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Book review: ‘A Clock in the Far Past’ by Sarabjeet Garcha

Reviewed by Shikhandin

A Clock in the Far Past

Title: A Clock in the Far Past – Poems
Author: Sarabjeet Garcha
Publisher: Dhauli Books
Price: INR Rs 250/ $14/£ 11

Human bodies are heavy, slaves of Earth’s gravity. Human hearts, on the other hand, weighing little more than sparrows, are still strong enough to pull the weight of memory. Perhaps this is where poetry is born.

Sarabjeet Garcha’s book of poems, A Clock in the Far Past, leaves one immersed in a certain feeling. Something more like residue, or a whiff of a sensation, almost like distant memory, or the memory of a memory, ticking away for the sake of what is here and now.

As the titular poem of the volume says:

It wasn’t 10:10, as images of clocks

are fond of showing, but some hour
that’s been swallowed by some windy
darkness of a tunnel, now extinct.
But what you can’t figure out now

Is the sudden urge to make
That stopped clock tick again-
As if a few tweaks to it
in the far past would set at least
something in your present right.

The clock’s hands move. Sarabjeet Garcha’s poems ferry the reader across like a time machine, albeit an astral one. This can be, and is already, disconcerting. These memories do not belong to the reader; and at times they seem not to belong to the poet. Then why this recurring sense of turning back the hands of one’s own clock? Is it because Garcha has made

a handful of lines
out of a lifetime’s work
shine…

These lines speak to me of Garcha’s humility before his muse. And this too – when he recognises with thanks that

seated
figure of some rare unknown
reader of his paltry work, he wants

to snoop on the underscores
and thank her for doing
what was almost
undoable for him…

(From “Radium”, the last poem in the volume)

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Book Excerpt: Love and the Turning Seasons: India’s Poetry of Spiritual & Erotic Longing

Love and the Turning Seasons

Jayadeva

The twelfth-century Gīta-govinda of Jayadeva has a reputation as the last great poem in the Sanskrit language. It holds two other distinctions. First, it appears to be the first full account in poetry of Radha as Krishna’s favorite among the gopis or cowgirls of Vrindavana. Secondly, it seems to be the first historical instance of poetry written with specified ragas or musical modes assigned to its lyrics. The poem-cycle occurs in twelve cantos with twenty-four songs distributed among them, about 280 stanzas in total. It presents the love affair of Krishna and Radha as an acutely human love affair, from initial “secret desires” and urgent lovemaking to separation — nights of betrayal, mistrust, longing, feverish anguish, strange Imaginings — and finally to a consummation as spiritual as it is carnal. Jayadeva’s birthplace is uncertain — some think Orissa, some Mithila, some Bengal. Accounts make it clear he had carefully trained himself as a poet in the Sanskrit tradition, learnéd and in command of classical metrics, when he took a vow to wander as a homeless mendicant, to sleep no more than one night under any tree. On this endless pilgrimage he passed through the coastal city of Puri in Orissa State, one of India’s cardinal pilgrim destinations and home to the huge Jagannath Temple. There in Puri, the chief priest and administrator of the Jagannath Temple had a vision. In it Krishna told him that Jayadeva should marry his daughter Padmāvatī, a dancer dedicated to the temple, settle down, and compose a devotional poem of unprecedented beauty to Krishna. The result was the Gīta-govinda. At one point while composing his poem, overwhelmed that he had to write words that belonged to Krishna, Jayadeva, unable to continue, put down his stylus and went to the river to bathe. When he returned he asked for his meal. Padmāvatī exclaimed that she had already fed him. Confused, Jayadeva looked at his manuscript; the words he had felt unable to compose sat inked onto the palm-leaf page. Krishna had visited in Jayadeva’s absence and taken a hand in his own poem—then, mischievously disguised as the poet, stayed on to eat Jayadeva’s lunch. Meeting Padmāvatī wakened in Jayadeva the bedrock emotion, the rasa, of love. What had been distant accounts of spiritual grace, a familiar theme for poetry, or even a set of metaphysical abstractions, came alive in his own body: the merging of spiritual and erotic ecstasy. Under Padmāvatī’s hands Jayadeva learnt that the old tales, the yogic teachings, and the cycles of loss and longing were no far-off vision. They are tasted through one’s senses. You could say that all the metaphysics and yoga practices of India—heady, magnificent, intricate, contradictory—return in the end to a single imperative: love. I think it the genius of Radha-Krishna poetry to take the hair-splitting metaphysics of India, lift them from our easily bewildered minds, and relocate them in the glands of the human body. Krishna devotees say that in our current dark era, the Kali Yuga, not everyone can practice meditation; few can wrap their minds around subtle doctrine or follow the eight stages of yoga. Everyone can taste the desolations and ecstasies of love, though; this is where one finds Krishna. Some centuries after Jayadeva’s death, the Jagannatha Temple instituted the Gīta-govinda as its sole liturgy, with Padmāvatī’s dances performed in the sanctuary. All day and into the evening loudspeakers mounted on poles around the temple send the poem in loud song across courtyard and roof top, out to the cashew groves and semi-arid scrublands threaded by jackal and cobras.

