Book Review: Lullaby of the Ever-Returning by Sarabjeet Garcha
Reviewed by Ranga Chandrarathne
Title: Lullaby of the Ever-Returning
Author: Sarabjeet Garcha
Publisher: Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt. Ltd
Price: INR 200/-
Sarabjeet Garcha’s poetry collection titled Lullaby of the Ever-Returning is, in essence, a masterly exploration of universal themes coloured by cultural conditioning and geography. It gives the book a universal appeal, while at the same time codifying the unique culture of the soil.
Love is a recurrent theme in the book, a theme which is craftily manifested not only in a finely woven tapestry of poetry but also in prose which belongs at one level to the exclusive cultural experiences of the Sikh community and at another to the entire humanity. Both in the pieces of prose and in poetry, what Sarabjeet encapsulates is the multifaceted-ness of love beautified and made colourful by the powerful human agent. Although love is a universal experience, it has been aesthetically situated in the Sikh culture, adding a unique cultural dimension to it yet preserving its universal character.
A significant aspect of love in Sarabjeet’s work is the portrayal of its social manifestation, by and large defined by the moral codes of a given society. The poet amply manifests and reinforces the universal adage that a writer or a poet cannot afford to be universal without being local or without being firmly rooted in one’s own culture. The contours of the poet’s discourse of love are defined by a diction enriched with powerful metaphors and imagery masterly employed in the poems and in the pieces of prose in the collection. It is a literary feast that one would partake with delight.
the silt of
an ink river
a relic chamber
the heart’s hieroglyphs
the soul’s trompe l’oeil
The poem is dedicated to his friend and the nostalgia is reawakened through the lines of a link, obviously written in his handwriting. It is not just the feeling of love, but something much deeper than that. On the one hand, the poem is dedicated to someone’s handwriting and, on the other, it hits out at the destiny that unfolds layer by layer before us. The changes would happen for the good. The poem is marked for its brevity of expression and the metaphor-rich language.
In the poem ‘Reawakenings’, the poet explores another aspect of love – the implicit trust between partners.
The sundown hush of undressing
strokes the stoic darkness of desire
From the Himalayas echoing
the solitude of rishis
I come sliding to
the pounding crudity of your embraces
their primeval grip etching
an extinct language
on the papyrus of my bones
and their time-leaping wisdom
making up for
my lack of acquaintance
with persistent scriptures
Moisture finds a home
in your eyes
when I loop garlands
of incantations onto
the staccato anomaly
which voice becomes
in the nighttime knitwork
of breaths and when
the seven-element matrix of
saliva blood flesh fat
marrow bone seed
nudges itself into
the boat of bondage
to transfigure it into
a wheel of vagabondage
singing the saga of a speed
that impales the idyll
of countless cross-countries
However, it is not mere sex or carnal love. In fact, it is an act of the union of souls, and the poet describes it in explicit terms. Gradually, as dusk settles in, desire mounts in the lover, starting with gentle strokes then becoming ‘pounding embraces’. Using metaphors unique to India and Hindu life, the poet describes the universal act of love. What is unique in his rendition is the subtle way in which culture has given diverse and colourful shades to the act of love. It is a unique moment where ‘voice becomes’ a ‘nighttime knitwork / of breaths’. In the last line, the poet says that the act of love is almost equal to life itself. In other words, it is the sheer, profound nature of love which goes beyond the mere act of procreation.
In the Maze of a Gaze
Two glass curtains
veiling your eyes
showed me to me
in two neat pieces
my bipolar personality
while my singularity
into the water bodies
of your vision
The poem ‘In the Maze of a Gaze’ explores the diverse masks that one wears even before one’s lover. We may not always be happy about the masks that we sport, particularly before a lover. However, before a lover you start to realize your true self and at the same time you want to see your true self. The danger associated with such a deceptive image is that it stealthily begins to impose itself upon your real self. At another level, the poem can be read as a passionate union of lovers and the revelation of the self in duality: ‘my bipolar personality’.
Ghazal for the Vanishing
In my palms I’ve nothing but the smell of the vanishing,
O who will set me free from the spell of the vanishing?
Although you can soothsay the continuity of souls,
Is there anyone who can foretell of the vanishing?
Something in the dear way she lived has always made me die,
But I am reborn as an upswell of the vanishing.
Sarab cannot hear the soft noises of the passing night.
His ears are still drenched with the farewell of the vanishing.
‘Ghazal for the Vanishing’ encapsulates a powerful recollection of separation, and separation is manifested in the act of vanishing. It is the gamut of things that will gradually vanish from our lives. It may be friends who have enlightened one’s life, and their slipping away from one’s life would create a lifelong vacuum which others may not be able to fill up. As life goes on, one begins to lose beloved persons and things, often replacing new relationships with the old ones. However, no one can foretell anything of those who have vanished. Besides, no one knows at which stage of life this ‘vanishing’ will take place. The agony of such disappearances would be unbearable and would last long. The poet evocatively captures this loss and re-creates the crushing pain that such departures would accompany.
The diction and the deep philosophies of life are enunciated even in the pieces of prose in the book. The short piece ‘Beside the Flow’ provides readers with sheer elegance of language and metaphors, the poet painting the landscape with his evocative diction.
Beside the Flow
The sky, the river, the temple and the bells. The tall, plaint grass leaned towards the river, as if it were bowing to the flow. A solitary house stood in the bright monsoon greenery of the bank opposite. Something was whirring in the distance, perhaps a water pump. A black object sliced the current as it flowed from that shore to this, and as it did so, the drone seemed to magnify itself. Behind him, two female voices were conversing, and every new entry in the temple was made complete by the clanging of the bells. A thump, with a mild tinkle of glass bangles, was heard and it seemed as if a mother had backslapped her son.
The sky, the river, the temple and the bells blended into one another, without sullying each other’s poise. Not even stirring it.
By and large, the piece is self-explanatory and is, more or less, like a beautiful painting of a pastoral landscape – the slow-moving rural life enriched by spirituality symbolized by the temple; a life led in harmony with nature.
Lullaby of the Ever-Returning stands out – in its poetry and prose – for its rich diction, enhanced by a gamut of rich metaphors derived from Hindu and Sikh culture, and essentially from Indian soil.
Ranga Chandrarathne is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction and has contributed articles on a wide range of subjects including culture, politics, economics, and religion to Sri Lankan newspapers and international publications.