A refreshing volume of poetry by two women poets, one established and one showing plenty of promise.
Life on My Side of the Street, Anna Sujatha Mathai; Dialogue and Other Poems, Priya Sarukkai Chabria; Sahitya Akademi, 2005, Rs.80.
SAHITYA AKADEMI has brought out this "two-in-one volume" as a part of its efforts to promote, in its Golden Jubilee Year, women poets writing in Indian English. Edited and introduced by eminent Indian English poet Keki N. Daruwalla, this book comes as a promise to women poets writing in English as it is virtually impossible to publish poetry nowadays, especially for first-timers, and as I am one myself, I am pleased to note that this is Priya Sarikkai Chabria's first collection.
Anna Sujatha Mathai, however, does not need an introduction to poetry readers. She has been there for a long time, with collections such as Crufixions, We, the Unreconciled and The Attic of Night. William Radice, English poet and celebrated translator of Tagore, testifies: "I always think of (her) as one of India's best poets in English".
Forty-three poems, written over the last several years, have been collected here. Keki N. Daruwalla, in his Introduction, aptly says: "Sujatha Mathai's poems are lyrical and meditative at the same time. There is a fluency and effortlessness about her poetry, not just in the cadence, but also in the flow of thought and how a metaphor moves to a conclusion".
"Forest Paths" begins thus:
The years are forest paths
Where I've lost my way
Not even a sun-ray
To guide my wandering...
Several of her poems are marked by pain, a sense of loss and nostalgia. They throb with life; the life of a wounded, writhing creature. Look at these lines from "Shipwreck":
My ship was wrecked long ago
I lost my compass and my map...
Poems that are general observations on living find an important place in Anna Sujatha's oeuvre. The pain and dullness of domestic life, etched poignantly in "Tightrope Walkers" touch the readers' hearts.
... Grandmother's an acrobat
Who walks the tightrope
Between past and present
A rich tapestry of memory that fades with age, threads coming lose, the tautness of its texture slackening, her poetry is grand, tragic and expressive of a dark worldview.
Political poems like "Warsaw Ghetto", "Tiananmen Square" etc., reveal her concern for wider questions such as the survival of culture in times of violent upheavals.
In this collection, Anna Sujatha Mathai comes through as consolidating her earlier achievements.
THROUGH 78 pages of extraordinary poetry, Priya Sarukkai Chabria has more than justified this collection. The four-page Introduction, apart from placing the poems, affords the reader with succinct information on the various traditions she has drawn from.
Unlike many of the Indian English poets of the present, Priya doesn't make her poems obtuse; being also a novelist, she follows a loose narrative pattern in her series of poems.
"Dialogue-1" is modelled on the Akam poems of love, of the last Sangham period of ancient Tamil poetry, which are located in the Aindu Tinai or five "specific geographies". Whereas the ancient ones written by men projected the woman's sentiments in a curiously detached way, Priya's poems are very intense and involved.
From the first poem, "She says to her lover":
"... I am parched. Riven
by longing, caked by the long dust of denial.
And yet I'll come to you like the first rain,
fragrant and trusting."
"Dialogue-2", as Priya reveals, was for a stage production, "Fireflies". Inspired by the ashta-nayika concept of Sanskrit poetics, Priya presents 11 poems in which the nayaka (hero), the nayika (heroine) and the sakhi (female friend) are the "speaking subjects".
The poem "Celebration" ends thus:
So this is it, is it?
The sun and moon turned into fireflies
by my swinging...
After the series like Plant-Life-Stories, The Grove, and Conversations, with bitingly political poems like "The Lady with the Little Dog", "The Special Forces Man", "War and Reading Glasses", we come to Hospital, the most poignant of the whole series, three of them titled "Room mates", "Grandmother's Tale" and "Discharge Counter".
The series, Flight: In Silver, Red and Black, is outwardly all related to flights, responding to medieval Japanese court poetry. The first poem opens:
Evening flight. Through a haze
of washed mist the sun slips,
and turns, and bleeds...
The collection comes to an end with the section Invocation, with a single poem, "Spirit of Water" which Priya wrote as she felt, "I need to end invoking the sanctity of the everyday", as a reaction to the pogrom in Gujarat.
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