Biography of Mallika Sengupta
Mallika Sengupta was a Bengali poet, feminist, and reader of Sociology from Kolkata, known for her "unapologetically political poetry".
Mallika was born in Krishnanagar, a village in Nadia district, West Bengal, India. Sengupta is a proponent of an unapologetically political poetry and an important voice in contemporary Bengali literature. She began writing in 1981 and has since published eleven books of poetry, two novels and several essays, and edited an anthology of women’s poetry from Bengal. She works as a lecturer of sociology in a Kolkata college where she is currently the head of her department. She is also the Poetry Editor of Sananda, the Bengali women’s fortnightly (edited by Aparna Sen).
Sengupta has won numerous awards, including the Sukanto Puraskar (1998) from the Government of West Bengal, and a Junior Fellowship for Literature (1997 – 99) from the Department of Culture, Government of India. She has travelled to several poetry festivals, conferences and seminars in India, Sweden, Austria, USA and Bangladesh. English translations of her work have appeared in various anthologies. In addition to teaching, editing and writing, she has been actively involved with the cause of gender justice and other social issues. Along with other poets and artists, she has initiated Aloprithivi, a forum committed to raising consciousness among marginalized women and children through poetry, music and drama.
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.”
Dasgupta describes her as ‘an admirably alert, ardent and articulate person’ for whom feminism ‘is not just an academic issue’ but ‘a conviction and a challenge’. ‘In her poetry, womanhood does not remain an interiorised awareness,’ writes Dasgupta. ‘It becomes an energetic protest against marginalisation, interrogating women’s position in society as the oppressed other.’
In the poems included in this edition we hear the strong, unhesitant, unambiguous voice of a writer with a message. One begins to understand why Dasgupta describes the poet as the Taslima Nasrin of West Bengal. The polemics here are quite clearly the poetics.
It would be easy to dismiss this poetry as strident, shrill and ‘soapboxy’, particularly if one values an aesthetic paradigm of obliquity and subtext. However, it is useful to remind oneself of the perennially fraught but vital presence of protest poetry in the literatures of the world. And on reading this extract from Kathamanabi, a long poem by Sengupta (translated by Vaijayanti Gupta), one begins to see yet again why the raised voice must sometimes replace the genteel murmur:
“I am "her" voice, recounting her tales,
from the Vedic age to the 21st century.
The fire that has remained stifled in the ashes of history, smothered by time and age,
I am that woman - I speak of her.
I read tears, I write fire,
I live in infamy and consume its ashes.
I endure violence, and still breathe fire.
I live as long as this fire burns within me.
Activism and Literary Themes
Sengupta is also active in a number of protest and gender activism groups. Her fiery, combative tone, can be seen in many poems, e.g. "While teaching my son history":
"Man alone was both God and Goddess
Man was both father and mother
Both tune and flute
Both penis and vagina
As we have learnt from history."
often dealing with women's marginalized role in history:
"after the battle said chenghis khan
the greatest pleasure of life,
is in front of the vanquished enemy
to sleep with his favourite wife."
Particularly evocative is her feminist rendition of the legend of khanA, a medieval female poet whose tongue was allegedly cut off by her jealous husband:
"In Bengal in the Middle ages
Lived a woman Khanaa, I sing her life
The first Bengali woman poet
Her tongue they severed with a knife
Her speechless voice, "Khanaar Bachan"
Still resonates in the hills and skies
Only the poet by the name of Khanaa
Bleeding she dies."
A breast cancer survivor, she was under treatment since Oct. 2005. and passed away on 28th may, 2011 leaving her partner and college-age son behind.
Mallika Sengupta's Works:
Challish Chander Ayu, Virus publication, 1983
Ami Sindhur Meye, Prativas publication, Kolkata, 1988
Haghare O Debdasi, Prativas publication, Kolkata, 1991
Ardhek Prithivi, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1993
Meyeder Aa Aaa Ka Kha, Prativas publication, Kolkata, 1998
Kathamanabi, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1999
Deoyalir Rat, Patralekha, Kolkata, 2001
Amra Lasya Amra Ladai, Sristi Prakashani, Kolkata, 2001 Book Excerptise (2 translations)
Purushke Lekha Chithi, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2003
Chheleke History Parate Giye, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2005
Shrestha Kabita, Kolkata, Dey’s Publication, 2005
Aamake Sariye Dao Valobasa, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2006
Purusher Janyo Eksho Kabita, Deep Prakashan, Kolkata, 2007
O Janemon Jibananada, Banolata Sen Likhchhi, Kolkata, Ananda Pub. 2008
Brishtimichhil Barudmichhil, Kolkata, Ananda Pub. 2010
Poetry in English translation
Carriers Of Fire, Bhashanagar, Kolkata, 2002
Kathamanabi,her voice and Other Poems, Bhashanagar, kolkata, 2005
Seetayan, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1995
Sleelatahanir Pare, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1996
Kabir Bouthan, Ananda Publishers,Kolkata, 2011
Books on Sociology of Gender
Strilinga Nirmana, Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 1994
Purush Noi Purushtantra, Vikash Grantha Bhavan, Kolkata, 2002
Bibahabichchhinnar Akhyan, Banglar Samaj O Sahitye, Kolkata, Papyrus, 2007
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Mallika Sengupta Poems
Tell Us Marx
She who spun rhymes, wove blankets The Dravidian woman who sowed wheat In the Aryan man’s fields, reared his kids If she isn’t worker, then what is work?
