THE POET by By Radhika Ramesh. Illustrations by Shivangi Singh Eklavya, 2023, 24 pp., INR 70.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

The Poet by Radhika Ramesh is a poem about coming out of grief. It is a complete journey. It offers a resolution to the problem in the narrative it begins the problem in. The plot follows a classic problem-resolution style of a linear narrative. Yet, it is commendable how Ramesh lays down the problem. The narrative does not begin in the most classical manner. In the protagonist’s life, all is not merry. Right at the beginning, a character, who is actually not a character but an apparition in the life of the protagonist, gets introduced. Ramesh introduces Carlos, who may be seen as an alter ego, a schizophrenic response, or a delusion in the life of Andrea, the protagonist. To call Carlos simply a figment of Andrea’s imagination, is to diminish the power that he holds over her.
In her first-person account, Andrea mentions where she finds Carlos. She defines the dark, unreachable place that he holds her in. She calls him his ‘teacher’. While it is clear that more than being her teacher, Carlos is the dictator of her life. Quite early on in the narrative, the readers get to know that Andrea has recently lost her mother. Carlos seems to have taken birth as a response to that traumatic event in Andrea’s life. Andrea blames herself for her mother’s demise and Carlos fans that feeling. He is a representation of her psyche, the beliefs that she has, and the world that she resides in. It is clear that the more she feeds him, the more he grows. It is not hidden that Carlos is Andrea herself, a part of her that she struggles to evade but ends up milking.
Carlos keeps Andrea for himself. So much so that he does not even let her near her own father. Andrea’s father is struggling after the death of her mother. Carlos makes her believe that he is distanced from her. Andrea is also made to believe that she does not deserve happiness. Each time she comes across a speck of happiness, Carlos pulls her down. He immerses her back in the grief she unwillingly came out of. When Andrea’s English teacher asks her to pen down a piece of poetry, it serves as a connecting link between the father-daughter duo. Even as Andrea’s father does not help her write her poem, he gives her the space. He defines the true essence of writing poetry to her, which is to express oneself. Carlos comes back to Andrea several times. He makes her believe that to be happy is to forget her mother. Andrea suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes it difficult for her to come to terms with the subsequent process of healing. It is later revealed that Andrea’s mother had committed suicide. She needed some things from her life that Andrea had failed to provide her with. Carlos nails these facts into Andrea’s mind, making it difficult for her to live her life. Carlos states Andrea is a ‘murderer’. She pays for being happy or even trying to be. According to Carlos, in Andrea’s happiness, there lies the forgetfulness of her guilt. In a sudden turn of events, Andrea finds a friend in Manuel, who takes her away from the world that she had built with Carlos. Instead, she lives in the world that everyone resides in. She plays ball with other school children and in the rush, forgets. There is a cathartic resolution in the plot where Andrea releases the tension surrounding her mother’s death by crying it out loud with her father.
Ramesh has beautifully captured the problem. She speaks from the point of view of a child who has found a friend, or rather, a teacher in her depression, and also provides him with a name. He tells her what to do and how guilty she should exactly feel. He binds her and keeps her in her place. It is worth noticing how the light brushstrokes of the illustrations keep the narrative together. In her darker times, Andrea is clutched by an apparition of Carlos, who does not have a set shape or definition even in the illustrations. Just as Ramesh intends him to be, he is only a construction. As Andrea starts to spend less time with Carlos, the illustrations move from duller hues of purple to those of brighter greens and blues, signifying a change in her outlook towards life. As she keeps busy, she is no more surrounded by shadows, but by blooms.
Andrea represents the mind of a seventh grader, struggling to come to terms with the realities of her life. All she needs is the support and direction that she somehow seeks in Carlos. It is only later that she realizes, through the medium of Manuel, that she does not require a teacher, for she is her own teacher.