Sita’s Sisters: Texts of resistance and resilience

Dr. Sutanuka Ghosh Roy explores Sanjukta Dasgupta’s Sita’s Sisters calling it a poet’s exhortation of womanhood.

  • Page: 80
  • ISBN: 978-93-87883-89-5 ( Paperback)
  • Edition: (2019)
  • Published by  Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata-India.
  • Price: INR 300. $11.99

             Sita’s Sisters is the sixth book of poetry by Sanjukta Dasgupta, former professor, head and dean, faculty of Arts, Calcutta University. She is a poet, critic and translator. She is the recipient of numerous national and international grants and fellowships and has lectured, taught and read her poems in India, Europe, USA and Australia. She is a member of the General Council of Sahitya Akademi New Delhi and Convenor of the English Advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi. Her published books include Snapshots (poetry), Dilemma (poetry), First Language (poetry), More Light (poetry), Her Stories (translations), Manimahesh (translation), Media, Gender and Popular Culture in India: Tracking Change and Continuity, SWADES—Tagore’s Patriotic Songs (translation), Abuse and Other Short Stories, Lakshmi Unbound (poetry) 2017.

        The volume under review is an important collection of poetry in the times we live in. Long ago Helene Cixous in The Laugh of the Medusa, wrote,

“Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement.’’

Dasgupta in Sita’s Sisters puts her poetic persona into the text, crafts poetry about resilience and spirit in the face of tragedy, but unlike other poetry in the genre, Sita’s Sisters does not hammer it in. In the Preamble to Sita’s Sisters the poet writes, “In selecting Sita’s Sisters as the title poem of my sixth volume of poetry, I feel the battle for gender equality and gender justice will have to go on, in a resolute and concerted manner, till the battle is won, no matter how long it may take. After all, not unlike a man, a woman can be destroyed but not defeated”. 

      In the first four poems of the collection—“Sita’s Sisters”, “Sita’s lament”, “Sita and the Golden Deer” and “Sita Meets Lakshmi” facts are stated, emotions are carefully restrained without any drama. Dasgupta writes,

Sita’s sisters shut their eyes

Sita’s sisters had eyeless holes

Sita’s sisters cried out to their mother earth

“Remember our sister Sita’s suicide,

Innocent Sita’s traumatic trials

O mother rescue us as you rescued Sita”

(”Sita’s Sisters”.14)

There is no seething rage—but quiet fortitude. There is no crying or cursing, no self-pity or palpable frustration. Despite the calculated restraint, the horror is stark in Sita’s voice,

Shunning further exhibitions of pristine, pious purity

I have now entered my mother’s healing bosom

To be a queen had been traumatic and beyond all reason! 

( “Sita’s Lament” 16)

There is dignity even in the face of apathy. All of which is conveyed succinctly through a powerful language. Even when Sita complains:

But Luva Kusha long for their father

Ram is their hero, their role model

Me, Sita, their devoted mother

I could never be their role model

( “Sita’s Lament” 16)

       The hegemonic society has used the trope of golden deer to bait innumerable hapless women. Sita though the champion of women’s rights criticizes herself when it comes to her obsession for the golden deer which is beyond what is ordained by Mother Nature. Further, she is the quintessential philosopher who ponders over the logic of the perennial subjection of woman as a means to an end – Helen, Sita, Draupadi or the unborn female foetus – the list is long.

Male authors of the world’s patriarchal epics blame

The bewitching femme fatales who seem bereft of shame

But the heroes insist they need such beauties as their brides

In the killing fields and theatres of war, like trophies

    By their sides.  

(“Sita and the Golden Deer” 18).

      Sita’s spirited riposte to women of substance is to realize that deification is but a patriarchal ploy at comprehending, nay taming woman’s enigmatic blend of beauty that is kept beyond bounds with the armour of knowledge and power. Dasgupta thus attempts not just a radical displacement of the focus of the poem from patriarchal/chauvinistic social ethos, but catapults the text on a universal eco-feminist plane by proclaiming through it the ‘Sitaness’ of  her sisters—“Rita, Mita, Arpita, Sumita, Rinita/Lolita, Bonita, Anita, Sunita, Sucheta” (13). Sita and her sisters transcend all space-time bounds; as one recognizes the all too relevant efforts at gender sensitization and valid probe of the patriarchal politics of deification. The poet urges her readers “to read these poems as texts of resistance and resilience, confidently gesturing towards inevitable social change”. She scripts ecriture feminine by demystifying the epic language and creates a discourse that easily crisscrosses time and space.

       Dasgupta is noticeably free from either the Bloomean ‘anxiety of influence’ or the hallowed epic device of invoking a muse, she shows subaltern agency through a radically subversive reading of accepted facts from the female point of view, armed with the neo-historicist tool that at once destroys periodicity through assimilation from what is called ‘a timeless history’. We thus have a Sita who dwells alike in the corridors of power, in our households, streets and call centres, in the victimhood of a Nirbhaya, in the helpless tears and hidden fears of the poor or even in the innumerable single mothers who battle for legal rights and social acceptance of their children! The twenty-first century Sita, as  Dasgupta writes, is “… not Lakshmi Bound/ I am Lakshmi Unbound”(“Sita Meets Lakshmi”19). That this is no romantic demagoguery but the poet’s exhortation of womanhood to reassess in the light of Sita their steely resolve is made clear.  

       As a true feminist she is aware of what is happening in and around. She voices her concern for Kashmir in “Heaven on Earth” and “The Valley of Fear”. “Who Killed the Little Tribal Girl”?  a voice of protest and resistance shows how patriarchy, which is an embedded social structure, tries to legitimize gender violence and how the ancestry of such legitimizing may undeniably be found in the ancient epic forms that Dasgupta here tries to interrogate.  This little tribal girl remains as a sharp reminder of the place as well as the space, within the narrative, of the incarceration of helpless tribal kids/women who have practically no recourse to anything which is called humanity.  

They said, “these unruly tribal kids

She must have been killed by a pack of wild dogs

These filthy low-caste pests are such scums

They claim our land and blame us when they die!”(73).

     Some of the poems in this collection namely—“Easter in Krakow”,”Park Street”, “A Failed Dream” do not have a feminist slant in them. “My Mother’s Harmonium” is intensely personal. “Calcutta/Kolkata”, “two in one: Calcutta” speaks of her love for the city. In poems like “Cows Blazing” and “The Dumb Cow”, she scathingly criticizes the present situation of the country. The poem “Protest” speaks of a silent presence where one feels nude, defenseless, with a grim cordon of fear “and not a single voice rises in protest” (76). Sita/ Dasgupta in this collection of poetry, virtually overturns the Aristotelian definition of catharsis as pity and fear inspired by the odious fate of ‘one like ourselves’; rather she posits herself as indelible and through her ideal, fosters a bond of solidarity for all  her sisters across the spectrum of space and time. 


Dr. Sutanuka Ghosh Roy is Assistant Professor and Head Department of English in Tarakeswar Degree College, The University of Burdwan, WB, India. She is currently engaged in active research and her areas of interest include Eighteenth Century literature, Indian English literature, Postcolonial Literature, Australian Studies, Dalit Literature, Gender Studies etc. She has published widely and presented papers at National and International Seminars. She is a regular contributor of research articles and papers to anthologies, national and international journals of repute. She is also a reviewer, a poet, and a critic.

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