Feisty Feminist

F is for Feminist. For centuries feminists have asserted the rights of women to own property, vote, have a profession. Where does feminism connect to the inequalities of North v South? Can men be feminists?


Think Global, Act Local. My rising panic at our failures on Climate Action gave the Covid pandemic another perspective. 2021 came with a reminder of the United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which set targets we should have achieved by now. In 1993 my friend and colleague John Shiers alerted me to meeting about Manchester’s Global Forum. This international forum aimed to increase community awareness as a follow-up to the UN Summit. If we had followed Agenda 21 and turned global policies into local action, Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future activists would have been born into a different world.

Think Global, Act Local was more than a slogan for Jaya, whom I met at that Manchester meeting. For her personal, political, local, and global merged. She was my sort of feminist and a climate activist long before I met her. In Manchester she was part of network of people committed to Southern Voices, a project inspired by  “a group of post-graduate students from the various Manchester universities and founded by them with the support of exiles and locals. It was a critical response to the exclusion of Southern people in discussions as well as the negativity in images and information of the Global South.” (www.southernvoices.org) Jaya’s passionate contribution to the early development and sustainability of Southern Voices highlights the connections we need to make to turn policies into action.

Jaya was casual about how she came to Manchester. Grown-up children and a divorce with a diplomat behind her and a powerful commitment to environmental campaigns in Southern England. Jaya had many layers of personality and politics merged into a stunning beauty, which she wore as if it was a recycled jacket. We knew how to dress up for an occasion like the Citizen’s Assembly in Manchester’s Global Forum or at Achmed and Steffi’s wedding where a silk sari would be on display. But Manchester weather was not conducive to saris and Jaya wore layers of cast-offs. She would have felt complimented rather than offended if someone took her for a bag lady. As we walked through Chorlton, it felt like walking with a celebrity as everyone knew her. When I took her to a wake in Pettigo on the Donegal border, there was no need to give her an elaborate introduction to Irish customs. She knew how to be.

Jaya was a stern taskmaster when it came to our global footprint and she was a unique mix of hard and soft. A powerful sense of humour contrasted with her toughness and she had the sexiest laugh ever especially when we shared the foibles of our humanity. The taste of mango in my mouth is no longer that of Hess’s Siddhartabut Jaya’s voice in my ear quoting a friend who said mango tastes like sex. In my uncertain bisexual celibacy, Jaya would make me laugh with her comments about how the acts of sex are somehow also a bit farcical. Our friendship was even better than sex. A poet herself, she was an ardent support of unheard black voices. Her commitment to changing the world meant she never finished most of her poems and versions are scattered among her friends like confetti.

Local community voices mixed with international ease in Jaya’s world. Since my relationship with Sohrab in Belfast in the days before Civil Rights turned into warring factions, Teheran has always had a special fascination although I have never been there. Jaya experienced Teheran in the days of the Shah as a diplomat’s wife. I could easily imagine her carrying off the role without losing her sense of self and we fantasised about a potential other meeting if I had followed Sohrab to Teheran in 1972.

When I took voluntary redundancy from Save the Children, I left Manchester. I took a year out which included time to joined Jaya in Puducherry (Pondicherry)) where she and her mother were visiting family. We travelled together to holy places; I saw the power of women passed through the generations.in waves stronger than feminism. Jaya’s mother walked with a ramrod rectitude and she was stern but humourful with a compassion for human nature. With those two on the rickshaw, I visited the temples of Madurai in Southern India with an insider perspective. Jaya’s mother, as a Christian, was dismissive of our joining in the rituals of a Hindi Temple and was more interested in the social and cultural fabric of the city. Without Jaya and her mother, the rickshaw driver would never invite me into the home of his family who lived in a cave. The shadowy image of the darkness and humanity lit by the love, which I met there, is imprinted on my consciousness and merges with the stunning energy of the colours of Temples in Madurai and shapes of Mahabalipuram visited alone.

Puducherry (Pondicherry) stands out as a reminder of how our humanity is interdependent and connected.  Jaya’s son was an environmentalist researcher and was living in Auroville, near Puducherry (Pondicherry). I found out Auroville was also home to some of those who had been on the course in Paris and gave me more insight into Clare Nuer’s fascination with “the mother”. Later without any apparent connection, my friend John Shiers had the same fascination with Puducherry (Pondicherry) and “the mother” and chose to have his ashes scattered there. Apparently unrelated connections merge. Earth is smaller and more precious than we know.

When I visited Jaya in Manchester over the last couple of decades, I had to remember to pack my thermal underwear for wearing in bed as she was frugal with heating and she used the water from the hot water bottle to water her houseplants. She also had the skill to turn a few vegetables into a gourmet meal and our exchanges were cocktails of delight. She could be judgemental and stern even with her grandchildren. One of her granddaughters nibbled almonds without permission and was told off because she took them for granted when they were “special.” Earth and water were always present in Jaya’s consciousness. Reach in and snack was not her style. Valuing food with a sense of responsibility is an important survival skill, faced with the increase in human-made disasters.

Visiting Jaya in Manchester meant recycling those autumn leaves of Manchester trees forever. I arrived and left in the fire of autumn above and the dank damp under my feet. Trees in parks, trees in streets, trees outside my window. Leaves and roots sustained me through moving from temporary accommodation in Whalley Range to a tiny house in Rossendale and back to Fallowfield. Manchester. I talk to Jaya’s ghost which follows me to the native woodland planted for Agenda 21 in Donegal in 2021. She whispers ‘no’ in my ear when I am tempted into gross over consumption. I reach instead for her poetry as a gift which resonates love up and down my time spiral. Kiss, a collection prefaced by Lemm Sissay published this one. The glow of her Autumn has helped me pass through the Winters of Covid and reach Spring again. Time for action. Think Global, Act Local.

September’s Song

I am rich because you knew me;

drunk on dew

from a secret spring

my body clothed in gossamer; fragrant with

oils of jasmine and rose.

Like September am I. Full of the

gifts of many seasons.

I shall give you flame-trees, and

orchards of honey fruit, like those

that grew in Eden, before

Adam forgot.

An amber moon shall shade

our rest. And fields of

Autumn leaves

will be our trysting place.

KISS published by Crocus, 1994 ISBN 0946745 -21-8

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