In a literary landscape dominated by prose and the prosaic, poetry has become an imaginative-aesthetic rarity; a kind of aesthetic insertion that is at a discount amidst the prosaic sensibility of the present. To write poetry in such a scenario is an act of aesthetic heroism, of formidable literary conviction and courage. Rowing Together, a bilingual poetic collaboration by Sukrita (English) and Savita Singh (Hindi), exemplifies this aesthetic conviction. By establishing a dialogue across languages, the poets usher in an inter- language creative space that apart from recognizing and accommodating linguistic pluralism also encourages democratic-aesthetic reciprocity. Translation, as a trans-creative act emerges as a mutually empowering critical tool. This spontaneous act of creation and critique, when harnessed in tandem across languages, augurs well for Indian multicultural literary ethos. Rowing Together offers us that hope. The present anthology contains fifty six poems, divided into eight thematic sections. Though the ratio of poems by each poet varies across these sections both poets contribute almost an equal number of poems to this anthology.
The titles of the sections—viz., ‘Being’, ‘Creating’, ‘Othering’, ‘Seeing’, ‘Nurturing’, ‘Reflecting’, ‘Suffering’ and ‘Dwelling’—and their sequencing in this collection is very suggestive. It not only indicates their poetic purpose but also foregrounds poetry as an enterprise demanding responsible planning. Poetry here emerges as an act of continuous probing and understanding, not a final verdict on life. Each poem derives its poignancy from its rich but fluid evocation of moment, mood and milieu. Together these varied experiential perspectives get translated into a quest, which is at once subjective and objective. The simultaneity of this inward and outward glance at life saves these poems from being maudlin mandates on women’s lives and turn, if not all, but quite a large number of them into nuanced mediations on life. The existence of two distinct poetic sensibilities, dwelling on similar thematic concerns converging across cultural-linguistic differentials further add to and extend the substance and significance of these poems.
The warp and weft of all eight poems under the section ‘Being’ is woven around a sense of wonder that constitutes the very core of any sensitive being. These poems ‘celebrate’ the possibilities of being/life, its manifold certainties and uncertainties. If in ‘Voyage at Ten’ Sukrita’s poetic persona is awestruck by the ‘awesome expanses/of the deep blue oceans/and the graying sky’ and the possibility of ‘failure of/ the engine . . . [and] Blue death’, and remains in that very mood of conflicting possibilities in ‘What If’, she also revels in those insights and truths ‘that circle the light/Rising slowly/over the river of experience/panting and huffing’ that are ‘so white’ as to simply mesmerize/blind her. It is in these intense moments of living and realization that one understands oneself (‘Seasonal Sadness’) and identifies with the other (‘When the Snakes Came to the Shelter’). Savita Singh’s poetic selection in this section, though expanding on similar issues, nevertheless anchors them more pragmatically in woman’s search for identity. Wrenching love out of its sentimental moorings she turns it into a tool of ‘womanist-empathy in ‘Of Love’ and ‘Whose Woman Am I’. This pragmatism—a quality that she shares with her co-poet—however does not make her oblivious of the beauty and mystery that surrounds those moments ‘that [fill] up all emptiness/Like some definition of being’ (‘Some Definition’).