Final Reflection/Goodbye

My last few days of high school end before the close of this week; with the end of an era comes too the conclusion of this independent study. At the beginning of this blog, I hoped to research women writers from all corners of the world, or at least all seven continents. Now, here I am, ten months later, having covered only Asia and South America. Within those two categories, though, live thousands of years and countless variations of creators and creations.

 

In South America, I covered magical realism and the impact of religion on gender roles and expectations. Asia included haiku, sijo, and waka poetry, as well as Indian and Pakistani novels and short stories. More important than my own work was the exposure I experienced to a demographic of writers I might never have found otherwise: AnQi, Bapsi Sidwha, Teresa de La Parra, and so on.

In this independent study, I have looked outside of my country as far back as the year 500 AD. So now the question has to be: have women made a lot of headway? How far has feminism come?

My feeling is that, although forward progress has been made, there is always more to be done. Until the day all genders are treated as equals politically, economically, and socially, feminism will remain relevant. The recent American election indicates a lack of respect for women as human beings. To be fair, a majority of college-educated white women supported the misogynistic president in the polls, thereby shooting their sex in the foot.

Additionally, in my research, every time I tried a quick internet search for “Korean writers” or “Venezuelan poets,” I had to specify “female” or “women” in the search engine in order to pull up any ladies in the search results. Perhaps this is due to the historical erasure of feminine voices in most patriarchal societies; for example, in America, the “land of the free,” Zelda Fitzgerald and other talented writers had to be sponsored by a man in order to publish not even 100 years ago. Therefore, as Virginia Woolf once said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

Feminism can be elusive, difficult to define. To some, it is synonymous with man-hating; to others, more accurately, it is the pursuit of equality for all sexes and genders. Feminism has also changed with the ages: since the time of the suffragettes, newer feminism largely focuses on micro-aggressions and societal mindsets (stereotype) rather than institutional inequalities. For instance, there is still pressure put upon women to give up their careers to raise children. At the same time, certain parts of the far-left encourage women to forfeit motherhood altogether and shame women who choose to stay home. Surely, there is an option in the middle, where both parents can keep jobs and spend time with their children, or where a mother who wishes to stay home may do so for her child and for herself, not because of the idea that a good woman will choose her children over her own ambition.

Powerful women are more easily accessible than ever before thanks to the Internet. Poetry and art give voice to people who might not otherwise be heard; although always a fan of journaling, I only ever became interested in creative writing after discovering internet poet Ming D. Liu on Pinterest in middle school.

Contemporary feminist writers are abundant if you only know where to look. Rupi Kaur’s book Milk and Honey envelops themes of love, loss, abuse, and recovery, as well as ownership of one’s own body. Much of her work is also archived on Tumblr.com and Google. Trista Mateer, a bisexual/queer poetess, has several books of feminist poetry available on Amazon, as well as an active blog (http://thoughtcatalog.com/trista-mateer/). Nayyirah Waheed’s poems document her experience as a Woman of Color in today’s America (https://www.instagram.com/nayyirah.waheed/?hl=en). Her book Salt hurts my heart in the nicest way.

These writers, and many others, continue to put work out into the world to further the feminist cause. One day I hope to join their ranks with a book of my own. In the meantime, I will keep reading. I will continue my literary journey around the world, although probably not on this blog, seeing as I am about to be working a full-time job and then starting college. I will keep reading, and I will write. And I will not forget what I learned this year about femininity, identity, and the power of the written word.

Thank you to Mr. S, who made this whole thing possible by agreeing to oversee my independent study; and thank you to the seventeen people who have followed this blog since the beginning. I hope you enjoyed my journey as much as I did.

I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Gratefully,

JM

Sources

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2017/04/01/tiny-fey-tells-college-educated-white-women-who-voted-for-trump-you-cant-look-away/?utm_term=.81da6a48c186

http://www.biographyonline.net/writers/virginia-woolf.html

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Hwang Jin-Yi (1506-1560)

Hwang Jin-Yi, a sixteenth-century female escort and entertainer, made a name for herself writing elevated verse about beauty and love. She largely wrote in sijo ( ), a classic form of Korean poetry. Sijo, an uncommon art, involves three short, lyrical lines per poem in which a situation is introduced, develops, and concludes, often with a surprising twist in the final line.

 

Hwang Jin-Yi’s poems are hard to find in English. However, they still portray extreme love, pain, or awe even after translation. Here is one such sijo poem:

 

Mountains are the same as in the old times, but streams are never the same;

They keep flowing day and night, so they can not be the same.

The men of fame are like the streams; once gone, they never return.

 

And another:

 

I will break the back of this long, midwinter night,

Folding it double, cold beneath my spring quilt,

That I may draw out the night, should my love return.