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 drumroll of centuries — our hearts beat with hopes and fears.
The Girl On The Sunlit Road
As the shadows of Minto Park shifted They too moved away from the sun's heat, The two creatures who had left the dreadful house Two storm-tossed birds - daughter and mother.
Listen o listen: Hark this tale of Khanaa In Bengal in the Middle Ages
A Girl In Gujarat Genocide
Gujarat was a land of violet, red and green But colors deceived like lizards
Insignia Of Blood
Man, I've never raised my arms against you Slitting the hair-parting the day you drew the insignia of blood I felt pain, I didn't tell you
TELL US MARX
She spun rhymes, wove blankets The Dravidian woman who sowed wheat In the Aryan man's fields, reared his kids If she isn't a worker, then what is work? Tell us Marx, who is a worker, who isn't New industrial workers with monthly wages Are they the only ones who work? Slum life is the Industrial Age's gift To the worker's housewife She draws water, mops floors, cooks food After the daily grind, at night She beats her son and weeps She too is not a worker! Then tell us Marx, what is work? Since housework is unpaid labour, will women simply Sit at home and cook for the revolutionary And comrade is he alone who upholds hammer and sickle? Such injustice does not become You If ever there's a revolution There'll be heaven on earth Classless, stateless, in that enlightened world Will women then become the handmaidens of revolution?
OPEN LETTER TO FREUD
In man's body an extra limb Invested with eternal power, earth's ownership According to Mr Freud for lack of it woman is inferior As an underling she envies man's virility Nature is uncaring Man is uncaring Children are uncaring Only Freud cares for women! Who cares for compassion! Chitrangada? Joan of Arc? Simone de Beauvoir or dark Draupadi! "Penis-envy" is a term Introduced by Mr. Freud That extra which only man possesses That's what diminishes woman So she is uncertain in childhood Decorates the Shivalinga with flowers at girlhood Her playroom is full of dolls and utensils For it's said that she is her mother's replica. Whereas Rohit rehearses for war American soldiers in fatigues in his room Machineguns fusillade tra-ra-ra As man's aggressiveness grows in him If he claws cheeks with sharp nails Man-child's extra prowess makes grandmothers beam That extra bit in his body, that's the licence Which will make him the world's owner. Rohit will be the owner of which world? Where Rohita is his partner! Inferior sex! On galloping horseback with drawn sword Emperor Rohit will set out to conquer the world And he will be decked for war by mother, sister, wife This is just what you wanted, Mr Freud! If a woman warrior arrives from the opposite side Will he abandon arms like Bhishma - "I will not take up arms against women" Implying woman won't be allowed to acquire arms - This is primal man's sexual politics Freud, because you belong to the extra-limb group You assume women are inferior and hence envious! During my childhood I felt no penis-envy My identity was complete Even today I'm a confident, complete woman, A sensitive dark girl of the Third World Shall stand against you from today Who is inferior, who superior, which is more or less - Who has given you the duty of solving Such a political debate Mr Freud!!
INSIGNIA OF BLOOD
Man, I've never raised my arms against you Slitting the hair-parting the day you drew the insignia of blood I felt pain, I didn't tell you On dry soil no rose blooms, no peacock dances Yet digging the sandy terrain we drew water With son on the lap have watched glow-worms, pointed out Orion. We know earth is woman, the sky primal man Then why have you chained my arms? Why didn't you let me see the sun for a thousand years? Don't insult the earth that holds you Man, I've never raised my arms against you.
Today, on our Computer Day Come let's place our hand on the women.com button This very own history of women From illiteracy to women.com. 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.
The drumroll of centuries —
our hearts beat
with hopes and fears.
Blood. Battles. Poisoned air:
is this our fate?
Or will the new century transcend hate?
New generations, changing tastes
salt and pepper and sour and sweet