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Reading from Chant of a Million Women on The Book Speaks Podcast

Big thank you to Benjamin Douglas for featuring my work on his podcast. Episode 26. Go to the link here.

or check it out below.

Episode 26: Shirani Rajapakse

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Today I have a real treat for you: I’m reading from an indie-published poetry collection, Chant of a Million Women, by Shirana Rajapakse! Have a listen to the show for two of her poems, and check out her own poignant reading of another in this video:

As always, today’s readings are presented here with the author’s permission, and do not come from an official audiobook. Come back next week for another indie author reading! You can find Shirani online in these places:

WordPress    Facebook    Twitter

Pinterest    Instagram    linkedin

goodreads    Amazon

And you can find her book, Chant of a Million Women, at the following vendors:

Amazon    Lulu    Books2Read

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Vote for Chant of a Million Women

I’m so excited because my book was just nominated for the 2017 Readers Choice Awards! Please vote for it at www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting

It is listed under the category General Fiction Book.

Here’s an excerpt of a review to give you an idea about the book.

“Overall this collection is spirited and powerful, and above all, it has an important message that is expressed so well. This is one of my favourite collections I’ve reviewed so far, and I would thoroughly recommend it.” Sam Rose, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine

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The Poems in Chant

Several issues are discussed in Chant of a Million Women. There’s also quite a range of emotions carefully placed between the pages. In the following weeks I’ll talk about a few poems.

Image may contain: shoes and text But I’ll start with the first poem. “At the Side of the Old Mandir” This not only sets the stage as it were to the collection but it also kind of pulls in the idea of the role of women from history to the present not being very different.

The influence for the poem was a statue of a woman at the side of a mandir (temple) in India. The old beautiful carvings on the outsides of temples depict women in many poses. Almost all of them are of women with large breasts and voluptuous hips.

I’ve traveled a lot in India and seen many interesting places. Since I like art, history and culture my travels tend to take me to places where I can find all of this in abundance and the old temples are a definite must see on my itinerary.

Viewing the statues and images I came across an interesting find. In quite a few of the images of women in the carvings in mandirs and abandoned places the breasts were darker and I used to wonder why, until one day I saw why when I turned a corner in a lonely mandir and surprised a devout follower of whatever God resided inside that mandir.

The image of that encounter I witness stayed in my mind although I wrote about it many years later.

At the Side of the Old Mandir

 

They come to this place every day

to touch you.

Lonely men with desires unfulfilled.

Can’t afford the real thing, costs too much

these days, a glance, a caress.

They can barely afford food for the day.

 

You’re the best they can have;

voluptuousness in stone.

They ogle and marvel, then

gradually draw nearer.

A furtive glance in every direction to check

if anyone’s watching and a hand

lifts up to cup a breast.

Human and rock merge for a blissful moment.

An eternity passes as time

drags itself to a screeching halt.

Sighs of contentment escape.

 

Satiated temporarily,

they return to a place at a distance,

to admire and hope.

 

Later, moving inside they speak to God, plead

with him, cajole, sometimes demand.

Karma always questioned in times like this.

A truth hard to accept.

The reasons why never defined, lying hidden

in the cosmic ether beyond their

comprehension.

 

Your breasts are a shade darker than

the rest of your body,

colored from constant caresses of

lonesome men seeking stolen pleasures.

A slow smile playing on your lips, one arm

resting on a hip pushed out to the side,

the other raised from the elbow,

fingers encircling lotus, you stand waiting

for what might be, as they shuffle past,

circumambulating

like the devout, softly singing praise

of the one within.

Quietly taking in their fill they return to

homes devoid of love and desire.

 

Who are you,

proud woman standing nonchalantly

gazing into the distance as they walk past?

What was your fate?

Willed by the hand that chiseled

you from a large rock hewn out from

another place one sunny day eons ago.

Who was the man that yearned for you so,

he cast you in stone in remembrance

to watch over the years

and give hope to

a multitude of desperate souls?

 

This idea behind the incident I saw and the image of the dark breasted statues reminded me of something I saw in a telephone booth on a street in London. This was a time before the mobile phone and if you needed to make a call you’d use a public phone. I don’t know if those still exist, but one of the things that greeted you when you entered one of those phone boxes was a whole load of calling cards with photos of women, much like the statues of the women in those ancient temples. It appeared as though modern women were trying to emulate the statues which were probably carved out by men who were seeking the ideal woman and not finding that around them, they were creating images in stone.

It seemed very sad. We’d come so far yet as women we hadn’t given up the notion of pleasing others – of turning our bodies into objects of pleasure for men and it didn’t matter that we were getting exploited as well. “On a Street in London” ends the collection. Between those two poems there’s just about every emotion and situation women have faced, put down in verse.

 

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The history of my Chant

The book launch for Chant of a Million Women concluded a little while ago. I’ll share a little bit of the history of my book.