 

The same poem can also be translated as follows:

 

Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night

and fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt;

then uncoil it in the night my beloved returns.

 

This is the poem in its original Korean:

 

동지달 기나긴 밤을 한 허리를 버혀 내여

춘풍 이불 아래 서리서리 넣었다가

어론 님 오신 날 밤이여든 굽이굽이 펴리라

 

I decided to try my hand at writing some sijo. Here’s my first attempt:

 

Forceful flailing in the seething water, he cuts through a

brisk, raging river like a sword through unguarded flesh.

Pushing forward, fighting on, but one can only swim so long.

 

 

I’d like to continue practicing this form of poetry. Normally I don’t restrict my writing to such a short stanza, so sijo presents a new challenge for concision while still being longer than, say, a haiku. I hope you enjoyed learning about Hwang Jin-Yi and sijo poetry!

 

🙂 JM

 

*Note: The featured image for today’s post is from a 2006 Korean drama called Hwang Jini/Hwang Jin-Yi.*

 

Sources:

https://www.thoughtco.com/who-were-koreas-gisaeng-195000

http://blog.writinginflow.com/2013/09/slut-of-month-hwang-jini-korean-poet.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hwang_Jini

https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/hwang-jini/

Image from https://www.pinterest.com/moxiebeauty/geisha/

Full Play Rough Draft + Update #9

This is the completed script to my play about British Indians returning home. Recall that it’s inspired by Bapsi Sidhwa’s Water. This version of the play is not what I imagined, and I’m not quite sold on the ending: I feel like there’s not enough conflict to create a climax. Should Aditi have been married off? Should I have spanned a longer period of time? I’m not entirely sure.

Anyway, this is the most recent version of the full play. When I rewrite again I might want to add more about Gandhi and the state of the world in 1939; alternatively, I might keep the Mohanty family as a microcosm of Britain and India and let them tell the story themselves.

I’m on a break from this play now and instead researching Korean poets like Nah Hye-Sok and Heo Nanseolheon.

Until next time,

JM

PLAY

Characters:

ADITI – a 13 year old English girl of Indian descent. She has a short bob. Someday she wants to be a doctor.

MADHUR – 11 year old boy; ADITI’s brother; born in England.

MAA – mother of ADITI and MADHUR. She met BABA through arranged marriage, but the two were equally progressive and soon became great friends. (Love?)

BABA – a progressive Brahman Indian. Married to MAA; after the birth of their first daughter, moved to Britain for a better life for his children.

– Moved after the birth of AZRA, their first daughter AZRA

– AZRA died as an infant

      – They remained in England and had ADITI and MADHUR

CHAYA – ADITI’s best friend. A Jewish girl who is sometimes picked on at school for her background, just like MADHUR and ADITI.

DAADAA – BABA’s father. A conservative Brahman.

DAADII – BABA’s mother. A conservative Brahman.

BEHAN – One of ADITI’s elder female cousins. A traditional Indian woman.

Scene I

Setting: A small town in England, 1939.

ADITI and MADHUR are walking home from school with their friend CHAYA.

ADITI: Chaya, if you could have all the chocolate biscuits in the world or never have to take a maths test again, which would you choose?

CHAYA: You’re the one who doesn’t like maths. I’d be happy to practice arithmetic daily with a chocolate biscuit after each problem!

MADHUR: Well, I would choose no tests. People should practice maths when they want to practice maths. And besides, with so many biscuits you’d grow quite fat!

ADITI: I have a better answer than either of you. I’d take both: half the cookies, half the exams.

CHAYA: That’s cheating!

MADHUR: (whines) You didn’t say we could combine them.

ADITI: (pleased with herself) I didn’t say we couldn’t!

MADHUR: No fair.

ADITI: Yes, fair! (giggles)

ADITI keeps laughing and tickles MADHUR until he smiles too.

ADITI: Okay, Madhur. You didn’t like my question, now it’s your turn to ask one.

MADHUR: (thinks) Hm… All right. Would you rather be an Indian Englishman or a British Jew?

ADITI: (scandalized) Madhur!

CHAYA: Aditi, it’s all right.

ADITI: No, it’s not. You can’t just say things like that!

CHAYA: It’s all right. Madhur, I think I’d rather be British English than anything else.

MADHUR: Now you’re not answering the question. Aditi?

ADITI: (reluctantly) I guess… I guess I would rather be Jewish. It’s easier to hide a belief than a complexion. And besides, Chaya’s family sometimes has that sweet bread–challah. It’s even better than Maa’s laddoo.

MADHUR: Maybe so, but I’d rather be an Indian because we get festivals every few weeks.

