Nature’s presence

July 05, 2009 12:00 am | Updated September 15, 2010 03:22 pm IST


Bursting with energy, these poems keep the reader on a constant high.

Not Springtime Yet; Priya Sarukkai Chabria; HarperCollins Publishers India, a joint venture with The India Today Group, 2008, Rs 350.

Priya Sarukkai Chabria’s poems are sensuous, witty, ironical, original: All words found in the blurbs on the jacket cover of her latest collection of poems, Not Springtime Yet. But this collection is all that and more.

The craft points to the way Chabria bursts with energy into every poem. The 14 sections speak for innovation and a blinding courage. Myth, history, imagination and poetic realities collide in the most original, yet familiar way, making many a poem close to my heart.

‘The Gathering of Time: Dialogues with Kalidasa’, in six cantos portrays emotions in the light of changing seasons. Starting with Vasant (spring) and ending with Sisira (winter), the images are melancholic, yet celebratory of a certain strength:

“It’s time to shut my eyes/to turn the glance inward/to the sparely-lit limens/of tomorrows./This is no time for you./It’s the time for my freedom.” (from ‘Harvest’).

Power and beauty

The dominant presence of Nature in the collection is established right at the beginning of the book. In ‘Between Sisters’, Ushas (dawn) and Nritti (dusk) speak of themselves and their sisterhood. It is an interesting dialogue about power and identity, though I was distracted by a typographic error.

Reader interest though is kept at a constant high, thanks to the unexpected turns of technique. In that sense, the most innovative section is ‘After: happily ever after’, a fresh and ironic take on fables and fairy tales. Many of the poems like ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, ‘The Frog Prince’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, etc are exercises in visual and onomatopoeic delight.

“pat pat pat pat pat pat/Pat the unknown. Make it Familiar./

Flatness/Slither/Column/Flapping/Hardness/Stretch” (from ‘The Six Blind Men and the Elephant’)

Irony runs constantly through most poems. ‘Songs from Babylon and Persia’ draws from the tradition of ancient Tamil literature. Mythical legends, war heroes and widows come together, sometimes in the shade of black humour. For instance, look at these lines from ‘Salma. Pi-dog of Baghdad, Says:’

“Americans are kind./They leave blood on the streets/for us to lick,/and morsels of human flesh/stuck/to charred clothing.”

Sarukkai is perhaps at her ironic best in ‘In and Out: Imagined Translations’:

“In the darkness/he shares with me the secrets of his body/and unties his tongue./ At dawn he zips up and leaves./Should I imagine myself showered with favour?/I roll in bed, laughing.”

But even the intensely personal become universal in Sarukkai’s poems, leaving you with a sense of the familiar. ‘Cab ride through Bombay/Mumbai’ evokes ‘Mumbaiyan’ images that breathe the lonely air that any city does. This reflection in prose, running into a little over 4 pages, is easily the lengthiest sentence I have come across in recent times! (And even when it does end, there is no full stop.) What is endearing here is the way Sarukkai travels all over the city, leaping into memories and crossing distances, observing the “shifting realities that we live in”.

However, it is the overpowering sway of the sensuous that makes her poems easy to relate to. Rooted in touch, smell and colour, they sweep you into a whirl of delightful melancholy. ‘Monsoon Views: a dozen verses’ and ‘The uses of poetry’ are good examples. The first stanza from the latter says:

“…So I hold/ Poetry Anthology to the eyes/of my breasts and drink/its smell. When I’m done/I’m returned to my reluctant senses/mute.”

Drink from these poems when you find your senses dying. They will leave you feeling awakened, though ‘not Springtime yet’.

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