The Treatment of Love, Womanhood, and Gender Relationship in the Poetry of Rita Nath Keshari: A Study By Moloy Bhattacharya
Blood runs in all directions…
Sometimes like a mountain river
Eager to explore new landscapes,
Sometimes like a garden fountain
Content with the routine.
As blood runs in all directions like a mountain river to explore new landscapes from the above poem, “Beginning Anew” included in the anthology of poems, ‘Anguish And After’, the poetry of Rita Nath Keshari invariably seeks to explore the ubiquitous syndrome of human existence such as treatment of love, life and gender relationships.
Indian women poets writing in English have contributed enormously to the genre of poetry. Starting from Toru Dutt to the contemporary writers, many have offered a variety of themes and styles. Over the years women poets have often raised their voices as a form of protest against the social and cultural conventions that curtailed their freedom and perpetrated a sort of institutional subjection of women.
The contemporary Indian women poets in English like Rita Nath Keshari in particular have been instrumental in voicing their garnered experiences through their verses with an attempt to spread the message of oscillation of a transformational and patriarchal society. A gradual development in the sphere of arts, culture, theory and education has ushered tremendous changes in social life and the ways of comprehending the reality. In ‘Anguish and After’, the poet paints the changes in professional and personal life in the form of a story rather than a poem. The theme of her poems is revolved around contemporary issues that include traditional values, womanhood, gender inequality, forms of love, flow of life, aestheticism and spirituality etc.
Dr. Keshari is a true representative who speaks from her heart and translates her thoughts into verse. Her poems deal with all the aspects of the world around her. The poems written on diverse subjects are primarily connected with the mystery of life. The poems are short and crisp but replete with emotion and ideas. Her poem, ‘Acid Test’ is a fervent portrayal of the notions of a woman subjected to trials and tribulations in a patriarchal framework of the society. The opening lines of the poem,
Armed are we with the antidote
For the poison you injected into us
Mount your efforts
But writhe shall we not. (Acid Test)
bring out the strength and positive attitude of the women especially the new women whose will power weakens the domination of patriarchy that has curbed the freedom of women by imposing restrictions from all directions. The poem in question emphasizes that the power of venom injected by the men will not destroy women for they have been blessed with the power from the Supreme. According to the poet, the poison injected by men for centuries is like an acid test for women who have digested the acid and proved the purity of their souls.
Your poison had a purpose
It tested the purity of our souls. (Acid Test)
The poem also reflects the spirit of the women. Their feelings, emotions, agony, ecstasy and existence have been neatly unearthed. The last couple of lines of ‘Acid Test’ truly speak volumes of the condition of the Indian women surviving in male dictated society.
Poet Rita Nath Keshari’s poems are very sensitive to psychological and social issues because almost all of her poems portray the human psyche and social reality. In the poem like “Pearl”, the poet recaptures a series of delightful moments in the life of a person who takes a ride on a bus with his college friend. The poem that tells the story of love between individuals, once again proves the sensitive observations and spontaneity of feelings of the poet.
Long back in an overcrowded city
Two college students, Rumu and Shamim,
Were pushed closer each time the bus jolted.
Rumu, used to bumpy bus rides and
The demented crowd jostling for space,
Resigned herself to one more bus trip-
Foul odour, foul slang and foul motives.
Rumu’s white dupatta, limp against her,
Could not flutter as a peace flag.
Besieged from all sides, she turned
Towards her class mate, unfazed by the crowd.
Balancing himself, protecting her tender form,
He whispered in her ears,
“o my beloved, the pearl
Has dropped from your nose-ring”.
Someone trod on her feet but she
Felt only the rhythm of his words.
Delight bubbled up and sparkled in her eyes,
“Shamim, won’t you give up composing lyrics?” (Pearl)
Womanhood has acquired a special place in the poetry of Rita Nath Keshari. We are living in a civilized society where the role played the women and their existence as a social being is in no ways inferior to the men, nevertheless we experience almost everywhere in the society that since the time of birth a girl is neglected as a mere liability even by her parents, she is denied equal rights enjoyed by her male siblings. Even her physical complexion and structure come under scanner when she is sold off as a product in the market of marriage along with dowry.
Every word from the poem “A Dark and Skinny Girl” speaks volume of the mal treatment the girl in question receives from her insensitive family members.
A dark and skinny girl she was.
Even gawky and stupid some called her
But it mattered little to her
For she allowed such things
To bounce off her skin
Never treated with all those beauty aids.
Often she heard her mother
Gnashing her teeth in despair
And calling to the high heavens
To explain why such a daughter
Dropped in through the roof.