CHAYA: Yes, but as a Jew, I celebrate Shabbat every single Saturday.

ADITI: They’re the same, okay? Chaya, it’s your question now.

A siren begins to wail.

ADITI: Get down!

They crouch.

MADHUR: Aditi, I want to go home.

Aditi grabs Madhur’s arm and Chaya’s hand.

Aditi: There’s not another bomb shelter ‘til home. We’ll have to hurry.

The three children quickly, quietly exit the stage.

Scene II

Aditi and Madhur arrive at home, where their parents are waiting in the small kitchen, clearly worried.

MAA: Madhur! Aditi! I’m so glad you’re all right.

MADHUR: I wasn’t scared.

ADITI: He was a little scared.

MAA: It’s all right, Madhur, I was frightened also.

BABA: Children, I have some sorry news. You know we came to England to give the two of you a better chance at success.

ADITI: Nothing about that’s sad. I’m glad to live here.

BABA: Tonight was the fourth bombing raid of this week. People at the store have been talking about sending their children to safety.

ADITI: Baba, no, please don’t send us away.

MAA: We’re not. We would never!

BABA: We aren’t sending you anywhere. We–all of us–are going home to India.

MADHUR: India? That’s brilliant. How long will we be abroad?

ADITI: What do you mean by “home”?

MAA: India is where we’re from. Where your Babi and I were born.

ADITI: Madhur and I have never even been there.

BABA: Aditi, you’ll love it. And Madhur, you misunderstand. We’re not traveling. We’re returning.

ADITI: We aren’t! I won’t!

MAA: It’s what must be done. It’s not safe here anymore.

ADITI: You always said it wasn’t safe in India either! They won’t even let me go to school!

BABA: They will. Or else I will teach you at home.

MADHUR: I don’t want to go.

MAA: Neither do we. Do you think we want to leave behind our textile shop? Our children’s futures? You don’t know what your father and I gave up to make it to England. If Vishnu is with us, we won’t be in India for long.

ADITI: What about Chaya? She’s my best friend.

MAA: You can write her every day.

ADITI: You know that’s not the same…

BABA: Go. Pack your things.

ADITI: But, Baba–

BABA: Now.

Scene III

The Mohanty family has made it back to India. In a small town named Kotakecil, BABA, MAA, ADITI, and MADHUR are arriving at the home of DAADII and DAADAA.

DAADAA: Son. I did not think I would see you again.

DAADII: Until we received your letter.

DAADAA: (to BABA) You’re looking old.

BABA: Thank you for letting us stay with you until we’re settled.

DAADII: So these are my son’s sons.

MAA: One son, Madhur. This is our daughter Aditi.

DAADAA: Daughter? With such short hair? She looks like a widow.

ADITI: (with an awkward curtsy) I’m Aditi.

DAADII: Hmm.

DAADAA: With longer hair and without western trousers, she’d be a nice enough looking child.

DAADII: And Madhur, you said? This one is such his Baba’s boy. Beautiful. (to MAA and ADITI) The kitchen is this way.

Aditi looks to MAA, confused. MAA gestures with her head for ADITI to follow.

Scene IV

MAA and ADITI follow DAADII into the kitchen, where female family members are rolling rice dough.

DAADII: We’re making idli. (To MAA) You, grind rice. (To ADITI) You, knead the dough.

BEHAN: Who are you?

DAADII: You remember your badepaapa’s wife Raahi. She left us for Britain almost twenty years ago.

BEHAN: (Drops to the ground) Badeeman! I did not recognize you.

MAA: No, no, it’s quite alright. You’re looking well.

DAADII: And this is her daughter. (Gestures to ADITI)

BEHAN: Azra? But this is just a child.

MAA: (To DAADII) You didn’t tell her?

DAADII: I didn’t think it prudent.

MAA: (To BEHAN) My first child passed shortly after our arrival in England. Diphtheria. This is my second daughter Aditi. Aditi, say hello to your phuphera-behan.

ADITI: Hello, Behan. I’m thirteen.

BEHAN: (To no one in particular) I can’t believe she’s been dead all this time. (To MAA) I used to sing her to sleep on the nights you were too tired.

MAA: I know. It was a long time ago. Aditi is very ambitious.

ADITI: Someday I’m going to be a doctor!

BEHAN: Poor little Azra.

DAADII: That’s enough chatter. Here, Raahi, rinse these seeds.

(MAA accepts the seeds and does her job. ADITI is confused.)

ADITI: Where’s Madhur? Isn’t he going to help us cook?

DAADII: No, child. Your brother is getting to know his Daadaa.

ADITI: Madhur always helped at home…

MAA: Aditi! Listen to your grandmother, love.

