Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The pre-modifier and the post-modifiers of the word `writing’ in the term `Indian Writing in English’ have perpetually shackled the creative writing in English in India to the relentlessly hounding questions of nationality and the politics of English language in India. Both, accusations as well as apologies sound tiresome to our ears today. Amit Chaudhari’s recent review in the Hindu of a short book called `Jejuri: Commentary and Critical Perspectives’, edited and, in part, written by Shubhangi Jayakar, stirs up the same old weary debate about nationality of Indian writing in English. While one tends to agree with his complaint ` for 20 long years, influenced by Said and post-colonial theory, the aesthetics of estrangement has been confused with the politics of representation.’ one wonders if these questions will ever stop dogging the Indian writer in English. It is high time literary studies today stopped looking at the Indian Writing in English merely from the formalistic point of view or from the postcolonial approach, which highlights the politics of nation in the text. The ancestor of this disputation is the antiquated debate about `form’ versus `content’ in aesthetics. One has to go beyond this `either/or’ approaches and search for some ecumenical critical view.

It is a true that much of the recent academic criticism reads the politics of representation in literary texts. Reacting against its own earlier formalistic orientation, literary studies in the past couple of decades have obsessively focussed on the social, historical, and political context of literature. While this focus reveals that art is never `autonomous’, the formalist approach analyzes literature as a special form of language by isolating the `literariness inducing devices’ like defamiliarization. The inordinate preoccupation of the recent academic criticism with the political and historical context of art seems to promote a fallacy that these are the only contexts of art. They forget that literature is an intricate `language-game’ and has its own rules, which cannot be understood in these contexts alone. They also fail to explain why sorcerous appeal of certain works has cut across the specifics of time, region, and society. The nationalist, nativist or versions of Marxist criticism taken to their dogmatic extreme, reduce the work of art merely to its social existence and make it unidimentional.

While formalist criticism will find Kolatkar poems teeming with literary devices of `defamiliarization’ due to his oblique idiosyncratic vision , the opposite approach, which is usually some version of socialism, will focus on the theme of alienation of an elite English educated bourgeoisie from his cultural context. Both these approaches have predetermined notions of what Kolatkar’s poetry will yield. However, I believe that a successful work of art transcending the polarities of `social existence’ and ` individual vision’. One only has to take a closer look at Kolatkar’s poems to see that they are not only, in Bruce King’s phrase `defamiliarization and transformation of the commonplace’, but are also deeply embedded in the cultural and historical milieu.

Defamiliarization is not restricted to Kolatkar’s poetry only but is an indivisible part of the creative process. It is at once aesthetic and political because to perceive something, or to think in the ways that seem strange to the conventional ways of thinking, is an act of non-conformity. It may not be political in the obvious sense of conforming to some party doctrine, but simply because it dares to see something in a different way, it becomes deeply political. It is both art and politics and it is politics because it is art.

Poetry of Kolatkar does not just `employ the literary devices’ of defamiliarization nor does simply deal with the theme of `alienation of the western educated intellectual’ from his roots. His texts have complex, multiple meanings and operate at more than one level. His oblique vision dislocates the established ways of perception only to yield richer insights into Indian culture. This is certainly not the `tourist’ eye-view, nor is it written with the western audience in the mind.
Consider a poem from Jejuri:

The Reservoir
There isn’t a drop of water
In the great reservoir the Peshwas built.

There is nothing in it.
Except a hundred years of silt.

(Jejuri p.36)

Perhaps nativists, nationalists, or even formalists haven’t read the poem closely at all. Kolatkar’s oblique view of the things is obviously not merely a device. To say that the great reservoir of the Peshwas, one time potentates of Maharastra has run dry and contains nothing but clay deposits of history, is not a simple use of some literary figure of speech, but a significant cultural comment on the decadence and the irrelevance of the once powerful community. This point of view is not that of a person alienated from the culture but of a person who feels that the culture has very little to offer to him. Culture is distanced from the sensitive and intelligent speaker rather than the other way round. Therefore, it is better to take all the discussion about `alienation’ in Kolatkar’s poetry with a little pinch of salt.

