Mallika Sengupta :: A Sloka for the Daughter

From the Bengali--

Award-winning feminist poet, editor and novelist Mallika Sengupta (1960–2011) was known for her unapologetically political messages. Her oeuvre is a literary protest against patriarchal Indian society’s attitude towards gender issues. She composed eleven books of poetry, two novels, many essays, and compiled an anthology of poems by women from Bangladesh and West Bengal.

Translator’s Note:

In the first paragraph (left out here) of Kanyashloke, the poet introduces Durga Soren, a bright tribal woman who has made successful use of the ‘Education for All’ policy of the government, and dreams to one day become a space-scientist like the late Kalpana Chawla. She does not know what sexual abuse is, but twists the arm of the mathematics teacher because she finds his advances ‘dirty.’ It is a familiar narrative, part of the everyday news one comes across in the media.

In a dramatic subtext the next few lines are an allusion to the Devistotram (hymn for Durga). Durga is the mythical Hindu goddess created by the combined power of male gods in their eternal recurrent struggle with demons, finally killed by the goddess who sustains the three worlds.

While Devistoram is chanted in praise of the divine mother praying that she saves from all troubles, brings peace, prosperity, glory, victory and all that may be desired, in practice it is the ordinary women of flesh and blood fighting visible and invisible demons singlehandedly in their everyday life by means of their innate power that symbolize Durga.


Kanyashloke  (A Sloka for the Daughter) 

(An excerpt)

 My Durga is there at roadsides, at schools
my Durga calls me ma in danger and peril
my Durga is self-defense, her body burns not her mind
born from a woman’s womb she is all flesh and blood
my Durga is corpulent my Durga is slim
at one moment she is domestic, at the next a flame
my Durga is Medha Patkar[1], Teesta Setalvad[2]
like a candle in the new moon dark Durga is light
in the procession of Manipur[3] my Durga walks naked
Durga is the sickle and hammer on the Aaush paddies
my Durga wields the trident on earth and in heaven 
my Durga has learnt to survive on her own terms.



--Translated from the Bengali by Bhaswati Bhattacharya



[1] Social activist and reformer Medha Patkar is the founder of the Save Narmada Campaign and the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM). She works with community groups in villages to develop alternatives in energy, water harvesting, and education for tribal children.

 [2] Teesta Setalvad is an internationally acclaimed award winning journalist and human rights activist. As a part of her campaign for justice for all, she founded the forums Journalist against Communalism and Sabrang. For more information on her activities, see

 [3] This refers to a particular event after the abduction, rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama (1970-2004), a Manipuri woman, by soldiers of an Indian paramilitary unit. As a token of the widespread rage at the failure of the state to assign culpability of the crime, women walked naked to the headquarters of the Unit with the slogan ‘Indian Army, Rape Us Too…’

Historian Bhaswati Bhattacharya has researched and taught in India, the Netherlands and Germany, where she is currently based at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies. Her forthcoming publications include Much Ado over Coffee: A Social History of the Indian Coffee House and Neighbours of the Mirror Town: Armenians in India and Indian Ocean, 1700-1947.

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