Monday, 3 September 2012

Gargi’s Silence – A poem by: Rukmini Bhaya Nair - Analysis

“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do…and it is arrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags…” (Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre) 

 Gargi is a character taken from the Upanishads that stands for a woman with intellectual powers. She is the voice of suppressed womanhood and also paradoxically the voice of a woman who knows that she is equal to her male counterpart. She can also be seen as the voice of a poet searching for answers that escape the bounds of traditional learning.

The title ‘Gargi’s Silence’ sounds ominous at first for she is forced into keeping silence. However, by the end of the poem she is found rather to be “holding her peace” than being imposed to keep silent. In a comic reversal it is Gargi who turns to be the mature better and seeing the limits of the ascetic Yajnavalkya, decides there’s no use in continuing the conversation.
In a way, this aspect makes one wonder to some extent of the need to achieve knowledge through a medium or person. It seems that now Gargi knows that there are questions even someone like the ascetic cannot answer and it is her turn to roam the world to find out what the answers are.

“Where in the barefoot world you wander
Will go with you Gargi’s untamed

The poem also inverts the concept of what a woman can do. Here, we have a woman not afraid to ask questions even those pertaining to tabooed subjects like desire. In Yajnavalkya’s anger at failing to answer her there is some sexual tension as well for he feels intimidated by one the society considers weaker.

“Answer, Yajnavalkya! How many oceans deep
Is desire? When you touchme, am I sane?”

Knowledge and the search for it is every living beings right though society as history has shown us, has given limits. In the verna system, lower castes and woman could not learn, it was abnormal. Even today, education for woman or for the poor is not what it should be; there are still people who believe it worthless. Gargi stands as an epitome for any individual who possesses a thirst of knowledge. Gargi’s questions are those that may never be answered for she chooses to ask questions beyond the already answered ones.
The last stanza is the most interesting of the lot as the question of language and who made the word crops up. Was it language that came before the concept or was it a mere naming process? The poetess herself ends up asking Gargi, whose word does she think language is? Was it Brahman’s creation or ours? The last image the poem presents to us is that of Gargi smiling and holding her peace. Has Yajnavalkya really wanted to silence her he should have turned the tables and asked her such a question himself but then, why didn’t he?

“Stop, Gargi! Stop! If you ask so much, for so much
Your head will fall off – or mine…”

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