Kutti Revathi
(India, 1974)   
Kutti Revathi

Kutti Revathi is the pen name of Dr S. Revathi. A Chennai-based Tamil poet, her poetry seeks to evolve a subversive language to explore and reclaim a long-colonised realm of experience – “the map of a Tamil woman’s body”.

Kutti Revathi has published three books of poetry and is the editor of Panikkudam, a literary quarterly for women’s writing and also the first Tamil feminist magazine. She holds a Bachelors degree in Siddha medicine and surgery, and is currently pursuing her doctoral research in medical anthropology at the Madras Institute of Development Studies in Chennai. Revathi received the Sigaram 15: Faces of Future award for literature from India Today (a Tamil weekly) and was awarded a travel grant in 2005 by the Sahitya Akademi to meet leading litterateurs from various parts of the country.

When Kutti Revathi’s second book, Mulaigal (Breasts), was published in 2002, it evoked a storm of protest from the conservatives of the Tamil literary establishment. A group of outraged male film lyricists damned the book. The debate was not limited to the parameters of cultural debate: obscene calls, letters and threats ensued, and comments on the author’s morality and sexual frustration were freely aired. While one lyricist demanded that writers of her ilk be slapped, the other exhorted the public to burn them on Chennai’s Mount Road.

Kutti Revathi admits that she did anticipate a controversy, but not a witch hunt of these proportions. Her sole concern, she explains, was to explore breasts as an ‘inhabited’ living reality, rather than an ‘exhibited’ commodity. In an essay entitled ‘With words I weave my body’, she discusses the ways in which a patriarchal tradition, fearful of sharing the power of the written word, compelled women to imprint narratives on their bodies. She draws attention to the great Tamil epic, Silappadikkaram, which offers the idealised portrait of the virtuous wife, Kannagi with her “body grown rigid with chastity and a rage fierce enough to incinerate (the city of) Madurai”. Between these polarities, says Revathi, there are myriad possible articulations of Tamil women’s experience of their lives and bodies, just waiting to be retrieved and explored.

The four poems in this edition have been translated by N. Kalyan Raman, an accomplished translator of fiction and poetry. They reveal one of Revathi’s abiding preoccupations: the need to make exacting demands on her politics as well as her poetics. Supple, fierce and molten, the image clearly plays a pivotal role in her art. “I have been criticised on this count,” she says, but remains unapologetic, viewing the image as an integral part of her seditious poetic enterprise. “As we poke into a word and turn it over,” she writes in her essay, “the history buried in its innards rises up, along with images, memories . . . and poetry too.”

At the same time, she is deeply aware of the power of the image to initiate unexpected inner mutinies. As she remarks in the interview accompanying this edition, “Poetry . . . demands an endless enquiry into the self, and endless cycles of the self’s destruction and renewal [. . .] People always ask my why I do not write poems about societal concerns and issues, as though attempts to bring about inner renewal and inner transformation were not acts of social concern. I use my language only to loosen the fetters that have bound and shrunk a woman’s body.”

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


Poonaiyai pola alaiyum velicham (Light prowls like a cat). Thamizhini, Chennai, 2000.
Second edition: Panikkudam Pathippagam, Chennai, 2003
Mulaigal (Breasts). Thamizhini, Chennai, 2002.
Second edition: Panikkudam Pathippagam, Chennai, 2003
Thanimaiyin Aayiram Irakkaigal (One thousand wings of solitude). Panikkudam Pathippagam, Chennai, 2003.

In English
The Hindu: Literary Review
C.S. Lakshmi: ‘Landscapes of the Body’: On the controversy over the language of Tamil women writers and ‘the goodwill and advice’ proffered by some Tamil men

The Hindu: Literary Review/ Book Review
Theodore Bhaskaran: ‘The filming of poetry’ – a review of SheWrite, a documentary film on four Tamil women poets (including Kutti Revathi) by Anjali Monteiro and KP Jayasankar

Ambujam Anantharaman: Women’s Poetic Power – an article on the new Tamil women poets who have found themselves in the middle of a raging controversy since they started writing more openly about sexuality.

Wikipedia; Tamil People: Information From Answers.com
General information on Tamils, including a section on culture and literature, in particular

Wikipedia; Tamil Literature: Information From Answers.com
Brief overview of Tamil literature – ancient, medieval and modern.


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