The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu by Rohinton Daruwala is a collection of the poet’s interaction with life, people and situations. Experiences, objects and moments come alive in these poems and take the ordinary into focus. The collection is divided into nine sections. The division seems to be thematic by the titles of the poems. But the contents of the poems are not easy to separate through these sections. All the poems aim to explore various facets of life and mostly dwell on picking the emotions as generated through these moments. Simple images borrowed from the everyday life are orchestrated to create an impact. What impact and how successfully it performs that task is to be assessed.
‘Tea, Coffee and Cigarettes’ take us into the simple activities like ‘Making Tea’ and ‘Morning Tea Meditation’. However, both the poems explore human emotions and their lack thereof. ‘Civilized patience’, ‘liquid contentment’, against ‘common lust’, ‘hot temper’, ‘child’s pleading’ and ‘brooding jealousy’ are picked up in comparison with the various phases of tea making and drinking. As opposed to these, the poet, engaged with the idea of tea, also brings up kindness, compassion and servitude. Tea drinking is not celebrated as a ritual though; it is in fact seen as a window into the world of emotions. While a number of poets use tea making and drinking as a purging personal and social activity, Daruwala sees it as a solitary venture aimed at teaching and learning a few valuable lessons about life. Again in ‘Single Seating’, Daruwala worries about the modern man’s existential crisis with his self because now the barrier within him is his laptop and mouse. Daruwala imagines such an alienated individual ‘in every building I’ve ever seen, an unregarded pillar, a shy gargoyle … so absolutely essential’. A contrast is thrown in with the old man of the next poem ‘Cigarettes and Dawn’. An old man who questions myths and beliefs; who does not live the acceptable normal life but has the potential to shame the sun, like the Prometheus of his imagination. In these poems, Daruwala manages one primary aim: show the human as bare and solitary, dependent on the potential of tea, coffee and cigarettes to keep to his business.
Similarly, ‘Meals, Large and Small’, brings together poems about food and the activity of eating as peeping holes into the world of relationships and emotions. ‘Set Dosa’ builds up to describe not just the act of sharing a meal together but also a walk, ‘Frying Fish’ is not just about finding the right fish to fry but also the right company to share it with. ‘Lunch with Aztecs’ recounts an afternoon spent with parents who serve not just food but also a slice of their own life, the sacrifices that have been made for the family.
‘Love Poems’ collects the most beautiful poems of the collection recollecting seductive experiences but held in place by objects and occasions. Like a dosa recounts a lost love, fruits and Diwali mithai unravel the moments of seduction in an ordinary yet intimate life. In ‘Upside-down Kiss’ and ‘Your Name’ the male lover expresses his devotion for the beloved. His appreciation of her body in his hands and her name on his tongue come together to show that intimacy works differently at different stages of love. While initially, her name itself can work magic on him, in the later years his experiments at love making too might be doubted and disliked, paving the way for disillusionment in love.
Giving competition to ‘Love Poems’ are the ‘Rain Poems’ and it does not come as a surprise that this is the most robust section of the collection. Daruwala comes from Pune where rain is gentle and beautiful. ‘Rain Poems’ captures rain as a presence that amuses and brings liveliness. In different episodes put together, Daruwala expresses his desire for rain like it were a treasure, pays his obeisance to the rain like it were God, he recounts it as his past and present. A life that cannot give rain its due attention is found futile. It is remorse for the good deeds not done and the errors committed, it is the pleasure that touches the soul, the love that inspires and shudders, the cheer and yet the peace of being.
When Daruwala comes to talking about spaces in his poems ‘Closed Rooms’ and ‘The City’ he picks up the odds around us. People vulnerable and safe; taking birth and dying in these spaces. Spaces where honour is stolen or respect granted depending on your luck, sometimes your name. ‘The City When It Sleeps’ paints a modern day squalor that disturbs the ignorant consciousness of those who sweep aside all the realities that don’t count to them.
The last section in this collection ‘Words on Words’ is about communicating and listening through writings in general and poetry in particular. The words tell stories through sentences and silences. ‘This Poem’ charts the possibilities of a poem being all that it could to stretch to be. Poetry then is unacknowledged emotions, travelled and forgotten journeys, hope and death, beauty and ordinary life. It is personified as a thief, which steals the lives of objects and experiences all around us. Poetry is what makes us and we re-present it in words.
Daruwala’s attempt in this collection is to draw a landscape of the ordinary, relatable world around us. He trusts his poetry to carry the weight of his reflections and musings. Striking a chord with the readers who are also caught up in the drill of living life, have no time to stop and feel, Daruwala attempts to be the modern-day Ezekiel. He seems to deliver that he draws poetry from life because life creates poetry.
Deepti Bhardwaj teaches English in Ram Lal Anand College, University of Delhi, Delhi.