Reviewed by Soni Somarajan
Title: That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate
Author: Namrata Pathak
Publisher: Red River (2018)
Mirai is a riddle.
The title of Namrata Pathak’s book of verse ― That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate ― sets you off on a wild-goose chase. The question is, where do you eventually reach?
Along the way, you travel a new world of sweeping sights. Instantly you fall back on experience, your memory, to grasp the world you just found. Restless you are ― to consign what’s new to the realm of understanding, the mind’s habitual neediness to own everything in its path. But that’s not easy here. You are urged to open up to the stranger, and evolve a syntax of understanding beyond what’s known so far.
Pathak’s poetry marks a fresh voice ― mysterious, mystical, sometimes cryptic, inexplicable. It draws you out, with not a polestar in sight to find your bearing, an invite to a terrain not your comfort zone. In a world that hinges on hurry, time slows down in her verse ― you must look around, beyond you, a world lost long ago.
The verse rides on memory as its motor, I wonder if it’s autobiographical, the clue being the vigour, the lustiness in every line, too original to be imaginary. It is a miracle how things of the ordinary, the daily horror of living as well, how all those years of meanderings, the personal journey of coming into one’s own turns into a language at once original, yet unsettling.
Mirai is a trope that’s phantasmic. A likeness of what? It is the poet; no, it’s also the woman. One segues into the other. You know for sure, but you can’t pin it down. But isn’t it the language of all things that matter to this world yet are inexplicable, the things difficult to render in everyday conversation, the imagination of what moves and what doesn’t in a dim, murky wildscape, the eerie domination of the elements, the fear of the unknown.
In a world beyond what you see, Mirai comes alive. An alter-ego of daily existence, Mirai is the levitation of the ordinary to an out-of-body, subliminal state of magnificence and free abandon ― the voluptuous fullness of feminine freedom and expression. Mirai is not restricted by the society, she eats the pomegranate in full sight, its red sap escaping a full mouth, the sensuousness in the open. At this point, you notice how the book is divided into sections that state the act of eating: anticipation, preparation, feasting, metamorphosis, rebirth.
Mirai’s roar of transformation and sensuousness comes alive in the poems ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘Rebirth’:
It’s a tough act,/ not to mash the godliness in pale palms;/ not to annoy the hexagons/ with a hungry mouth.
Watch her do it./ Taking ages to undo the snake-skin/ falling in a slew of the monsoon sky,/ heaped in an outlandish rejection/
The pomegranate flows in half-a-litre of blood./ Each ounce a mouthful./ A seizure/ She smashes its face in a violent revenge./ Her downy boredom/ melts away in nodes of the fruit; …… Mirai takes a knife, slays open/ a hemisphere/ of wanton wastes./
As is evident here, this act of eating is also a voyage of self-discovery, an awakening. It’s a woman finding herself ― a new voice fearless and indomitable. A woman comfortable, speaking of what matters to her with newfound boldness, heedless of the witness politics. Mirai is thus a device of expression, the skin of societal ‘other’ shed, a born-again manifestation that ceases to be a skin and is the very essence of the poet. A ventriloquism lending voice to the subdued, the normally unsayable.
But, on other days, Mirai exits the trance, and is lost in her insecurities, a loss of identity like a city as in ‘Conversations: Pieces of Glass Fragments’:
‘the city morphs into a clinical restlessness ― / something that never yields.’/ ‘At its ugly nose-ridge,/ some powder and simmer,/ two blobs of apple-red on her cheeks./ A faceless face. And nothing else.’
It is easy to see how language is a weapon for Pathak. She deploys it, takes advantage of it to make sense of the intricate complexities a woman faces in daily life. She puts a new spin to words, using them in ways uncharted, often springing surprises, in an unceasing quest to come to terms with an unequal, unfair, judgemental, and often predatory society. To write in a language of the world, to be able to say your piece using its many possibilities ― a secret language within a language ― is to subvert the system to your advantage.
In ‘Night at Mohanbari’, the poet voices this subterfuge with words:
Our words are nubile,/ the rest non-seasonal like star fruits,/ poky, plump artefacts on hands./ The night picks the words back/ from slivers of mirrors, grief/ blooms in long fingers;/ we have seen them pulling away/ love from steely throats./ The night cuts across our breath.
Operating in such an arcane landscape, the tendency to delude oneself is easy. And, this applies not just to the reader but to the poet as well. The objective is to be the effective bridge, to transmit the learnings of the realm accessed to our own, one language transliterated to the other. The responsibility for accuracy is enormous and one must be fastidious to the accessed truth to effectively communicate to readers.
The publisher Red River, a rising star among India’s poetry publishers, has accomplished an impressive design to spotlight Pathak’s poetry. Reetuparna Dey’s illustrations plays up the world the poet sought to create.
Read Pathak because she rediscovers the language. Read her exquisite usages minted afresh, the Mirai in the poet shining through, speaking in a tongue that’s otherwise silenced in the everyday milieu ― a rare and endangered voice of dissent. This is the time, and the world, where voices need to be raised, and there lies the gravity of poets like Pathak.