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  • Girl Friday at the University

    Meena Kandasamy

    She wanders like a flimsy ghost
    in the two-hundred-year-old
    university where love thrives
    in large abandoned third-floor
    classrooms, monkeys shag on
    corridors, restless gossip piles up
    like dirty dishes in the canteen,
    and young women learn some
    tough lessons.

    Here, she learns that intellectual
    posturing means a hunch in her
    back that swells out of reverence
    and deference to the time-honoured
    practices of men (and very few
    women) dangling above her
    in the academic hierarchy.

    Girl Friday’s Lesson #1:
    Discard the proud
    Tilt of your head.
    Save the strut in
    Your walk for another
    Age. Bow in gratitude.

    Here, she learns that research
    is the clandestine by-product
    of specialized internet browsing,
    Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, font customization,
    and convoluted paraphrasing
    to suit submission guidelines
    of peer-reviewed journals.
    Here, she learns that collaborative
    research happens when everybody
    agrees to seal the secret of the source.

    Girl Friday’s Lesson #2:
    Discard your dream
    Of having an original
    Idea. Treat your itch
    To be yourself. Just as
    Cloning is research,
    Research is cloning.

    Here, Guide isn’t a Dev Anand
    film, but a word (with an anaconda air
    Of authority) that refers to the man
    Playing scrabble with her phd dreams.
    Here, supervisor means overseer,
    (the slave-era sound intact)
    Whose classes she can handle,
    Whose kids she cannot.

    Girl Friday’s Lesson #3:
    Your guide is your Crusoe,
    Your guide is your crucifix.
    Get ready to toil.
    Get ready for torture.

    Here, she inevitably comes face
    to face with the sexual harassment
    committee– and its token woman–
    that has spent its lifetime bailing out
    bald, lecherous supervisors. Here, she
    testifies; answers lewd questions;
    drives tears back into her petrified eyes.
    Here, she carries herself like a bowl
    Of milk, ever-ready to shatter, or to spill.

    Girl Friday’s Lesson #4:
    Let him take you
    To tea, but don’t take
    Him to task for what
    Follows afterwards.
    You will have to stoop
    and stoop and stoop
    and stoop to submit
    (even your thesis).

    Here, she learns the lessons
    that cannot be unlearnt easily.

    Here, she runs errands.

    Copyright Meena Kandasamy | All Rights Reserved

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    8 Responses

    1. Gosh! Is this what research environment in our universities is *really* like? I knew it was bad, but I never realized it was *this* bad.


    2. […] sexual harassment trackback Just a quick update to let you know that one of my poems ‘Girl Friday at the University‘ (no prizes for guessing its origins, or why it came to be written) is up on Ultra […]

    3. […] Meeana writes about tough lessons learned at university. […]

    4. I can’ t think of the right word… beautiful and wonderful seem trite.

    5. beauty…loved the tone…not getting angry despite the outrage…nicely done 🙂

      yeah some lessons hurt forever!

    6. This issimply horrifying, Meena.I have no words to express my disgust.

    7. Whoa. I loved it.

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