ADITI: (Disconsolate) Yes, Maa.

Scene V

Prepared idli and vegetables are arranged on a mat on the floor. DAADII and BEHAN are fussing with the food. BABA, DAADAA, and MADHUR come inside from the front yard, where the men have been talking and MADHUR, exploring.

BEHAN: Beta, are you hungry?

BABA: Very. Maata, may I help?

DAADII: No, no, Beta, this is woman’s work.

ADITI: In England Madhur and I shared all our chores.

MAA: Aditi! We are guests in Daadii’s home and we will follow her customs.

ADITI: Sorry, Maa. Daadii.

DAADII: It’s quite all right. You wouldn’t be bad-looking if you just grew your hair.

ADITI: (strained) Thank you, Daadii.

MAA: Well! I believe supper is fully prepared.

The women set out dishes with idli and other vegetable dishes. Everybody sits on the floor with personal mats and begins to eat with their fingers. In a crowd of maybe 16 people, several conversations crop up along the fringe. The most important is as follows:

BABA: Maata, this is delicious. (to Aditi) You did good work.

ADITI: Thank you, Baba. It wasn’t me so much as the others.

MAA: Nonsense! We each did our part.

DAADII: Aditi, did you say you were thirteen? It’s about the age you’ve probably started thinking about boys, yes?

ADITI: What? No, I… No. I want to be a doctor.

DAADII: Just remember, when you do fall in love and marry, he had better be Indian and a Brahmin.

BABA: We aren’t thinking about marriage for Aditi until she finishes her education. I’d like her to start school here next week along with Madhur.

DAADAA: School? For a woman, in this family? I think not.

BABA: It’s important to me, Ba.

DAADII: She could stay with me instead and learn to pray to our gods and cook and clean! I know you and Raahi have spoiled the child terribly and she thinks she can do anything, but these very basic, essential domestic concerns have been horribly neglected in the rearing of this daughter.

DAADAA: It’s why you never ought to have taken the children and westernized them.

DAADII: But we are glad you came home.

DAADAA: And we hope you will stay a long time. You know, men in my family die young. It will be your responsibility, beta, to take care of your mother, sisters, nieces, wife, and daughter when I’m gone.

BABA: Raahi and I will give what financial support we can as textile salesmen.

DAADAA: Son! You are Brahmin and you will act as such. Selling fabrics was always beneath you, but especially now that you are back in our homeland. Beta, earn the name you carry.

ADITI: Better a lowly artisan than a sexist professor!

MAA: (horrified) Aditi!

BABA: Aditi, apologize to your Daadaa.

ADITI: Sorry, Daadaa.

BABA: And Ba, I sell fabric because it fascinates me. The shimmering saris not yet made. Patterns like the sky. It doesn’t get more intellectual than that, Ba.

MAA: We appreciate you hosting us for a spell, and all of us will be glad to help in any way we can.

MADHUR: If Aditi doesn’t have to go to school, can I stay here next week with Daadii and Daadaa? I want to see all of India! Not the inside of a schoolhouse.

MAA: Madhur, you know the answer to that, love. Education comes first.

Everyone is finishing up with the food. BEHAN stands to clear away plates. She touches ADITI on the elbow and whispers something to her. Aditi joins her cousin.

Scene VI

In the kitchen, the cousins scrape plates and bond.

BEHAN: Aditi.

ADITI: Yes?

BEHAN: I’m sorry about before. I just… Didn’t expect…

ADITI: It’s fine. I understand. Maa doesn’t like telling people about Azra.

BEHAN: Daadii and Daadaa, they’re not so bad once you know them.

ADITI: Oh? Daadaa isn’t always a big grump?

BEHAN: (stifles a grin) No, he isn’t. You’ll see. Traditional is… traditional. Not bad.

ADITI: If by traditional you mean men-before-women, I’d say that’s bad.

BEHAN: Give them a chance, Aditi.

ADITI: … Behan?

BEHAN: Yes?

ADITI: Can I live in India and still be a doctor?

BEHAN: You’d be the first woman doctor I’d know.

ADITI: Oh. And do I have to get married?

BEHAN: I’m not sure. Tradition dictates that you marry before thirty. That’s why I am betrothed to Sanjit now. It’s how your parents met. And they are a good match, a happy pair. So even if you must marry, it isn’t necessarily a curse.

ADITI: Can a doctor be married here?

BEHAN: A male doctor, yes. Like I said, though,  you’d be the first of your kind.

ADITI: Daadii and Daadaa don’t even want me going to school.

BEHAN: They’re afraid of change. But the world is changing, I suppose. People like your parents call it progress.

ADITI: Maa and Baba are going to buy their own house here.

BEHAN: We’ll see.

