Chennai Launch Books

Arundhathi Subramaniam's latest book is on Love

Aruna Sairam, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Alarmel Valli at the launch of Love Without A Story in Chennai

Aruna Sairam, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Alarmel Valli at the launch of Love Without A Story in Chennai   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Love Without A Story vests the most common feeling with the least expected connotations

What do a dancer, a musician and a writer have in common? Poetry, it was revealed at the Chennai launch of Arundhathi Subramaniam’s latest volume, Love Without A Story, published by Westland. Aruna Sairam and Alarmel Valli became a perfect foil to the sensitive verse of Arundhathi on that Friday evening at the Wandering Artist. “They are not here on the ‘you pat my back...’ basis,” clarified Arundhathi. “Our association goes back a long way and they know me as a person,” she added. It was Bombay (the poet prefers it over Mumbai), where the three found one another. Different dreams, different timelines but the arc has met, life coming a full circle, the kinship enduring. Valli remembered the twenty-something scribe, who wanted to speak to her on choreography, a nascent subject decades ago. “My mother was bowled over by the lucidity with which she had tackled it,” said the dance exponent. In Arundhathi, Valli found her Muse, ‘Vigil’ being the first English poem she expressed through Bharatanatyam.

Aruna Sairam looked at Arundhathi with maternal pride and admiration. “The young girl, with whom our family would bond over sambar and song, also was in the company of Mumbai’s niche poetic circle. She is now a much acclaimed poet herself,” she said. The poem, ‘Remembering’ from the new collection made her think of Vallalar’s ‘Petra Thai thannai Maga Marandalum,’ where ‘Remembering is not an art but an instinct.’

“My interest (regarding Love) does not lie in the romantic, mushy stereotype,” declared Arundhathi introducing her work. “But Romance is included,” she quickly reassured her audience. The poet, who cut her teeth in the bastion of Nissim Ezekiel and Eunice de Souza, was all grace and poise as she read from her collection. Arundhathi’s accent here is on kinship — a word that recurs in her rich vocabulary. Kinship as in striking a wavelength, friendship — a feeling that defies distance and time. Arundhathi went on to read select poems to show the kaleidoscopic patterns she has drawn with Love, a universal emotion.


Keyhole discovery

‘Parents,’ for instance, emerge as dots, which not always connect to a pattern. ‘When Landscape Becomes Woman,’ finds the child discovering — through the keyhole — her Mother. She realises that ‘keyholes always reveal more than doorways.’ On the other side of the chink in the wall is a parallel Universe. Could it be a modern Alice, who tumbles into a hole and lands in a new world. Or the world of Narnia, which lies on that side of an unlikely closet. Fairytales do seem to have strong human connections.

Reading out ‘Mitti,’ Arundhathi recalled how she first recoiled, when asked to compose a poem on the subject. However, unable to shake it off, she let it marinate. The result — ‘Mitti’ explodes into vivid images of the Moon becoming the mud-gazer and Mitti finding a place in the democracy of tongues. The thoughts culminate in the ‘capsize of June clouds over the Arabian Sea... where sound meets scent.’ One’s thoughts go back to that famous Sangam poem by Sembulappeyanirar — lovers uniting as one inseparable entity — the red earth and the rain that falls on it.

What has been left to say about the Monsoon, was Arundhathi’s reaction, when it was commissioned. “It’s like Love, everything said,” her statement was more a rhetoric addressed to the audience. But then she converts it into a stream of consciousness — one thought leading to another. “A First Monsoon Again’ is about revisiting familiar moments.

“The first rains are always this plagiarism of yearning, every moment an echo of another” — The image of the cloud as a courier in this poem is again a Sangam influence, not to forget Kalidasa. Nature is entwined in Arundhathi’s thought process and surprises the reader like a sudden and gentle spray of rose water — ethereal and fragrant.

‘Love’ would include conversation — with anything. What could be the end of the world — “Just as you and I, withdrawing Love, from this conversation,” ends the poem, ‘The End of the World.’ Passion, longing, desire all come under the title.

Mystery is inevitable in poetry, feels Arundhathi. Not everything is meant to be understood. By asking children to analyse and para-phrase poems, the genre is taken far away, often lost for ever. Arundhathi certainly overcame the hurdle to strike a lasting bond with the most beautiful vehicle of expression. She stands out for the way she finds new contexts for words. A trait that prompted Valli to describe her as the conductor of an orchestra. “With her pen as the baton, Arundhathi commands words to fall in place, sit in positions, where least expected — making the most impact,” she said.

It is indeed nothing short of an adventure trip — with vocabulary — which Arundhathi takes the reader on. Sample this from her new collection:

(About a man reading a balance sheet)

... I like to think he is not

immune to

the sharp beauty

of integers, simmering

with their own inner life

and I wonder if he feels

the way I do sometimes

around words,

waiting for them to lead me

past the shudder

of tap root,

past the inkiness

of groundwater,

to those places

where all tongues meet -

calculus, Persian, Kokborok, Flamenco,

the tongue sparrows know, and accountants,

and those palm trees at the far end of holiday photographs...


She wishes to be the adjective — not the powerful verb — ‘be the thread that completes the circle I long to make around you.’ (‘Let Me Be Adjective’)

Picking the poet’s brain after the reading was Sushila Ravindranath, author and journalist. She talked of imagery drawn from disparate sources, Purana including. To Avvaiyar, Arundhathi dedicates a section of seven poems — ‘The Fine Art of Ageing.’ The wise old woman of the Tamil land, who invited Age (‘Death,’ says Arundhathi — Invite it Over, Wear it).

Sangam poetry and Hindu mythology meet in Avvaiyar. Karthikeya, who flies around on his peacock, sits on top of a tree to greet the grandma, who walks across time zones and geographical distances. Were there several versions of the same name or was it the same woman? It does not matter. Arundhathi thinks that there is an Avvaiyar in every woman. The Gran, involved in the much narrated jamun tale, finds a fresh perspective in this collection. This is not the wise woman, whose intellectual arrogance Muruga is said to have destroyed with a one-liner — “hot fruit or the cool one?”

This Lady is aware —

“Avvaiyar sighs,

knows the tiresome games

of the young —

trick questions, riddles...

Avvaiyar sighs.

The thing about age

is seeing through the game

but being able to smile

at those who play it.

‘All right,’ she says,

‘all right boy, make it lukewarm.’ The fruit is a metaphor connecting Muruga to another time, another challenge.

In poem II of this series lies the title.

What’s left after everything is over? ‘Nothing to declare... not even nostalgia.’ When photographs fade into reminiscence... ‘Perhaps just the oldest thing in the world — Love without a story.’

The poet’s spiritual leanings paint Neeli Mariamman as ‘life — twisty blue nerve fire — life local life perennial.’

For terse vividity there is Goddess II, on Linga Bhairavi:

‘In her burning rainforest

silence is so alive you can hear listening’

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 6:52:20 PM |

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