Culturally deep-rooted and intensely passionate, the lines unpretentiously speak to the readers.
If one can believe what publishers and booksellers say nowadays, the present is unfriendly towards poetry. Even those who have carved a niche for themselves as poets find it difficult to get a publisher. It's against this dispiriting scenario that Malabar Mind, novelist Anita Nair's debut poetry collection stands out.
Published first by Yeti Books as one of its inaugural titles in 2002, this is Malabar Mind's fourth edition; neither the poet nor the publisher does acknowledge it, though. Yeti Books itself had brought out its two editions and the third edition, as I understand, was for students as the book got prescribed for university courses. Hence, the question is why the poems in Malabar Mind continue to engage the readers?
Let a poem itself answer: Let us be friends, you said/ Let us be friends, I agreed./ Let there be nothing more, you said/ Let there be nothing more, I agreed. I made no declarations, no promise, you said/ You made no declarations, no promise, I agreed. It was a minor aberration, a detour, you said/ It was a minor aberration, a detour, I agreed./ It isn't as if anything I did anything, you said/It isn't as if anything happened, I agreed./ We came out of it with dignity, you said/ We came out of it with dignity, I agreed. (You Said, I agreed)
Culturally deep-rooted and intensely passionate, but simple, these lines unpretentiously and directly speak to the readers. In other words, formal and linguistic experimentations and clumsily conceived expressions that often distance readers from contemporary Indian English poetry do not mar them. And all the poems in this collection bear the hallmark of an unpremeditated writing. That poetry for Anita Nair is a spur of the moment decision.
As a flash
The poet has unambiguously made it clear in an interview. I am not a poet who works on poetry on a consistent basis. Very often the poetry I write is triggered by either an intensely emotional experience or an occurrence that has shaken me to the core. To that effect my poetry occurs as a flash whereas my novels are the result of much thought, pondering and intense research, she says.
Throughout this volume, musings on place, myths and history are many. The title poem, Malabar Mind might be read as an effort to investigate the self and place. In its footnote the poet says: Malabar was a British district. After Independence, Malabar as a district was no longer recognized and the region was divided to form the northern part of what is today called Kerala. Though Malabar has no geographical boundaries, no presence on a map of India, it still exists as state of mind.
It might be from this ambivalence about being and nonbeing that the poems source their exclusivity given that no poem can be seen independently from the context in which it is written or in itself provides an understanding of that context.
This doesn't mean that Anita's principal aim is to establish a historical and cultural identity. The speaking voice in the poems is that of a cosmopolitan individual whose presence is diligently camouflaged by rustic images. And, perhaps, most illustrative of this is the poem “A Gaggle of Gazebo Thoughts” which ends as:
Sunshine. Black snake. Shooting stars. Syl leaping in the air. Rhoda rock polishing. Lettuce shredding. Inner tube dancing by a pool bluer than the blue ridged mountain. Standing inside a sculptor and mooing. America in the library. Howl on the lawns. Buurbon stain glasses. Smoke that stretch curls of mind. Popcorn crumbs. The guitar frets giggle. Jaws of time crunch relentlessly on sunflower seeds, you said.
One can feel the thread of a narrative emerging from these disconnected images. It is quite logical because predominantly Anita Nair is a fiction writer. Might that be the reason why these poems do not lose their charm over years?
Malabar Mind, Poems by Anita Nair, HarperCollins, Rs.199.
Thachom Poyil Rajeevan's forthcoming book is a novel, Undying Echoes of Silence, to be published by Amaryllis. www.thachompoyilrajeevan.com