A Review of Prerna Bakshi’s Burnt Rotis, With Love

This review will appear in Whirlwind Magazine issue #6 due out in mid-November.

At Whirlwind we like to support our contributors even after publication. We’re honored to be a part of an international community of diverse writers and artists focused on social justice and human progress. That being said, we’re happy to announce that the talented sociolinguist Prerna Bakshi, a poet of Indian origin currently based in Macao, is publishing a collection of poems called Burnt Rotis, With Love that will be available in December through Les Éditions du Zaporogue.

Prerna Bakshi graced page nineteen of Whirlwind Magazine Issue #5 with her moving poem “Let it Rain!” The title of this piece serves as a refrain at the end of each stanza, culminating in an effective repetition of the phrase. Bakshi laments at the state of her poverty stricken home-country, as well as her new adopted home in China. Through the eyes of this poet it’s apparent that the world is on the brink of environmental catastrophe. In “Let it Rain!” Bakshi beckons the sky to open up for “…the drought stricken land…” as she bears witness to the struggles of people with disabilities, children, and factory workers, as she listens to “…a farmer’s outcry…” and also the “distant scream” of indigenous people fighting “…against the state’s repressive forces.”

Along with the aforementioned poem, there are over a hundred pages worth of urgent and meaningful poetry in Burnt Rotis, With Love. For the book’s themes Prerna Bakshi says that she “…will explore and interrogate the narratives of Partition of India/Punjab post British colonialism, women’s identity, gender and class struggle. The poems in this collection will cover themes of violence, oppression, exploitation, abuse, struggle, survival and resistance.” The advance reader’s copy certainly attests to this, and it makes for a powerful read.

Other highlights in the book include the dramatic “Guns and Graves,” where Bakshi writes an elegy for the many innocents killed by the Indian state in its dispute with China over a relatively unheard of area called Arunachal Pradesh. It’s poems like these that stand out to the reader, especially because they shed light on topics and events that too often remain shrouded. The further one gets into Burnt Rotis, With Love the more one begins to fall in love with not only the poems in the collection, but also the invaluable footnotes that accompany some of them. After “When the Poor Woman ‘Leans In’…” Bakshi writes that the “poem is written from a critical, Global South Marxist feminist perspective, in response to Sheryl Sandberg’s corporate feminism of ‘Lean In’ and its approach to feminism and work.”

One critique of Bakshi’s work could be that she’s often very forward and unequivocal in the points of views that she displays. However, that more often than not makes her writing accessible and heightens the clarity of her poems. What’s important about Prerna Bakshi’s poetry is that it can be easily read by anyone. The messages that she delivers are vital stories about oppressed people around the world that Westerners should especially be made aware of, and it’s clear that Prerna Bakshi deserves critical praise and recognition for her brave and touching new work, Burnt Rotis, With Love.

The Complexities of a Modern Woman: Casting Aside Dramatic Tradition

August Strindberg wrote Miss Julie in the context of his attempt at understanding women as a whole, which was not an easy endeavor, considering his own complicated love life. His critics claim that Strindberg was a misogynist, and his preface to the play would seemingly confirm that theory to first-time readers and staunch feminists. Yet ironically enough the man who belittled the woman would be one of the first dramatists to give her a fully rounded character- instead of the stilted, one-dimensional characters that pervaded melodramas and so-called well made plays that were so prevalent in late 19th century Europe. The title character, Miss Julie, was constructed as a reflection of what Strindberg believed to be the motives and passions of aristocratic women in his period, at least from his own perspective, because he had experienced an affair with a young woman with the same background, making him surmise that her naiveté’ and pompousness was applicable to all.

Strindberg represented his own views on why an aristocratic woman would act so trivial through Jean, when the character expressed his thoughts on Miss Julie being paradoxically snobbish while trying to act like a commoner: “She’s too stuck-up in some ways and not proud enough in others…” (and then goes on explaining how her mother was the same way). The irony in this description is that instead of demeaning her as a person, Jean is in a way justifying her wild actions to his fiancé, Christine, in that he does not write her off as static, but instead exemplifies the wavering characteristics of an aristocratic female. This characterization is in stark contrast to previous representations of women in literature and especially drama, as the female was widely portrayed as motivated by one trait, such as passion, lust, love, etc. -which became redundant as female characters in plays could easily be substituted with one another without any difference because of their shallowness and universal attributes. Another way Strindberg set Miss Julie apart from previous female characters was by using her mother that was wrought with tragedy as a prominent reason for Miss Julie’s mindset and actions.

Miss Julie would ultimately kill herself partly because her mother had taught her to hate men, and quixotically raised her as if she was a male, in order to prove that women could be just as good as them- another irony, but one that is profound in that such a thing was absolutely unheard of back then. The most intriguing aspect of her complex character was shown in the final pages of the play, as Miss Julie was subtly begging Jean to command her to off herself, “Who’s to blame for what has happened? My father, my mother, myself? Myself? I don’t have a self that’s my own. I don’t have a single thought I didn’t get from my father, not an emotion I didn’t get from my mother… What difference does it make who’s to blame? I’m still the one who has to bear the guilt, suffer the consequences-”. Thus, Strindberg, although apparently a misogynist, offered heartfelt sympathy for Miss Julie by explaining the reasons why she felt and acted so wildly while contradicting her aristocratic ideals. She was suffering from the guilt of her mother’s sins in the way that her mother had treated her father (mainly committing arson on his estate), and in the end, she astutely came to the conclusion that it did not matter who was to blame, but that she just did not want to live dealing with her uncontrollable emotions anymore.

Gainor, Ellen J., Stanton B. Garner, Jr., and Martin Puchner. The Nineteenth Century to the Present. Vol. 2. New York: W.W. Norton and, 2009. Print. The Norton Anthology of Drama.

Strindberg, August. Miss Julie. 1888