Monday, May 25, 2009

(CLICK THE PICTURE TO SEE THE SPINNING DANCER. The Ambiguities of Feminine Identity can be symbolized from the image. It is a kinetic, bi-stable optical illusion resembling a pirouetting female dancer. Some observers initially see the figure as spinning clockwise and some counterclockwise. If the foot touching the ground is perceived to be the left foot, the dancer appears to be spinning clockwise (if seen from above); if it is taken to be the right foot, then she appears to be spinning counterclockwise. Additionally, some may see the figure suddenly spin in the opposite direction. The illusion derives from an inherent ambiguity from the lack of visual cues for depth. There are other optical illusions that originate from the same or similar kind of visual ambiguity, such as the Necker cube.)
(Source: Wikipedia)

The Ambiguities of Feminine Identity

A love affair between two poets belonging to two different languages in the early twentieth century in India is very little known. Even I found many Bengali readers and writers to also be unaware about this fact. The true love story was discovered with major Oriya poet Kabibara Radhanath Roy and Bengali poetess Nagendra Bala Ray.
This depicts the sexual politics of the nineteenth century’s patriarchal milieu.

Kabibar Radhanath Ray, the prime figure of Oriya Literature, who freed the poetry from medieval clasp and with the influence of Romantic English poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, he designed Oriya poetry by introducing new forms, new topics, a new approach and greater freedom. Among the many new things which he brought into Oriya poetry, there were blank-verse, pictorial, musical but direct and unambiguous language following Scott and Wordsworth, satire in the manner of Dryden and Pope, denunciation of despots, tyrants and oppressors, concern with social problems, a spirit of protest against conventional morality, a disbelief in the power of gods and goddesses, and patriotic sentiments, which last brought him trouble from his employers. He was viewed as a national poet of the first order in Orissa.

Radhanath was born on 28 September 1848, at Kedarpur village in Balasore district and in his early life, he composed in both Bengali and Oriya languages but later he shifted his writings in Oriya only. He started his carrier as a teacher in Balasore Zilla School and later was promoted to Inspector of Schools. In January 1900, he was transferred to Burdwan , a semi-urban town of Bengal and there he met Nagendra Bala.

Nagendra Bala was married to a Sub Registrar of Jamalpur and besides her two poetry books Marma Gatha and Prem Gatha, she authored a prose book on taboos for females, where she wrote about the do’s and don’ts for the fairer sex. When she met Radhanath , he was 53 and she was 25; they both fell in love. Bala was so impressed by Radhanath’s poetry and she learnt Oriya to read his poems in original form. Dhabaleswar, one of her poetry books, was even dedicated to ‘motherly Ms.Parashmani Devi, the wife of veteran Oriya poet Radhanath Roy.’

Nagendra Bala became impressed with one of Radhanath’s poems, which was written much before of her birth and in which the he wrote “I want to bow my head to the feet of Nagendra Bala.” Actually the word ‘Nagendra Bala’ is a synonym for ‘mountain,’ but it impressed Nagendra Bala, the poet, more and she romantically began to think that Radhanath had been waiting for her since before her birth.

Bala died at the age of 28 in 1906. After her death, Radhanath suffered mental trauma and he wanted to confess his sin for involving himself with his extramarital affairs. He wrote a confessional letter, printed it, and circulated it among all the editors, writers, poets, and readers of Oriya and Bengali literature with a request to make the copies of this mail and to forward to as many people as possible.

In his personal social prejudices, Radhanath was as misogynistic as any man of his time and held traditional , stereotypical, and patriarchal views of women, which he sometimes explicitly committed to writing in letters and notebooks. But his writings often portrayed female characters in his long poems (in Oriya they are called ‘Kavyas’) as pro-female and during his time he was criticised by the critics for dealing with sexuality in his poems such as in Jajati,Nandikeswari and Parvati

These contradictions were prevailing in society of that time and we found many of our writers and intellectuals of that time had more than one wife during their life span. But it was hoped that after the death of a husband, that a female should maintain her life without marrying others.

There was another very reputed personality of Orissa, Esteemed Gopal Chandra Praharaj. He authored the first and largest ever Oriya dictionary cum linguistic encyclopedia which was a magnum opus. Keeping his wife in a remote village, he used to live with his sister-in-law Pitambari Devi at his residence in Cuttack. He was in love with his sister-in-law but to prove himself socially monogamous, he did not marry her. When one day he found out that his wife was involved with a love affair with one of their servants in the village, he rushed there and called his son and wife and confronted them for social justice. When I read these events from the biography of Pitambari Devi, I couldn’t help but shiver at the thought that these social milieus in my beloved country was passed its glorious days.

I have no less respect for these two authors now. In fact, I bow my head to them and feel intensely grateful to them because if they had not been there, I would not have found my language and literature in as such a prestigious spot as it currently is in the Indian subcontinent.

What irritates me, though, is the social system of that time. Either consciously or unconsciously, that social system had oppressed women, allowing them little or no voice in the political, social, or economic issues of that time. And now I think we are miles away from these milieus and I am thankful for my predecessor feminists who fought their best to change the destiny of women.

