a poem by Kutti Revathy which manifests the union of two lovers, one is compared to rain and the other is to river. The poem recounts the intensity of their union
The fierceness of your embrace
whirls me about
tosses me against the rock-beds
makes me lose my breath. (60)
Yet the lines show a clear picture of the dominating spirit of the lover who makes his beloved breathless.
Most of the marital relationships in India face a kind of similitude towards colonizer- colonized dichotomy. The husband always acts as the ‘centre’ and wife as the ‘other’ in more than half of the relations. The familial ties, the fear of society and lack of support from others are the main reasons why a woman is inclined to the dominating and subjugating power of her husband. Some pertinent questions like how to survive and how to face society and what will the society think of me are grappling the woman who is engaged in unhappy marriages to lead her life as ‘normal’ as it is ‘programmed’ by her husband. Thus, the husband manifests the similar dominating-drive of the colonial power or what British was to countries like India and the wife becomes a colonial subject or the colonized.
This colonialist ideology created colonial subjects who behaved in the way the colonizer had programmed. They willingly accepted the superiority of the British, and their own inferiority. It produced a ‘cultural cringe’, so to speak…They (the colonial subjects) developed what is called a ‘double consciousness’, that is, perceiving the world through the consciousness of the colonizer as well as through their own vision provided by their native culture. This is also termed unstable or double identity… [Thus] one becomes a psychological refugee, in not being able to feel at home even in one own’s home. (Nagarajan 187)
Becoming a psychological refugee is a very complicated situation. The existence for namesake makes one revolutionary or depressed. In Kutti Revathy’s poem titled “Suicide- soldier”, the protagonist Selvi is using her body to destroy the system she hates.
you are about to cast aside your own clothes
and lock them away, as if they are your body.
The mirror sets to right your nakedness
which you wear as your dress. You proceed
to assemble your uniform; your weapons
and suicide belt become your body now. (63)
The woman in the poem selected her body, which was considered as a sex object by the patriarchal society, to destroy a group of people. She is a suicide bomber and what she does is revolutionary for her beliefs but foolishness to others. After all, she is using her body as a tool or an object and does what she wants to do with it. . The traditionally attributed ‘weak’ feminine image of female body gets manliness in this poem. The body of Selvi turns out to be a man-like entity that can exert its power on others. This is a noteworthy poem as it renders masculinity to female body.
Holding your breath, you scream.
Before you yourself are aware, the shock
of that blast photographs your blue face
for a blinding minute. Then, roaring,
your body bursts apart, Selvi. (63)
Thus, turning out to be a rebel is a way out solution and becoming depressed and clueless on the meaninglessness is not a right method to look at life. In “Sleeping seed”, Kutti Revathy describes body as,
My body, lacking anyone to seed and nourish it
dries out, cracks open into fissures. (66)
The incompleteness and the rootlessness which later turns out to be in an ‘unhomed’ condition make the woman perplexed about her existence. In one instance, the poetess draws an image of a lover who cannot lead a normal life without the company of her lover in the poem “Floodgates of memory” as, ‘The flood of your memory/ opens the sluice gate of my vagina” (73). These lines emphatically state the male dominance and female subjugation in the female psyche.
Susan Bordo, a modern philosopher who works on body studies, asserts in her essay titled “Feminism, Foucault and the Politics of the Body” that female body was “a socially shaped and historically ‘colonised’ territory”. She further adds that “Feminism imagined the human body as itself a politically inscribed entity, its physiology and morphology shaped and marked by histories and practices of containment and control” (250). The male dominance has subjugated female psyche by the ‘practices of containment and control’. Rajathi Salma and Kutty Revathy have brought in the metaphorical usage of female body in their writings to abolish the practice of treating female body as the central site of exercising patriarchal control. Kutty Revathy, a Siddha doctor by profession, has no inhibition to use the names of body parts, both private and public, as it is. It is part of her daily life and this ordinariness is explicitly stated in her poems as well. According to Lakshmi Holmstrom,
…a woman’s experience of herself and her body is either manipulated or distorted in some way by social, cultural and political means, or is denied altogether. It could be said that Kutti Revathy is deeply influenced by that strain of Siddha thought which claims that our bodies are ourselves: it is through the body that we understand the Natural world, gain knowledge of ourselves and achieve a connectedness with the universe. Perhaps it is this that drives her to call for a much more nuanced language in the current debates on sexuality and the politics of the body. (114-115)
The poems of Salma depict the metaphors from female body to show the strong feelings of woman that cannot be stated vividly without the use of such body images. Her poetry is evolved out from her life experiences and that experiences have turned her poetry into the poetry of resistance. The society had cut off her spirit of freedom when she reached her puberty and she was imprisoned in the familial prison. The secluded life in a closed room has shaped her to use images of body parts to represent the extreme emotions and feelings. Her direct deploy of images like vagina gave a new meaning and values to the female body. Her poetry reclaims the idea that every essence of the female lies in her body. Salma was born as a Muslim but she never tried to cover her emotions with ‘purdah’ of servitude.
In a male dominated society, a woman empowered to express aloud her desires and dissatisfactions is a threat to the status quo of power structures that persist in society. Hence, the patriarchal society tries to cover the body of woman with the customary cloth of social codes and customs. Writing the body by women can remove the masochistic and voyeuristic pleasures existing in our society. It urges to reconsider male dominated assumptions of sexuality and desires. When such social codes and customs are removed, that is, when that covering is removed and the body comes to the public as naked, the patriarchal society will lose its equilibrium. The female body in the poems of Rajathi Salma and Kutti Revathy is represented as an image of resistance against the exploitation a woman suffers in her marital and social life. Kutti Revathy portrays the resistance by explicitly writing about the organs of human body while Salma manifests it by throwing light on the degradation of sexual relations. This foregrounding of female body, a technique of resistance literature, can disrupt and subvert the existing order of male supremacy by usurping the very prominent male territory and thus reclaiming it as one’s own territory. Writing the body by these two women poets have succeeded in bringing it up as a discourse of resistance.
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