A poetic exploration into female power -The Asian Age

Liton Chakraborty Mithun limns the inner words, thoughts, sense and mood of the rhymer

Poetry is not always a "spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions" as William Wordsworth defined it. Sometimes, it is a well-thought out arrangement of powerful intellectual ideas. Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poetry in Prati-prem, Prati-akhyan characteristically falls into the second category. This poet with his literary and intellectual engagement stretching over three decades now has quite a few volumes of thought-provoking and critical poetry to his credit.

His new release Pratiprem, Prati-akhyan ("Anti-Love, Counter-Narrative" to translate into English) (2017) bears testimony to this, since it invites our attention to 'Female Power' which is often ignored or kept out of mainstream academic discourse. Hence, it is an intellectual intervention into this less-focused but significant issue. Let me offer you highlights of the volume.

 By 'Female Power' the poet means counterforce of 'male power', and stresses that "power is not gender-specific" in a recent interview given to Tusar Talukder and published in the Asian Age on June 17, 2017. (You may find it at http://dailyasianage.com/news/ 68464/a-poets-ideas-on-female-power). All the poems of the volume explore multi-dimensional, multi-modal and multi-colored 'Female Power'.

The poet criticizes many women's obsession with beautification of their skins and using of their outward appearance as tool and weapon. He says, "Her days pass in long beautification;/ learning 'gestures, luxury tricks'/ as 'war strategies'" ("Rupkatha", P.9). Bandyopadhyay also goes on to expose their erotic behavior and physical charm which women exploit to their very big advantage. He says, "If obstructed/ you recoil rapidly, / and get enigmatic with the opium of sweet voice and look."

("Tomakey Ke Chene?",p.10). Moreover, such other abuses of power on the part of many women does not escape the poet's sharp eyes. He drives the point home thus: "These happen throughout the day-/ domination, ignoring, disowning. / The night passes invariably with the unchanged use of these very deadly arms. /" ("Shringarer Doirghyo Dei Maap", p. 12). That women are also capable of depriving, disowning and toying with men at their disposal is caught up by the critical antenna of the poet. In fact, only a discriminating eye like the poet's can see through such so-long-overlooked human phenomena.

The poet seems to be committed to spelling out his observation of commodification of the female body by women themselves. He laments, "They won't offer those organs out of emotion and jubilation-/ smile, smiling eyes, brow-creepers, tonal sweetness-/ none of them is without price-tag or cost/" ("Samsarei Ganikara", p. 13). He also brings into focus and criticizes the age-old social construct of women being more humane and having finer sensibilities in comparison to men.

Gleaning examples from myths and classics, he shows that many women can be as ferocious and cruel as possible. In the poem "Shishu-Hatyay Krandan Noy", he sheds light on literary characters like Medea, Clytemnestra, Nora and Hedda Gabler who committed crimes of various kinds and degrees, including killing or abandoning of their own children. The poet puts a scathing but ironical question: "Doesn't a mother have the right to kill her children?" (p. 14). This is, in fact, a very radically oppositional stance taken by the poet on the issue of overrated portrayal of women. Human beings- male and female regardless - are not without lapses and frailties, and nobody should be demonized or lionized on the score of gender and sex. These poems seem to stress this fact.

Far from being misogyny, Kajal Bandyopadhyay's poetry tries to assert itself as a critical introspection into various aspects of 'Female Power'. He points out some sites and force-fields of exercise of female power. These are female sexuality, physical charm, the space of bed, ability to give birth and mythically dignified position of women in society. According to the poet-thinker, many women, if not all of them, exploit these attributes to wield power over their male counterparts. He observes, "The ability to produce children / gives her a power unlimited! / So, opposing her is like/ fighting against life itself, / against the Earth" ("Asambhaber Paye", p. 19). He also ponders, "The vagina was thought to be the whole territory, the whole world. / And, there would be defeated and trounced the virile men / weakened by the biting of semen."

("Baitoroni Par", p. 20). The bed is, in the poet's opinion, a site of manipulation of men and application of female power. He quips, "Thus, let the aroused slave / grope for pleasure. / Let the rule of Queen be declared and established on bed." ("Shojjay Shashon", p. 23). Many a woman exploits her feminine charm to achieve her own ends. The poet gives us an insight saying, "Her body is always her best currency after money - / why should a woman go for a different exchange, for a new achievement" ("Kono Bhinno Binimoy Noy, p. 28).

Even some of them leverage their shyness to their advantage. The poet sees through their psychology thus: "Even if I remain folded, you will take me up - / win me, clinch me. / The more folded I remain, the more you'll get crazy / and come rushing for me" ("Lojjar Discourse", p. 36).  The poet slams the traditional appreciation of female shyness and bashfulness and finds in them tricks and strategies on the part of many women. In a nutshell, the poet depicts the exploitative mindset of a section of women vis-à-vis their "body politics" and hammers it hard.

