Breaking the Cycles of Silence
Semeen Ali
SPEAK, WOMAN! by Smita Agarwal Red River, 2021, 87 pp., 299.00
May 2022, volume 46, No 5

How dare you think, let alone,

think better than I?

How dare you write, let alone,

write better than I?

How dare you pass critical judgement,

let alone, better than I?

On reading the poems in Speak Woman! what comes up powerfully is how the world is perceived and made visible through the eyes of Agarwal. She is visible in her poems and makes sure that her presence and that of other women are not reduced to being in the background in comparison to traditional forms of writing where one is supposed to remove oneself from actively identifying with their works. It remains essential as a poet to respond to the world that they live in, in ways that is unique to them as an individual. In these poems, the usage of personal experiences helps create a compelling narrative about life/lives of a/the woman/women. The language used in poetry creates works that dynamically engage with an understanding and making sense of what one’s world is being constantly made up of—

To empty out the heart

like the bag of a vacuum cleaner

vigorously shaking loose

dust and debris

of memory…

CM Naim in his essay titled ‘Transvestic Words: The Rekhti in Urdu’ (2001) observed—‘They may pretend to look at women and themselves through a woman’s eye, but they mostly see what their masculine and heterosexual selves desire.’ What Agarwal has done is use words to articulate and create a space for herself in a world that claims to be a free one for women but makes sure that it continues to bind women through existing/invisible boundaries. She makes sure that these invisible lines are made visible—visible enough for her readers to not trip and fall. Her poems continue to subvert the given norms and rules that surround a woman and her choices in life. The world in her book takes on a new life and a new approach to the age-old traditions and beliefs.

In one of her poems titled ‘Parrot: A Mother to her Newly-married Daughter’, she writes—

Continue reading this review