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Arun Kolatkar, an Indian poet, wrote in both Marathi and English. An exceptional graphic artist, he is considered as the premiere Indian poet.
Kaolatkar's poem "An Old Woman" follows a formal structure in three-line stanzas or triplets. The lines are short but always with a pattern of two stressed syllables. The final line of the poem varies with the single stress decisively bringing the poem to an abrupt stop. Most of the words are monosyllabic, giving the poem a staccato effect. The narration is third person. The old woman is referred to using third person personal pronouns, yet the poet uses second person to reference to the tourist. The "you" in the poem makes the reader feel as though he is the tourist. The poet's word choice and imagery are stark and realistic.
In the poem, the reader is given a glimpse into a moment in time for the tourist visiting the ancient land of India. The scenario is unforgettable as is the character that is thurst upon him. It is here he is accosted by an old beggar woman on the deserted hills of Jejuri.
Impoverished, and repeatedly referred to as "old," she is helpless to do anything other than what she does; however, she does not just beg. She offers a service, which in this situation, the tourist does not need. The old woman will not let him go. Eventually, he tires of her hold on him, so he turns to stop this disgraceful scene. When he actually looks at her face and into her eyes, he is able to see through the woman and into the hills and they become as one. Finally he is able to understand the old woman's plight.
And the hills crack,
And the Temple cracks
And the sky falls.
Nothing can change things for the old woman.
The poem is a meeting two cultures: the new world tourist and the ancient Indian woman. Symbolically, the tourist's initial lack of sympathy for the woman and her travails represents the world's view of the poverty stricken countries of the world: If you cannot see it, it is not there. The tourist intends to make her leave him alone but is reduced to small change in her hands when he see the hardships she has to endure.
Her eyes described as "bullet holes" suggest the struggles that she and her country have endured. They are synonymous. The socio-economic status of India, where even a fifty paise coin is precious to the old woman, seeps into the heart of the tourist. Then, he understands her disturbing statement;
What else can an old woman do?
So im going to start at the climax-at the point the poem unfolds-when the man looks at the old woman.
You look right at the sky
Clear through the bullet holes
she has for her eyes.
When he looks at her,he sees right through her bullet hole eyes.They look so empty just like our modern society.They signify the shallowness of our religion and our lifestyle.
As he looks on,he sees cracks that form around her eyes and radiate everywhere..the hills,the temples and the sky.These cracks are a symbol of loopholes in our society and cracks in our civillization.Our society seems so polished on the ouside but if we look beyond the surface we can see the flaws.We can see that if even an old woman cannot be looked after then where do we stand?
The old woman is a representative of the degradation of humanity.However,she stands tall for her culture and heritage.Even when everything falls apart around her she still remains.She has gone through so much in her life,but she still fights for her existance.She fights for a living and for that 50 paise coin.
And as you stand before the old woman,you seem small and insignificant just like that 50 paise coin.Your problems seem like a speck compared to hers.This small encounter with the old lady has left a deep mark in the man's peronality.
The tourist realises the hard-ship and misery the old woman has to face to earn a noble living
arun kolatkar renders an accurate portrait of an old begger womman in his poem 'an old woman'.seeing the woman,though late, a realization dawns upon him that the society itself is responsible for the plight of the begger-like situation ,of the old woman.
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