Art is about divergent ways of seeing; poetry, about divergent ways of using language. Inseparable from the creative process, defamiliarization achieves its effects from uncovering relationships that are not obvious to others. Defamiliarization yields insights and discovers truths. It sees things from a different angle and a different level and this is what makes it semantically complex and multilayered. In epiphanic moments, the visual artist in Kolatkar sees things that startle the readers only to enlighten them. For instance, the `Pi-Dog’ in Kala Ghoda Poems, lying on a traffic island at midnight reveals

“I look a bit like
a seventeenth century map of Mumbai
with its seven islands” (p.16)

The perceived similarity between the appearance of a mongrel and an old map of the city with a history of cultural hybridization is not simply a technical device but a revelation, a discovery of truth. Discovery of these truths in Kolatkar’s poetry makes it difficult to understand it as poetry of estrangement and alienation. The defamiliarization in these poems is a road that leads to discovery and illumination, rather than being an agonized expression of an `alienated’ consciousness.

On reading the poems in `An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (ed. Dilip Chitre, 1967), we notice that much of Kolatkar’s early Marathi poetry was intensely dark, unsettlingly subjective, and surreal. Many of his poems are the types which TS Eliot in his extremely perceptive essay `Three Voices of Poetry (1953) called the poems of the `first voice’. Alluding to the observations made by Gottfried Benn, Eliot observes that the poetry of first voice is addressed to no one in particular and is a result of the intense struggle between the poet and his unknown dark psychic material. Many of these poems were called `kalya kavita’ or ` dark poems’ in Marathi. Metaphysical angst, depression, and existential sense of absurdity and all the stuff found in the early modernist poetry in India are abundantly found here.

In a Room Next to Death

In a room next to death
In a hotel in a way out town…
Lizards on the wall
Will cast my horoscope

In the ill humoured room in the hotel
Ina a way out town
Witness to masturbation
Will be spider in sardonic corner….

(In a Room Next to Death, An Anthology of Marathi Poetry, translation Dilip Chitre, and p.127)

Much of his later poetry became more and more allegorical, narrative, and mythopoetic. Eliot in his essay has pointed out that the poetry of second voice is that of the poet addressing an audience and the poetry of the third voice is when the poet attempts to create an imaginary dramatic character addressing another imaginary dramatic character. Poetry of Sarpa Satra, Kala Ghoda Poems, Bhijki Vahi, Droan, and Chirimiri (all collections published by Clearing House or Pras Prakashan, 2003) and some of the poems from his earliest collection including Jejuri belong to these voices.

Bhijki Wahi (A Soaked Notebook) is a remarkable collection of poems strung together with the archetypal motif of `The Weeping Woman’. Employing narratives, myths and legends from all over the world, Kolatkar has evoked woman’s suffering and agony. In this collection, one comes across poems on legends from Greek, Egyptian, Arabic and south Indian cultures and poems on the life of Osip Mandelstam’s wife Nadajada and on the series of painting `Weeping Woman’.

The Weeping Woman III

The splayed butterfly of the handkerchief
Is sitting
On your face

On the honey
Of the dark lotuses of the eyes

Now how will it lift
Its wings daubed with pollens
Of grief

It will be difficult
No very difficult
For it to fly in this state

I don’t think
The Pandavas of tear
Will permit it to fly

(The Weeping Woman III, Bhijki Wahi, p.287 , translation Sachin Ketkar )

Woman’s tears seem to symbolize the suffering of entire humanity. Human tears transcend cultural and temporal contexts and become universal. All the contexts of human suffering, historical, cultural, or regional are incidental. The collection ends with a prayer to the Cosmic mother and evokes the redemptive power of human tears:

When all this filth flows out
Out of your eyes
Then only a pure drop of tear
Just one
Will remain in the end
Save it in the eye
It will be the useful one
To create afresh
The Universe

Cosmic Mother
(The Last Tear, translated by Dilip Chitre, New Quest 157-158 July Dec 2004)

However, Kolatkar uses extremely contemporary language while dealing with his legends and myths. One has only to consider a poem called ` Kovalan’ based on the ancient Tamil classic `CilaPattiKarm’. After shuffling the Marathi word order of Kannagi’s line ` Ajun Kasa Parat Ala Nahi Kovalan’ (Why hasn’t Kovalan returned yet?) eight times in eight lines,

`How will the poor woman know
That the goldsmith whom he had approached with her anklets
Accused him of theft
And that police have finished him in an encounter?’

( Bhijki Vahi, 197 translation Sachin Ketkar)

To say that Kolatkar’s poetry is not embedded in its cultural environment and politics of his location is to be ignorant of much of his work. One has to consider a very early Marathi poem like `Suicide of Rama’ from the Dilip Chitre Anthology (p.137). The poem speaks of the epic hero committing suicide by leaping out of the epic-legendary narrative into the elemental presence of the river. After

`winding verses stir him up
the turreted epic shrugs him off…

from valmiki’s roof top rama jumps
disturbing a tile or two... .’

