Dalit English Poet – Meena Kandasamy


Recently I came across an exciting voice in Indian English poetry: Meena Kandasamy. I first read her poems in a blog and found about her through blogs, her own as well of others. This is an indication in itself that blogging is beginning to be the dominant medium for accessing poetry. Blogging has several advantages in this respect as it unshackles the poets from being dependant on publishers or magazines. It is as democratic as is currently possible. More and more poets, despite their background, can find their  readers without being subjected to the humiliating process of the publishing industry.

Meena Kandasamy has some interesting things to say about blogging. She is a Dalit writer from Tamilnadu who writes poetry in English. She is also an active translator. Her blog makes for interesting reading. A new voice in the field of Indian English Literature, she is very articulate about the aspirations of the dalits. One of her recent blogs was insightful. Here she talks about blogging, caste oppression and women. Here is an excerpt:

from: Meena Kandasamy blog

Big media houses which own the major publications rarely give opportunity to Dalit (ex-untouchable) writers, and there’s an absence of Dalit/anti-caste writers who write in English. The elitist writers want to write the feel-good stuff, India Shining myths, and that’s the work that gets into print. So, I wanted to tap the power and enormous outreach of the internet: how anyone can write and be read/heard in the virtual space. I was not writing because anyone was commissioning me, I didn’t have to follow other people’s diktats, I could speak my mind. Google and tagging ensure that I can get heard without having my own column in any newspaper. Sometimes its helped me bring some happenings to light—such as the recent inside story of Dalit students being beaten up at a law university in Chennai (the mainstream media merely reported it as a “clash” at first) and so on. Blogging on feminist issues, with a caste perspective, was also something that I set out to do, because feminism in India forgets that caste exists at all, and that women at the bottom of the caste hierarchy do suffer more.

Since the cost of establishing alternative media in India is extremely high, activist groups have taken to the Internet in a big way. There is a hunger to use the potential of this media, and human rights defenders are doing it the right way. The campaign to free Binayak Sen; the exposes on state terrorism, fake encounters and police atrocities; the virulent speed in which fact-finding reports can be circulated; the ease with which the LGBT community in India came together and organized their shows of strength in every major city—these have all been possible because of the digital sphere and the space for social networking, discussion and dissemination that it allows.

She has another blog where she has posted several of her poems. She has published a collection of her poems called Touch. Kamala Das wrote the forward where she calls Meena an exciting writer. Believe her. Or decide after reading her poems. One of them is ‘Becoming a Brahmin‘:

Algorithm for converting a Shudra into a Brahmin


Step 1: Take a beautiful Shudra girl.
Step 2: Make her marry a Brahmin.
Step 3: Let her give birth to his female child.
Step 4: Let this child marry a Brahmin.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 six times.
Step 6: Display the end product. It is a Brahmin.


Algorithm advocated by Father of the Nation at Tirupur.
Documented by Periyar on 20.09.1947.

Algorithm for converting a Pariah into a Brahmin

Awaiting another Father of the Nation
to produce this algorithm.

(Inconvenience caused due to inadvertent delay
is sincerely regretted.)

While this poem is a frontal attack, there is a nuanced poem which is rich in irony yet trenchant in its critique of the caste system – varna system.


Have you ever tried meditation?
Struggling hard to concentrate,
and keeping your mind as blank
as a whitewashed wall by closing
your eyes, nose, ears; and shutting out
every possible thought. Every thing.
And, the only failure, that ever came,
the only gross betrayal—
was from your own skin.
You will have known this.

Do you still remember,
how, the first distractions arose?
And you blamed skin as a sinner;
how, when your kundalini was rising,
shaken, you felt the cold concrete floor
skin rubbing against skin, your saffron robes,
how, even in a far-off different realm—
your skin anchored you to this earth.
Amidst all that pervading emptiness,
touch retained its sensuality.
You will have known this.

Or if you thought more variedly, about
taste, you would discount it—as the touch
of the tongue. Or, you may recollect
how a gentle touch, a caress changed
your life multifold, and you were never
the person you should have been.
Feeling with your skin, was
perhaps the first of the senses, its
reality always remained with you—
You never got rid of it.
You will have known this.

You will have known almost
every knowledgeable thing about
the charms and the temptations
that touch could hold.

But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

Photo from: Meena Kandasamy blog.

9 responses »

  1. Pingback: Dalit English Poet – Meena Kandasamy « sotosay | India Updates

  2. This is really very pleasant experience to have a wonderful poetess like Meena ji !

  3. This is a fantastic poem, a blend of social suppression with spiritualism. This is a voice of the socially suppressed people. superb.

  4. अर्थी उठाने वाले मेरे खुरदरे हाथ

    हँसो जितना हँस सकते हो
    मुझसे उतनी ही नफरत करो जितनी मौत से

    मुझे कविता से प्रेम नहीं
    नहीं जानता मैं संगीत, साहित्य, कला
    तुम्हारे पशु बाड़े में मेरा नाम लिखा है असभ्य
    हाँ, मैं दोपाया
    जानवर ही तो हूँ

    मेरे लिए देश की सीमाओं से चौड़ी है भूख की नली
    तुम्हारी चौहद्दी मेरी दुनिया
    तुम्हारे कुत्ते और मेरे बच्चों में नहीं कोई अंतर
    दोनों अपने व्यक्तिगत कारण से स्कूल नहीं जाते
    नींद में खनकती है तुम्हारी गाली

    मेरे दांतों से रिसता है मरे गोरू का लहू
    संवेदना तो उसी दिन मर गई थी मेरे भीतर
    जब बीमार बाप को पीटा था तुम्हारे लठैतों ने मरने तक
    भय फैल गया था पूरे मुहल्ले में
    सहम गई थीं नई पीढियां
    तोड़ डाली थी बूढी कमर
    दिन-दिन रोया था मैं काम गई माँ के इन्तजार में

    भय का व्याकरण, छुपा है सात ताले डाल
    असभ्य बर्बर पंजों में
    तुम मुझे संस्कृत का हन्ता मानते हो

    मैं भी तुमसे उतनी ही नफरत करता हूँ
    जितना तुम करते हो मुझसे
    मरी नहीं है मेरी आत्मा
    बस अर्थी उठाने वाली मेरी हथेलियाँ
    खुरदरी हो गई हैं
    Dr.Karmanand Arya
    Cub, Patna

  5. Dalit or un-Dalit, I myself do not know it the politics of poets and poetry, who a poet or a politician politicking with what? Poetry Brahminical or non-Brahminical, what to say about? Poetry by the Dalits or by the non-Dalits? Dalitization of poetry and politics is not talk.
    Dalit poetry is a branch of Dalit literature as is Black literature. It is true that untouchability has wreaked havoc in India but it needs to be perused sociologically. There is something positive of it; there is something negative of. Whatever they argue and opine cannot be accepted as much has been done through reservation and political nautanki seen during the phase of reservation politics when the reservationists and anti-reservationists clashed with into the streets and capitals resulting in suicide and self-immolation which but the politicians saw it for sitting on chair and coming to power.
    If we peruse deeply, we shall find it in Blake’s the little black boy, Lamb’s chimney-sweepers, Mahatma Gandhi’s Harijonodhara,Tagore’s Chandalika in love with Ananda, Adi Shankaracharya’s vision of Shiva as some kangal, Harishchandra’s duty as a chandal on the burning ghat collecting taxes for and so on. Definitely Dronacharya was at fault in giving points to Eklavya. The dark daughters mentioned in Jayanta Mahapatra’s relationship too need to be discussed here.

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