The poet, however, does not limit his critical scrutiny to intricacies and ramifications of female power. He also dismisses the obsequious and pitiable craving of many men, especially of teenage guys, for romantic objects in women. He presents an everyday scene of street Romeos flocking at certain spots in pursuit of romantic attention and sense satisfaction from women. He puts it squarely: "Female students' dorms are flooded daily with young guys. / They settle there for a long time with passion so high / searching for a brief meeting, a little nectar of sight and words. / Some of them succeed, some do not." ("Ghorey-Bairey", p. 47).

In addition, he goes on to denounce the guileless and uncritical attention many young men pay to their exploiters in women. As per his observation, they offer themselves to be enslaved by feminine charm and shrewd gestures of women. He satirizes, "The youth looks with amazement. / Still, life shudders in his body. / Still, he explores the monster's body, the organs of the woman. / His body embraces the monster time and again." In fact, the poet does not spare those men who allow women to employ their stratagems and tricks against them.  

Despite many of its potentials, poetry has some limitations in terms of explaining and discussing a discourse in detail. Kajal Bandyopadhyay's volume of poetry Pratiprem-Pratiakhyan speaks volumes about female power. However, it behooves me to draw upon some of his prose pieces to understand and put in perspective what he argues in this volume. In a recent essay titled "'Shesher Ratri' O Rabindranather Bhinnatoro Naribhabona" put out in Bangla Academy's monthly magazine Uttaradhikar's 68th issue of new phase, he points out how a lot of men are exposed to inhuman but silent violence from their female counterparts.

He explains how the central character Jatin in "Shesher Ratri" is neglected and ignored by his wife Moni, but remains beguiled by her charms up until his dying moment. She does not even consider remaining by his side at his last moment. Rather, she opts to join a family program leaving her husband to his own fate. Throughout his conjugal life, Jatin receives cold negligence from his wife but remains impressed by her in the name of love. Despite her obvious repulsion toward him, he falls shamelessly for the concocted and over-praised version of her put forward by his aunt. Up until his last moment realization, he hails Moni as a goddess.

Poet Kajal lambasts this naivety typical of many men obsessed with and vulnerable to feminine charm and domineering. He also exposes the cruel downside of many women exerting power emanated from a sense of physical beauty. He also picks up Rabindranath's short story "Strir Patro" and puts in perspective the account of her mother-in-law given by the female protagonist Bindu. According to her description, Bindu's mother-in-law is "half mad" and therefore, more dangerous than her mentally challenged husband. She also lets us know that her father-in-law fears his wife, her mother-in-law, like Yama the god of death. He leaves home for pilgrimage prior to his mad son's marriage with Bindu, as he could not accept the unjust marriage altogether.

Kajal Bandyopadhyay raises the question, a basic question indeed: 'Who will write the story of this oppressed man?' Moreover, in his Female Power and Some Ibsen Plays, the very same Kajal Bandyopadhyay sorts out lapses and wrongdoings of female characters like Nora from "A Doll's House". He goes on to show how characters like Nora are ambiguous in their approach toward men and how they exercise power in ways often overlooked. In addition, he questions the "intellectual honesty" of a section of feminists who are allergic to anything concerned with men and remain blind to men's sufferings and victimization. In short, the critic as well as the poet in Kajal Bandyopadhyay comes into full play when he deals with issues like female power.

Ambidextrous Kajal Bandyopadhyay has been penning poems in addition to critical and intellectual essays in both Bangla and English on a variety of issues for more than three decades now. His Marxist training as well as scholarly engagement with African Studies has bearings upon his writing. He is particularly interested about 'female power' and its various manifestations. His collection of essays, Female Power and Some Ibsen Plays has earned him some international repute for its interventionist attitude toward the very same issue.

However, he is not against women empowerment and some feminist claims. His crusading spirit against all forms of negative power perhaps has motivated him to come up with such a volume. He adroitly brings into spotlight the hushed-up facts of monstrous female power and sensitizes us to its impacts and implications. I find the volume a little disturbing since it challenges my regular expectation from poetry. However, it opens up my eyes to the grey area of such intellectual position as feminism and concept as power.

The collection has quite a few glorious moments when it expresses its contents and themes to the fullest and employs poetical devices handily. As a reader, I expect of the poet to bring up a complementary volume of poetry featuring various aspects of 'male power' and other powers whatsoever. I believe if the volume is taken up by readers and critics of all stripes, this will surely count as a major intervention in criticism of female power and make a powerful statement.

The reviewer studied English literature at  University of Dhaka. He can be reached at  [email protected]