Throughout history, India has had a long list of poets that defined the culture of the era, and shaped our civilisation in their own ways. But the female presence in poetry was minimal in India. In the last century, however, the likes of Sarojini Naidu, Toru Dutt, and Kamala Das, led the way, and was followed by the likes of Eunice de Souza and Meena Alexander. However, in the last 15-20 years, things have changed for the better in this regard. With the increase in women’s education and rising exposure to larger audience through social media, a few Indian women have established themselves as poets known with international recognition. On International Poetry Day, find out more about a few of them here.
A Canadian of Indian origin, Rupi Kaur is the darling of the masses on social media. She has about four million followers on Instagram, where she shares small bits of her writing. Her favourite topics include romance, gender, trauma, and socio-political issues, among others. This 28-year-old was named among BBC’s 100 Women in 2017, and was named Writer of the Decade by American magazine The New Republic.
A graduate in Rhetoric Studies, she has published two collections of poems, Milk and Honey (2014) and The Sun and Her Flowers (2017). The former catapulted her into international fame, selling around three million copies and being translated into more than 30 languages. However, critiques and intellectuals have reviewed her work as facile and lacking originality.
Writing since the age of 17, starting with poems and later translating books by Dalit writers, Meena published her debut collection of poems, Touch in 2006. A PhD scholar in socio-linguistics from Anna University in Chennai, her writings have appeared in numerous Indian publications and have been translated to at least 18 languages.
Meena, 36, is a vocal feminist and human rights activist. She has published two novels -The Gypsy Goddess (2014) and When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife (2017), which was nominated for Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018 and named as the book of the year by The Guardian, The Observer, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times. Her second collection of poetry Ms Militancy (2010) was also critically acclaimed.
This Chennai-based poet, of Indian and Welsh origin, has published around half a dozen collections of her poems and three novels since 2006. Her debut publication, Countries of the Body (2006) made the English fictional literature sphere take notice of the young poet. in fact, Tishani’s poem The Day we went to the Sea, won the 2005 All India Poetry Competition, which was supported by the British Council.
A master degree holder in Creative Writing from the John Hopkins University, US, Tishani (44) has won the hearts of readers across the world, with her works including Girls are coming out of the woods (2018) and Everything begins elsewhere (2012). Her latest published work is a novel, Small Nights and Days, set in Puducherry.
Mumbai-based Arundhati, widely regarded as the pioneer of modern day Bhakti poetry in India, dons multiple roles. She is a poet, critic, journalist, biographer, and translator – all in English. Her poetry has been published not just as collections but also as part of anthologies.
The Tamil origin poetess has won many awards for her work, including the first-ever Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry for her collection of poems, When God is a Traveller (2014). One of the poetry collections which she has edited, Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry (2014) is widely regarded as the ultimate tribute to poets like Kabir and Akkamahadevi.
Arundhati’s latest poetry collection, Love without a story (2019), was widely acclaimed for its portrayal of love, loss, nature, and spirituality.
This Mumbai-based poet is famous for both her poetry and her prose read on global stages; her work has been adapted into plays and dance dramas too. Rochelle’s poetry and prose have appeared in anthologies as well as publications based in India and abroad. She is famous for her work in Haibun, a Japanese style of poetry, including her latest book Paper Asylum (2018).
This 40-year-old MBA graduate started writing full-time 13 years ago, after giving up her corporate job at the age of 27. Originally from Goa, Rochelle is now a college lecturer. She has been the co-editor of Neesah Magazine, of Joao Roque Literary Journal, and the poetry editor at The Bombay Review. Her work often touches on romance, sexuality, gender rights, science, and feminism.