Mar 012015



Knowledge Construction and identity Politics: A Review  of  Nandini Sahu’s Sita (2014), The  Poetry Society of  India ,Gurgaon  ( Hariyana ) ,India . PP – 129, R S 220/-, ISBN: 978-93-83888-19-1(PB).


Reviewed By:

Gagan Bihari Purohit

R.N. College, Dura,

Berhampur Odisha


Rendered as a “poetic memoir … in the first person narrative” about the trials and tribunals of a longstanding cultural outfit, Nandini Sahu’s fifth collection, Sita ferries across on several plains the idea of knowledge construction from the epic heroine’s point of view where the due  is denied to Her in a largely gender construed identity being interpolated by the patriarchal society. A long poem in twenty five cantos, it is waiting in the wings raring to go in the mould of popular epic form in the heart and mind of the poet where the main thrust is everyday reality being represented through a woman’s perspective. Both classical and folk elements go to describe her abiding agony without giving her due in no uncertain terms which Sahu attempts candidly in this rather long poem to glorify womanhood thereby assessing the identity of the women construed from different contemporary perspectives. Sahu is on her mission to discover and deliver the “Sitaness” representative of every Indian woman as she knows pretty clear that the tall claims and the actual achievement in the field of women empowerment is few and far between.

            She appears to be in search of an identity which has no less been problematized in the course of History that haunts Sahu time and again. In doing so, she aims at giving fresh impetus  both on the epic heroine and on everyday woman in a way Ramanujan did in his famous poem “River”. Moving further away from traditional Tamil eulogy on the river as a creator of the life source on the earth, Ramanujan reverts his attention on the destructive aspect of the river during flood. In the same token, Sahu is also searching for a novel identity in the contemporary mould in the mythic character’s epic endurance suffering at the hands of male chauvinism with remarkable precision. Sahu’s arduous task is in quest of searching an   uncomplicated and a single cogent identity for women in the modern world. The complex location and formation of identity in which Sahu forms a part highlights her personal and poetic life and identity. To restore her many layered identity in which she played Many-in-one roles, Sahu raged her voice against ideological and institutional amnesia in which the epic heroine becomes her mouth-piece. She also used this unique identity to rely on an indigenous trope to fight back the colonial legacy which had alienated her from her own culture and mythology. The two-fold poetic consciousness of Sahu is similar to Edward Said’s intellectual dispossession from his Palestinian background who quotes Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks frequently to describe it: “The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory”. So Sahu has no qualms about emphasizing her critical knowledge of the contemporary world as a process of self reflexivity to unravel the ‘infinity of traces’ that would serve the cause of woman well in her epic endeavour. Of all the possessions that a woman can have and the loss about which she can be blind about would be loss of identity. Hers is voyage against a world where social space has problematized her individual identity immensely and the long poem seems to be an adequate answer. She tries to recollect the spirit of Sita with an amazing fiddle.

            For Nandini Sahu, Sita represents women in various forms “she is every woman, the propagated, interpolated role-model” in whom resides “the mass consciousness of the universe”. By giving complete freedom to women to operate from within independent spheres in the Indian context she makes the role of women both exemplary and accountable. That is, she has lead from the front to save the race of woman from the downslide and this mission would only be fulfilled when she assumes more accountability. The role of “new woman” is cut out to realize the progressive and pragmatic world view that would serve women well in the long run. Sahu focuses her attention on the Utarakanda where Sita gives birth to Lava and Kusa who are being recognized as “Sita-Putra” devoid of father’s care to assume the identity of “New woman” who can handle the pressure of child nurturing well. What is being considered as novice and insignificant is given due importance, an idea very much in keeping with the post colonial thrust of marginalized issues which aim to be free from the shackles of male hegemony from within as well as imperialism from outside. In a sense  becomes Sahu’s field of vision.

