Today, I’m delighted to welcome poet K.V. Dominic to Diary of an Eccentric for a Q&A on his poem, “Musings from an Infant’s Face,” from Essential Readings & Study Guide, which compiles four collections of his poems into a single volume. I enjoyed perusing the book to select a poem for the Q&A, and I’ll admit it was hard to choose just one. I was a bit hesitant when I first picked up the book because it looks a bit like a college textbook, but I urge you not to be put off by that! Inside you will find plenty of poignant poems about Social Justice, Women’s Rights, and the Environment. I know very little about life in India, so I was fascinated by the poems. I hope you enjoy our discussion!
Musings from an Infant’s Face
(Composed on 8 March 2010–International Women’s Day)
An infant over
her mother’s shoulder
looked at me
from the front seat
of the bus I travelled.
like bloomed roses.
of grace and innocence.
The Creator is
manifest in their faces.
flashed through my mind.
I tried to smile
at the infant;
she didn’t smile back.
Might be my
smile is guile and vile.
Her eyes seemed
to tell me something.
Her mother’s appearance
foretold the infant’s lot.
Born to poor parents,
how thorny would be
the path of her life!
She is yet to toddle;
I could vision
the blood oozing from
her soft feet.
Being a female,
black and dark,
poor and low caste,
abuses and tortures,
will come in battalions
to give her
Guard of Honour
and lead her along
the brambly path.
Lame and tottering
she will struggle along
till she reaches
her terminus, death.
(from Essential Readings & Study Guide, pages 115-116)
Here are the questions I posed to K.V. Dominic about the poem and his answers:
Was there a single, defining moment or experience that prompted you to use your poetry to speak about social justice, particularly the plight of women in India?
The inspiration or impetus for the poem is a single defining moment as portrayed in the poem, a bus journey. But that is only a dramatic occasion for the poet to speak about the plight of women in India, particularly poor and low caste born ones as well as those who don’t meet conventional definitions of beauty.
What is the significance of describing the narrator’s smile as “guile and vile?”
The narrator is a grown-up man, who unlike the innocent, graceful child is full of evils and sins of the world. Hence his smile is hypocritical, not like the divine, pleasing smile of the child. The child has more element of divinity and hence could detect the guile and vile of the narrator’s smile.
What is the significance of the image of “the blood oozing from her soft feet?”
The child being very poor, when she starts walking barefooted along the world around her, thorns and sharp grains and little stones will bleed her soft feet. That is the literal meaning. But it has a deeper meaning that the world around her is a cruel world to her, not sympathetic to people of her social class and every step she makes in her life will give her only pains and never happiness.
What is meant by Guard of Honour?
A Guard of Honour in India is a ceremonial practice to honour great dignitaries. Usually a battalion of police or soldiers headed by their commander march to the dignitary and salute him/her. Here in the poem the poor child, after all her voyage in life, serving the people around her, is honoured by not good words but discriminations, humiliations, abuses and tortures.
How/why have Blake’s poems inspired you?
I had to study and teach William Blake’s poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1794. The book juxtaposes the innocent, pastoral world of childhood against an adult world of corruption and repression.
What is one thing you’d want U.S. readers, particularly women, to take from the poem about the experiences of women in India who are similar to the infant and mother in the poem?
The prime motive of my poetic compositions is social criticism and the reformation of the Indian society in future. The plight of Indian women is very pathetic, and patriarchy is responsible for it. I wish my American sisters to feel this hellish life of their Indian sisters, and thank the Almighty first for being fortunate to be born in a better country than India. Secondly, they should try their maximum to minimise the hardships of their sisters in India and other undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.
Thank you for answering my questions!
About the book
K. V. Dominic’s Essential Readings gathers for the first time the three most important works of poetry from this shining new light of contemporary Indian verse in English: Winged Reason, Write Son, Write, and Multicultural Symphony. A fourth collection of 22 previously unpublished poems round out a complete look at the first 12 years of Dominic’s prolific and profound verse. Each poem includes unique Study Guide questions suitable for South Asian studies curricula.
Written in free verse, each of his poems makes the reader contemplate on intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, political, and social issues of the present world. Themes range from multiculturalism, environmental issues, social mafia, caste-ism, exploitation of women and children, poverty, and corruption to purely introspective matters. From the observation of neighborhood life to international events, and everyday forgotten tragedies of India, nothing escapes the grasp of Dominic’s keen sense of the fragility of life and morality in the modern world.
Check out Essential Readings & Study Guide on Amazon
About the poet
Internationally acclaimed poet Prof. K. V. Dominic (Kerala, India) is the author of three major volumes of poetry about the natural world as well as social and political commentary: Winged Reason, Multicultural Symphony, and Write, Son, Write.
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