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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Meena Kandasamy Poems
Advaita: The Ultimate Question
Non Dualism Atman Self Brahman God Are Equal
You are possessed. Witch doctors believe in phantoms, that cause your illness. But, driving out devils can be challenging. Spirits are given away—
Becoming A Brahmin
Algorithm for converting a Shudra into a Brahmin
The last thing she does before she gets ready to die once more, of violation, she applies the mascara.
My bed smells of textbooks and it is more than a month or so, since I dreamt of sunlight and the sky's embrace. Even a woman's lush vanities —
Ours is a silence that waits. Endlessly waits. And then, unable to bear it any further, it breaks into wails.
Another Paradise Lost
One sleepy summer afternoon, while helping myself to a glass of chilled water, I saw a snake lying curled under the fridge. It could have been a very poisonous cobra.
Helplessly, silent; we watched it being seized away, all our lands. The Government—a fulltime bewitching whore had promised Jobs. Industrialization. Power, Electric.
When memory decides To no longer bear the burdens— Of pain, or even plain indifference She has her winsome wicked ways.
Morning Song Wet pink And dusty grey The sky begins to blush.
Apologies For Living On
I am living on because providing apologies is easy
An Angel Meeting Me
and may be we will almost fall in love... I will look into his eyes, and he into mine—
How They Prostitute A Poem
It is uniquely easy For some to sell Ideals because Business of absent
If Everything Comes Crashing Down
And both of us become strangers onto each other Do not worry about me. We will look beyond eyes and run into each other As usual, for the rest of life.
Another Paradise Lost
One sleepy summer afternoon, while helping
myself to a glass of chilled water, I saw a
snake lying curled under the fridge. It could
have been a very poisonous cobra. Very
quickly, I chose my mode of attack: Acid.
Staggering, I reached for the glass bottle
so that I could pour the yellow-green cheap
acid on its slimy body, burning it to death.