Two Poems from In Her Own Voice: Poems Of Anandibai Joshi

Shikha Malaviya

OUTSIDE THE CHAUKAT

Kalyan, Maharashtra, 1872

If you want to know what happens in this bustling town by the sea, Kalyan, which in Sanskrit means well-being but whose shores have thrice been plundered by the Mughals, the Portuguese, and the British, despite the shade of a fortress and a long city wall with four gates and eleven towers, whose welfare is erased and renamed Kallian, Cullian, and Callian

—ask the men, for they are the ones who wear shoes that take them outside the chaukat. They are the lucky ones, who, donning their turbans, smell the dung of many homes, hear the hum of horses hooves, darken their hands with the ink of newsprint, read the khabar of the day while sitting on a jhopala in the courtyard, dragging a puff from a gurgling hookah.

—whereas the women tiptoe softly, their bare soles hardened walking from kitchen to cowshed to well, fingertips charred from stoking the chulha, thoughts spilling over like water from overfilled vessels balanced on their heads, of what lies beyond a door frame, that make a splash and then evaporate.

Chaukat: (Hindi/Marathi) Doorframe
Khabar: (Urdu/Hindustani) News
Jhopala: (Marathi) Traditional wooden swing
Chulha: (Hindi) Wood-burning stove

A VISIT TO THE SPRINGS

Saratoga, New York, 1884

I will not let my pain interfere with anybody’s happiness, not even my own. My body, still used to the tropics, unable to adjust, aches with every movement. And this headache, which is my constant companion, I ignore as we make our way through the countryside. In Troy, I try cucumber pickles that are unusually green. No one can tell me why and I suspect they have copper in them. When I run a needle through a pickle, it turns bright red and then I am satisfied. Someone remarks how that is my doctor’s mind. In Saratoga, the women roam freely without their bonnets, and their hair like fine silk, flutters in the summer breeze as they visit the springs. I find out this is the land of the Iroquois tribe. I meet a squaw and we exchange notes on how different our Indianness is. As we part, she gives me a necklace of beads and calls me sister. I give her a copper ¼ anna paisa coin with Empress Victoria on one side.

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Shikha Malaviya (www.shikhamalaviya.com) is a South Asian American poet, writer and publisher. She is co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship model press publishing powerful voices from India & the Indian diaspora. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in PLUME, Chicago Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner & other fine publications. Shikha was a featured TEDx speaker in GolfLinks, Bangalore, in 2013, where she gave a talk on poetry. She was selected as Poet Laureate of San Ramon, California, 2016. Shikha is a five-time AWP poetry mentor and the 2020 poetry judge for AWP’s Kurt Brown Prize. Currently, she is a Mosaic Silicon Valley Fellow, committed to cultural diversity and artistic excellence in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her book of poems is Geography of Tongues.

A note on these pieces: these historical persona poems are culled from the life and letters of Anandibai Joshi (1865-1887), India’s first female physician and the first Hindu woman to enter the United States as well as pursue a medical degree. An interest in Anandibai Joshi resurfaced in 2017, when her black and white photographs from Drexel College of Medicine’s Legacy Center archive went viral on the Internet. Her story is a compelling one of empowerment and American and Indian allyship—in which Anandibai broke many traditions and social conventions to pursue an education and career held exclusively by men. Until very recently, Anandibai’s story has been told through the lens of her husband being her savior and inspiration. By telling Anandibai’s story through poems in her own voice, my hope is to not only restore Anandibai’s agency and give her story back to her, but to also highlight her sharp intellect, open mind, determination, and empathy.