South Asian poets and especially South Asian diaspora poets have a lot to say, and for a large time in history, the female experience and voice was silences by centuries of oppression and “tradition.” It seemed women’s stories were not worthy of being listened to or heard and only the male perspective was the right one.
However, luckily today, the times have certainly evolved and we are finally getting to listen to the thoughts, stories and experiences of strong female voices that share their experiences from their South Asian lens. There has been a lot of critique about how social media has made poetry into a joke and taken away some of it’s real depth and complexity.
While there is some truth to this sentiment, there is also the argument that a work of art is considered great if it is understood by people from all walks of life. Something that they are able to relate to and in the case of poetry, words that reflect the consciousness of the time.
One of the most recurring theme that is found in some of these poets is the need for a woman to be comfortable and beautiful in her skin, to own all that entails being a proud brown woman and to never let society (especially men) tell them otherwise. For too long have we been made to hate the colour of our skin, the way our bodies look and for not being white. These progressive poems reject the throngs of the glorification of our colonial past.
The first author we felt deserved a spot is Delhi based Naina Kataria whose now famous poet titled “When A Man Tells Me I’m Beautiful” which she first shared on her Facebook page called “Infinite Entropy.”
The poem talks about the struggles of being a young girl and always having to conform to society’s sometimes unspoken and regressive gender norms that shame them for growing body hair, for having imperfections and for being brown.
“When a man tells me
I don’t believe him.
Instead, I relive my days in high school
When no matter how good I was
I was always the girl with a moustache He doesn’t know what it’s like
to grow up in your maternal family
Where your body is the only one that
Proudly boasts of your father’s X
While your mother’s X sits back and pities
He doesn’t know the teenager
Who filled her corners with
Empty consolations of
Being loved for who she was- someday.
He doesn’t know hypocrisy.
He doesn’t know of the world that
tells you to ‘be yourself’
and sells you a fair and lovely shade card
in the same fucking breath
He doesn’t know of the hot wax and the laser
whose only purpose is to
replace your innocent skin
with its own brand of womanhood
He doesn’t know of the veet and the bleach
That uproot your robust hair
in the name of hygiene
Hygiene, which when followed by men
makes them gay and unmanly
He doesn’t know how unruly eyebrows are tamed
and how uni brows die a silent death
All to preserve beauty
And of the torturous miracles that happen
Inside the doors marked
So when a man calls me beautiful
I throw at him, a smile; a smile that remained
After everything the strip pulled away
And I dare him
Till my hair grows back.”
The next poet is none other than Bengali American Ena Ganguly and her poem titled, Girls Mature Faster Than Boys. This one really hits the reader, especially if they understand the insanely different gender socialization and conditioning little boys and girls have to put up with.
girls mature faster than boys
we are taught all the ways our bodies are bait for violence
how our lips are dripping with seduction
how our thighs are rancid with sin
how our blooming curves are traps for the eyes and hands of grown men
we are taught this lesson: how our bodies betray us in the presence of men
we are taught this at the sift age of five, six, seven
many a times these lessons are forced upon us
while boys just get to be boys
Last but definitely not least, is a poet who has made the short form slam poetry style famous and has inspired many others to follow suit. Indian Canadian Rupi Kaur writes from an array of cultural observations and is really empowering to say the least. Her collection of poems from her popular book milk and honey talk about everything from menstruation to body positivity to love.
the next time he
points out the
hair on your legs is growing back remind
that boy your body is not his home
he is a guest
warn him to never out step