Using a spare language, Tishani Doshi's poetry lays claim to its rightful sacred space.
In her poems of elemental yearning and desire, Tishani Doshi creates and shares a metaphysical world which “begins and ends. Begins and ends again.” She seeks the pulse of the world: “all I can muster is to lie with you/ on the monastery floor, guide your fingers to the door-/ways of my shattered heart, so you can feel it too -/ the ocean that travels with me; how it gathers and breaks,/ gathers and breaks…”
Her consciousness of this internal movement is as intense as her sense of the unseen presences that call out to us. The rain, the wind, a dog's bark, the monsoon “when the hymen/ of the earth/ is torn into...”
In the poem “Lost”, she says: “The house will open her doors/ for the dark, salty territory of night/ to enter on wet footstep,/ falcon wing.”
In “Ode to the Walking Woman”, she has this image which perfectly captures our lost memories of nomadic movements: “ancestors/ who move/ like silent tributaries/ from red-earthed villages/ with history cradled/ in their mythical arms.”
Tishani Doshi sees the earth afresh, like a newly created, freshly rain-washed universe in its primal beauty. Her language is spare, her lines seem to slant like the rain: “There are as many ways/ of yearning/ as there are ways for rain/ to fall/
Sometimes her language has an alliterative lilt, which is lovely. Talking of Nearchos, Alexander's emissary, she speaks of “his 657 manuscripts unfurling/ like prayer flags, /scattering Sanskrit kisses/ across the sky.”
Just like the rain, lovers, brother and sister, father and mother drift in and out of her poems, fluid as the wind. There is a fine poem in which her father stands on a cliff contemplating childhood:
Together, he says,
we must call in the lost,
breathe shape into all that is vanishing.
I feel this longing is the strongest impulse in Doshi's work, but perhaps it is what drives most serious poets.
In another fine poem, “Memory of Wales”, the poet is eight, and sees a girl on a swing — her mother. She and her mother become one, interchangeable, as sometimes happens in our imaginations. Time becomes timelessness. Is it she who is eight, or her mother? Is it she who meets a man, and is going away? “Everything begins in the playground:/ beauty, decay, love, lilies.”
Memory can play strange games, and there are no rules for the imagination. We become our mothers, and sometimes, our daughters.
In one of her most moving poems, Tishani Doshi again eludes the chronology of Time that binds us. In “Lines to a Lover from a Previous Century”, she has taken some lines from Mir: “I knew that love would take my life as forfeit…” and the poem sings not only the pain of age and loss, but is also a hymn to an ageless, deathless love.
In a poem which has echoes of Yeats, “Zero or Infinity”, about the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, she writes: “There's a place that poets seek/ as real and fearsome as the body./ When I find this place/ I will lie down in it,/ and it will be like lying/ in the stomach of Time -/ the dark pock-marked endlessness of it.”
The poet reveals the persona of a woman, not quite the archetypal Indian woman of Jayadeva, not submissively accepting her lover's infidelity, but one who “walks through moonless nights/ with lotus skin and lotus feet/ Across forbidden boundaries.” “I'll deceive the forest/ like a shadow,/ slip noiselessly past/ evil eyes and serpent tongues/ and the husband who lies inside/ jealous of my devotion.” And if she finds her lover with another, she will “simply walk/ into the dark/where every trunk/ and branch and leaf/ looks like you, feels like you/..” The woman Tishani Doshi shows us has an elemental courage and dignity.
This poetry reminds me of the mysterious Celtic stones of unknown origin gleaming in the sunlight, on a green hill in a Welsh village I visited a few years ago. The stones were almost like mighty trees placed by some unknown creatures from another planet!
I was deeply moved by Tishani Doshi's poetry, not stained by the world, creating another world. “ ‘Come through the gates of drowning,'/ the teacher says, so we cross with lotus/ rafts and abandon them at the water's edge…” Tishani's poetry claims the sacred space that belongs to theatre, dance and poetry.
Everything Begins Elsewhere: Poems, Tishani Doshi, HarperColins, Rs. 299.