Mallika Sengupta was a Bengali poet, feminist, and reader of Sociology from Kolkata, known for her "unapologetically political poetry".
Mallika was born in Krishnanagar, a village in Nadia district, West Bengal, India. Sengupta is a proponent of an unapologetically political poetry and an important voice in contemporary Bengali literature. She began writing in 1981 and has since published eleven books of poetry, two novels and several essays, and edited an anthology of women?s poetry from Bengal. She works as a lecturer of sociology in a Kolkata college where she is currently the head of her department. She is also the Poetry Editor of Sananda, the Bengali women?s fortnightly (edited by Aparna Sen).
Sengupta has won numerous awards, including the Sukanto Puraskar (1998) from the Government of West Bengal, and a Junior Fellowship for Literature (1997 - 99) from the Department of Culture, Government of India. She has travelled to several poetry festivals, conferences and seminars in India, Sweden, Austria, USA and Bangladesh. English translations of her work have appeared in various anthologies. In addition to teaching, editing and writing, she has been actively involved with the cause of gender justice and other social issues. Along with other poets and artists, she has initiated Aloprithivi, a forum committed to raising consciousness among marginalized women and children through poetry, music and drama.
Sengupta has consistently refused to be squeamish about mixing her activism with her art. As she tells poet, critic and translator Sanjukta Dasgupta in the interview included in this edition, ?Ideology ruins poetry, but not always. Rather every poet has to face this challenge at some period of her life? I think a good poet can always insert ideology into poetry without destroying aesthetic conditions.?
Dasgupta describes her as ?an admirably alert, ardent and articulate person? for whom feminism ?is not just an academic issue? but ?a conviction and a challenge?. ?In her poetry, womanhood does not remain an interiorised awareness,? writes Dasgupta. ?It becomes an energetic protest against marginalisation, interrogating women?s position in society as the oppressed other.?
In the poems included in this edition we hear the strong, unhesitant, unambiguous voice of a writer with a message. One begins to understand why Dasgupta describes the poet as the Taslima Nasrin of West Bengal. The polemics here are quite clearly the poetics.
It would be easy to dismiss this poetry as strident, shrill and ?soapboxy?, particularly if one values an aesthetic paradigm of obliquity and subtext. However, it is useful to remind oneself of the perennially fraught but vital presence of protest poetry in the literatures of the world. And on reading this extract from Kathamanabi, a long poem by Sengupta (translated by Vaijayanti Gupta), one begins to see yet again why the raised voice must sometimes replace the genteel murmur:
?I am "her" voice, recounting her tales,
from the Vedic age to the 21st century.
The fire that has remained stifled in the ashes of history, smothered by time and age,
I am that woman - I speak of her.
I read tears, I write fire,
I live in infamy and consume its ashes.
I endure violence, and still breathe fire.
I live as long as this fire burns within me.
Activism and Literary Themes
Sengupta is also active in a number of protest and gender activism groups. Her fiery, combative tone, can be seen in many poems, e.g. "While teaching my son history":
"Man alone was both God and Goddess
Man was both father and mother
Both tune and flute
Both penis and vagina
As we have learnt from history."
often dealing with women's marginalized role in history:
"after the battle said chenghis khan
the greatest pleasure of life,
is in front of the vanquished enemy
to sleep with his favourite wife."
Particularly evocative is her feminist rendition of the legend of khanA, a medieval female poet whose tongue was allegedly cut off by her jealous husband:
"In Bengal in the Middle ages
Lived a woman Khanaa, I sing her life
The first Bengali woman poet
Her tongue they severed with a knife
Her speechless voice, "Khanaar Bachan"
Still resonates in the hills and skies
Only the poet by the name of Khanaa
Bleeding she dies."
A breast cancer survivor, she was under treatment since Oct. 2005. and passed away on 28th may, 2011 leaving her partner and college-age son behind. ..