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Even as I revere Arati’s arsenal of

Lipstick, bra, and purse—

Seizing the body politic

Of the Bengali domestic goddess

And weaponising material modernity;

Painting labour and liberation

in a shade of pleasure;

Walking on the tightrope of guilt and freedom

in the Mahanagar of Calcutta—

Tonight, I will write for Charulata.

Even as I invoke Arati’s

Working-woman grammar—

Inside and outside the moral lexicon of her

Lower middle-class home—

Tonight, I will write for Charulata,

The transgressor of tradition;

The practitioner of words;

The muse of poetry;

The heroine of an empty nest;

Pining and yearning,

Choosing seduction over a cold marriage.

Tonight, I will write about Charulata—

Charulata, you who embroidered your loneliness

In bejewelled verses;

Charulata, you who decorated her desire

In a repartee of companionship;

Charulata, you who delightfully swung

To the notes of your pulsating passion;

Charulata, you who would surrender to

languorous afternoons—

To worship the intoxication of charm and

Comradeship of flirtation, fandom and freedom;

Even as I pay homage to Arati’s

Not forsaking of her girlfriend,

Her cultural other;

Her loyalty to Edith

Sealing solemn sisterhood;

Tonight, I will write about Charulata.

Charulata, you who could see through the

Useless trappings of the cult

Of the domestic goddess—

Charulata, you who were not

Romantically attracted to

Dry intellectualism that demanded reverence

as a womanly duty;

Charulata, you the closet artist,

A literary foremother living in solitary confinement,

A prophetess of future feminists—

Of subversions, orgasms,

And leisurely cravings,

Cutting through the static code of purity;

Even as I invoke Arati’s

Altar of resistance;

Tonight, I will write for Charulata.

Charulata, you who appreciated the delicacy of art

Charulata, you who chose the charm

of your budding-poet brother-in-law—

Who sought your opinions on his writing

While fanboying over your mystique—

Charulata, you who chose the thrills of dalliance

Over the borderline boredom of your husband;

Charulata, you who chose the balm of fleeting fun

Over the bondage of a matrimonial cage;

Charulata, you who embraced love with openness,

Away from the cruel gaze of moral custodians,

Outside the narrow conventions of women’s role

In a patriarchal nationhood

Where individual liberty is trampled upon

Resigning the living body, mind and soul

To lifelong subjugation, humiliation and shame

To golden tears and pearly tiaras

To paeans of meaningless femininity

That is ordained to not pursue its own identity

In a world fostered by unequal citizenship.

Even as I pay ode to Arati’s journey

Of heralding the urban working woman,

Tonight, I will root for Charulata,

Who unpacked her own inhibitions—

Charulata, you who had good taste in art, poetry and men;

Charulata, you who could have been celebrated outside her cage;

Charulata, you who could have blossomed into

A pen-fatale;

A creator in her own right;

What a loss, Charulata, you were discarded at the end—

Like a lingering footnote,

Fancy but not phenomenal,

Charulata, you were punished for daring to dream.

In the name of the deity of defiance;

To Arati, Charulata and countless women—

At the cusp of the modern revolution—

May you never be banned

by the brute armies of cowardly nationalism.

Sanhati Banerjee is an independent journalist and content consultant. She is a UNFPA Laadli Media Fellow 2022 and won the UNFPA Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity, 2021 for the web feature ‘The Ticking Bomb Called Online Child Sexual Abuse.’ Sanhati also won the IFP (previously India Film Project) Silver Think Piece award of 2022 for her think-piece which has been published in the book Verses and Words. Herfocus areas of interest are gender, healthcare, and human rights.

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