Poems that have their moments but don’t make an overall impression.
Pickling Season by Anju Makhija has a handful of successful poems that reveal an individualised voice crafting with perceptible maturity. ‘Eyes Shut I Enter’ meditates in philosophic vein on mortal homelessness and seeks recourse in one’s home within.
Though apparently disparate, it ends up unified and engrossing. ‘Open House’, likewise, is original in its contemplation. Often, though, the poet goes off into a cataloguing spree, with her lines reading more like grocery lists rather than well-crafted poetry.
What saves Anju from being dropped from the reader’s memory is her ability to round a poem off with adept closure. ‘Adivasi’ is vivid with native imagery. Its poetic content picturesquely blends tribal life with nature. (‘Then knee-deep in water, you’ll bend again,/sing and replant siblings’). Note the effective use of the word ‘siblings’. ‘Pickling Season’, about making mango pickles, works by suggestion; taking us at best to the threshold of a ghostly haunt, but no more.
The poems in the segment ‘Cues from a Child’ are on Anju’s daughter growing up. Delicately woven, they are also colourful. They look up with the innocence of a child’s playful eyes seeking answers from the ageing mother, who will enlighten the child with her life experiences. ‘Oh/ little mermaid/shall I tell you a secret/night is a time/when your mother/drowns herself in brandy/to granny I return and lullabys/dripping of partition wounds/a childhood spent collecting/pebbles in the river’s womb.’ (‘Umbilical Connections’).
The segment ‘Final Hours’ contains grief poems on close relations and friends. Recollections of a boyish Dom Moraes (‘ladies on either side’) or of Nissim Ezekiel in the last stages of Alzheimer’s (‘Has he forgotten heaven and hell/now that the mind hovers/somewhere in between?/I ask him/Looking at me he says simply/Shall we go across for idli and tea?’) look interesting . The Nissim poem looks weak, though, when compared with a classic on the theme, ‘Have We Had Easter Yet’ by Alison Pryde.
Rizo Yohannan Raj can write naturally occurring, spontaneously flowing, and sublimely worded sentences. She also has a mind for the beautiful and tranquil things of nature. Assuredly too, there is a thirst to write and a desire to transcend love and its urges through poetry. But when they do get translated into soul-making, there isn’t much lift left in her verse.
Naked by the Sabarmati and Other Guna Poems tires the reader with a worn-out Wasteland kind of pastiche. It also is not the ‘in’ thing to flank one’s poems with mysterious sounding terms such as ‘Guna’, ‘Tamoparvam’, as though creating difficulty would add to poetic charm or authenticity.
There are pointers to show what Rizio can do in time. ‘Let the tongue melt/on my tongue/illumining me quietly’ (‘Aftermath’), is brilliant. ‘The silhouette of the hills/is a reverie etched along the horizon’ (Journey), though weak, is another good sign. ‘Reverse Turn’ has power, grit, and its share of surprise. ‘Lunatic Fringe’ (‘I turn around in fear when only history touches my body’) fills us with hope.
But Rizio’s poetry must fly out into the woods in search of its true voice. She must avoid monotone to enable a smooth take-off, and prepare to land without crashing into the mundane ‘Let us look into each other’s eyes, before the sun goes down’ (‘Poetry Reading’). Lines like ‘Our nakedness will again connect us/with this river/and with each other’ (‘Naked by the Sabarmati’) need no more than a yawn.
Those at the Akademi’s editorial helm ought to be a bit more careful. ‘Revelations: Satvaparam’ (p. 127) should actually be Satvaparvam. An Akademi imprint cannot afford an error like that.
With not much quality poetry happening in the book, Keki Daruwalla’s role of introducing the poets appears reduced to a copy-and-paste rendering of their bios.
Pickling Season; Anju Makhija and Naked by the Sabarmati and Other Guna Poems; Rizio Yohannan Raj, Sahitya Akademi, Rs.80.