ADITI: No, they will. Even though Daadaa doesn’t want them to. They’re going to own the best store and sell the best silks this country has ever seen. And then their doctor-daughter will be the best, and their son–

DAADII enters the room with more serving platters.

DAADII: What’s taking you girls so long?

BEHAN: Sorry, Daadii. I was just getting to know my behan.

DAADII: Very well then. Aditi, what do you say we let the other ladies finish up? I’d like to let you pick out some real clothes. Then we can pray together.

ADITI: I don’t really… pray all that much.

DAADII: I will teach you. And then… you may choose one of my saris to borrow for your first day of school.

ADITI looks over to BEHAN, ecstatic.

ADITI: Yes please!

She takes DAADII’s hand and the two cross the stage to DAADII’s and DAADAA’s room. BEHAN returns to where the rest of the family dines. BABA and DAADAA are immersed in an intense, yet amicable, conversation. MADHUR is draped over DAADAA’s shoulder, giggling wildly. The other, older cousins group around DAADAA and MADHUR, laughing and joining the game, occasionally egging on either DAADAA or BABA in their friendly debate. [Ad lib.]

ADITI returns, still holding DAADII’s hand, wearing a pinkish-red sari and clutching a brand new book. DAADAA looks up at his granddaughter and smiles.
Sources:

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Hindi/Family_relationshttp://

http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/idli-recipe-how-to-make-soft-idlis/

http://www.nature.com/pr/journal/v55/n1/full/pr200425a.htmlhttps://padlet.com/anita_v_oow/1930

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_of_Indian_dininghttps://

 

 

 

Work In Progress

This is the first half of the play I’ve been working on for a month. Lots of research has gone into it–I will probably make an entire post for sources–and I’m pretty happy with how it’s coming along.

I took inspiration from the novel Water by Bapsi Sidhwa and a Climbing the Stairs, a book by Padma Venkataraman that I read in middle school with a similar setting. (World War II era India and England. I tried not to be too specific in town names or regional vernacular, since I wanted the story to be applicable to almost anywhere in Britain or India in 1939.)

I plan on introducing greater feminist conflict in which Aditi, a modern girl, adjusts to the treatment of women in her conservative, Brahmin family. Like Chuyia in Water, Aditi is going to fight back against tradition, even when her similarly-progressive parents remind her they are guests in the family home.

So here it is. A work in progress. I plan on continuing to flesh out the story this weekend and hopefully post a completed draft very soon.

Characters:
ADITI – a 13 year old English girl of Indian descent. She has a short bob. Someday she wants to be a doctor.
MADHUR – 11 year old boy; ADITI’s brother; born in England. Someday he wants to be a therapist.
MAA – mother of ADITI and MADHUR. She met BABA through arranged marriage, but the two were equally progressive and soon became great friends. (Love?)
BABA – a progressive Brahman Indian. Married to MAA; after the birth of their first daughter, moved to Britain for a better life for his children.
– Moved after the birth of AZRA, their first daughter AZRA
– AZRA died as an infant
       – They remained in England and had ADITI and MADHUR
CHAYA – ADITI’s best friend. A Jewish girl who is sometimes picked on at school for her background, just like MADHUR and ADITI.
DAADAA – BABA’s father. A conservative Brahman.
DAADII – BABA’s mother. A conservative Brahman.
BEHAN – One of ADITI’s elder female cousins. A traditional Indian woman.

Scene I
Setting: A small town in England, 1939.
ADITI and MADHUR are walking home from school with their friend CHAYA.
ADITI: Chaya, if you could have all the chocolate biscuits in the world or never have to take a maths test again, which would you choose?
CHAYA: You’re the one who doesn’t like maths. I’d be happy to practice arithmetic daily with a chocolate biscuit after each problem!
MADHUR: Well, I would choose no tests. People should practice maths when they want to practice maths. And besides, with so many biscuits you’d grow quite fat!
ADITI: I have a better answer than either of you. I’d take both: half the cookies, half the exams.
CHAYA: That’s cheating!
MADHUR: (whines) You didn’t say we could combine them.
ADITI: (pleased with herself) I didn’t say we couldn’t!
MADHUR: No fair.
ADITI: Yes, fair! (giggles)
ADITI keeps laughing and tickles MADHUR until he smiles too.
ADITI: Okay, Madhur. You didn’t like my question, now it’s your turn to ask one.
MADHUR: (thinks) Hm… All right. Would you rather be an Indian Englishman or a British Jew?
ADITI: (scandalized) Madhur!
CHAYA: Aditi, it’s all right.
ADITI: No, it’s not. You can’t just say things like that!
CHAYA: It’s all right. Madhur, I think I’d rather be British English than anything else.
MADHUR: Now you’re not answering the question. Aditi?
ADITI: (reluctantly) I guess… I guess I would rather be Jewish. It’s easier to hide a belief than a complexion. And besides, Chaya’s family sometimes has that sweet bread–challah. It’s even better than Maa’s laddoo.
MADHUR: Maybe so, but I’d rather be an Indian because we get festivals every few weeks.
CHAYA: Yes, but as a Jew, I celebrate Shabbat every single Saturday.
ADITI: They’re the same, okay? Chaya, it’s your question now.
A siren begins to wail.
ADITI: Get low!
They crouch.
MADHUR: Aditi, I want to go home.
Aditi grabs Madhur’s arm and Chaya’s hand.
Aditi: There’s not another bomb shelter ‘til home. We’ll have to hurry.
The three children quickly, quietly exit the stage.

