'The Catalogue'
By Vidya Kamat

Digitally modified images on vinyl incorporating the works of 
Arundhathi Subramaniam & Gita Chadha.

Click on the picture for details.
Vidya Kamat Arundhathi Subramaniam Vidya Kamat
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Gita Chadha Gita Chadha Vidya Kamat
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Gita Chadha Vidya Kamat Vidya Kamat
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Gita Chadha Vidya Kamat Vidya Kamat
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TOMORROW

It begins in the body-
behind the drizzle of breath,
the habit of bone,
in the violet light where desires.
surge like electrons,
perhaps in the womb.

Dark with rumour, 
destiny veiled, secrets numberless,
a space rife
with rage
and promise.

There are toxins enough here
to burn a crater through this page,

Enough of the wounded Surpanakha 
to want to slice off a few noses before sun-down,

Contempt enough 
to dismiss those who aren’t friends
as simply so much noise,

Humus enough,

clotted & churning,
to dream a thousand planets
of rain – forested thought,
Fuel enough 
To erase them
into centuries of ash. 

And beyond 
in the distant horizon, 
in a flickering interval,
you see it rising to meet you 
a festival of sun
and blood

and stillness.



- Arundhathi Subramaniam

Arundhathi is an acclaimed poet and dance critic.


 

Talking pms

Any discussion on the pre-menstrual syndrome in the natural cyclicity of a woman’s body begs critical discussions on menstruation and modernism. These discussions inevitably entail an engagement with issues of how the female body-self has been constructed in modern cultures, both at the level of how the woman experiences the pre-menstrual condition and at the level of the socio-cultural constructions around it. Gender as a critical category and feminism as critical theory not only question the specific modern constructions of the female body-self but also of modernism at large. On some maps, therefore, feminism and post-modernism, which represents a critique of modernism, are close allies.

       Through the relation of modernism to nature has been critically analysed and evaluated from a variety of locations, in the present context, the feminist critique of the links made by modernism between nature and woman are particularly relevant. Feminists have argued that both nature and women have been similarly constructed in modernism. In her classic book The Death Of Nature, Caroline Merchant argues that science, the ultimate expression of modernism, views nature as an uncontrolled force which perceptibly needs to be comprehended, controlled and subsequently mastered by science and its ally, technology. Woman too is similarly constructed as a wild, uncontrolled being that is to be tamed and mastered by man and his ally, culture. Further, modernism constructs the relationship between the masculine and the feminine as one between binaries. The Cartesian dualism which constructs the oppositions between mind-body, reason-emotions, nature-culture also constructs the opposition between masculine-feminine and man-woman. In one stroke, it points difference and legitimizes hierarchy between these binaries. It is obvious on which side of the hierarchy fall the categories of nature, body, emotion, feminine, woman.

      I had no clue about menstruation before I started it. I had not been adequately ‘educated’. I was thirteen years of age and had began sensing the changes in my body. And yet I had no clue as my friends did, I learnt later, about the ‘period’, the ‘chum’ – as in colloquial distortions.

 
     When I did get my first period my mother thrust a sanitary napkin in my hand and forbade me from lighting the lamp. She whispered that I had ‘grown up’. That I must start sitting with my legs joined and learn to sleep on my side with the sheet covering my body. ‘It is a nice way of sleeping’, she said ‘graceful feminine, curled up.’

      My mother did her best. Today I had have no complaints against her. Because she is my mother.  

      But I have complaints against the entire cultural baggage that made her, made me and that will, perhaps, make my daughter. A baggage that carries a sanitary napkin, a lamp and endless whispers. A baggage in which the sanitary napkin has become the symbol of my confinement to the feminine cage and the lamp the symbol of my right to choose my ‘gestures’.

      Initially I rebelled. For the first few months of my early periods I refused to use sanitary napkins. I went about the world. Staining it with my ‘impure’ blood. It was as if I wanted to mark the world with the state that I was supposed to hide. Further I insisted on lighting the lamp. I remember bleeding for fifteen days in one of those periods … Finally. The gynaecologist, the magician of modern times took over and I gave into the sanitary napkin, to some form of hormone therapy to being controlled. But even today advertisements for sanitary napkins that absorb a blue clinical fluid instead of the warm, intimate redness of my blood revolt me. Simply become they convey to me the alienation of our modern culture from my body.