The godhead can have presence only in the epic imagination of the bard and the world of semi fictional narrative. The leap out of the world of cultural imagination into the phenomenal world symbolized by the river is the way Rama prefers to commit suicide. This `defamiliarized’ and poetic way of (mis) reading a culturally charged text create multiple layers of meanings. Playing on the binarism between cultural imagination and the phenomenal world, it obliquely asks if the whole effort of extracting a semi-fictional character out of a narrative and turning him into an unquestionable historical truth for political reasons is anything less than killing the spirit of the hero.

To look at poetry, like Kolatkar’s, merely with the questions its relation to nation state or merely from a formalist angle is be extremely reductive and simplistic. Obviously, both these ways of reading are inadequate. Both these approaches overlook the individual contours and specifics of the complex artistic texts. We can discover something new and interesting if only we abandon predetermined notions of what one hopes to discover in poetry and access it with more open mind. Serious engagement with Kolatkar’s poetry will begin once we abandon these stereotypical critical approaches and start reading it more carefully, sensitively, and intelligently. Once we start doing this, Kolatkar’s poetry will gladly share its wisdom with us.


Amit Chaudhari, `On Strangeness of Indian Writing’ in The Hindu (October 2, 2005)

Bruce King. "Two Bilingual Experimentalists: Kolatkar and Chitre." Modern Indian Poetry in English. Delhi: OUP, 1987, 162-82

Dilip Chitre. An Anthology of Marathi Poetry (1945-1965). Bombay: Nirmala Sadananda Publishers, 1967

____”_____ translation of Arun Kolatkar’s ` The Last Tear’ and `Reduced to Beggary by Mumbai’ in New Quest, 157-158, July Dec 2004

T S Eliot, `Three Voices of Poetry’ (1953), The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Major Author Editions, ed. MH Abrams et.al (p.1986-998)

Of Pathare and Prejudice: Or Reading Contemporary Marathi Poetry

The recent article by Rangnath Pathare `The Impact of LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization) on Contemporary Marathi Literature (New Quest No. 169, July September 2007) is an excellent illustration of how literary criticism functions in Marathi today. Prejudice, dogmatic outlook and sloganeering politics have replaced intelligent analysis of literary texts and sharp sense of literary values. Posturing and sectarianism have replaced the critical ability to provide substantiating evidence to statements made by the critic. I intend to point out how Pathare’s assumptions are merely assumptions born out of his own limited understanding of literature and sociology of literature rather than penetrating original insights into contemporary Marathi literary scenario.

The first severe limitation of Pathare’s observation is a rather superficial understanding of extremely complex and dynamic relationship between literature and society. Assessment of the impact of liberalization, globalization and privatization is a still matter of debate among trained sociologists and economists. Demonizing capitalism is typical of a certain leftist ideology which has failed to live up to its claims of explaining persistence of capitalism long after its soothsayers had announced its collapse. The problem with this kind of leftist politics is its own inability to account for its own internal contradictions in its ideas and actions. It views contemporary society from apocalyptic and catastrophic perspective- a view which is not very scientific or rational as it claims to be. Nor is it as saintly as it claims to be on human rights issues. Besides, a huge chunk of Pathare’s article consists of this sort of `sociological’ survey of Marathi society done by person who is neither a trained sociologist nor an economist. It consists of observations which have not been backed up any evidence of sociological data or economical statistics. Hence it is an excellent example of how not to do sociology or economics. One wonders if Prof. Pathare who is probably a professor of Physics writes articles on his subject in similar way: peppering sweeping generalizations without adequate evidence, with dogmatic sloganeering.

However, more serious problems arise when such a narrow minded stance is transferred to the area of literary criticism. Its outlook is extremely reductive and deterministic. It confuses social values with literary values. Even if we accept that the dividing line between the two is often blurred, their relationship is not of simple identity. However what Prof Pathare does is even more illogical. He rails abuses on certain cosmopolitan Marathi poets like Hemant Divate, Salil Wagh, Manya Joshi, Sridhar Tilwe, and Sachin Ketkar without naming them. I wonder what prevents him from naming these new poets unequivocally. Probably he wants to be on good terms with some of them even after criticizing them. This is again very typically timid Marathi middle class attitude of criticizing someone who you want to retain as a friend. His railing is typical:

