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I sell my anatomy / Review of Moumita Alam's Poems at Daybreak

Moumita Alam is a bilingual poet from North Bengal, belonging to a Dalit Muslim Community, who faces discrimination at many levels – as a Muslim in India directly affected by and living under the threat of the Uniform Civil Code, as a Muslim woman in the patriarchal Muslim community, as a woman in general, as someone close to feminism, as a Dalit and as a writer from North Bengal not favoured by the cream of South Bengal intelligentsia. Despite her humble beginnings, she managed to bring out her first collection of poems titled ‘Musings in the Dark’ in 2020. This book was marked by her predominantly rebellious voice against the political set-up in India which is fast moving towards the Hindutva kind of fascism. The collection under review is, however, a much more personal outrage against patriarchy sticking to the realm of love. Yet, her political leanings appear in these poems too which are not at all sentimental or romantic like normal love poems.


Moumita Alam's Poems at Daybreak

As the first woman poet writing in English from her Dalit Nashya Shaikh Muslim community based in North Bengal, Moumita Alam has a fight waiting for her at every step that she takes in her life – against her choices as a Muslim in general, her choices as a Muslim woman discouraged by the clergy, her choices as a follower of feminism, opposed by the Savarna forces as a woman belonging to the Dalit firmament, as a writer from North Bengal who is generally shunned by South Bengal intelligentsia. Yet, bravely, she has carried on with her battle on all these fronts. Her views on all these fronts are consolidated in her poems she regularly writes in the Outlook or Livewire platforms.


Her first collection of poems The Musings of the Dark was almost entirely devoted to politics and her uncompromising stand against Fascism in all its avatars. The new collection Poems at Daybreak, brought out by the reputed publishing house Red River, takes her battle right into the core of the dichotomy in the viewpoints of men and women in the matter of love. The poems are, therefore, split into four chapters viz Him, Her, Home and Selling my anatomy.


The last chapter is devoted to an abandoned love and her anger is brought out very vividly.  She feels that she has been treated as a commodity in a male market. Her complete surrender to a man hasn’t been of any help to her. She is on the verge of revolt as the realization of her true worth as a woman in the patriarchal society becomes clear to her.


Now I sell my anatomy

one by one.

My ribs for three rupees.

My drooping breasts

for his savage sex.

My vagina for my existence.


She even thinks of taking her life as the last love of her life has gone away. She realizes that it is no longer a presence worthy of her. All these emotions culminate in these lines.


You read his last words

in every possible way.

You slice them

horizontally, vertically, angularly,

your blood everywhere.

You shuffle, reshuffle,

you put your ears to them.

You smell them.

All to find a bit of him.

Nothing is left.

He has left you unloving.


The Chapter Home tells us how a Home driven by Patriarchy never encourages an independent life for a woman, specially a Muslim woman, yet she cannot avoid the fond memories of it as a child. There is a tussle between the Home as a Haven and a Training Camp of Patriarchy. Thus, we have this Home on one side.


Home is the fragrance of

my mother’s hair

and the impending night

enveloped in the smell of the bluebells,

raw tea leaves and the scent of pulao.


Yet, the other more real and less lyrical home also co-exists where her mother is only a prisoner.


I pause looking at my mother’s cold eyes.

She senses my choked voice

she knows like fish in the aquarium,

trees in the tub

and dog in the chain.

I, too, am incarcerated in the room

which I call home.


Chapter three 'Her' is where serious questions about gender are raised. It is a shadowy area, something new to the poet. One can see traces of an attraction for another woman here or even yearning for her love in body and mind. The feelings are almost lesbian in character. In fact, she questions God’s standpoint in all this.


If man and woman

are first and second gender

then God is...

which gender?

The Third?


There is, definitely, scope for a kind of sorority here, a realization of the absolute grace and beauty of existence as a woman. There is this urge to plunge into her to know her as a woman lover or an equally battered sister.


I dug deeper into her to embrace life.

She mended my broken wings.

No fear of clipping anymore,

no more unseen wires in my dreams.


In making love to a woman lover, she finds a partial salvation.


They make love the whole day

and in their love bites

life thrives.

My mundane lips sculpt there

the scripture of my longing.

My feeble fingers become alphabets

to make dimples on her cheeks.


It is in the chapter 'Him' that the poet returns to her elements -  to hetero sexual love for an understanding man that finally works as a healing process from a world of rejection, rape, incarceration, bondage. She finds freedom finally.


Loving you is

closest to being alive


This sense of exhilaration is repeated throughout this Chapter where she finds a point of union and absolute sublimation. Teesta is the river on the banks which she resides and this mighty river becomes for her a symbol of a new life which blossoms in these memorable lines.


Teesta has become pregnant again.

The algae have grown in open eyelids.

The breasts have become Earth’s time clock,

the quartz of their secretion turning into

a moon in the nights.

 

She finds a oneness that she has never experienced before and more than that she finds herself transformed into him and him into her.


I see my vagina growing into a phallus.

You say you had your periods last month.

Why don’t they see us?

My breasts are flattening into your two eyes.

The teats dissolve in your eyeballs.

And, there cannot be a better expression of pure love than when one becomes the other in an act of translation.

He translates her,

not in the language he speaks

or in the script she writes,

but in their unfulfilled

mad rush into one another’s eyes

when they make love.


The God who was an antagonist to her so far is brought down to earth with the fragrance of her fields rising from him. Love is something that shows even a despotic God his real place in life.


You and I are poets

and God is a farmer.


The journey has come to a full circle now with God ploughing the land to sow seeds of love instead of hatred. The poet’s journey has been in search of this ideal act so far and she finds fruition in it. She is a tree in full blossom now in this unique collection that carries the reader through all facets of love and a life of freedom just discovered.


 

About the Reviewer:


Ravi Shanker, also known as Ra Sh, is a poet, translator, and playwright based in Palakkad, Kerala. He has published four collections of poetry, including 'Architecture of Flesh,' 'Bullet Train and Other Loaded Poems,' 'Kintsugi by Hadni,' and 'Buddha and Biryani,' along with a chapbook titled 'In the Mirror, Our Graves' co-written with Ritamvara Bhattacharya. Additionally, he has authored the play 'Blind Men Write.' Shanker is renowned for his translations, including works such as 'Mother Forest,' 'Waking is Another Dream,' 'Don’t Want Caste,' and 'Kochiites,' among others. His translations also extend to prose, with notable works such as 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' and 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist.' Notably, he has translated over a hundred poems by poet/filmmaker Leena Manimekalai from Tamil to Malayalam, featured in books such as 'Koothachikalude Rani' and 'Chichili.'


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