      More importantly I went into a strange cultural loop of denial where I fought and challenged the stereotypes for a woman by denying my own feminity. I began, let’s say, compensating for my feminity. I looked down upon women, ‘these silly things’ who don’t think nor challenge. Dangerously, I began using my mind against my body. I began ‘thinking’. The image of Rodin’s thinker began gaining hold over my consciousness. I gave up love stories for ideologies. I gave up emotion for reason, literature for science.

      Ten years down this road a post friend, male of course, complimented me. He said that he didn’t think of me as a woman but as an intellectual, a friend, a brother. I realized that I had successfully constructed myself in the mould of man. I could think life a man-hard, skeptical, unemotional, impersonal, objective thoughts. But the strains of my residual femininity surfaced on and off in the form of an extra tear, in an occasional diffusion of though and also in the facility of my body. I could not erase these.

      Ironically, it was the same friend who at a later stage said that I could only be an intellectual after all because I was a woman and not over aspire for wisdom or sainthood, a category above the intellectual and obviously reserved only for men. I realized then than I had to stop playing Man. The seeds of feminism were, perhaps, sown with that realization. I began to recognize, acknowledge, guard and celebrate the ‘difference’. I began to challenge the hierarchy. I began to strive against ‘sameness’ but towards equality.

       When my niece began her periods, I had to celebrate with a film. I also lit the lamp that day. The baggage had to lighten.

       Modernism is not shunned, it is celebrated. Menstruation is shunned. Because what is celebrated, what is held valuable is born out of the mind. And what is shunned is born out of the body. Modernism, modernity and the modern concern cultures, nations and civilizations. These are grand narratives. Menstruation, on the other hand, concerns a subject on the periphery of these narrative – woman. It is a non-narrative. Modernism is critiqued by post-modernism while menstruation is clinicalised through the ‘jewel in the crown’ of modernism i.e. modern medicine. One of the recent instances of such clinicalisation is the invention of the pre-menstrual syndrome. Accepted as a ‘disease’ of the mind in English courts of law, the recent interest in pre-menstrual syndrome, according to Jacqueline Zita, has been carried on the wave of an ideological panic. She critiques the Scientific studies that have reinforced this panic. These studies have shown that a woman in the pre-menstrual state is more likely to be violent and irritable, to have accidents, to have morbid fears and sexual fantasies, to commit suicide, to take her children to doctor, to skip work, to batter children, to abuse alcohol, to end marriages and to crash aeroplanes! Some studies go to the extent of suggesting that the ‘pre-menstrual mother is responsible for the diminished performance levels of all her family members such as the school – going child, the teenager and the husband’. One such survey showed that the husband’s late arrived to work was a reflection of his wife’s time cycle, because ‘they both failed to get up with the alarm, they quarreled over breakfast, which consequently, took longer, and then the sandwiches weren’t ready, Zita points out that such studies suggest that the premenstrual woman is not only a risk factor in workplace but also a hazard at home. Zita critiques the ‘syndromization’ of the pre-menstrual condition by arguing that most of the research generalizes from a few extreme cases of premenstrual syndrome. She argues that the experience of PMS is a reality for many woman though for some it is extreme and severe. To be told that ‘its all in your head’ is both insulting and arrogant since these experiences are rooted in the body and in its physiological mechanisms. However, she argues, to be told that it is due to some specific hormonal imbalance that can be medically managed often overtly simplifies and is dangerously premature given the state of current research.

      I once asked a feminist friend working in the area of women and health about the clinicalisation of pre-menstrual condition and its research status in India. She shushed me and said, “it hasn’t yet come here. Don’t talk about it. Because if we talk about it people will catch on. I was amazed at how much a modern India discourse in medicine and health is derived from the West. I also realized that Zita’s critique of the pre-menstrual syndrome and the ‘dis-easing’ of the female cycle gains another dimension in the post- colonial feminist context that of a whisper.