They don’t recognize any authority other than themselves. Barring one or two exceptions, their reading and understanding of the Marathi literary tradition is doubtful. Based on their pseudo-witty remarks, one tends to feel that writing poetry at deeper levels is not their cup of tea.....These are self styled dons and "Mafiosi", who live in their own shallow, illusionary universe. Obviously, nobody other than themselves and their small coterie has any reasons to question their "junky" theories or their "funky" observations. They are their own self appointed critics and thinkers. They are a new post-1990 band of postmodern flag bearers, who make use of modern means of communication like blogging on the internet or websites of their own.' (New Quest: 169, July Sept 2007 pp. 19-20)

I wonder who `appoints’ critics and thinkers in a given society. I would like to know from Pathare if the `post' of a writer and critic or thinker is `appointed' after an ad in newspaper, interview, `fixing' and all that. Probably that’s how he got `appointed' as a novelist and critic. With friends in high post in Sahitya Akademi and academia, Prof Pathare himself has managed to `post' himself as a `major' voice in fiction. I would also like to know if people require Pathare's under-the table-recommendation to get an `appointment' in literary scenario.
I feel that people like Pathare are the ones who claim to be authorities (`They don’t accept any authority’ can be translated as they don’t accept people as Pathare as authorities) are self appointed, or are appointed by their friends in academia, official institutions and award-giving organizations. Otherwise, how come after writing mediocre stuff they manage to become `reputed' and sole bearers of Marathi traditions? If we are behaving like Mafia dons, they are behaving like military Junta and rejecting them involves rejections from their chamchas and `appointment' walahs. Actually, it is people who share Pathare’s dogmas and biases populate Marathi literary establishment, literary academia, and award-giving institutions and occupy the posts of `literary critics’. Any wonder that most ridiculous thrash from Pathare’s coterie is being celebrated as `great writing' and is given prestigious prizes. Sorry Mr Pathare, we can’t help it. We don’t recognize you or your agents, or your bosses as our authorities and neither do we need your `appointments’, `awards’ or `certificates’ for the post of writers and thinkers

Besides how can you declare that someone is living in their `shallow illusionary universe’? How does one verify whether Hemant Divate’s or Manya Joshi’s universe is any shallower or profounder than Prof Pathare’s? Such a subjective and impressionistic remark itself is an indicator of Pathare’s prejudiced and naïve `critical’ (?) practice.

I also wonder if there is anything wrong with the use of ` modern means of communication like blogs and the internet. However, I think that Pathare’s technophobia owns something to the emancipating power of technology. The internet and technology offers a space for expression outside the dogmatic, feudal and parochial Marathi literary culture. Technology thus becomes a liberating force. When the local puddle becomes bondage, reaching out into the global domain is refreshingly empowering, especially for those who dare to think differently and write differently. This does not of course mean that there is no digital divide or social inequality. It means that technology is a powerful tool which can be used as well as abused. It means that for a creative and independent thinking it can be used as a means of articulating oneself.

Pathare has labelled these writers as Postmodern but fails to explain exactly what he means by that and what features of postmodernism does he find in their writings. The term `postmodernism’ is a weird term as Appignanesi and Garrett (1999) point out. He points out how etymologically the term is self contradictory and problematic. The term `modern’ is from root `modus’, which means `now’. Postmodern, then would mean ` after now’, which means something which has not yet arrived and will never arrive!

Marathi critics have a curious way of periodizing the twentieth century Marathi literary history. The conventional literary history marks the late nineteenth century the beginning of the `modern’ literature (which is in keeping with many other Indian literatures), and the phase after BS Mardhekar (c. 1940s) as `Modernist’. For some critics, like Chandrakant Patil, the phase of rise of little magazine movements in the sixties marks a new phase in Marathi literature, which is termed as ` Sathottari’ or `the post-Sixties’ borrowed from the friendly neighbourhood of Hindi literature. This phase is set off as a rejection or rebellion against the modernism of the 40s. This term is however is extremely problematic. The first problem is that the earliest little magazine movements began in the early fifties, with Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar and others starting the cyclostyled little magazine named `Shabda’ in 1954, so it is not really `post-Sixties’ at all. The second, and more serious problem, is that some of the important preoccupations of the so called `post-Sixties’ can be traced back to Mardhekar himself. The preoccupations like amalgamation of international modernist movements with the Bhakti traditions, or with idea of alienation or the depiction of dark subjectivity and explicit sexuality, which is common in the writings of Dilip Chitre, Arun Kolatkar, Bhalchandra Nemade( whose famous novel `Kosla’, shows clear impact of JD Salinger’s `The Catcher in the Rye’, in spite of his xenophobic version of nativism), Namdeo Dhasal ( who co-founded Dalit Panthers inspired by the Black Panther’s movement in America), Vasant Abaji Dahke ( the dark surreal vision of Kafka is a major influence on his works) and others are prominently present in Mardhekar’s poetry. Hence, people who want to depict the post Sixties movement as a `nativist’ rejection of the earlier modernist phase (termed `Satyakatha’-Modernism disparagingly by the little magazine wallahs after the name of a reputed literary magazine which published the works of early modernists as well as the early works of Chitre, Dhasal and Kolatkar) have not read their literature carefully and critically.

