Reclaiming His-tory and Making it Hers: Forgotten Feminine Voices in the Poetry of Mallika Sengupta
Since Julia Kristeva’s essay, Women’s Time, it has become necessary to speak about female subjectivity in terms of both Time as history and the linear, chronological Time. In ‘historical’ Time, the function of women is delimited by premeditated standards of the patriarchal power structure while ‘linear’ Time excludes the woman-subject from the socio-political, economic, cultural and epistemological domains. Such politics of exclusion also extends to language which, if reviewed through the lens of history, is essentially appropriate for masculine discourse, leaving feminine identity to be easily fetishized, regulated or in some instances, liberated by male writers in their own terms. Kristeva propounds that the responsibility falls on the modern woman to reconcile ‘maternal’ Time to which women have been historically tethered and ‘linear’ Time of chronological reality. The poetics of Bengali author Mallika Sengupta (1960-2011) is laden with this sense of responsibility, as she seeks to reformulate the functionality of women through history by accommodating a plurality of female voices in her poems. I intend, through interpreting and conducting a close reading of some of her poems, such as, Chhele Ke History Porate Giye (While Teaching My Son History), Katha-Manobi (The Woman Made of Words), Aapni Bolun Marx (Tell Us Marx), Freud Ke Khola Chithi (An Open Letter to Freud), to examine how Sengupta deconstructs the problems of a singular history where the lived experiences of women are either erased and/or restructured by male discourse. I would further examine, with reference to her poems, such as, Draupadi Janmo (Life of Draupadi), Khawna, Amrapali, Kanya-Shlok (Hymns for the Daughter) and so on, how the female figures that always remained at the margins as a passive object of admiration and fetishization, either in history and mythology or in the writings of eminent male writers, are given centrality by being made into a ‘speaking subject’. I would then conclude by analyzing her poem, Meyeder Aa Aaa Ka Kha (The Alphabet of Women) that Sengupta, having rejected in her poetry the phallogocentric language of the Bengali poetic tradition that propagates a masculinist meaning-making process, has fashioned a language that is unique and that which the French feminists would call l’ecriture feminine. By doing so, I would contend, she could turn her poetry into a political tool to rewrite history.