I don’t find anything wrong with Nagendra Bala and with the legal wife of Esteemed G.C.Praharaj. Rather, I consider their male partners as pseudo and virtual. In my country, I have noted that the eminent personalities here have a tendency to create a self-image of sainthood to the public as the masses also search for sainthood among public figures. This is the main difference between India and the West.
Here, Italian Sonia Gandhi has to veil her head to prove that she has turned herself into the typical ideal Indian woman, whereas in America, nobody cares about the sexy dresses of Michelle Obama. It doesn’t mean that the American society is totally getting rid of patriarchal attitudes. In some ways in fact, the United States is more patriarchal than puritanical. But in India, the attitude of the masculine world for a state of sexual promiscuity in a particular order remains for the moment, while opposing that status for female world remains without a satisfactory answer.

Once the writer George Elliot (1819-1880 ) wrote in her novel Felix Hold that a woman can hardly ever choose… she is dependent on what happens to her. She must take meaner things, because only meaner things are within her reach. George Elliot was somehow a contemporary to Radhanath but lived in the other part of the Globe. But her assumption on female destiny was not more different from that of Indian women of the time. When we think about the destiny of Nagendra Bala or Praharaj’s wife, a question may arise:
Why have these complaints appeared just two or three centuries ago? And why don’t more echoes of the feminine revolt and oppressive situation exist?

In both parts of the globe, women were criticized and repudiated for their sexuality by a male-dominated society. The social gurus always have treated the question of women's liberation and sexual freedom only from the negative point of view. They have never tried to compare the question with the status of the male. Sex-positive women were not simply misinformed, or priggish or neurotic. Rather, they were often rationally responding to their material reality. Their orgasm was denied and only two choices had been left for them: 1) passive and usually pleasure-less submission, with the high risk of undesirable consequences or 2) rebellious refusal.

This is what happened with Nagendra bala and Mrs. Praharaj. After his confession regarding his ‘sinful affair’ with a married lady, the image of Radhanath was enhanced in the society of that time. He was regarded as a ‘saint of saints’ for the courage to confess his sins. Nagendra Bala, on the other hand, was painted as a sexist woman who was responsible for the said affair and some critics have also found out the evil intention of that lady may have been to trap a ‘saintly’ personality.

One thing more, though it will pronounce vaguer, nobody has ever asked how Nagendra Bala was crossed if Radhanath had no willingness to cross her.
I am interested in searching for other aspects of the affair with a view to male sexual politics, and in particular, to discover if there is another tradition running alongside moral conservation and social purity in which men tried to assert the possibilities of a different kind of sexual life for them; one that didn't involve their systematic subordination.

If there is such an aspect of our history, a collective effort on the part of women worldwide to develop a language and politics of sexual pleasure as well as sexual protection is greatly needed to adhere with our feminist thoughts. Who wants to join me in this effort?


  1. I do agree with Dr. Sarojini Sahoo's views on the poets'love affair. It's only in our society the women are humiliated, tortured, sinned and treated the Other so much. Here women have taboos and prohibitions where as men are made saints. It's highy irrational, unjust and criminal. As Sarojini says let's imitate the West atleast in this aspect. No doubt patriarchy tyrannise our society.
    K. V. DOMINIC,

  2. Mamata Das7:22 AM

    I do agree with you.. in our society men behave as if they are saints and when they have some kind of relationship with a woman they hide it before the society all the blame goes to the woman. It is so sad.Why can not our men become brave? If they are so coward why they start that kind of relationship which is not approved by the society?
    You have observed and expressed it wonderfully . We all have this kind of experience..but we do not want to express it because we feel there is no use, they will be always like that. No?
    Mamata Das

  3. मै भी ममता दास के विचारों से सहमत हूं.
    आपने सही बात रखी है किन्तु आपके विचारपूर्ण ब्लोग पर लगाये गये चित्र का औचित्य नही समझ पाया?

  4. The meaning of the picture in the blog is simple: still patriarchal society considers feminine identity as ambiguity as the optical illusion. I hope,you could follow my point.

  5. 1800 rupees guarantees a live birth of the girl child. So why spend money on abortions, when parents can pocket money and then get rid of the newborn. Who is going to report the murder? Who cares? The government? The law?
    The hand that kills is of a female, not a male.
    No matter how much we talk and blame men for the objectification and subjugation of women, let's not forget that we as mothers give preferential treatment to the male child.
    Our parents educate us, but we do not object to dowry demands.
    We take the abuse and accept it as our fate. We die unheralded.
    We as mother in laws mistreat our daughters in law.
    We have made the men in our lives Gods. We keep "Karva Chauth"
    We cannot say NO.
    We let ourselves be raped in marriage.
    Why in the land of Goddesses are women treated as less than human?
    Why do accept infidelity?
    When we are maimed or killed for the sake of honor, what does the mother do? NOTHING.
    Our lives are sacrificed but we do not speak. Why dont we die fighting? No one is going to save us anyway, so why not go out with a bang?
    And we fall in love with men who reduce us into a shadow of ourselves.
    So let's band together.