Scene II
Aditi and Madhur arrive at home, where their parents are waiting in the small kitchen, clearly worried.
MAA: Madhur! Aditi! I’m so glad you’re all right.
MADHUR: I wasn’t scared.
ADITI: He was a little scared.
MAA: It’s all right, Madhur, I was frightened also.
BABA: Children, I have some sorry news. You know we came to England to give the two of you a better chance at success.
ADITI: Nothing about that’s sad. I’m glad to live here.
BABA: Tonight was the fourth bombing raid of this week. People at the store have been talking about sending their children to safety.
ADITI: Baba, no, please don’t send us away.
MAA: We’re not. We would never!
BABA: We aren’t sending you anywhere. We–all of us–are going home to India.
MADHUR: India? That’s brilliant. How long will we be abroad?
ADITI: What do you mean by “home”?
MAA: India is where we’re from. Where your Babi and I were born.
ADITI: Madhur and I have never even been there.
BABA: Aditi, you’ll love it. And Madhur, you misunderstand. We’re not traveling. We’re returning.
ADITI: We aren’t! I won’t!
MAA: It’s what must be done. It’s not safe here anymore.
ADITI: You always said it wasn’t safe in India either! They won’t even let me go to school!
BABA: They will. Or else I will teach you at home.
MADHUR: I don’t want to go.
MAA: Neither do we. Do you think we want to leave behind our textile shop? Our children’s futures? You don’t know what your father and I gave up to make it to England. If Vishnu is with us, we won’t be in India for long.
ADITI: What about Chaya? She’s my best friend.
MAA: You can write her every day.
ADITI: You know that’s not the same…
BABA: Go. Pack your things.
ADITI: But, Baba–
BABA: Now.

Scene III
The Mohanty family has made it back to India. In a small town named Kotakecil, BABA, MAA, ADITI, and MADHUR are arriving at the home of DAADII and DAADAA.
DAADAA: Son. I did not think I would see you again.
DAADII: Until we received your letter.
DAADAA: (to BABA) You’re looking old.
BABA: Thank you for letting us stay with you until we’re settled.
DAADII: So these are my son’s sons.
MAA: One son, Madhur. This is our daughter Aditi.
DAADAA: Daughter? With such short hair? She looks like a widow.
ADITI: (with an awkward curtsy) I’m Aditi.
DAADII: Hmm.
DAADAA: With longer hair and without western trousers, she’d be a nice enough looking child.
DAADII: And Madhur, you said? This one is such his Baba’s boy. Beautiful. (to MAA and ADITI) The kitchen is this way.
Aditi looks to MAA, confused. MAA gestures with her head for ADITI to follow.

Scene IV
MAA and ADITI follow DAADII into the kitchen, where female family members are rolling rice dough.
DAADII: We’re making idli. (To MAA) You, grind rice. (To ADITI) You, knead the dough.
BEHAN: Who are you?
DAADII: You remember your badepaapa’s wife Raahi. She left us for Britain almost twenty years ago.
BEHAN: (Drops to the ground) Badeeman! I did not recognize you.
MAA: No, no, it’s quite alright. You’re looking well.
DAADII: And this is her daughter. (Gestures to ADITI)
BEHAN: Azra? But this is just a child.
MAA: (To DAADII) You didn’t tell her?
DAADII: I didn’t think it prudent.
MAA: (To BEHAN) My first child passed shortly after our arrival in England. Diphtheria. This is my second daughter Aditi. Aditi, say hello to your phuphera-behan.
ADITI: Hello, Behan. I’m thirteen.
BEHAN: (To no one in particular) I can’t believe she’s been dead all this time. (To MAA) I used to sing her to sleep on the nights you were too tired.
MAA: I know. It was a long time ago. Aditi is very ambitious.
ADITI: Someday I’m going to be a doctor!
BEHAN: Poor little Azra.
DAADII: That’s enough chatter. Here, Raahi, rinse these seeds.
(MAA accepts the seeds and does her job. ADITI is confused.)
ADITI: Where’s Madhur? Isn’t he going to help us cook?
DAADII: No, child. Your brother is getting to know his Daadaa.
ADITI: Madhur always helped at home…
MAA: Aditi! Listen to your grandmother, love.
ADITI: (Disconsolate) Yes, Maa.