Her sons, clicking their tongues,
Sighed for their ill-fated mother
And lost no time in thrashing
The rebellious wicked girl. (A Dark and Skinny Girl)
The theme of the majority of the poems by Rita Nath Keshari included in the ‘Anguish and After’ anthology is the celebration of womanhood and gender relationship in various roles under multiple social circumstances. ‘The Widow’ in particular recounts a pathetic story of Uma, a married and employed lady. Death of a relative, friend or dear ones is extremely painful to accept but Uma’s case is astonishingly different. She confesses that the death of her husband offers her an opportunity to live life in her own way and according to her it is the benefit of widowhood. This poem reflects on a very contemporary social discourse that an independent woman can lead her own life freely without any patriarchal domination imposed on her. It is often said that the eternal contribution of the women for the welfare of mankind is a glorious gift of God. The poem in question bears a testimony to this argument. The poem also shows inhuman, mercenary attitude of a mother-in-law who is more interested in grabbing the “booty” from her daughter-in-law soon after the sad demise of her son. The following lines depict the two women in contrasting roles in the contemporary social context.
A lawyer and an insurance agent
Came to office with her mom-in-law.
Appalled, we saw her signing away
The death benefits in the old lady’s name.
The bereaved and well-defended mother
Walked away with her booty
Without a backward glance. (The Widow)
“Wish-Fulfilment” portrays our fascination for television serials that popularize three pair of gender relationship of our generation. The first pair gets into an affair that turns into marriage with parental blessings like a fairy tale but in honeymoon exposes the frigidity of the bride and the conjugal life further deteriorates to the threat of divorce. The second pair struggles very hard to ‘brave the storm of parental fury' in trying to set up a music company without money. Amid family opposition and dissatisfaction from parents of both sides, the lovers settle for a ‘live-in’ relationship. The third pair narrates the story of childhood friends, but the girl ‘swings sensuously between two men’, ‘swayed by an old flame’. In the end the ‘wronged fiancé’ attempts to commit suicide, fortunately survives and moves singly to the USA. The poem in question explores the nuances of the transition of conjugal relationship of men and women under a thorough observation of the poet.
In another anthology of poems entitled “Never Alone” that includes hundred one poems by the poet Rita Nath Keshari, the poet makes a conscious attempt to sketch the story of Indian women and their utmost fight for survival and meaningful existence in the lap of an insecure and galvanized society. Among some thought provoking poems of this anthology mostly on womanhood, one poem titled “Waiting” calls for a special mention as it vividly portrays the loneliness of a married lady left to spend few hours as a part of her daily routine with a television set inside four walls after her husband and children go out for their respective obligations. The following lines relate to every housewife getting victimized of psychological banishment in an urban society.
They leave the house one by one…
The school-going daughter,
The office-bound husband,
The college sophomore son.
The house feels life ebbing away,
The empty spaces cry out for
Endless bustle of human activity. (Waiting)
The poetry of Rita Nath Keshari establishes her as one of the most distinguished woman poets of India, not because she speaks for the woman issues rather the readers of her poetry fall in love with the unique style of technique and realistic presentation. While going through her poems, one can feel every pulse of the poem and the characters appear physical in front of the readers making them immensely hypnotized to it. To sum up in the words of Dr. V. V. Nirmala, “The poetry of Rita Nath Keshari is alive, it is observant, sharp with an urgency that speaks to the readers directly. It is a unique expression of specific realities. The tone of the poems is sometimes affectionate, at times satirical and also very touching in its concern towards human beings in an age of fast corroding values”.
Keshari, Rita Nath. Anguish and After. Pondicherry: Busy Bee Books, 2008.
Keshari, Rita Nath. Never Alone. New Delhi: AuthorsPress, 2015.
Raghupathi, K.V. Brave New Wave: 21 Indian English Poets. Jaipur: Book Conclave, 2009.
Keshari, Rita Nath and Raja P. (eds). Contemporary Indian English Poetry. Pondicherry: Busy Bee Books.
Marie Josephine Aruna (ed). South Asian Literature in English. New Delhi: Authors Press, 2017.
About the Author
Moloy Bhattacharya is an academician, scholar, creative writer, playwright, translator and interviewer from East Burdwan of West Bengal, India. Apart from teaching, he passionately writes poems, short stories, reviews and articles on various social issues. His poems and writings have been published in various national and international anthologies both online and print versions. He religiously participates in many national and international poetry festivals held throughout the country. He has taken interviews of some well-known contemporary poets and writers from India and abroad. He has just completed a one act play on the dowry menace and has started his first novel on human relationships. His research book titled Women Rights and Media will be published shortly.