L Thomas Kutty
It takes just a shit on your head
For the crow to retrieve its identity.
The notorious sidelong glance helps
(Sectarian views will do –
At least for crows).
The lonely hermit on the power line,
The faithful soldier in the dark legion
On its homeward flight at dusk,
The starkest of poetic images,
A stop in transit
For an ancestor’s transmigrating soul.
But we know how to put it in its place:
No upstart crow ever became a swan.
The British East India Company’s
Records will tell you that.
Undaunted by the taunt
It goes back to business.
Shitting on the petrified expressions of guilt
And glorified legends of sacrifice
Of the men of destiny –
Ineffectual scarecrows in stone –
Who darken the city squares
With their looming shadows,
Making no distinction
Between subaltern and hegemon.
The grey shit
Retrieves its black identity.
Somebody posted this poem in response to the fresh discussion around V V Rao’s poem, yep, that one. I prefer crow shit to that shit of a post. When I first read it and the following discussion, it was too silly to bother with a reread, but was very amused at the alacrity with which they were defining the elite/middleclass female sexuality -read as upper caste female body. In all the acute angles in which they explored the poet’s intended insult to their sexuality, it did not occur to them even once that low caste, poor girls can be cute, may wear miniskirts and high heels. Had they considered this possibility then the poet’s words would have been insulting the sexuality of low caste girls too, right? But then. Can the sky be green? Its that absurd a notion.
Without taking away all the hard work, and intellectual rigor that goes into churning out these theorists (at the tax payers expense which include all the dalit, adivasi and minority women, may I add) and give them the benefit of doubt, that theirs is a well considered position on Indian women’s sexuality especially their own class -which they refer to as elite. It would help me if they defined elite in urban or rural terms, since the whole discussion revolves around caste and reservations, there is a simple equation going on, only upper caste women can be elite, and be the ones who wear miniskirts, high heels and are uniformly cute (very assembly line!). All of which seem to be highly threatening to men such as VV Rao, interpreted via his badly translated poem.
I wore my first highheels in class four -a white strapless thingy, swung a hockey stick with a sports skirt that was definitely mini, studied in a school catering to girls from very poor to marginally well of families, many of them had pictures of moms and aunts in miniskirts and highheels -poor girls in Bangalore cantonment area did not have elite upper caste girls as their role models in dress sense or anything else -EVER. Their sense of style has always been cool and unique and it draws from a wide range of cultural influences owing to the cosmopolitan nature of the city.
When other metro cities were strangulated their young women in yards and yards of material, Bangalore streets, even before the pub culture took root, saw women attired quite comfortably in jeans, trousers and skirts, a definite nod to the influence of the city’s once prominent anglo indian community. The girls in elite hindu uppercaste residential areas in Bangalore were wrapped in silk pavadai and davanis, lovely garments, though I would never call them as power dresses. The boys used to call those longskirts -parachutes- as they tended to billow around in the wind, with the girls hastening to hold them down.
Other cities waited for the influence of a few generations of foreign returned relatives and mass media to begin wearing western wear. The girls from lower middleclass and poor areas of Bangalore, on the other hand drew from local affordable styles and carried it off with causal ease. The theorists will of course say this is a bad sample and not representative, precisely why I would ask who do they call elite, when it comes to manner of dressing, the upper caste girls in cities or does it include uppercaste girls in rich families in small towns too?
While I want to point out that their observation of girls, clothing and female sexuality in India is rather strange, I am aware, it is a pointless exercise, theirs is a myopic world, blind to the very existence of girls from poor or lower castes backgrounds except in pre fabricated opinions of them as incapable of affording and dressing themselves in western wear.
Now, do I think western wear somehow accentuates woman power? Needs a separate post. But yes, it lets the female body to be more free than some Indian garments. That leads to the question are we aware of the different kinds of clothes that Indian girls wear in all the regions of India, that allows some to make such sweeping statements? I have traveled a bit and lived in a few Indian cities and still know next to nothing about the different kinds of dresses young women wear in different regions.
Does it matter at all what a select few think, and articulate on their narrow opinions? Sadly yes, read this disgusting report on how the tribal girls looks and manners are denigrated here by public officials. This, is the manifestation of all that elite talk. Verbal proof of entrenched values of exclusion. Racism and sexism pushed eloquently by college and university educated bunch of men and women. The women revel in spreading this pathology against ‘other’ women. Indian women are more racist than Indian men towards women they consider the ‘other’. The ‘other’ is not everybody outside their gothra, no, they are others with definite skin color, physical attributes -lower caste and tribal. The genetically and geographically distant white woman is never the ‘other’. For it is her attire that is being appropriated and is being bandied about as some arrived at state of awareness.
Miniskirt is a power statement because it shows more skin? I am not sure about that. It does trigger another old memory, from my days as a pre teen kid spent in Karwar along the Konkan coast. I saw more skin and well toned female legs of the local fisherwomen than what I see in peak summer here in the all-white town, I now live in.
When at work, those ladies wore their sarees in a way, one could see their beautiful legs right up to the upper thighs. They dressed that way to do business. Power dressing? Oh yes! These fisherwomen spelt woman power to me. Style, strength, attitude, they had it all.
So all you Indian girls claiming a black identity, you have no business with words such as ‘cute’ ‘miniskirts’ ‘highheels’. Class theorists who lesson up in workshops on gender and blah, define these words as ‘elite girls only’. And air hostess is a definite no as a career option.
River is calling all crow lovers. I love crows, the above poem changed me from being an admirer to being one. I like that even more, not that I believe in souls flying anywhere after death and stopping to say hello to me, or from within me . But simply because crows personify my dream of travelling to strange places and enjoying exotic views of distant cultures, without having to get off the fence. Strangely, there is no human culture that would see the crow as the ‘other’. I guess most cultures would like to claim it as their very own. There are half dozen Tamil sayings on crows that I would love to share here, some other day perhaps. Though I will romance a bit on Pine Leaf, the woman war chief of the Crow Indian tribe, to further turn symbols upside down.
Pine Leaf wanted nothing to do with learning any traditional duties expected from the tribe’s women. She did dress the part of a beautiful woman but chose the actions of a fearsome warrior. The Crow Indians allowed her to join in the male activities with the braves. The men of the tribe and Pine Leaf’s adoptive father seemed to enjoy her spunk and encouraged her fighting spirit.
White men who crossed Pine Leaf’s path along the fur trade route were totally confounded by her. They had never seen, or even heard of, such a woman who could strike such terror in the hearts of men. They were confused, fascinated, and intimidated by her very presence. Since there was nothing in their own cultures they could compare to Pine Leaf, she became known as the Absaroka Amazon among the white traders. She became almost a mythical figure to them.
I like crows in miniskirts or in fisherwoman’s sarees, neither apparel takes away from their sleek body lines. Here’s to a black world of crows that tells the pallid world to go shit on itself with dumb theories.