      Pushing 40, I realized that the pre-menstrual state is to be valued, not to be shushed. It is to be problematized not as a syndrome, perhaps not even as a state, but as a space that anticipates ‘loss’. The loss of a possibility. A space that grieves through blood. A space that is sentisized to a cycle that bring forth the dynamics of inception, creation and destruction.

       It is a space that painfully evoked challenges from inner worlds to the insensitive cultural fields in which most women, including the feminists among us, inhabit. Fields where the mother is either a pain or a saviour, where the wife is either a nag or a goddess. Fields which construct and control our body – selves, but which are rarely controlled by us. Fields which remember the sanitary napkin, the lamp and the countless whispers. When the husband reaches late to work due to argument at home and if at the time the woman is in her pre-menstrual state, what I wonder is going on in the argument? Perhaps the woman is asking, demanding, persuading her husband to give her some space in which she can live, with sanity, the cyclicity of her body. She is perhaps asking for a space to be left along. She is perhaps asking for an empathetic gesture, a caress, a conversation that will erase realities of confinement. Of mind, body and spirit.

      The pre-menstrual space, perhaps, is also a nature way of fine – tuning a woman to the equation between the I and me. It is inevitably chaotic, neurotic and necessarily creative. In that sense, it is similar to any other creative space. It is the space where a woman is allowed by ‘nature’ to shriek her loudest, to lay bare her inner self, to shed extra tears, to intensely scrutinize her surroundings. It is a space where through an experience of anticipatory loss, something is born. It is a space where a woman writes her poem, sing her khayal. Or pens down her academic critique. It is a space where a woman tells her story, makes space for her own narrative, under the banyan tree.


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GITA CHADHA

Gita is a sociologist with a knee interest in post colonial and cultural studies.  



Biography:

Vidya Kamat

Born in Bombay, Vidya Kamat acquired her Bachelors of Fine Art degree from University of Bombay, in 1984. In 1999 the University of Bombay awarded her a doctoral degree for her thesis-"Myths and Symbols in Pictorial Expressions as Seen from Sanskrit and allied literature. Having been awarded as the best student of the year in 1983 as well as  the Fellow of Goa College of Art, Goa. Since then she has been teaching,  writing on art and mythology, and exhibiting sporadically.

      Her engagement with the physicality and mortality of the human body began while she was working as the museum curator of the anatomy section of Goa Medical College, Goa, in 1987-88. After shifting to Bombay in 1990 she worked as an editorial illustrator to some the leading publication houses in Bombay including the Times of India and the Indian Express among others. For past eight years she has been invited to teach at the University of Department of Sanskrit, Bombay on the subject of comparative mythology. She has presented numerous academic papers at the national level seminars and has several research publications at her credit. She has been currently awarded Majlis cultural fellowship for the year 2002- 2003.


Arundhthi Subramaniam

Aundhathi studied English Literature at St. Xavier's Collage and the University of Bombay. She has been active in the field of poetry, arts and journalism and arts management for several years. She has written extensively on dance theater and literature, for various leading national publications including The Times of India and The Indian Express among others. A committee member of Poetry Circle of Bombay she ahs done several readings of her work. Her poetry has been published in national and international journals and in an Italian anthology of Indian English Women's Poetry. She was invited to read her works at "Romapoesia" an international festival of poetry in Rome in October 2000, and an international poetry festival in Salerno and Vietri, taly in 2001. Her first book of poems titled ON Cleaning Bookshelf has been widely acclaimed.


Gita Chadha

Gita Chadha is a sociologist working on the area of sociology of knowledge. In particular, her concerns extend over the domains of science, post-colonialism and feminism. She has written extensively on these areas and a good part of it forms the core of her doctoral thesis which she has been working on. In the course of these writings, Gita got engaged in a very lively debate with Alan Sokal (a physicist from New York who is now famous for perpetrating a hoax on a Social Science Journal with the express intention of `exposing' social sciences). Gita's critique of  Sokal won her international acclaim and she was invited to present a paper at the Meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Boston in 1999 and by University of Bielefeld in Germany in 2001. Gita taught Sociology in Mumbai colleges for several years after she finished her Masters' Degree. Beyond academics, she has a deep commitment to the larger issue of social action and has worked on intiating several programmes with students and her local community. She is passionately engaged with literature, theatre, art and music.

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