Dr.M.G.R. Educational and Research Institute University – INAUGRAL ADDRESS

Dr.M.G.R. Educational and Research Institute University
The Literary Seminary Department of English - LITFEST ‘17
A National Conference on Women Poets of English Literature from 19th to 21st Century - INAUGRAL ADDRESS

	It is my pleasure and privilege to be a part of this Lit Fest organized by The Literary Seminary of Dr.M.G.R. Educational and Research Institute University.  I am happy to make note of the voluntary involvement of the students, participating enthusiastically in the club’s literary and cultural activities.
	This year’s Lit Fest - ’17 has rightly focused on a National Conference on Women Poets of English Literature from 19th to 21st Century, which will give an interesting opportunity for the club members to engage themselves in the world of women - ‘Women unlimited’ & ‘Women Infinite’. It is a very broad canvas and I hope this Lit Fest will bring into prominence the intricate, complex, painful yet most vibrant and confident world of women.
	I thank Dr.Padmasini for this wonderful opportunity to share some of my views to kick start the Fest.
	As I was browsing few books which can throw some light upon this topic I happened to lay my hands on “Women writing in India - Volume I, 600 BC to the early Twentieth Century” Edited by - Susie Tharu and K.Lalita. The most important lines which hit me in their preface go thus:
	“No one asked what it meant for a writer to live in times and in situations where she was doubly “Other” - as woman and as colonized person - even in her own vision. Yet these are complexities in the cultural fabric that must be recognized if we are to approach the elusive nature of an identity that emerges at the margin or understand the peculiar tension between public and private realities that underwrites women’s writing” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: XIX Preface) 
	The 21st Century women writing in India faces this duality - ‘other’ as a woman and as a colonised person. Myself as a vernacular woman poet - face this tension of my identity being pushed to margin as a colonized victim as well woman as Other & as a minority. Thus my writings deal mainly with the Identity crisis as well the position of woman as ‘Other’. Our histories were silenced or dismissed or censored. Our voices were either muted or attuned to a patriarchal echo. To quote again Susie Tharu & K.Lalita, while describing their journey to find out various women writings, they observe that, 
I quote:
	“Social histories, biographies, and autobiographies,    we   found,   often	provided    information   that   literary histories had censored. From these we learned about debates in which women  had  intervened;  about  wives,  companions,  and  mothers  who "also"  wrote;  about  the  prostitutes  of  Benares  who  had  written  a Shraddanjali (a collection of elegies) when a famous Hindi writer died; about a women's Kavi Sammelan  (poets' meet) organized  by Mahadevi Varma;  about  Vai  Mu  Kodainayakiammal,   who  in  the  early  1920s bought  a publishing  house, which then published  her  115 novels  and many works by other women  writers, as well as the journal Jaganmohini, which  she edited. To our surprise we found that the early twentieth   century, commonly   considered   a period   when   the women's movement was at a low ebb, had been a high point of women's journalism.  In  almost  every  region  women  edited journals  for  women (though  clearly also  read  them)  and  many  hundreds  of  women wrote in them.” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: XVIII Preface)
	Thus it has always been a journey by women into untrodden path, to bring out the unheard voice of women, their untold stories to be listened to.
	I believe this Fest is sure an attempt to give an introduction and a broad overview of the women poets of English Literature, as well Indian women Poets who wrote in English and whose works which have been translated into English.
	This conference deals with twelve important themes starting from Gender and Literature, Feminism, Religious Poetry by Women, Women and Revisionism, Confessional Poetry, Women and Conflict Literature, Trajectories of Women’s Writing, Women’s Studies - Theoretical  Underpinnings, India as seen by Women, Women and Subalternity, Postmodernism and Literature by Women, Women and the Institution of Family - a vast arena indeed.
	Again I found some questions raised by Susie Tharu & K.Lalita so relevant to this conference. While editing the book of “Women writing in India” they pose the following questions:
I quote:
	“Why did we think women’s writing was different or that it called for special attention? Weren’t women writers as much victims to social idiocies about the subordinate status of women as men? If we were arguing that women writers had been marginalized and their work unrepresented or misjudged, how did we suggest they should be read?” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: 1 Introduction)
	Well this conference, I believe would address these questions above and try to enlighten the students, to find out some key ideas to engage themselves fruitfully in future.
