Poet, academic and yoga exponent Alka Tyagi’s recently published “Whispers at the Ganga Ghat and Other Poems” beautifully straddles the seams of conscious, unconscious and the subconscious
The recently published “Whispers at the Ganga Ghat and Other Poems” is her first collection of verses in English but Delhiite Alka Tyagi is not a new spurt in the city’s arc of poets. Alka, professor of English Literature in Delhi University’s Dayal Singh College, has been writing poetry both in English and Hindi for about 20 years now. Her poetry collection in Hindi, “Sun ri Sakhi”, got published in 2009.
“Whispers at the Ganga Ghat” (Mark Media), a clasp of 62 poems, reaches readers in three halves — Speech, Whispers and Silence. Speech begins with “Shri Maha Bodhi”, fanning her inner desire to “become Buddha”, pleading from the word go, “Speak to me please!”
If in it the poetess is pining to reach the Divine, in Whispers, among other verses, she writes to a river, “I bow down/ And listen to you….” In the poem which lends the book its title — also placed under Whispers, she notes, “…He has swallowed/All his passions/The Sadhu has a big belly….”
A touching poem in “Flowers on the Windowsill” in Silence recurs long after you have read it, “Saffron coloured evening/Descending peace/Lights up the flowers/Kept on the windowsill/And makes me one/With the Sun!”
Alka beautifully articulates this connect with Nature in an interview with The Hindu, “My poetry comes from a continuous sense of a presence, a presence of a connecting thread through the web of the universe. This thread is not visible but it is surely there. It reflects itself most clearly in Nature. So I wish to establish a close relation with the trees, the birds, the flowers, the sky, the snow, the sun and the rain in my lived time and space. Sometimes, I feel an urgency to embrace a tree or to touch a flower because I think it wants to say something to me.”
Her poetry, as pointed out by Israeli poet Diti Ronen in the book’s Introduction, contains “an element of healing.” Alka says she was not aware of her “capacity to bend the forces of life towards a positive flow initially.” But add, “With some age in the body and mind, I realised that instead of shooting a wounding arrow, poetry must give a healing balm.”
Recalling her formative years, Alka says she and her school mates were encouraged to write poetry by their English teacher thinking it would improve their linguistic skills. Though she ended up picking a career in the language, she still doesn’t “feel up to the mark in English.” She says she “felt relieved” when she came to know an anecdote from Tagore’s life where he was depicted saying, ‘If someone invites me for a cup of tea with an invitation written in English, I don’t feel up to it to send a reply in English.’
While pursuing her M. Phil, Alka recalls “taking courage” and going to see celebrated Malayalam poet K. Sachitanandan who was then the editor of Sahitya Akademi’s journal Indian Literature, with her poems penned in Hindi. “He not only published my poetry but also was kind enough to guide me about how I could improve my expression by being genuine in my perspective on things,” she says.
So which language does she feel more comfortable? “The poems appear to preselect their medium before they arrive in my consciousness. Some poems come to me only in English and others only in Hindi,” says the academic who has four other books under her name. Alka pads her answer with an instance, “I wrote a poem called ‘Agantuk’ in Hindi and one in English called ‘Snow Rumours’. I think none of them would be as sharp as they are now if they were written in other language.”
The question of language, she feels, “is the question of viewpoint.” And then, she says something a poet of any colour would nod her head to, “What is fascinating about poetry is that the time taken to write a poem — from its conception to pregnancy and final delivery — can be as short as a moment and as long as a lifetime.”
Alka Tyagi is also a yoga exponent and teacher who follows the Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, founded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. “It changed my life…our lifestyle in the cities is so adulterated that we need to cleanse not only our physical body but also our mental, emotional and psychic bodies on a regular basis,” she says.
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