Scene V
Prepared idli and vegetables are arranged on a mat on the floor. DAADII and BEHAN are fussing with the food. BABA, DAADII, and MADHUR come inside from the front yard, where the men have been talking and MADHUR…

Widow’s Woe

Knee-deep in the water,

splashing goddesses pray.

Glorious sweets

forbidding

new love,

passions,

joy.

Desire unrolling,

whatever happens,

on the rain-washed temple.

This poem is a found poem (“black out poem”) pulled from around the middle of Bapsi Sidhwa’s 2006 novel Water– my Kindle doesn’t offer page numbers. I finished the beautiful book about a week ago: spoilers to come!

The novel Water is set in 1938, when India was under colonial British rule and Ghandi was first becoming a presence. Sidhwa’s Water is rich, dynamic, and complex, featuring a female child as a protagonist, an intersex “eunuch” servant, and a beautiful widow forced into prostitution in order to support the lavish lifestyle of the leader of the ashram, or the house of widows. Poor Chuyia, wedded before the age of seven to a middle-aged man, is robbed of her childhood when her rich long-distance husband takes ill and dies, transforming his child-bride into a widow.

According to Brahmin caste traditions, Indian widows must wear white and live in prayer and poverty for the rest of their lives. Little Chuyia cannot understand why she suddenly must live among white-clad women with ash on their foreheads instead of her parents. Her mother, who always was against Chuyia’s early marriage, is distraught. But Chuyia, a precocious child, adapts, making friends with the lovely Kalyani, the one woman allowed long hair as the price of her prostitution; the devout Shakuntala, whose daily prayers Chuyia finds beautiful but boring; and the rich young man Narayan, a follower of Ghandi.

I won’t give away the ending. Water is available for a couple dollars on Amazon, and it is a great read for anybody interested in India, history, feminism, or good books. I tried with the poem above to capture some of the layers of Sidhwa’s masterpiece. However, if you want the full experience, I’d suggest you read the novel.

As always, thank you for reading.

JM

Update #8

Hello hello!

I am currently reading the novel Water by Pakistani author Bapsi Sidhwa. This story of realistic fiction follows a little girl forced into an arranged marriage who becomes a widow before she turns ten. Though it sounds like a chance for the child “Little Mouse” to be freed from married life, she actually is thrust into the even less pleasurable existence of a 1900s East Asian widow. Forced to wear white and beg for alms, she challenges the beliefs and traditions that have placed her in the house of widows.

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Once I’ve finished reading Sidhwa’s book, I think I will write some sort of short story in response. (Maybe I will try also to weave in an homage to “Sultana’s Dream” as well).

Until then, best wishes.

JM

Begum Rokeya (1880 – 1932)

The first ever prolific Islamic feminist, Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (বেগম রোকেয়া সাখাওয়াৎ হুসাইন) was a Bengali writer and activist who championed girls’ education nearly a century before the incomparable Malala Yousafzai was born.

RokeyaBegum is an honorific, not a name—was an orthodox Muslim wedded to an older man at sixteen. As a child she was taught Arabic and Persian instead of English or Bengali so as to keep her insulated within the Muslim world; however, her brother Ibrahim Saber taught Rokeya and her sisters the more worldly languages after completing his Western education.

Rokeya was lucky that her husband, chosen by her father, was a progressive man in favor of her reading and writing. The esteemed Syed Sakhawat Hossain encouraged Rokeya to write in Bengali, the regional language; to publish her works; and later, to open a school for girls’ education.

After Syed’s death in 1909, Rokeya founded the Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ High School for Muslim women in Bhagalpur. The institution was later relocated to Calcutta.

Perhaps Begum Rokeya’s most famous work, and her only piece available online (or, as it were, for $0.99 on Kindle), the satirical short story Sultana’s Dream (1905) tells of a fantasy world called “Ladyland” in which men are enclosed in zenana as Indian women were at the time. According to Rokeya’s work, when men keep purdah and stay out of the women’s way, the society is entirely free of conflict, pain, and sin.

