Poems Come Home is an uncommon piece of collaborative labour. Subtle in its nuances, sensitive in its portrayal, rhythmic in its power and stark in its simplicity, this bilingual book has poems originally written in English by the poet-critic Sukrita Paul Kumar, who uses the pen name ‘Sukrita’. These have been translated into Hindustani by the famous lyricist Gulzar.
In a recent interview Sukrita observed that her poems are born out of ‘the everyday turmoil… the intriguing dilemmas, social injustices… the pain of relationships, natural calamities, all this in the face of love, innocence and the beauty of say a sturdy oak in the mountains’. At the same time, however, she believes that one has to ‘realize the poetry lying somewhere inside oneself … a poem may be sitting on a blade of grass outside, in the eyes of a child begging, in the squeaking of the rat in cat’s paws or then, in the shadows of the long rain!’
The world portrayed in these poems is highly evocative of the many-sidedness of human life-particularly the pain of living on the edge coupled with a resilience that makes such living possible. Many of these are an outcome of Sukrita’s ‘experience of working with homeless people’. The series of short poems entitled ‘We the Homeless’ (I, II, III, IV, V), captures the many faces of the bleakness of life: ‘Madamji, / Can you get me/My mai?/ My home./ Slapping the dust off himself/ The little boy/queried, his eyes rolling in hope. . . (p. 8)’. The effortless poignancy is carried over in the translation too: ‘Gard jhaar ke/aankhon mein ummeed ghuma ke/poochha chhote chhokrey ne. . .‘ (p. 9). Another poem in the series jolts the reader in the same way: ‘When damp blankets and/leaking roofs/provide/shelter to the homeless/Wealthy sinners/Sleep in great comfort’ (p. 10). Sensitively translated by Gulzar, ‘seele kambal/aur tapakti chhat/ begharon ko panah deti hai/vaseelon vale naseeb ki neend so rahe hain‘ (p. 11). The last poem in the series is a blend of pathos and spirited optimism: ‘Said the rickshaw-puller, the one/with the gaping wound/on his calf: “No, no need for the doctor. This happens so many times madamji,/And Allah heals it very fast”/ With feline alacrity/ My hand moved to cover/my bandaged finger/marking my faithlessness’ (p. 16). The sardonic irony is recreated by Gulzar no less strikingly: ‘Doctor voctor kya karna hai…/aksar hota hai/ Allah hai na-sare zakhm hi bhar deta hai!/furti se maine patti baandhi apni ungli ko chhupalia,/ aur apni kam-imaani ko bhi‘ (p. 17).
‘Ageing in America’ moves from a sense of complacency of an old woman to her bewilder-ment and movingly foregrounds the pain of being homeless. In the Introduction to Poems Come Home,Sukrita admires ‘the creative choices of vocabulary, sounds and metre’ employed by Gulzar: ‘Uske sawal/ aur jawab usike/chalti bus ki chhat se/ ulte latke huve/ kat kat bajte peele daant/ aur syah chehre se jhoolti jhurriyaan‘ (p. 21).
Sukrita’s fascination for the flora and the fauna is reminiscent of Georgian poetry and Robert Frost’s poems. She imbues the trees of the Chinar and the great grandfather Oak with a living spirit ‘. . . that great Sufi, the witness with long thick hair’ (p. 50) in ‘Talking Aloud’ and later again in ‘Massey’s Tales’: ‘The Oak will stay, let the/building plans be aborted… . The building terminating/ touching the feet of the tree’ (pp. 67-8). ‘The Chosen One’ showcases a tree struck dead by lightning, making-‘The monkeys of Summerhill/ as if/ motherless/ No longer any chestnuts for them / from this tree. . .’ (p. 96). The translation is as crisp as the origina: ‘Summer hill pe Bandar ab ke/ bin ma ke lawaris lagte hain‘ (p. 97).
The recesses of history are resurrected as the past beckons the present in the poem entitled, ‘End from the Beginning’: ‘. . . an ancient well/dreaming in deep sleep,/hissing with cobras and/vipers . . . unseen and unheard,/ still and undisturbed/through several centuries … captures/ the madness/ of Mohammad Tughlaq/the king who first created/and then abandoned all he created …’ (p. 30). The translation is equally evocative: ‘purana sa ik qadeem kuan hai,/jo sust saampon ki-sarsarahat se goonjta hai! … voh un-suna, aur un-dikha/ pur sukoon parra hai sadee, sadee se‘ (p. 31).
The anthology concludes with a poem of awesome serenity: ‘Notes of Azaan / Echo in the /Twilight of dawn …’, the stanza capping with another image of incredible peace and beauty: ‘Clouds half sitting/ On folded legs/ For Namaaz/ In the skies …’ (p. 114). Gulzar’s translation parallels the intense calm of Sukrita’s poem: ‘Sur goonje Azaan ke jab … Do zanon huve baadal/ padhne ko Namaaz apni …‘ (p. 115).
These poems-the original as well as the translated, are like a flight of elfin birds.The sense of space one version gives to the other lends them uniqueness and creates an irresistible magic as they reverberate in the subconscious in perfect harmony.