	Also, I presume that Women Poets of English Literature include Indian Women Poets. Women writing in India encountered a paradigm shift on two historical and political situations. One was under Queen Victoria’s regime, which included a lot of “ideological shifts which affected women’s literary production and consumption” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: 7 Introduction). The second was the decisive influence of the British colonial administrators and political thinkers like Macaulay, J.S.Mill & Trevelyan. Our rich indigenous literary tradition and their contributions were carefully marginalized or subdued. Then we have had these ebbs and lows of the nationalist movement and social reform movement as an aftermath, which have had their own influence and impact in Women’s writing. The twentieth century dawned with all these new awakening and the twenty first century is witnessing a lot of progressive and modern women writers whose creative expressions in all the genres are treading  into a new path, elbowing away from age-old tentackles of tradition & culture! 
	We, as post - colonial subjects, are no longer, confined to the exposure and appreciation of the “Carefully selected canons of English literature” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: 10 Introduction) but to re-write our own history and to reiterate that our indigenous Oral & Vernacular literature should be given prominence and placement. Also traditional hierarchies are questioned, trespassed and thrown upside - down in the writings of women. A major shift in the ideologies of gender, class, sexual and critical outlooks have also opened up great avenues for women writers. 
	I am a third world woman and an indigenous poet. I face this duality of woman as minority and also as a colonized victim, whose ‘identity’ has been put into crisis by the colonial, hegemonical powers.
	I would like to gear it up by re-opening a set of questions raised by Susie Tharu & K.Lalita again:
I quote:
“What forms the gram of these women's struggles? How were their worlds shaped? We ask. How have they turned figures, plots, narratives, lyrical and fictional projects set up for different purposes to their use? With what cunning did they press into service objects coded into cultural significations indifferent or hostile to them? How did they tread their oblique paths across competing ideological grids, or obdurately hang on to illegitimate pleasure? What forms did their dreams of integrity or selfhood take? Most important, and this has been the major principle for our selections: what modes of resistance did they fashion? How did they avoid, question, play off, rewrite, transform, or even undermine the projects set out for them?” (Susie Tharu and K.Lalita: 36 Introduction)
	This conference is highly needed and well timed also - at this juncture of student Anitha’s much shocking, sad demise.  Her story is not only hers but ours. It is a mixed story of hope & despair. It is imperative now to create awareness, awareness through your pens - because pen is mightier than a sword.  In her book ‘Feminism in India’ Maitrayee Chaudhuri (Editor) quotes Sarojini Naidu’s presidential address to the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) in Bombay in 1930:
I quote:
	“We are not weak, timid, meek women. We hold the courageous Savitri as our ideal, we know how Sita defied those who entertained those suspicious of her ability to keep her chastity.  We posses the spirit of creative energy to legislate for the morale of the world.  I will, however confess to you one thing.  I will whisper it into this loud-speaker.  I am not a feminist.  To be a feminist is to acknowledge that one’s life has been repressed.  The demand for granting preferential treatment to woman is an admission on her part of her inferiority and there has been no need for such a thing in India as the women have always been on the side of men in Council and in the fields of battle... We must have no mutual conflict in our homes or abroad.  We must transcend differences.  We must rise above nationalism, above religion, above sex.” (Maitrayee Chaudhuri: XX Introduction)
	But, does it hold any sense for the poor tribal women, or scheduled caste women who are either gang-raped in the name of enquiry or molested by the upper-caste men? Sure there have been a revolution in India, where 8 lakh women gained power at local level, because of 30% reservations in Panchayat Raj - but there is this case of Bhajwari Devi, a Women’s Development Programme Worker, who was gang-raped for stopping child marriage at Bhateri village in Rajasthan.  The Court acquitted the five accused.  But, she became Sarpanch of the village – supported by Justice Krishna Iyyer and Mohini Giri.
	We did have warrior women, who heralded the “self-Respect Era” under Periyar.  Our Tamil culture is always proud of having women poets of Independent, fiery calibre.  Vennikuyathiyar, Avaiyar, Aatanathi, Athimandhi – who were on par with men - could talk terms with kings fearlessly.  Our “Tholkappiyam” does have conservative definition of a woman, ‘அச்சமும், நாணமும், மடமும், முந்துறுத்தல் நிச்சமும் பெண்பாற்குரியன‘. Thirukkural has been criticised by Periyar for its certain chapters ‘பெண் வழிச்சேரல்‘ questioning why the burden of prostitution is to be borne only by women and why a male was just called as ‘இழி மகன்?‘ Whereas a whole section of women have been attributed this class of ‘பரத்தையர்‘?
	I would like to bring to notice the valuable observation of Late Prof.V.V.John – a member of the Minority Commission.  After a survey, he has stated that, 
I quote:
“In Kerala, in certain districts, Christians are in minority, while in others, Muslims are in minority.  In some, Hindus too are in utter minority.  In Punjab, both Hindus and Sikhs are in minority in different districts.  In Nagaland, Mizoram and some other parts of the north-eastern region, I found Hindus in utter minority.  But, I found “WOMEN IN MINORITY EVERYWHERE”.
	Oprah Winfrey, an American Talk-show Anchor, says in one of her talk-shows: 

