Mallika Sengupta 1960-2011.

The death of Mallika Sengupta , poet, academic, feminist, and polemicist  has been announced. 

“Sengupta has consistently refused to be squeamish about mixing her activism with her art. As she tells poet, critic and translator Sanjukta Dasgupta in the interview included in this edition, “Ideology ruins poetry, but not always. Rather every poet has to face this challenge at some period of her life… I think a good poet can always insert ideology into poetry without destroying aesthetic conditions.”

I am adding in here some poems by Mallika Sengupta alongside some words by Poet Yashodhara Raychaudhuri,

“Mallika Sengupta’s voice has been one of the most prominent among the new breed of feminist poets of the 80s. Bengali poetry has seen its Kavita Singhas and Debarati Mitras of the 50s and 60s who have had minority status in poetry as women. Their voices were bold but were seen as exceptions among a mostly male bastion. Mallika belonged to a generation of educated, highly sophisticated young poets who were busy trying to erase the marks of their womenhood from the body of their poetry, and is in the company of at least 4-5 more woman poets. However, she made her mark early on with her discovery of a very strong and confident voice.  and that way mallika’s diction was dramatic, and paradoxically  ” masculine”, if one is allowed to use the word. Her selection of themes were conscious, depending on the theoretical basis of her sociological studies, and she was mature at the outset . However there was an evolution in her voice. Her poetry was initially full of imagery and play of language. But she developed her skills to write in a  radically  different way, she left subtlety for directness and immediate communication. Sometimes her poetry was criticised for its posterlike quality.  Both KHana and “the husband’s black hands” belong to the same genre.

Mallika uses strong imageries here, and mostly categorical  statements.  the issues she wants to address are of the prime importance here. the second poem is more of a personalized experience , mediated through a clinical third eye precision. the social situation is always the first priority for Mallika, and   “personal is political” here.

Mallikas Bangla renderings had very meticulously drafted metered phrases which are lost in translation. She knows where to stop, and how much to tell. the reader is taken on a stormy ride with her, with her relentless criticism of the status quo, the situation as it is.”

By Yashodhara Ray Chaudhuri

Condolences to Albert Ashok and members of PEN West bengal who are feeling her absence most acutely at the moment, you have lost a wonderful activist, writer and person.

Mallika Sengupta RIP


Today, on our Computer Day
Come let’s place our hand on the button
This very own history of women
From illiteracy to
Once upon a time from this woman
You snatched the chance of reading the Vedas
All of you said women were just housewives
Men had the right to Sanskrit
Women’s language, the language of the Sudras was different.
After a thousand years when the girl
Prepared herself for a girls’ school
Bethune and Vidyasagar stood by her
All of you said
Women who read and write
Are bound to become widows.

Then when the woman entered the office space
Mother-in-law’s sullen face, and the husband was suspicious
All of you said
What’s the use of a family run with a wife’s money?
The woman had to fight the storms and tempests.
Inch by inch in the thousand years the woman
Has earned knowledge and power
Inside a fiery heart, tranquil outwardly
Today half the sky is in the woman’s palm
The world is an amlaki held in the woman’s fist
Just a touch of a button
One day you who had denied her knowledge of alphabets
In her hand today is the computer world.
© by Mallika Sengupta

The Husband’s Black Hands.

The moment she tucks in the mosquito net and goes
to bed, her husband’s black hands fumble after
the snakes and frogs of her body:  “You’re hurting me!
Let go!”  In anger, those black hands twist her breasts.
He says, “Listen here, Sweta, don’t be coy.
If ever I find even the evening star
gesturing to you, or making eyes,
I’ll see that you fall into a hellish pit.”
Sweta’s white thighs swing back and forth in space
clinging to the back, her husband’s black back.

© Mallika Sengupta (b.1960)/ Translated by Carolyne Wright and Paramita Banerjee

West Bengal PEN  :

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