Poetry Wire Books

Scraps of a partly remembered life

Poetry from sun-dried Ladakh to thirsting Amaravati

Is it a suicide if a guy has left no suicide note? Is it homicide if a murderer forgets to leave his fingerprints on the haft of his dagger, or a smear of his own DNA-revealing blood on the blade’s edge? Is this the dagger that I see before me, its handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee. (Please don’t look for correct line-breaks, I quote from memory and Macbeth). These thoughts were sparked off, reading the long poem (a bit too long) titled ‘Four Scrolls’, in Anand Thakore’s new volume Seven Deaths and Four Scrolls published by the inevitable Poetrywala.

A 24-year-old Buddhist monk at the Mahabodhi Society, Egmore, Chennai, committed suicide, leaving no suicide note, but had written in his diary that he wanted peace of mind. He wanted to catch a train to Bodh Gaya. My thoughts went back to Vietnamese monks who used to immolate themselves during Dien Bien Phu as the Vietnamese and the French fought it out in the late 50s. (Foolish Americans joined in later, despite poets like Denise Levertov writing against the war). Time Magazine photographs showed the monks wouldn’t even wince as flames engulfed them.

Articulate hands

But to Thakore’s poem, as he gets into the suicide’s mind, into ‘scraps of a partly remembered life’, imagines his life in Ladakh, ‘incense, honey and sun-dried venison’, ‘hoofprints of ponies on unscalable glaciers.’ And he talks about the train the monk never took.

‘Grey leagues of highway, the dominion of traffic lights,/ And a sudden anxiety, about whether all stations remain/ Exactly where we leave them.’ Well done, that was a good metaphor for life racing ahead almost senselessly. Of course, not all is of the same class . ‘So much I tried to kill, tarries unslain’. This ‘tarries unslain’ is a bit of a pain. The poem is a big effort, dotted with insightful lines: ‘I who was blinded by angsts, till I lost all sight of the hereafter,/ And thought of self-slaughter the nearest route to peace…’ Thakore is a known classical singer and has a tanpura poem, his ‘articulate hands/ struck luminous rhythms in concert halls.’

Adrian Husain’s Italian Windowis a class act. Each poem is a sonnet, adroitly crafted. The run-on lines see to it that the end rhymes don’t jangle obstreperously. He is also in his own slow, seamless way narrating a family story, of his father’s infidelities in Rome where he was Pakistan’s ambassador. Hence the volume, as I see it, has four major prongs—landscaping Rome and the Mediterranean, revealing dark (come on, not so dark) family secrets, traumatic for the child poet; third, a mirror image of the Hamlet saga transposed on his own life, and last, a requiem for his mother, whom he obviously adores.

To quote from his Preface, after talking about the ‘recurrent infidelities of my father’, he goes on to say, ‘I knew I had to make my narrative matter not just as poetry but as a piece of writing to be shared with readers. This led me to cast both parents as ‘characters’ or the protagonists in a psychodrama of which I was the narrator. My two sisters were, on the whole, silent spectators.’ But to the poetry: ‘Mediterranean’ he said ‘Heart of the world’,/ and there it was, suddenly before me,/ the Italian coastline, sheer against the sky,/ green and turquoise, slope of the sea…’ It is his return to Italy as an adult now, memory and sea play ‘a game/ of mirrors, of signals flashed across time, of blind sight…’

In another poem, ‘Cut Glass’, he says, ‘Gone days return. I have a sense of wheels/ in motion, turning and rumbling and coming/ full circle. The present’s a mirage, a false/ glitter mined from the past/ My Roman childhood rings/ truer than today.’ A ghost poem begins. ‘It stole in without history or a name,/ that time like an orphan, without a sound/ though fleet of foot. There was no rumbling underground./ No word was spoken, no apparition came./ Yet there was a presence. We could feel/ it hovering behind window, door, in the folds/ of curtains, a gust of air, an age-old/ instinct come to inhabit us…’

Defeated sky

Nabanita Kanungo’s A Map of Ruins, published by Sahitya Akademi, is her first book. I quote from her poem ‘What I’ll Take with Me When I’ll Leave Shillong’. ‘It is not what I want to take with me/ when I leave the city of my birth,/ rather what can be taken, or taken at all./ How much blue can be carried/ behind the defeated sky of the eyes/ how many of their rain-speckled windows…’

And later she, an Assamese, has this to say about leaving Shillong: ‘It takes to belong nowhere/ to bring oneself one day to gather all the pieces of grief/ all those fractions of streets, names… jacaranda-monsoons/ the gnarled face of an old woman/ in whom you saw your earth.’ The book though needed better editing and a microscope focused on her prepositions.

Gopikrishnan Kottoor’s volume My Blue Alzheimer’s Sky disappoints. He tries too hard. ‘Drops of rain fall,/ They are holes on the river’s dry lute.’ Of a knife-sharpener he writes: ‘the sharpness edged to a Beethoven’s note!’ And there is an unhappy obsession with women. He has a poem on air hostesses ‘climbing an aeroplane’; they tread carefully, ‘so their cushion forms (!)/ shall not collapse.’ A bad poem ‘Hotel Checkout’ talks of ‘Each room you filled/ That tightened its nudity around you.’ Later the door ‘stands tall/Like a just divorced wife.’ Amaravati becomes ‘Time’s thirsting concubine (!)’ and the sun ‘wets his balding head/ In between her flowing breasts.’ Self publishing is becoming a blight on poetry.

The author is a poet and novelist.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 8:35:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/scraps-of-a-partly-remembered-life/article19230670.ece

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