Recently, a controversial position is taken by Sridhar Tilve (1999), who claims the post-Sixties little magazine is a third `modernity’ (or alternatively `postmodernism’) and the new generation of poets who deal with social and cultural problems of post liberalization phase are the poets of `Fourth modernity’ (`post-post modernist’, by Tilve’s arithmetic, the first phase being the late nineteenth century , the second phase being the early modern phase of Mardhekar, Vinda Karandikar etc and the third phase is the `post modern phase’ of Chitre, Kolatkar etc.) The debate over the terminology is largely futile according to me, because in India, no period exhibits complete break with the preceding period and at the same time there is no period in which there is some discontinuity with the previous period.

The point here is that the term, `Postmodern’ used by Pathare is used not as a historical category in literary history but as a derogatory label from a parochial point of view. I find Lyotard’s discussion of the term `postmodern’ very useful in this context. Lyotard defines post-modern as precisely the avant-garde spirit to question received dogmas, parochial and received norms of literature. If questioning the received dogmas and established norms of literature is postmodernism in Lyotardian sense then postmodern even predates modernism. In the Indian context, this spirit can go back to the Bhakti period which was a period of intense questioning of norms and customs. It is not limited to Sanjeev Khandekar or Manya Joshi.

However, Pathare is not alone in Maharashtra to resist the experimental and the new. This prejudice is deeply ingrained and widely held. Another and more insidious attack on the new avant- garde in Marathi comes from Nitin Rindhe (2006). He believes that the present generation of Marathi poetry, whose cultural and social context is that of globalization is bifurcated in their attitudes on the basis of the economic class and the regional location. The poets based in metropolis belong to the class which has benefited from globalization and hence, they uphold globalization directly and indirectly. They are not critical of globalization. The poets based in non-metropolitan locations have not benefited by globalization and therefore they are critical of globalization. The conclusions he draws from his argument is that the poets and critics like Hemant Divate, Sachin Ketkar, Manya Joshi and Saleel Wagh lack sensitivity and celebrate globalization. He complains that the poets and critics who come from metropolitan location consider the poetry from non-metropolitan location `backward’ and `inferior’. Thought the argument is attractive, it is deceptive and fallacious. It is simply based on his ignorance of the poetry written by the above poets. He assumes that it is the sacred duty of poets and poetry to criticize globalization. In short, his criticism is NOT descriptive but NORMATIVE. He imposes his own ideas of the poet’s duties on the poet. No contemporary critic, Sridhar Tilve or Sachin Ketkar or Saleel Wagh has called non-metropolitan poetry as being `backward’ or `inferior’ just because the poets come from non-metropolitan location. Likewise, one only has to read some poets like Hemant Divate or Manya Joshi or Saleel Wagh carefully to realize that they are not celebrating globalization but are actually expressing their own perception of the crises created by globalization. Thus, in the face of a widespread tendency to run down the new experimental avant-garde in Marathi, I urge its detractors to read it closely first before attacking it. The close textual reading precedes close contextual reading and the critical estimate of literature can only come after careful double reading.

To illustrate what I said, I will look at two poems written by Hemant Divate and Manya Joshi to verify if the said poets are actually celebrating globalization uncritically. Both the poems can be found in ` Live Update: An Anthology of Recent Marathi Poetry’ (2004). Both the poems are translated by me.

In the poem titled ` Shopping at Mega-Mall’, the speaker realizes that he has turned into a commodity a consumer item and is being displayed in the mega mall.

I am Whisper Sanitary Napkin
Lying on the first rack
And I am dreaming of living very close to a young girl
Absorbing her juices.

Or that I am a Huggies Nappy Pad on the second rack
And I am accumulating the excreta as I snuggle
some infant
Who I look after tenderly
For five to six hours.

Or I am a high-priced toilet soap
Camay, Yardley or Lux International

The consumer becomes the consumed; the subject becomes the object, not just any object but an object to be sold in a flashy wrapper as the entire world turns into a one huge Mega-mall. This indeed is a dehumanizing predicament.

