The Unknown Girl
By Moniza Alvi
The title ‘unknown girl’ may suggest that the poetess is in search of her roots, culture, traditions and heritage. She is unknown to her country, the place from where she belongs. She is trying to find out more about her home-country. This poem is a first-person narration from the poetess’ point of view. It us a free verse, autobiographical poem which is written in a single stanza containing many local dialects, for instance, ‘bazaar’, ‘hennaing’, ‘kameez’ and rupees. It is evening time in the Indian marketplace where the unknown girl is hennaing my hand. The theme of this poem expresses cultural identity and a sense of belonging. The phrase ‘an unknown girl is hennaing my hand’ is a repetition and a chorus. The word neon is also used to describe the bazaar which states happiness. She has selected a baking term ‘icing’ to illustrate how the design is being designed on her hand. The unknown girl who is hennaing my hand steadies her hand with mine on her satin-peach knee which displays a sensual and intimate imagery in the mind of the reader. It also shows care, devotion and attention which the girl is giving to me for just a few rupees.
The pattern which is being designed on my hand is of a peacock which is the national bird of India. This verse shows how the poet is trying to absorb the culture and heritage of India. Metaphors have also been used such as ‘colors leave the street’. The poet also relates that palanquins tilt and stare in their Western perms which is a personification. It creates a very wild image, a sense of wonder and a sense of delight. These words also show the influence of Western culture in India. Another example is the phrase ‘banners for Miss India 1993’. She feels safe and secure in India when she says that curtain and sofa cloth canopy me. She compares the color of her henna to her veins when she expresses ‘I have new brown veins’. There are also certain similes used such as ‘to these firm peacock...
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