Book Review: The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu by Rohintan Daruwala

By Nilesh Mondal


While some poets choose to wait for inspiration to strike, others fling themselves into the arms of poetry, seeking out and stringing together poetry from the mundane. Rohinton Daruwala takes the second path, and succeeds in forging out a collection of poems, which not only choose its subjects from activities as simple as brewing a cup of morning tea, but adorns them with an almost disarming appeal.

The Sand Libraries of Timbuktu (Speaking Tiger Publications) reads like the poet’s personal journal, wherein he archives moments from his day, and makes sure to let the reader know just what makes these activities so special in their own rights. Take, for example, the first few lines from his poem about “Making Tea”: Boil the water, she says/ till it’s warmer than common lust/ but cooler than a hot temper/ Pour the water, let it sit/ longer than an impatient child’s pleading/ but not as long as brooding jealousy. In fact, from the very first poem in this collection, Mr. Daruwala makes it clear why his poems deserve multiple readings; they are an exquisite mix of sensations and sentiments, steeped in familiar delight. The poems are short and invoke beautiful imageries, the kind that don’t fade away abruptly, but endures instead. The book itself is divided into 9 segments, containing a total of 37 poems. His poems are like travellers, some seeking shelter from their fear of unguarded roads, some exploring the different facets of the city, or the sand libraries of Timbuktu.

What Mr. Daruwala does best, however, is establish a balance between the overlapping emotions. His poems are subtle in their hues and never overwhelm. His voice is passionate, yet not obsessive; erotic, but not insensitive; melancholic, but not stricken with grief. Most importantly, his poems are easy to relate to.

“The Woman in Flat 17”, for example, talks about a mysterious lady and her rumour-spreading neighbours. Mrs. Sharma is sure she has never seen a sari worn like that ever/ Surely there must be something obscene about the woman in flat 17/ Visitors come after dark, leave before dawn/ never in cars, perhaps on foot or horse or even airborne?

“Maps”, another poignant poem, talks about the poet’s perception of a crumbling wall when he was young, and his body as he grows older. I found it one morning, naked in front of a bathroom mirror/ my scars and moles and lines and birthmarks/ all revealed to me as a pattern/ my map.

The book, of course, has its share of smaller flaws. Not all the segments are equally appealing. Love Poems, especially, falls short in term of impact when compared with the rest of the collection. But all in all, his fresh and compelling voice more than makes up for any minor infraction, making this book one to cherish.

The reviewer is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Power Engineering. When he’s not overwhelmed by the intricacies of engineering, he lets himself sink in a quagmire of unfinished stories and unwritten poetry.