I quote:
“I will tell you that there have been no failures in my life.  
I don’t want to sound like some metaphysical queen, but there have been no failures.  There have been some tremendous lessons”.
	If at all, a rural woman from a third world country could say like this, can spring be far behind? For an agrarian, rural or a tribal woman from a third world, failures cannot be just lessons - they can be tombstones 
and deathknells.
I am not just a millennium woman – basking in the glory of post globalisation, liberalisation, privatization and mono-culturalisation.  I am a third world woman from Tamilnadu, a rural woman, who is proud of my rationalist path paved by those brave women of “Self-Respect Movement, who is conscious of the existing hurdles still prevalent – caste, creed and class – who is little empowered with education, not willing to bait my agrarian landscape, vegetation, birds, rivers and my language in the name of “development”, who is prepared for challenges ahead!
	I stand before you as a rural poet. I belong to a landscape of dry black soil, which we term as “Karisal” in chaste Tamil.  Hot summer is the most prevalent season and I hail from an agrarian community – in which failure of monsoon and rains is fatal to farmers. My soil, landscape, vegetation, birds, poultry, cattle-stock and above all, the native talkative, intruding, nosy, yet humane and affectionate people with their worldly wisdom – form the crux of my poems.  I breath my village, though I am a bonsai plant in a metropolitan city / My alienation, diasporic longing, my inability to adapt to a pretentious culture – my oxymoronic being between living and existence – are the key themes of my poems / I evolve neither as a woman, nor as a man, but as a human being through my poems. It is just a voice – neither revolutionary nor reformative and declaring, but a firm, true voice – robust village voice, uncontaminated by any isms, or genres, but deeply immersed in the natural odour of  my earth and soil – with all its sweat, untidiness, barbaric but commune life. I declare myself as philistine poet, who hears the inner voice of my people, registers it in my soul and walks with it – uncorrupt by the artificially air-conditioned seasoning.
	And my poems deal with my Identity Crisis as a third world post-colonial subject as well a woman with a minority status.
	I congratulate and commend the club for taking up such initiatives, for making conscious efforts to kindle the literary interests of the students and keeping it alive... I am sure it would generate some worthy dialogues!
Works cited:

•	Susie Tharu and K.Lalitha : Women Writing in India
•	Maitrayee Chaudhuri : Feminism in India

No comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *