A Certain Way is an interesting debut in more ways than one. For Word Masala Foundation and its publishing wing Skylark Publications, this is the first time that they have employed crowd-funding as an innovative method of raising finance to fund a book’s publication. It was clearly a successful venture; the outcome is a well-presented paperback—a first collection of poems by ‘Word Masala New Voice Award Winner’ Mona Dash.
The book with the yellow cover arrived in a thick yellow envelope on a Sat-urday. It was mid-December, and winter in Delhi was late, though the days had started growing shorter. Over the next few days, I carried it around with me, reading it everywhere I could: in the metro, at work, in bed, and in the bathroom.
The moment Arundhathi Subra- maniam’s book came to my hands I was reminded of a song and a story. The song, composed by the eighteenth century Bengali Bhakti (Sakta) saint-poet Ramprasad Sen, is themed around the act of devouring the Goddess Kali (the opening words are: Ebar Kali tomay khabo ….) by Ramprasad, her ardent devotee.
Sridala Swami’s collection Escape Artist is not a sea of several-legged creatures and tangled weeds that confuse an entrant. It has the quiet and spaciousness of an art gallery where each poem focuses on a specific thing, like A sacred text on a grain of rice in her poem ‘Not Loss but Residue’, neatly framed by a larger context, or layers of it. The reader gets time to take in one feeling, one image at a time before they are invited to join the larger connectedness of things.
Always a little sceptical of science fic-tion, I would read time travel as a trip up-down memory lane and two-headed green creatures as projections of our own distrust of our diabolic selves, threatening our own planet with fire-balling shotguns, burning beautiful bridges down to dystopian dust. With the surge of TV series on Netflix speculating the futures, suspecting us to be the strangers our parents warned us about, showing us a world that has estranged us, where aliens are amongst us and technology is second pulse; the eternal rising question what is fact, what is fiction is staring back at us as we come to close another decade.
Language is our first line of defence—and also our last resort. Bob Dylan won’t tell you that you’ll be incinerated in a nuclear explosion. He will warn you about getting drenched in a hard rain. A Bengali matriarch, when she looks at the bottom of an empty rice jar will not say dhana shesh (the rice is finished) but dhana prachur (there’s too much rice), trusting that her son will get the message and buy a fresh bag. Language is driven, again and again, by defence mechanisms, obscuring all that we are afraid to acknowledge about ourselves and the world around us.
Urdu poetry, indeed, has traversed a long way from the obliquities of Mirza Ghalib, didacticism of Iqbal and the lyrical buoyancy of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Regardless of countless premature obituaries, Urdu poetry thrives after three centuries, not alone in printed pages but in popular memory.
Rohan Chhetri’s Slow Startle is a true indulgence for lovers of poetry and the written word. His poetry spans various subjects: love, loss, relationships, memories that flood the past, shape the present, and the future. His poems about the pangs of growing up, of coming to terms with his grandfather’s death, a difficult relationship with a father given to uncontrolled spurts of violence, a resigned mother humbled by fate, a departed lover whose thoughts propel him to consider living in another city just to move on, a shared dream of a homeland, all resonate with a deep and intimate engagement with and insight into what is being written about. His poems express a deep connect with everything that conspires around him.
The poetic imagination works in mysterious ways but never more so than when it is being unpoetic. Other than what people believe, a poet is not a dreamer, with his head perpetually in the clouds, as the caricature has it. On the contrary, he is someone who walks the firm earth, especially those parts of it that are less than beautiful. Which is why when a well-meaning friend says ‘Come and stay in my cottage in the hills (or my house by the sea), you’ll feel inspired and write lots of poems,’ you know why you’ll never accept the invitation