Biography of Meena Kandasamy
Meena Kandasamy is an emerging poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. She is based in Chennai.
Her first book, Touch, was published in 2006. Two of her poems have won prizes in all-India poetry competitions. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including The Little Magazine, Kavya Bharati, Indian Horizons, Muse India and the Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore. She edited The Dalit, a bi-monthly alternative English magazine of the Dalit Media Network in its first year of publication from 2001 to 2002.
Kandasamy’s translations include the writings and speeches of Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal or the Dalit Panthers of India (Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation, 2003) and the poetry and fables of Tamil Eelam poet, Kasi Anandan. She is one of the 21 short fiction writers from South Asia featured in an anthology published by Zubaan, New Delhi. At present, she is working on her doctorate on Caste in the Indian Language Classroom.
Kandasamy regards her writing as a process of coming to terms with her identity: her “womanness, Tamilness and low/ outcasteness”, labels that she wears with pride. She knew, she says, that “my gender, language and castelessness were not anything that I had to be ashamed of… I wrote poetry very well aware of who I was. But I was also sure of how I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be taken on my own terms… I wanted to be totally bare and intensely exposed to the world through my writings. I wanted it to be my rebellion against the world.” It meant, she adds, consciously deciding that she wasn’t interested in winning “acceptance, or admiration or awards”.
Aware that “the site for all subjugation is (at first) at the level of language”, Kandasamy believes that political poetry has the “pressing responsibility to ensure that language is not at the mercy of the oppressors”. The ways of the status quo are insidious, however, and Kandasamy realises that a politically conscious poet has to be true to herself in order to be a genuine voice of dissent and resistance.
Her work as the editor of a Dalit magazine and her association with the Dalit Panthers of India (a militant activist Dalit organisation) has further honed her awareness of what it means “to be a woman in a caste-ridden nation”. The result: poetry that arises “not out of mere reading, but out of active engagement”.
Given her impassioned politics, it is perhaps not surprising that she wrote her first love poem only two years after she started writing her “angry, militant” verse. The poems in this edition reveal more than militant rage, however. There is fierce and exuberant wit and wordplay which make one look forward to more of Kandasamy’s work in the years to come.
Meena Kandasamy's Works:
Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation. Political essays of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal leader Thol. Thirumavalavan, Samya (Kolkata), 2003.
Uproot Hindutva: The Fiery Voice of the Liberation Panthers,Speeches of Thol. Thirumaavalavan, Samya, Kolkata, 2004.
Point-Blank, Poems of Tamil Eelam poet Kasi Anandan, Kudil, Chennai, 2005.
Fables, Short-stories of Kasi Anandan, Kudil, Chennai, 2005.
30 poems of 18 Tamil Dalit poets for Muse India, Sept-Oct 2006 for a special feature on Tamil Dalit Literature.
Why were women enslaved? Essays of Periyar EV Ramasamy on women’s rights, Periyar Self Respect Propaganda Institution, Chennai, August 2007.
And One Shall Live in Two, Afterword in Tamil Dalit writer P. Sivakami’s novel “The Grip of Change,” Orient Longman, Chennai, March 2006.
Between Her Legs: Hindutva and Dalit Women in ‘Hindutva and Dalits’, editor: Anand Teltumbde, Samya, Kolkata, February 2005.
Slumdog debate: Let’s not be in denial of the reality, The New Indian Express, i.witness, January 25, 2009.
Dalits and the Press in India: With Specific Reference to Pandit C. Iyothee Thass and the Tamilian Weekly, Voice of Dalit, 1(2), July–December 2009.
Book. Booker. Booked: Indian Fiction in English, The New Indian Express, i.witness, September 13, 2008
Words Across Borders: Translation As Liberation, The Hindu Literary Review, January 6, 2008.
Heal Thyself, Opinion Column at Culture Vulture, Tehelka, 29 September 2007.
Dangerous Cacophony: Hindutva Consolidation and Conscription in Tamil Nadu through Celebrations, Communalism Combat, Mumbai, Nov–Dec 2004, Vol. 11, pp. 22–34. dangerous-cacophony.pdf
Udderly Fanatic. Boloji, 17 November 2002. (On the atrocity where five Dalits where lynched for skinning a dead cow in Jhajjar, Haryana).
Casteist. Communalist. Racist. And Now, A Nobel Laureate. Po-Co Web, 2002.
(with M. Nisar) AYYANKALI: A Dalit leader of Organic Protest. Foreword by Kancha Ilaiah, Other Books, Calicut, January 2008, pp. 103.
TOUCH. Published by Peacock Books, the poetry imprint of Frog Books, Mumbai in August 2006, ISBN 81-88811-87-4.
(Chapbook) 16 elegant, untitled poems have been hosted as an e-chapbook The Eighth Day of Creation on the poetry website Slow Trains.
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At that brief time
When you wait
For the audacious cane
To strike your skin,
And the rest of you is flinching
And cringing, with part shame,
And part pain,
Poetry dictates itself
In your mind. Short lines