restricted access 4. The Book as a Little Magazine: The Cosmopolitan Localism of Bhijaki Vahi
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140 c h a p t e r 4 The Book as a Little Magazine: The Cosmopolitan Localism of Bhijaki Vahi Let the cat of the visual purr and lick The milk of your sight. —Arun Kolatkar, Kolatkar Papers Bhijaki Vahi (The Soaked Notebook) was the biggest poetic project in Marathi that Kolatkar published during his lifetime (and it also secured the Sahitya Akademi award posthumously for the poet in 2005). Even more than his other books of poems, Bhijaki Vahi is one of the notable achievements of Kolatkar’s writing career because it binds together some of the persistent concerns of the poet over the six decades of his writing career.1 In the book, there are nineteen poetic sequences, each named after one woman, hailing from India and from all over the world, appearing in mythology, religion, and modern-day history, who restate and rehistoricize world politics and local stories with women’s perspectives that have been frequently overlooked. They are Helen, Isis, Hypatia, Cassandra , Laila, and Rabia, from the mythological and real worlds of Greece and the Middle East, Mutayakka from the bhakti traditions of South India, Hadamma from Native American tales, the three Marys from the Bible, Apala (from the Sanskrit Rig Veda), Kim (the young “napalm” girl fleeing the Vietnam War in Nick Ut’s famous photograph), Dora Maar (Picasso’s girlfriend, well known in the Euro-American world), Susan Sontag (American activist, writer, best known for her work that theorized photography and trauma), Nadezhda Mandelstam (the wife of Russian poet Osip Mandelstam), Maimun (a young Muslim girl from Haryana, India, who was killed in 1997 for marrying someone outside the community), Kannagi (from ancient Tamil narratives who is lamenting her husband’s death), and Rajani (the poet’s sister who lost her son in The Book as a Little Magazine  ❘  141 an airplane disaster).2 We hear the bemoaning of Isis for Osiris and of her heroic yet futile attempt to resurrect his dead body; of Hypatia’s murder for her “prideful” attempt to master mathematics and philosophy, both considered to be the bastions of male privilege in ancient Greece; and of Laila’s uncharacteristic rejection of her soppy but famous lover, Majnun. Each poetic sequence contains several poems that examine and extend the account from different perspectives. Some poems show the woman’s voice intermingled with the poet’s own, others present the woman as the addressee, and yet others reveal the men as the narrators of the named woman’s world.3 There is a sense of a novelistic expanse in these poems, despite the genre constraints,4 because of the heteroglossic presentation of women’s stories where the world around each character gets enough material imaging as the lives themselves. All the stories reveal women who fight for their lives, and for a voice, but in the end get beaten down by the patriarchal world.5 Collecting the stories of women around the world and across the ages seems like a recipe for the worst kind of superficial cosmopolitanism that characterizes much popular fiction today, but Kolatkar finds a way to ground the diversity of the world in enduring local contexts. Instead of the local being served on a platter of exotic otherness to the rest of the world, the world itself comes knocking at the doors of Marathi literature. Kolatkar demonstrates the gap between the representation and the real, and between the closure of a book and the openness of a little magazine through the narration of women’s disparate stories. In the end this leads him to a spectacular rejection of the “visual honey” and the empty words of representation in a Beat poetry–influenced as well as bhakti literature–infused denunciation of self and world: let all this dirt be washed away from your eyes keeping only the limpid tear only one left in the end preserved in your eyes that tear will help in creating a new world o mother-soul of the universe6 142  ❘  The Texts Thus ends the last poem in the book. The front cover has a stylized Egyptian image of a weeping eye while the title of the book and the epigraph on the back cover allude to the writings (from seventeenthcentury Maharashtra) of the bhakti poet Tukaram. Bhijaki Vahi takes a radically different poetic route from the previous works of Kolatkar: it is not in the same ironic or sarcastic mode as Kala Ghoda Poems, for instance, nor does it reveal the...


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