Poems that are painted with an artist's brush, bring many motifs together on a single canvas, says SMITHA RAO
Remember Arundhati Roy's famous claim post-Booker that all of The God of Small Things just flowed continuously onto paper and there wasn't a word as much to be edited or re-written later? Debutante poet Tanya Mendonsa gushes similarly, “… like a water source unblocked, the words flowed onto paper, as effortlessly as the sweet air…” Seems then that creativity rushes out unbridled, chiselling is so bourgeoisie.
The Dreaming House, a collection of a sizeable volume of poems, lends credence to suchlike claims with its raw tone and tenor, no prolix prose here. A new entrant on the canvas of Indian poetry, Tanya Mendonsa has oscillated from Kolkata to Paris to Goa with her exhibition of paintings but it was the Goan village of Moira where she found her voice and calling, manifest as The Dreaming House. Any work of art like a painting, sculpture or even poetry, is really about engaging and teasing the imagination of the viewer/reader and her interpretation, so here is Mendonsa's elegiac painting on the book cover and her writing. Here then in brush strokes is this woman with dark circles under her eyes and slender fingers, beneath the moonlight, time passing, a unicorn there, and in pen strokes on the pages is this war within, against a sinister world which divorces you from the green, forever.
The first blush of brilliance, Oblomov, like the protagonist himself weighs upon the page placing words and dragging verbs in a way that transmits the heaviness of life. (Oblomov, a Russian novel, coined the word Oblomovism, a sort of fatalistic laziness which the central character had raised to an art form because of his complete inertia and inability to cope with real life.) In ‘ The Past Is a Foreign Country,' a poem brooding on ancient wrongs, Mendonsa yokes together disparate elements succeeding in spitting out violent images: stilling chattering squirrels and skinning them for breakfast or the rosary cheeping in bat-haunted drawing room. After a paean to the poet, ‘Talking to George Herbert', is an oft-explored motif of the brief wondrous life of a rose: only the rose knows that there is only today…/opening helplessly/wholly/adoringly/to the sun/and/with dying breath/exhaling ecstasy.If individual interpretation is anything to go by then ‘Long Ago and Far Away' with its tender remembrance of “wine that still warmed our mouths” hints at a woman in love with another and “the power of that quiet night.”
Metamorphoses is the sheer joy of words, of cracking a truism in terse verse and presenting it in a new acrid flavour. This writer's favourite is ‘Too Much of a Good Thing', a beautiful evocation of Paris where the “air is lavender and silver” and “you have to dress up” for the city. A third of the poems – ‘The Country Beyond' – are devoted to the lush village of Moira, amazingly,
Mendonsa doesn't attempt pastoral Wordsworthian verse. Its people, mostly real, give us a Goa not of beaches, sun and sand but of blue-slate river water, oleander trees, jasmine girls.
To a good extent the poems have their moments, save for some like the very first poem, ‘The First Lie', with its puerile, forced sentiment, “consecration of the mornings when he knelt between her thighs” or ‘The Scarlet Thread' with its promising beginning but staccato, superficial ending or ‘Skin' that reads like a short story with no rhythm and beat.
Mendonsa knows a thing or two about grief and loneliness, she does not ever present a happy world; the melancholic poetry lover will savour this.
P S:When will publishers ever stop pasting blurbs picked from a stock of platitudes – lyrical… contemporary… strikingly individual… rich…?
The Dreaming House, Tanya Mendonsa; HarperCollins; Rs. 299