Reading Indu Kilam's New Gods

Indu Kilum’s New Gods is an anthology of short but very powerful lyrics by a daughter of the soil. The collection is both nostalgic and a reflection on the most familiar themes pertaining to the life that Indu lived before migrating to Jammu, creating a vacuum in her life. It isn’t possible to deal with all the thematic concerns of the poet in this short space. I would therefore talk about those notes of hers that sound so elegiac and so painfully personal. The poem ‘New Gods’ (113; numerals refer to page numbers) sets her elegiac tone. Watching from the roof top, she finds the “distant gleaming lights” getting “dim”. This brings her the memory of the land which to her is now full of “sorrow and sadness”, “death and darkness” and “mayhem and moans”. The pain is such that she can’t write “a happy poem” (‘How Can I write’, 27) because “My ears are turned to the sounds of agony” and words fail to “to write about the beautiful/memories”. The gory situation brings to her memory of the things that have disappeared: “Aren’t there anymore the hues/of spring?/Doesn’t the red poppy grow/in the lush yellow fields of mustard?/Are no wedding songs sung at nights?/Don’t young girls clap/and sing?/don’t you wake to the sound/of the Azaan and the soothing sounds of/the temple bells?” She wants to know what happened to the “harvest songs”, “the careless laughter of the naughty/ pink cheeked children”? These painful questions get a more painful answer: “It is a valley with New Gods” (‘New Gods’, 113). The poems are about the loss in her life. Its memory pricks her constantly. The new abode is nothing like her home. There’s no “house of my neighbour” with a “pomegranate tree/in their compound”, no drawing rooms with “Persian carpet” and no “rugs and colourful bolsters.” Although, the “idols of faith” are in the new place, too, they appear “like pebbles” on the road. She has now a new neighbourhood, new names, new faces, new walls, new roads and new gods to confront. Feeling like “…a guest in my own land” (‘Guest’, 4), she is nostalgic about her home and it had changed. It was now devoid of “dancing yellow daffodils”, “rapturous streams”, “the mighty Chinar” and “the smiling coy beauties”. She had therefore got the “premonition/of something tragic” to happen. There were no morning bells, no songs of love and peace and she was feeling like being in a strange land.  She therefore ‘shut the window’ that once brought happiness and the smell of lively life around her (‘Shut Window’, 7).

New Gods laments the loss of identity. In spite of being from the soil, the poet/narrator has been “reduced to a number on the D form” (‘Migrant’, 9): “I lost my language/…rituals and…identity/I lost my name,/My name is a ‘migrant’ now.” Feeling terribly nostalgic about the things that she would enjoy in her home, she recollects taking her tea “from the samovar” in a handleless cup (‘Cup’, 34).  In ‘Speechless’ (6), she laments her rootlessness and living in “this unknown city” having “unknown faces” and an alien language. However, like Shelley, she feels that after every winter there is a spring. She feels hopeful in ‘Hope’ (15) and looks for “exhilarating fresh air” in ‘The Thread’ (31). Between despair and hope, Indu has understood the meaning of life (‘Life’, 43) which is a mixture of good and bad things. Life has taught her to be compassionate and caring for others, too (‘Love’, 115). So, she takes everything in stride, feeling that the world will go as it is: “No, nothing shall change”; she won’t be around all the time: “Casting away its moral frame/a lonely soul will pass” (‘Soul’, 166).

Indu is a feminist who wails the plight of women in a patriarchal society. ‘Celestial Light’ (41) is a powerful portrayal of the sufferings of girls whether it be “the eighth child of Devaki and Vasudeve”, “Ayesha” or “ a poor, shepherd girl…Asifa” who painfully tells: “I was raped by my brother/and killed by my mother./I don’t know why?” Who bothers to respond to this painful ‘why?’! “A drop of tear trickled/down her [Asifa’s] rosy cheek.”  A celestial light fell around all the three girls, and they went up into the sky saying, “We are going to a happier place,/You live in yours,” as if this world wasn’t ‘theirs’, too. The birth of a girl-child is no less arduous. In ‘New Vocabulary’ (159), the girl-child is talking about her dependence and desperate life where she didn’t enjoy any freedom. Her name was chosen by others, she wasn’t Daddy’s daughter as “He couldn’t take me for a walk….He couldn’t read fairy tales….” She was either grandmother’s or aunt’s daughter. Her mother was her nanny “who washed her diapers.” When she grew up, she still didn’t enjoy freedom. She continued to be under the Petrarch who decided everything for her: “My husband was chosen by them,/no question asked, /no queries,/What to wear and when to wear/was chosen by them”. What was she? Obviously, a colonized soul: “I don’t remember/when I have lived mine [life]?” The female narrator is nonetheless aware that the new generation has found its new vocabulary and language that would make them shape their own destiny. Reading this poem, I was reminded of Eunice de Souza’s poem ‘Marriage are Made’ wherein she talks about her cousin Elina who “is to be married”. Everything there, too, is decided by elders. Elina’s eyes, teeth cavities, her stool and her complexion are fully examined before she is accepted as a bride. Like de Souza, Indu is protesting against male domination and the crippling colonizing of women in a patriarchal society. Even as a bride, her plight is no less tragic. All the in-laws sit around and wait for to see what she had brought for them. In ‘Woman 2’ (140-41), we find a reflection on a typical Kashmiri style of a bride’s ‘welcome’ in the new home. After raising the cover from her face, she hands in “her purse, full of money, a gold chain,/and something more” to her mother-in-law. As days pass by, her dark days ensue. “She is first to wake up/and last to sleep”. Her food is the leftover. Every time she visits her parental home, she is expected to bring money and much more: “Good girls aren’t supposed to talk./She has no other option,/but to bear” because for her in-laws money and “not a human heart” was important. Such a treatment by in-laws had been predicted by her mother when she was trying to untangle her  knotted braids. She had said, “’I fear you might have hard/to tackle in-laws” (‘Knots’, 23). Wishing to be treated as a human being, Indu bemoans “How I long my songs to caress your lips./my smiles to shine in your eyes!”. In ‘Worth’ (160), the narrator asks the lover to spare a moment and think of her being of worth: “Look at me for a while,/spare a moment,/fathom my desires and forgotten dreams…O! my dear friend, /paint me with your hues…Believe me; I am worth for it.” If she can’t enjoy these favours in her worldly life, what is their use after her death? ‘No Appendages’ (164) is an angry retort to after-death ceremonials. It is a strong worded message: “Why a memorial?/Why epitaphs?/Why mourning?/ Let me be free”. If she didn’t get freedom after death, when would she get it then? She doesn’t want any “hackneyed conventions”. Let her body be burnt or buried, how does that matter? “Let my soul soar high/and find my own heaven.” Every time, it is she who has to suffer. She finds herself “clueless”, “weak” and bodily “drained out”. She isn’t the Lal Ded who “found an oven” and jumped into it. Why only she should prove her loyalty? “Every time why Agnipariksha for a woman?” (‘Agnipariksha’, 130).

New Gods is reflections recollected in a place that isn’t where Indu was born and bred. It is a new land whose gods are new and whose temple bells are unfamiliar. And, from that place recollecting and remembering the place of birth, one’s roots, is nothing but a pathetic and painful expression of powerful feelings. Indu’s command over language is superb. She writes in simple lucid style. Her allusions to Kashmir’s social settings speak about how much she misses her birth place. New Gods makes you feel the elegiac but hopeful tone of the author.  She is sad but not hopeless. She is looking forward to times when she would once again walk the trodden ways. Moving on with the past in her memory, Indu, instead of falling into depression, seems to have reconciled with the new life so that she lived it in full.