By Jessica Faleiro
Rochelle Potkar is a Mumbai-based fiction writer and poet. Her first book, The Arithmetic of Breasts (2015), is a collection of short stories and Four Degrees of Separation (2016) is her first poetry collection.
The collection consists of sixty poems structured under seven pronoun-ed section headings namely: i, he, them, they, her, there, those. I found the section titles interesting, then distracting as I wondered about the choice of “he” but then the switch to “her” instead of “she”. Perhaps the intention was to be elusive, so I let it go and dove straight into the writing.
With the opening poem “Timely”, Potkar immediately draws the reader into a world of voluminous images, bringing life to each syllable. “Don’t pick a wilted flower/ even graves are dressed in fresh ones/ – heart-beating petals over dead bone/ and you ask me to wait.” The last verse bears a haunting refrain to the opening, “Don’t ask a rose to wait. / There is no time in its petals/ only the saga of one sunrise/ and one sundown.” Her words are rich; full of colour and brilliance. There is a poignant sense of pause as we are called to measure our breath while reading these words.
The next poem, “Stray epiphanies”, introduces the sense of disconnection and alienation that weaves its way into some other poems in this collection too, while also showcasing Potkar’s capacity for diversity of form. The eleven epiphanies leave me with the impression of a mind bouncing mercilessly awake on tossed linen while staring up at a dark ceiling at 3 am. She opens gently enough, introducing us to the idea of the poem, then by epiphany number 5 we arrive at “Mumbai will stamp on your feet/ but allow you your space. / She doesn’t care whom you date.” But it’s epiphany number 8 that really grabbed my attention, “Eat my words, you word-vulture/ give me back none.” Ending with “I will one day cut you open, and take away your entrails.” This is where the poem’s tenor shifts to reveal surprisingly dark corners. “Doggerel” introduces us to Potkar’s playfulness, with her final words in the last verse, “We sometimes remember not the model student/ the first ranker, / but the one who was completely out of rhyme, / out of tune./ out of line./ out of time./ This is only about memory./ If not, what is?”