Here's how an Army wife, who was told too any times that she was “just a housewife”, got down to bringing out a crowd-funded book of poetry.
On a cold November evening, a dusky woman with shoulder length hair stood before a crowd of about 150 poetry lovers at the India Habitat Centre amphitheater, holding sheets of erotic poetry.
Standing upright in a warm jacket and cap, she smiled nervously and said, “Hi! I am Cecilia Abraham. I am a 40-year-old housewife, and I shall be reciting some poetry written by a 17th-century Devdasi poetess. This was banned in those times.” She then went on to recite the most erotic verses from Telugu poet Muddupalani’s Rādhikā-sāntvanam ('Appeasing Radhika'), that she had translated into English. The verses talked about Radha’s jealous interaction with Krishna when he goes to her after marrying Ila. Even as Cecilia’s strong husky voice captured her audience, Puneet, her husband, smiled at her encouragingly from the audience.
The verses talked about Radha’s jealous interaction with Krishna when he goes to her after marrying Ila. Even as Cecilia’s strong husky voice captured her audience, Puneet, her husband, smiled at her encouragingly from the audience.
When Cecilia decided she wanted to publish a book of poems she had written, and the first few publishers she approached didn’t even bother to reply to her mails, Puneet was the first to tell her she could do it on her own.
“Muddupalani was my inspiration. Reciting her poetry made me bolder. If she could write erotica in the 17th century, I could self-publish a poetry book, I told myself.”
And that was how this Army wife, stay home mom to two kids, who had been told too any times that she was “just a housewife” got down to bringing out a crowd-funded book of poetry by a woman poet.
How it started
It had been 10 years of staying in Army cantonments for Cecilia Abraham. Married to an Army officer who packed his family and moved home every three years, this Reebok trained aerobics instructor and Sivanand yoga teacher, had started getting a little frustrated. It got worse when she, Puneet, and their kids Kabir and April, moved to Delhi. “I used to really like writing poetry in college days but I lost that artistry somewhere along the way. I felt very mediocre in my life. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she says.
After a long day spent with a screaming April, a cranky Kabir, when Puneet came home after his MBA classes and was reading a story to the kids, Cecilia, wrote a verse titled ‘Finding Pain’. “It had been a bad day and I just wrote it and posted it on Facebook, which is something I usually never do,” she says. When she woke up the next morning she was surprised to find 17 likes on her post. And also a few comments from friends saying they could identify with her poem.
“I couldn’t believe 17 people had read and liked what I wrote,” she says, smiling widely. “After that I kept writing. I couldn’t stop,” she says. And from there started a journey of two years where she kept writing verses and posting them on Facebook for her friends to read and appreciate. “Many of them would tell me to put it all together in a book. Initially, I laughed it off but then I thought why not.”
She wrote to a few publication houses but they didn’t even bother to acknowledge her emails. Then she was introduced to crowd-funding by two young poets she hosted while being part of the Delhi Grand Slam, a performance poetry outfit that she had joined. She would sometimes book a slot at the open mike they held for poets to come and recite original works.
Nigerian Canadian Ikenna Onyegbula and Kyle Luow a South African became her new friends and courage givers. “While they were staying in my house, Kyle was getting crowd-funding for a trip to Arizona, US, and I thought it was really cool,” she says. She then read the Insta poet Rupi Kaur, who had been posting most of her poetry on Instagram, and Amanda Lovelace, who had self-published simple books of poetry and got inspired to do the same.
Asking people for money is not easy
It’s not easy asking people for money,” confesses Cecilia. “When I started, I didn’t even have Rs 3000 to pay crowd-funding platforms so I opted for Ketto which was free. They would take a commission on what I collected. I put up my cause; I made a well thought out request asking for patrons, who would promote independent art. I was very honest with what I wanted to do. I knew that people would give me money only if they believed in what I was trying to do,” she says.
She also says it took a lot of courage and she was mentally prepared to not get anything or even a lot of flak. She put up a simple video saying she was raising funds to publish her first book of poems titled, ‘Not Just a Housewife’, and then shared the same on Facebook. “I crowd-funded for Rs 1,10,000,” she says. The response was overwhelming. The post was shared 482 times and reached a lot of people.
Friends, old classmates, friends’ kids, perfect strangers, venture capitalists came forward and within ten days she had raised Rs 1,36,759.
Her largest donation came from a friend who sent her the money saying he wasn’t much of a poetry reader but he had never seen anyone being so brave. Her smallest donation came from a school kid in standard seven. “There were other kids too who asked their mothers to send me their pocket money,” she smiles. “The big thing about my book is that it is funded by the public. In these times when no one even knows women poets and no one supports poets, it has become a cause for me. It is like reviving the old tradition of kings patronising artistes. I told people I don’t want money; I want to be supported and patronised. I regularly updated my Ketto page, telling people where the book had reached. All patrons have been sent an ecopy of the book and are being mentioned in its pages."
The money has helped Cecilia get her book self-published from a Daryaganj publisher, with illustrations from a professional artist who she paid. Along the journey, a college friend joined her as book editor. She has also created a website where she is blogging and from where people can buy the book. When I leave her she is readying for the book launch, which is also sponsored by patrons, and is being organised at Kunzum Café in Hauz Khas, Delhi. Facebook is flooded with messages inviting people to lovely poetess Cecilia Abraham’s book launch.
The poetess says she is getting butterflies in her stomach. “It is like getting married again.” So how has the experience changed her, I ask. Is she still just a housewife? “Oh, no!” she smiles. “It has made me more than that. I am now a published poet. But if I want to be a housewife, people must respect me for it. It’s a choice so many of us make. Society cannot classify women by adding “just” before a housewife.
Excerpts from Not Just a Housewife, poems by Cecilia Abraham.
Just a housewife, caring and nurturing
Sounds like not too much
But try it for a day and night
And then, lets talk
I’ve given up climbing mountains,
I can’t afford solitaires
But I have chosen my mission
To be ‘a housewife’. (But you JUST don’t understand)