• the thought fox

birds love the net - Kondepudi Nirmala

Continuing in the vein of telugu poetry, I share with you a poem by Kondepudi Nirmala. This is another translation by V.N. Rao (unfortunately I do not have access to the original). He points out that this might not be a perfect representation of her body of work - her popular work is more “activist” and political.

For me, this poem is a revelation. Nirmala goes to the heart of the everyday experience of womanhood, and explores her relationship with her mother while casting a carefully woven net around the spectre of patriarchy, and the insisdious ways it enters the life of a “housewife” in the modern era. Using the brusquesness with which her mother brushes off her sense of individuality while trapping her existence in the lives of her children and her husband, she unpacks the undercurrent of discrimination and bias that flows through generations.

It is as if metaphor enters the language of her dissent and widens the landscape of her empathy. The use of metaphor at once distances her from the experience, in some sense universalising the sentiment, yet making it especially detailed and personal. One verse filled with images stood out for me in this poem, for its delicate and evocative use of language to suggest rather than pigeonhole:

Suppressing the sighs of the river renamed at every shore this hen, your mother of chicks, scratches words in front of you.

These lines speak of a restless spirit that seeks to find its own way, to defy definition, but fails. The imagery is filled with care and love, but also cast with irony. I think of the ease with which society “keeps women in place” by imprisoning them within language of control. This is the way oppression is legitimised. The persona’s plea and inability to fight her net comes across in a layered fashion with a cascade of mixed metaphors. We feel for the woman who unable to find the language to articulate her hopes and desires, sees in herself a domesticated hen. This poetry is the words she scratches on the wet earth for us to read.

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