Though this solution to gender inequality is a little too extreme, it is clear to me that Rokeya means her story to awaken men to the ridiculousness of their shutting up women in little rooms and running the world into the ground. In many ways, Sultana’s Dream by Begum Rokeya is indeed not unlike  The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: a fantasy world showing what happens when gender roles are taken to an extreme. In Rokeya’s satirical sensibilities, all forms of society, from agriculture to politics to religion, are stronger with women in charge, thereby directly contrasting with traditional Muslim and Indian expectations of women’s worth.

This little story by Begum Rokeya is certainly worth the read (and 99¢ on Amazon). And Begum Rokeya is a name worth knowing, particularly to Americans in this time of hatred and the ‘Muslim Ban.’

Sources

In the Age of Nasty Women

After Qiu Jin

Don’t tell me a woman

must be a damsel in distress,

when we alone win a war every minute,

every moon.

From pink nails

flows fearless femme freedom,

poems pouring from the tips

of pithy pigtails.

Don’t try to tie our waists,

our dreams cannot be bound.

I dream. I grieve. Ashamed

for all the times I didn’t stand with my

Sisters. But we are ever together in blood.

Marching onward through fear

and through frost.

The only distress we afford is that which we

conceive. So tell me how you think of me?

A whisper of wind? Or a tempest?

 

Notes

Here is the Chinese version of Qiu Jin’s original poem “Capping Rhymes With Sir Shih Ching From Sun’s Root Land” from voiceseducation.org:

(日人石井君索和即用原韵)

漫云女子不英雄,万里乘风独向东。

诗思一帆海空阔,梦魂三岛月玲珑。

铜驼已陷悲回首,汗马终惭未有功。

如许伤心家国恨,那堪客里度春风。

 

Sadly, my Chinese is not yet strong enough to translate my own attempt at mimicking Qiu Jin’s style and form. I might talk to my friend from Beijing about whether she would help me rewrite my poem “In the Age of Nasty Women” in Chinese.

Thanks for reading! ~JM

Qiu Jin [秋瑾] (1875 – 1907)

Through a Google search for “Asian feminist writers,” I stumbled upon radical feminist and writer Qiu Jin. As a student of Chinese and as a feminist, I’m shocked that I have never before heard her name. Perhaps her erasure can be explained by censorship, or the fact that American schools teach very little Asian history: regardless, Qiu Jin is an icon who should be admired by all.

Living in nineteenth century China brought Qiu Jin plight after plight. As the daughter of a comfortably well-off family, she did receive an adequate education, but Qiu was still unhappily married off to a stranger before turning twenty. Two children and one oppressive husband later, Qiu did the unimaginable–she picked up and left for Japan to learn and lecture about women’s rights. In the time of bound feet, Qiu wore men’s clothing and insisted upon remaining free, finally martyring herself in a political rebellion against a government more tyrannical than her husband.

Qiu apparently has several books in China, though I imagine she received no compensation for those works in her lifetime. One of the only poems I was able to find online is entitled “Capping Rhymes with Sir Shih Ching From Sun’s Root Land” and goes as follows:

Don’t tell me women

are not the stuff of heroes,

I alone rode over the East Sea’s

winds for ten thousand leagues.

My poetic thoughts ever expand,

like a sail between ocean and heaven.

I dreamed of your three islands,

all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.

I grieve to think  of the bronze camels,

guardians of China, lost in thorns.

Ashamed, I have done nothing;

not one victory to my name.

I simply make my war horse sweat.

Grieving over my native land

hurts my heart. So tell me;

how can I spend these days here?

A guest enjoying your spring winds?

JM again here. And can I just say wow! Qiu Jin is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical figures. Right after publishing this post I plan on writing my own poem inspired by the one above, then scouring the internet for more of Qiu’s musings.

In the meantime, feel free to check out the sites below for a more detailed telling of Qiu Jin’s life. Enjoy! – JM

Sources:

http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/qiu-jin-chinese-feminist-revolutionary/

https://forgottennewsmakers.com/2010/11/18/qiu-jin-1875%E2%80%941907-chinese-feminist/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qiu_Jin

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/capping-rhymes-with-sir-shih-ching-from-sun-s-root-land/

Image from https://i.ytimg.com/vi/TepnuJnzG_w/maxresdefault.jpg

Waka by JM

Hello, friends and followers! Using the research I posted Friday and an explanation of modern English waka found at http://kujakupoet.blogspot.com/2006/05/waka-example-modern.html, I have written some waka poems of my own. Please note that I deviate from the 31 syllable structure, for as Chesapeake Bay poet M. Kei explains, single words use many syllables in Japanese, and punctuation is also counted; therefore, simplicity is key. Here are my attempts at my own waka:

1.
fingers raw
and bleeding
from the grit
of holding on
to time

2.
unwelcome assistance
forces through doors
persistent
insistent
resist it

3.
children race
and fly away
untethered
they laugh
as they soar

– JM