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Forgive Me, Dear Papa and Other Poems

Author: Shyamasri Maji

Publisher: Hawakal (December 8, 2023)

REVIEWED BY VEENA RAO*

Shyamasri Maji dedicates her debut collection of poetry "Forgive Me, Dear Papa and Other Poems” to her ‘incurably romantic self.’ She explains her notion of ‘romantic’ as being imaginative, reflective, puerile, rebellious, and emotional. It is through this feminist lens that Maji navigates the complexities of womanhood, societal expectations, and the conflict between tradition and individuality.

Maji describes herself as a lower middle class suburban Indian woman and says it is not easy for someone like her to live life on her own terms. “In a society where womanhood is defined in terms of marriage and biological motherhood, a woman’s choice to stay single is considered an aberration,” she says in the intro. Her poems gently lead readers into a world where vulnerability is a strength and defiance is an act of liberation. Through her introspective lens, Maji crafts a lyrical narrative that celebrates the multifaceted essence of womanhood.

In the title poem, "Forgive Me, Dear Papa," Maji delicately confronts the patriarchal norms that suffocate the spirit of single women in Indian society. The imagery of a growing mole, likened to the unmarried woman of thirty-six, serves as a visceral metaphor for the discomfort patriarchy feels when faced with female resilience that dares to defy societal molds.

“Forgive me, dear Papa,
for being a mole underneath your eye.

It bothers you while reading a newspaper
and makes you feel depressed sometimes.

When a train rattles in the dumbness of night
you wake up and walk into our little balcony,
the groans of the city remind you endlessly-
the mole in your eye is growing cancerous,
Big!
As big as an unmarried girl of thirty-six!"

Throughout the collection, Maji's verses resonate with a raw authenticity, as she explores the themes of beauty, love, rivalry, break-ups, the Covid lockdown, the pain of separation, and more.

Nature is both backdrop and protagonist, offering solace and serving as a medium for Maji's ecological concerns. In others, as in ‘Kintsugi’ and ‘December 2002’, Maji weaves memory into her verses. Some of the poems talk about the constant pressure of conforming to beauty standards, and the emotional toll of such expectations. Maji's exploration of the world through the eyes of men, adds depth and nuance to her feminist discourse.

 

My favorite is ‘What Remains Behind,’ a poem set in the lockdown times about memories, longing, and discontent which captures these emotions beautifully, and conveys so much with brevity.

 

Maji says her poetry provides food for thought, especially for those who are keen on learning about a woman’s radical views on gender hierarchies. The book is also a thoughtful reflection of the self and society.

*Veena Rao is an award-winning Indian-American author and journalist. She is the founding editor of NRI Pulse, an Atlanta-based newspaper that serves the South Asian communities of the US. Purple Lotus, her debut novel, is a 2021 American Fiction Award winner, a 2021 Georgia Author of the Year finalist and an award-winning finalist in the multicultural and women’s fiction categories of the 2021 International Book Awards.

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