Or I am the television
And the entire family is sitting in front of me
Eating and surfing my channels
Or that they have switched me off
And have left me alone in this room
Or that I am a foot wipe
Costing twelve bucks
Given free with a purchase
Of upholstery
Good looking
Yet my master coming out of the bathroom
Is wiping his wet feet on me

Or that I am a broom
With which the folks
Are causally cleaning their floor
Or dusting away cobwebs.

My mistress drops me
While using me
And dreams of a vacuum cleaner.
She spits on me
Even if I touch her husband's body
By mistake.

This sense of commodification of self is also an awareness of being used, abused and used as a foot wipe. The last stanza quoted above is almost an example of Dalit poetry, where the owner of the broom spits on it dreaming of vacuum cleaner. The consciousness of the dehumanizing, asphyxiating and sinister aspects of globalization pervades poetry of many contemporary poets like Hemant Divate. However, it goes undetected even by people who call themselves trained readers of poetry like Pathare and Rindhe, which puts a question mark over their ability to read contemporary poetry or for any poetry for that matter.

Manya Joshi’s poems often touch upon the segregation of human being from a human being in the age of `communication’ revolution. His poem ` An Announcement for Mr and Mrs Limaye’ can be read as an expression of alienation in the `global village’:

An Announcement for Mr. & Mrs. Limaye


Mrs. Limaye aap jahan
Kahibhi ho forein
Mulund station par chale aaiye
Wahan aapke pati
Aapka intezaar kar rahe hai


Maalik who is sabka ek
Bang everyone
O Shirdi king Sai Baba bang bang

People lose their way
People lose each other
People make civil statements
On a superbuiltup world


In a public local train
There is an unimagined itchiness
On your private emotions
You mentally advertise it to yourself


Mr. & Mrs. Limaye
Hiding behind popular philosophies
Wait for
Each other
Facing each other.

The poem which mixes up registers and languages expresses how people lose each other and are alienated from one another. In spite of being a very small world, a married couple travelling in Mumbai suburban train fails to recognize each other on the crowded railway platform. Manya Joshi’s perception of the predicament of alienation in the `super built up’ world is not celebratory. It is a rather agonizing situation from which even Sai Baba cannot save us. However, the critics who attack Manya or Hemant for lack of sensitivity fail to respond to the sense of crises and suffering implicit in their poetry, primarily because they are deeply prejudiced against these poets before hand and secondarily because they simply don’t know how to read a poem.

Poetry need not be sloganeering in order to be `political’. The expression of personal anguish needs only to be situated in the historical context to be realized as political. Social is nothing but the individual contextualized. However, setting off with biases and dogmas and wanting to straight-jacket certain writings even without reading them closely is a sign of substandard critical practice. Needless to say, it is fairly widespread in Maharashtra and Prof Pathare’s essay is just one example of it.

Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, translated by G Bennington, B. Massumi, Manchester University Press, 1984

Nitin Rindhe, `Aajchya Kavitetli `Navta’ ani Samikshakanchi Gochi’, Abhidhanantar,, Mumbai, April-June, 2006

Richard Appignanesi, Chris Garratt , ` Introducing Postmodernism’, Icon Books, 1999

Sachin Ketkar ed. And trans. ` Live Update: An Anthology of Recent Marathi Poetry’, Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2004

Sridhar Tilve, Teekaharan, Shabdavel Prakashan, Kolhapur, 1999

Programmable Women A Short Story

Pity, he had to dismantle her. He stood gloomily on the escalators watching swaying buttocks of pretty women with their customary hunks by their sides. His light blue eyes wondered if these buttocks were real or collapsible like Asha’s. The brilliant arrays of lights and colourful trendy people at Rodeo, the great interplanetary super mall, failed to uplift Angiras’s spirit. After someone hacked her, Asha started doing exactly the opposite of what he had programmed her. She used to wake up late in the morning, refuse to make coffee, and instead of playing with him in the bed, she used to turn wintry. Though he had programmed her to exhibit orgasm, she simply lay expressionless. He frequently spied her standing naked and looking vacantly at her dejected oval face in the bathroom mirror. The sight of her back used to arouse him and he would pounce upon her, but she used to respond like a rubber doll. She even stopped talking to him. When he spotted the dark circles under her eyes, he immediately contacted her manufacturers, Messer Rastogi and Sons. Their robot, one of those dull expressionless and matter-of-fact machines, arrived and discovered that some of Asha’s essential files were corrupt, significant data stolen and replaced with some substandard sequences of self-executable instructions. She was simply beyond repair. ` Do not connect your bionic mates to the intergalactic networks', the robot had cautioned him, ` And if you to buy more skins, then you would better procure them from a good retail outlet. It is extremely unsafe to download them'

