These Fine Lines, a collection of poems by Nepali women, is a book that should have been published long ago.
The stories that women tell, to and about themselves, and each other, have long deserved a wider audience – because without these stories, our understanding of the world is incomplete.
The section called For Our Mothers, for example, is a complicated one. It takes mothers down from their pedestal of motherhood, where they have been idolized for centuries, and makes humans out of them.
Daughters don’t just see mothers as the fountains of love and nurture that they are portrayed as in mainstream media (read advertisements). But daughters see mothers in their fullness, the nurture they pour out, and the sacrifices they make for it. There is Saniaa Shah’s A Parallel Winter morning, where she reminisces about the solace of a mother’s love. But there is also Aryaa Rajouria’s What Nobody Says, simmering with anger and resentment that boils up in the one space that two women are forced to share.
Arya Rajouria goes on to inquire about the centuries of hurt and coercion that lies behind women who married young. Neha Rayamajhi portrays the tough decisions that come before a mother’s seemingly smooth toil for her family. Bartika Eam Rai’s portrayal is aching in its honesty, the poem wavering between its strong mother who deserves loyalty, and the father who gets the loyalty, unclaimed. This section about mothers is among the most memorable and poignant ones in the book, leaving a complicated, sympathetic and nuanced impression of mothers through the eyes of daughters.
The section on love that comes next is, more often than not, about the hurt that comes along with love. It begins with a sweet note from Byanjana Thapa, and goes on to describe the disappointment and pain in love. It is a relief to read about the feelings of women without any filters, so different from the stereotyped portrayal of women as lovers and objects of love that we are used to seeing.
The section on loss that comes next could be a continuation of the one on love, because so many of the poems are about the loss of love. Prateebha Tuladhar starts off with how losing a loved one can break you forever you, and Yukta Bajracharya tells the story of losing a person who terrified you from close quarters. The poem leaves you breathless with its honesty, and makes you think about how the unwanted intimacy that comes with living together can be terrifying.
Perhaps this is not how a daughter or a mother or a sister is supposed to feel. Perhaps we would like to turn our eyes away and pretend that the family, the world, is ok, even when terror comes home. And perhaps we always have. Turned our eyes away, that is. Until the real, untalked lives of women are forcefully brought to notice by expressions like these.
The final section, about battles within, contains reflections on various types of identities. Jerusha Rai’s poem about a little dancer stands out, portraying the many confusions with identity that a woman today faces. A little girl who dances in a pink dress, because the world wants her to. How can she not be tempted, by the dress, and the dance? And yet, how can she not see that she is heading towards a pitfall, where she will be forever stuck, in the pink dress and the dance? And how is the little girl to find her way out if she is completely swallowed by the dress that was put on her before she had time to think? Poems like these help take the focus on the stereotyped “beauty” of women, and tell us what women really feel behind the beautiful façade.
Certain poems, or even certain sections of the book like Spaces, could have been written by men or women. And yet, it is a relief to find these poems written in the voice of women, which tell us that finally women are having some of the experiences which were often denied to them in the past. In the first poem called Valleys by Ajapa Sharma, for example, she talks of journeys, and of traveling to unfamiliar places and longing for home. It has not been long that women claimed the adventure of travel for themselves. Expressions like these help other women bond and learn about the specific issues that confront women even when the act itself is not limited to women. There are also some experiments with form, like Priya Joshi’s poem, which add color to the book.
For a female reader, the poems take you on a journey within. When you see on print the things that don’t always find the headline, it validates your experiences. You find the time and space to reminisce and to think about your experiences as a woman, and to learn and be strengthened by the sharing that you find in these pages. For the male reader, one hopes that this book provides a window into a world that is often taken for granted or glossed over.
These Fine Lines joins other books, like Swaastitwa ko khoj, in improving our understanding of the world by portraying the intricate and intimate lives of women. The poems are so interesting that you don’t realize it when you have reached the end of the book, and it leaves you hungry for more. There is still much more that we would like to hear from women about their lives, and this book should not be the last of such a collection.