 

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and text

Chant of a Million Women has been in the making for about five years. I never thought the poems here would be part of a collection because when I started writing poetry I had no objective of publishing collections that were theme based. My poems are on diverse topics that are as far off as the sun and the moon. I was submitting to literary journals and anthologies and it was very encouraging to have many poems published.

But as I started accumulating more poems I realized that the only way I could keep track of all the poems was to separate them into themes. I was already finding it quite tiresome to wade through folders to find poems to submit to journals. Separating them into themes and sub – themes was definitely the way to go. I found some themes had more poems while some, less. Soon sub themes were merged or changed and I had about four themes.

The strongest was about women.

I had enough for a chapbook but I didn’t want to publish this collection as a chapbook because I realized that there were more stories I needed to tell in verse; stories that were getting written down in my mind. All I needed was to get my lines organized to write them down.

By the end of 2015 I had my collection. I took the name of one of the poems as the title of the book – Chant of a Million Women – because this is not just poems about women. It is about our stories, our lives, our loves and losses. It is about the despair and heartache we face as well as the humiliation, violence at the hands of our male peers and family and friends. It is also about the strength we have within ourselves even at the most trying times and of our ability to stand up for ourselves and our beliefs.

Several incidents that took place around me influenced my thinking. The horrendous gang rape of a young girl in Delhi and the lukewarm response to the child that was raped, the vehement outcry against a Tunisian woman from Femen for exposing her body in public, young girls caught up in the war in the Middle East and most terrible of all, the attempt to stone a defenseless Sri Lankan woman working in Saudi Arabia for allegedly having an affair out of marriage, and several others became topics to explore issues of violence against women, exploitation and patriarchy.

Yet everything is not dark and dreary. There are moments of fun and amusement and also power and strength of women who not only rise up like the lotus rising from the mud, but they also play equal if not superior to the male.

It is a chant.

And now I bring it to you. Seventy three poems about, and, for women, that were influenced by women – mostly unknown women, sit within the folds of the cover.

Take them as you will. You may see your reflection in some or recognize a friend in another. They travel from history, through continents and time. They are a chant that bubbles low at times but roars at others.

 

“My body is my temple.

Enter with reverence.”

 

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Launching tomorrow – Chant of a Million Women

Come join me for the virtual worldwide launch of my poetry book Chant of a Million Women. All you need is a device with an internet connection and a Facebook account. Check the times for your area. See you tomorrow. Image may contain: text

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Co host for the Launch: Audrey Barber

The fourth amazing woman joining me as co host at my launch of Chant of a Million Women.

Audrey Barber

Image may contain: 1 person, smilingAudrey Barber is the founder member of Silent Women Saving Women (SWSW) and an hotelier based in the Middle East. In January 2000 her life changed when she and her fiancée were attacked by a group of six men. Her fiancée fought off the men and her life was saved. But his wasn’t, and he died in her arms at the hospital. That experience left her shattered but she didn’t give up the fight for justice. Five years later the attackers were sentenced to death. Audrey made up her mind to fight for others who didn’t have a voice.

Volunteering at various charities and centres for women and children she came across many young girls who were abused, raped and molested and some even committing suicide as a result of the trauma they faced. Joining with women in the Middle East who had experienced similar tragedies and atrocities she formed SWSW, a group of women from the Middle East actively working towards uplifting the lives of women and young girls who have been abused and exploited, turning her tragic story into one of hope for many other women.

After seeing a 14 year old Yemeni girl who had been sold off to a 41 year old man brought to the child welfare center brutally raped with acid thrown on her private parts, she decided to act. The girl didn’t survive but Audrey vowed she would do whatever she could to help such girls to get an education and live the life they rightfully deserved.

She visited Yemen to meet other women who are “doers” and strengthened SWSW. When SWSW becomes aware of any child about to be sold, or sold as a child bride it intervenes making contact with the Man or his counter-parts/family and negotiate a reasonable price for the child to be given to SWSW. The child is taken out of the country and brought to the specific location where she is treated/checked by a doctor within the group. The child is provided shelter and counselling as well as placed in a local school. This is for children who have not been raped or sexually assaulted. For those who have been molested, raped, sexually abused the process is more intense because apart from medical attention they also require assistance in dealing with trauma, as these girls are physically and emotionally destroyed.

SWSW has now extended its work beyond Yemen and work in Egypt, Afghanistan and several other mid-eastern countries. SWSW is not affiliated to any organization or human rights group. It is merely a group of women who have endured atrocity and trauma who have come together to help other women and save girls. The work it does is self funded.

Audrey has two wards – two Afghan sisters she rescued. The elder was raped by her uncle and the other is just 5 years old. Both girls are orphans but are now leading a happy life. They will be handed over to the state since she is a single female and a non Muslim and therefore cannot adopt, according to the law of the land.

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Invitation. Book Launch.

I’m launching “Chant of a Million Women” on August 21 at 2100 hrs Sri Lankan Time. Drop in at my Facebook Event page wherever you are in the world. Bring a friend. Lots of friends. Spread the word. Let’s talk poetry and about the book, and issues faced by half the world’s population.