Organisms from all the neighbourhood planets would flock to Rodeo to shop for their annual provisions: the newest biochips for their bodies, body part replacements, popular software, virtual games, latest security packages, and programmable mates. Repugnant creatures from the surrounding planets sickened him. He shuddered at the sight of those huge cockroach-like insects from some god-forsaken planet shopping for androids. He wondered what they did with them. Angiras had purchased Asha from a similar mall last year and had grown quiet fond of her. He even repented dismantling her and felt he would have kept her even if she were disobeying his instructions. He loved her for her sadness. It made her almost human. Funnily, he had grown to like her inability to live with him or to relate to him. His compassion got better of him and he had her dismantled. He remembered inquiring with Messers Rastogi if they could construct another mate for him who resembled Asha. They replied that she was an outdated piece and they had better utilities nowadays, which not only looked better but also felt better. Besides, these utilities were far more compliant to the customer’s wishes. They also had an up-to-the-minute user-friendly interface, which allowed the customer to personalize them effortlessly. Nevertheless, Asha’s departure left him a strange feeling of vacuity and an unexplainable sorrow.

`Never ever fool around with real human females', Angiras’s mother had admonished him when she was alive. `For, they would not give you what you want and would only make you cry'. `Did you make Dad cry too mommy?' Angiras remembered asking her much to her annoyance. `I never saw your father and I never cared for any human male', she had answered applying mettalic red coloured nail polish. He remembered how the wrinkles on her aging face deepened as she looked away. He recollected his mother keeping a programmable bionic female as a domestic help who slept with her as part of her duty. Angiras was drawn to this slave and he was furious when his mother refused to modify the programme a little so that he could have a little bit of fun with her. He watched in horror his mother started resembling the android female in her blank look and coldness. He even suspected that both of them hated him. Some days later, the software of the domestic help was corrupted and she started disregarding her mistress and so his mother had disposed her. Angiras sighed and felt that even after one generation they don’t make bionic mates who don’t conk out. He wished that technology should evolve faster. After that incident, his mother became increasingly bitter in her life and finally decided to deanimate herself.

Angiras worked for a small accounting firm owned by someone who lived in a different galaxy. The employer was so amiable that Angiras suspected him of being some sort of machine working for an unknown big shot. He had a terrible time when he had worked for humans. He felt it was high time some smart chap invented software that would make humans less insecure and less attention seeking. The more authority they had, the more insecure they would become and more attention seeking their behaviour would be. And what about envy, Angiras mused; there is no software, no genetic engineering project that would silence the gene of envy. Even after all this horseshit about human progress, there is very little we have gained on this front.

Even though he lived in an admirably compliant house, the memory of his mother’s assistant along with Asha`s case more recently, the thoughts returing home and his home going berserk at times used to turn his stomach. The home discerned his genetic information, moderated the temperature, cooked food for him, and showcased his favourite programmes on the monitors after judging his mood. It also kept a genial watch on his health and symptoms of abnormal behaviour. Occasionally, Angiras used to think that his home was in fact his father and smile at such thoughts. These days it had repeatedly warned him often of depressive behaviour and recommended physiochemical repair for his brain. He had activated the robotic physician of his home and he had managed to restore his hormonal balance many times. Nevertheless, these days it used to happen too frequently. The physician suggested he should try keeping a mate, preferably an gynoid.

`Because there is a risk in having a human,’ the tin head spoke in the Angiras’ pre-recorded digital voice, ` You hardly find a compatible specimen. It would be a better idea if you purchase another programmable bionic companion and personalize it.”

`What will happen if it goes the way the previous one did,’ asked Angiras sceptically.

`It would be a better option even then,' the tin head answered shrugging. `There is less danger of infection too.'

Angiras decided to trust the machine’s wisdom. Unsurprisingly it had more faith in ones of its own kind. Curiously, thought Angiras, his advice matched his mother’s.

In fact, he knew no one who lived with human companions these days. Some of them had tried to live together but had later on decided to go in for machines. Moreover, most of the human females had lost interest in human males long ago. They kept female androids that were not only quite capable of protecting them but were also far more reliable. They were also more fun in bed as they instinctively understood what the other wanted. When they felt like reproducing, like his mother they would simply walk into a near-by gene bank, selected, and ordered the suitable genes for their offspring. God alone knew what his mother desired when she sent for his father’s genes.

