Meena Kandasamy is an emerging poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. She is based in Chennai.
Her first book, Touch, was published in 2006. Two of her poems have won prizes in all-India poetry competitions. Her poetry has been published in various journals, including The Little Magazine, Kavya Bharati, Indian Horizons, Muse India and the Quarterly Literary Review, Singapore. She edited The Dalit, a bi-monthly alternative English magazine of the Dalit Media Network in its first year of publication from 2001 to 2002.
Kandasamy’s translations include the writings and speeches of Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal or the Dalit Panthers of India (Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation, 2003) and the poetry and fables of Tamil Eelam poet, Kasi Anandan. She is one of the 21 short fiction writers from South Asia featured in an anthology published by Zubaan, New Delhi. At present, she is working on her doctorate on Caste in the Indian Language Classroom.
Kandasamy regards her writing as a process of coming to terms with her identity: her “womanness, Tamilness and low/ outcasteness”, labels that she wears with pride. She knew, she says, that “my gender, language and castelessness were not anything that I had to be ashamed of… I wrote poetry very well aware of who I was. But I was also sure of how I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be taken on my own terms… I wanted to be totally bare and intensely exposed to the world through my writings. I wanted it to be my rebellion against the world.” It meant, she adds, consciously deciding that she wasn’t interested in winning “acceptance, or admiration or awards”.
Aware that “the site for all subjugation is (at first) at the level of language”, Kandasamy believes that political poetry has the “pressing responsibility to ensure that language is not at the mercy of the oppressors”. The ways of the status quo are insidious, however, and Kandasamy realises that a politically conscious poet has to be true to herself in order to be a genuine voice of dissent and resistance.
Her work as the editor of a Dalit magazine and her association with the Dalit Panthers of India (a militant activist Dalit organisation) has further honed her awareness of what it means “to be a woman in a caste-ridden nation”. The result: poetry that arises “not out of mere reading, but out of active engagement”.
Given her impassioned politics, it is perhaps not surprising that she wrote her first love poem only two years after she started writing her “angry, militant” verse. The poems in this edition reveal more than militant rage, however. There is fierce and exuberant wit and wordplay which make one look forward to more of Kandasamy’s work in the years to come.
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