            Sita asserts her individual identity: “I am entwined in many a women of substance”. Apart from her three sisters- Urmila, Mandavi and Srutakriti – she also enjoys a hand and glove relationship with other women of reputation like Anasuya, Gargi, Maitreyi and Ahalya with Mandodari and Tara to grace her personality she seems to have completed a full circle of “female-bonding”. Sita, being cast in traditional role playing in the initial cantos creates a kind of platform from where she can launch an all-out assault on the male hegemony by grabbing the opportunity offered to her in both hands.  The lust for golden deer has accounted for her captivity in the hands of the demon king Ravan but without being repentant Sahu’s Sita accepts the challenge of life by becoming “the willingly-exiled women”. Here Sahu employs the poetic strategy of pun, playing upon words to emphasize the freedom of  New women. This stance of a dare devil woman is accentuated in the following canto when Sita lifted the giant Siva Dhanush  easily. But the events that followed led to Swaymbar, a hegemonic outfit for match-making that woman of Sita caliber would detest strongly. With an inquisitive mind she asks a series of probing questions to challenge her father’s decision: “how could the Swayambar be interrogated thus? The choice of husband be the women’s prerogative”. She is now “caught in the endless helix of the mortal adventure” and is left to lick the wounds of a female foeticide and adverse report of sex ratio. The concept of Ramarajya seems to be incomplete and halo idea in view of the ever increasing atrocities being inflicted upon women on routine basis. But she recovers from the state of apathy to assume the role being played by the innumerable women to challenge the male superiority in the face.

            Sita’s fallout for the golden deer is presented to show her in weak cast which has led to her down fall because the lure of gold had defied nature’s logic and thus creating a guile into which she has been trapped into in style. Ravan’s wisdom of a sage has been equally questioned when he does not heed to her repeated requests. He defies all logic of being better on moral plane because of his nonsense approach to Sita’s pleadings. What Sahu wants to project here is the fact that both man and woman are subject to limitation and the concept of man being superior to woman is being constantly castigated by the poet. Similarly her encounters in the abode of Ravana and her attempts to protect her chastity are being highlighted in the successive cantos to prove her courage and conviction against a sea of odds. The other episodes including the utrakanda give glimpses of “new woman” where she has stood up to the storms of life with the hope that she would be elevated by her husband, maryada purushatam  Rama. But his sentence of exile at the behest of an erratic washer man’s derogatory comments over a family dispute even after giving an acid test of proving her chastity beyond doubt has what galled her to the centre of her being.

             In putting Sita in the Indian cultural context, Nandini Sahu has scored two goals at one go. She has enough stuff to produce an engrossing encounter to challenge male chauvinism which is being increasingly biased by the imperialistic regime. On the second front, Sita seems to be very much in the making of the postcolonial strategy to unearth the rich store house of indigenous tropes of identity to pave the way for women through rough weather. She has tried to prove a point or two to the established order of the society that women could be on par with men in each and every front. It is high time women were well looked after, and they should be given their due as India used to do before the period of colonization. Sahu seems to be on her mission to revive and reconstruct the lost glory of Indian women who have proved their worth time and again.

Sahu’s Sita is a timely reminder to the ruthless parents who do not hesitate to put their daughters in their prime to be handed down death sentence in the name of honour killing which are being projected in the daily headlines and which pose imminent threat to freedom of women in our society. Hence it can be safely presumed that Nandini Sahu’s latest creative output Sita  would go a long way to serve the purpose of woman empowerment powered by a sound cultural platform and an urgent contemporary appeal. What adds value to the text is it does not fight shy of representing the cause of woman.

The cover page wields a brilliant look with focused eyes of knowledge construction with looming- large lips that takes  love as the only healing power over every odd thing in the whole world, the very characteristics of women of substance  who can boast of independent identity construction based on indigenous metaphors. Indeed, we are reminded of the urge of Parthasarathy to “scrap bottom of our past” for representation and revival of our culturally loaded past. With the Paper Back edition in the offing, the collection under review would definitely go a long way in solving our urgent need of cultural amnesia that has led to the contemporary apathy to look into the major concerns of Indian women. They have long been subject to open criticism and torture. So time has come to heed to their much needed calls. Doing so would be a well deserving tribute to Nandini Sahu’s gallant efforts to fight for the cause of women emancipation but not at the cost of the cosy collection. Sahu wins readers applause with every fiber of her being devoted to the cause of women emancipation.

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