This collection begins with an insightful and eloquent foreword by author Shaila Abdullah, whose work I've reviewed and also adore. As Shaila says in the foreword, Sweta's poetry deals with the many faces of widowhood in India. Shaila calls it a "startling account of Indian widows"--and I agree. My knowledge of Hindu widows in India was scant before reading this book. I've learned that in India (and in other places), when a woman loses her husband, she also loses many rights. She is not allowed to remarry, to eat certain foods, or to wear colorful clothing. Widows are supposed to wear white saris, remain celibate, and mourn for the rest of their lives. According to Shaila, widows are "blamed for bringing death to the family's doorstep", and "shamed into silence". Wet Silence features poems that depict the varying emotions of Hindu widows (and other women) in India.
Dear husband: try to leave your scent behind.
your Old Spice on my pillowcase will drive me insane.
(from Ghazal, p. 8)
Some of the widows featured in this book loved their husbands and miss them. Others are relieved when their husbands are gone; they'd lived in fear or loathing of their husbands, because the men were abusive or unfaithful. According to Sweta, all of the poems are based on or inspired by true stories. This makes them even more poignant. The women in these poems are telling the truth, which is often painful.
From a poetic standpoint, this collection is remarkable. These poems are honest, profound, beautiful, and brilliant. They courageously depict compelling stories with dignity and grace, although many of them are disturbing. I must admit that while reading this book I was often angered and saddened. I tended to focus on the terrible ways that the men treated the women, and asked my usual question, "why?". (Even if cheating is "merely" the byproduct of a greater sex drive on the part of men, it's still devastating to women, particularly to wives, who've often invested great time and energy into their marriages.) Some of the women in these poems were stuck in abusive marriages. They suffered quietly. The lines below are from the poem Wet Silence. It's heartbreaking.
You dragged me by my throat,
I knew it wasn't the right way
for a husband to treat his wife.
(from Wet Silence, p. 47)
However, the women featured in Wet Silence are not asking for pity. They are simply telling their stories. They are simply speaking out loud. And they are simply making themselves heard, maybe for the first time ever. These poems break the silence.
The final poem in this collection is particularly powerful and positive and empowering to women, and is the perfect ending for this collection.
I am a woman
who can be left in a desert,
and I'll come back smelling of jasmine.
In the YouTube video below, Sweta reads four poems from Wet Silence at the Queens Literary Festival: Craving you, What does a servant girl know?, Your wife, and A widow's confession. Watching the video is a great way to sample her work.
Please do yourself a favor and listen to this poetry reading when you have some time. It's very worthwhile. I've watched it several times. Poetry should be read out loud, and hearing Sweta read her own poetry is a real treat. Sweta is a talented writer, and she's an expressive speaker. She also has great warmth and a sense of humor, even though the poems are serious in nature. I enjoyed this video, and felt as if I were at the event.
Thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour. For more reviews of this poetry collection, please visit the other stops on the tour for Wet Silence. Thanks for reading! Your thoughts and comments are welcomed.
Willpower, a poem, originally appeared on page 50 in Sweta Srivastava Vikram's poetry book: Wet Silence (Modern History Press: July 1, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1615992560)