When he was growing up, he was drawn to many women, only to find that women were not being drawn to him. They were interested in those who were better looking, more intelligent and richer than Angiras. In short, they preferred chaps who had better genes to him. Since he resembled his mother, he was not as good looking as others. He had taken her weak chin, nervous eyes, and a tendency to put on weight. He must have inherited his height and morose detached expression from his unknown father. These days you can engineer the code even better, silence many of these genes, and have a better body.

Though he knew many friends who went in for the things like having male bionic mate, Angiras found the idea unthinkable. That thing would resemble him too closely. You cannot really think of fucking your own reflection. Therefore, after considerable thought, he decided to go to Rodeos and buy an interesting cybernetic mate. He had a feeling that he would never have a real companion in his life.

Rodeo was a gigantic labyrinthine mega market, swarming with organisms from diverse planets in the solar system. Angiras walked into a huge superstore where they displayed all types of companions and pets. He saw a group of women watching a large convertible mannequin who had a fairly long piston and a pair of big breasts. There were also many animals and polar bears were particularly popular with women. Men were interested in the serpents with adjustable head sizes and the monkeys with red buttocks. Angiras felt ashamed of his preferences. He thought he was ordinary, conventional, and boring. He glanced upon an attractive pair of female legs and walked up to it. The store attendant, a plain looking woman in blue uniform, who Angiras suspected of being a programmed android approached him and asked, `May I help you sir?”


Angiras looked at her and found a strange twinkle in her eyes and warmth in her smile that he did not associate with programmable bionic mates. She smiled and took down the pair of legs and asked, ` May I show you the rest of her?’

Angiras nodded. She went into a room and as she walked, Angiras grumpily watched her back. She brought the rest of the android from a hanger. Angiras watched her assemble the naked torso, the pair of legs, and the remaining parts. The sincerity with which an unprogrammed human female did her work surprised him. He would have enjoyed simply watching her as she went about her work unaware of his presence. He felt like holding her hand and touching her palm to confirm she was real. Under the pretext of looking at the android, Angiras brushed against the attendant’s hand. The touch of human tissue astonished him. He had never touched a human female before. The attendant looked at him peculiarly and Angiras tried to control himself.

She fished out a remote control device from her uniform pockets.

` You can vary the size of her breasts with this.’

She demonstrated how the naked torso responded to the remote control. The breasts puffed up into the size of melons and then shrunk to the size of gooseberry.

` You can hold them, sir, and find out how real they feel.’

Angiras did not want to find out.

` I will never know how real they feel because I have never felt the real ones in my life.’ He said. The bluntness caught her off guard. She did not know what to say and looked at him in bewilderment. Angiras looked elsewhere and then held her hand. She did not withdraw.

` Will you live with me?’ He blurted and felt very awkward.

The woman laughed so loudly that the customers in the shop looked at them in surprise.

` But I am not programmable, sir.’ and politely withdrew her hand.

Angiras was embarrassed.

` I know. I just wondered if you are not living with anyone, we should give it a try.’

`But I simply don’t know how to play either mother or slave to the male of our species.’ She laughed, still unable to believe her ears.

She looked at the gauche man in front of her with a twinkle in her eye and flicked her hair. He was not looking at her.

`Besides she is prettier. She will look after you when you are ill, make coffee for you in the morning, and do all the things you want her to do.’

The attendant did not know why she was reasoning with this man.

` You need not execute the instructions I give you. I will obey your commands instead. But having you just by my side will make all the difference.’

` When I was very young, I remember some boys telling me similar things. But I discovered that they all wanted was a slave who would slog for them and spread when they wanted, or that they wanted momma who would breastfeed them when they were sad and change their nappies when they were ill. And if we ever feel like cuddling and hugging a hairy thing we can always have a polar bear, a male android or something.’

Angiras looked at the floor in silence.He felt as though as if a looming skyscraper had collapsed within him and the entire cosmos had caved into a blackhole.

` In fact if you look at this gynoid, you will discover that she is admirably designed to suit all the needs of human males. With this latest skin-changing utility you can even make her resemble your mother or sister or someone.’

`Cant we give it a try...? Angiras interrupted, almost pleadingly, without looking at her.

`Sorry sir, I am simply not interested in such experiments. She said harshly, ` I can’t take risk and let human males ruin my life. It’s the only one I have.There is even less danger of some abominable disease.’

Angiras walked out of the departmental store into the darkness. He did not know where he was going. He was crying.