By Lakshmi Menon
Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular language of poetry. Every writer is unique in the way that they bring words together to create feeling and emotion, and every poem is a reflection of the world that they inhabit. A book of poems, then, is often an exercise in world building at the end of which the reader is left with a new vision with which to see what is around them, the vision that the poet lent them through their verse.
Rukmini Dey’s In the Garden of My Freedom, from Writers Workshop, is a collection of poetry on subjects ranging from the spiritual to the mathematic, the latter being somewhat appropriate given that Dey is a professor of the subject, but more so as the poems in the collection combine to give us a very real, almost tangible look into Dey’s world.
The very first poem, “The Bird Watcher”, introduces the reader to the simplicity of her verse where a young boy prowls after birds in a jungle as his mother watches,
“Seeing him, a bird alighted
On my heart.”
The first poem also introduces the recurring image theme of familial love that runs through several of the poems, of the quiet joy of spending time with one’s children and inhabiting their world. In the four lines of poem 27, Dey captures every mother’s fear of someday losing her children to the tides of time and the “waves of life”, and the knowledge that all she can do is cherish the present that she has with them. Beyond the familial, Dey’s poetry moves the reader to the world around her, the “red soil, broken fields” and “thatched roofs” of her ancestral home, the sighs of the eucalyptus trees, the flowers of a campus she has left behind. There is also a spirituality in her work that is not a heavy-handed exposition on religion but the quiet discovery of the divine in nature and in poetry, of sunrises and sunsets in the writing of Tagore and the Buddha’s smile in the ranges of the Himalayas.
Dey’s greatest strength is the delicate simplicity of her verse and imagery, whether she is reminding the reader of the relationship between man and nature, or finding inspiration in the folk of the countryside. The poems are an intimate look at a woman who lives, loves, and fears as we all do, who is on a journey of self-discovery, who takes joy at the smallest things. In the Garden of My Freedom, true to its title, is an invitation to spend a moment with Dey in a world of her own construction.
The reviewer Lakshmi Menon tries to concentrate on her day job teaching English to college students, but she is constantly distracted by shiny things. She dreams of someday winning awards for the best piece of unwritten fiction.