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Master of the lean poem

Seven poetry collections over a span of 35 years might not seem too many, but what elicits surprise, no matter how mild, is that four of them were published in the past seven years. A readerly intimacy with the poems in Manohar Shetty’s Full Disclosure: New and Collected Poems is bound to assure you that the poet not only does not mind mildness, but revels –even excels – in it. After his third book of poems, Domestic Creatures (1994), he took a literary pause that lasted 16 years, during which time he “never slept, / Only passed out and woke up”, while never cringing “From that same old taunt: / ‘Yeh sala Manu ban gaya bewda’”. Addiction and poetry do not necessarily make great sleeping partners, yet their occasional camaraderie might lead to interesting outcomes in the arena of creativity. If alcohol did any damage to Shetty’s poetry, it doesn’t show. In fact, his post-hiatus fecundity confirms that the poet not only emerged whole and hale from the deep dark pit notorious for ending the careers of scores of artists, but also preserved the integrity, purity and vigour essential for writing elegant poems,

Those unsigned hard won
Stanzas in longhand given
Away as keepsakes,
As prayers, bookmarks,
Or anniversary cards;
A bequest with no return
Address—a piece of paper
Folded close to the heart.

Those in possession of his words would do well to copy some down on a sheet of paper, fold it and slip it into their shirt pockets, for the pull of a Shetty poem is such that it demands many celebratory re-readings. On the other hand, he doesn’t mind if his precious missives to the world, smugly lost in its collective distractions, go missing. No matter what happens, “He would be game to the last”, exhorting the interested reader/listener to “not be taken in by the rows / Of books touching the ceiling”, but to “Listen instead / To the scratch of words / On the page, any page, white / Or ochre with age”. In India, the relationship between ochre and age goes back to ancient times. The colour is still sacred to many, although in the past two decades or so, it has acquired connotations that are far from savoury. It seems unlikely that Shetty had this sense of the word in mind, but then, what’s poetry without its share of accidental implications?

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Book Review: A Tenant of the World by Madhura Banerjee

By Nilesh Mondal

A Tenant of The World_COVER-1Title: A Tenant of the World

Author: Madhura Banerjee
Publisher: Power Publishers
Pages: 79
Price: Rs 110

 

“The world is but a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page”, Augustine Hippo said, thus making travelling and literature two sides of the same coin, one a necessity for the other. Travelling doesn’t just open up new places to us, it also opens our eyes to newer perspectives, enables us to see the same places in a different light. Madhura Banerjee’s debut collection of poetry, A Tenant of the World, published by Power Publishers, aims to do just that by introducing us to familiar places, and helping us look and familiarise ourselves with them through her eyes, an attempt in which she succeeds to a large extent.

Madhura establishes from the beginning of the book itself what her idea of travelling is: the mingling of myriad cultures and taking the stories from one city and spreading it into the corners of another. Poetry for her is akin to the traveller’s spirit, unperturbed by boundaries and borders, spread across a range of geographical dissimilarities. The scope of her poetry stretches from the mountains of Kashmir, Himachal and North Bengal, to the age-old cities of Lucknow and Calcutta and even the illustrious desert of Rajasthan. Her voice is bold and seldom constricted, easily shifting from the dreamy narratives about the majestic Himalayas, to the nostalgic ruminations about changing cityscapes. This versatility of narration is in all probability, the most interesting part about her book.

This becomes apparent when we consider two very different poems, the first one called ‘If Pahalgam Were Love’, where she writes:

“Love is the conical shaft of highway highlights
Caught mid-flicker, against the wicker of fir,
Letting the red molten wax of daybreak
Flow into the valley of flowers mid-bloom”

The serenity in her tone however is swapped for one that depicts a sense of urgency in the poem ‘Bengali Jetties’, where she writes:

“When it rained at an unusual hour
In an unusual time that April,
It filled the trails of your footprints-
A muddy assurance of your departure-
Weighing down the red dust,
Making agony resist the summer wind.”

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Book Review: Monk on a Hill by Guru T. Ladakhi

By Nilesh Mondal

monkBooks about mountains usually evoke the same sense of wanderlust and serenity in readers that they expect from an impromptu trip to a hill station over a weekend. It is the feeling of glossing over the calm surface of a land, visiting spots endorsed for their natural beauty and renowned as tourist attractions. The audience here expects to look at these lands through the eyes of a chance traveller, the voyeuristic gaze that finds only beauty, but not the struggle underlying this snowy exterior. Guru T. Ladakhi however, isn’t one of those poets, and his poems bring out the skeletons in the cold closets of places he belongs to, and has travelled to.

In his debut collection of poetry Monk on a Hill, he divides his poems into sections: people, places, seasons, haikus and postscripts, meticulously fleshing out a narrative that is unafraid, loud and clear. He doesn’t take the easy way out with his poems, instead choosing to delve deeper into the heart of the mountains and bring out for us pieces steeped in the fragrance of melting snow as much as it carries the stench of spilled blood. The very first poem, For Robin the Poet, makes it abundantly clear that he’s not one to shy away from harsh truths, choosing instead to ask questions that have echoed in the repressed corners of every poet’s mind:

Shit, grime, murder, mediocrity.
How much more must a poet endure
and still keep faith aglow
in the dark lust-paved streets of his brain
?”

In the first section, aptly titled “People”, he talks about the strife between pursuing dreams and falling into despair, trading a voyeur’s usual tone of judgement for an endearing voice that is pain stricken and honest about the despair and pain around him. His poems traverse a multitude of emotions, stemming from his ability to both feel and sympathise with the pathos of the people he talks about; from the ache of loss to the jubilance of victory. When talking about death, his voice remains sombre, but resolved, that of a poet who has accepted death as an inevitability but isn’t afraid to shed tears when it does occur. “Departure”, a poem that has been described as a sister’s lament at the loss of her brother, portrays this best:

“In the wake of departure you have left
a mother battered by insomnia
clinging to the sheets you slept on,
and a father unhealed, grasping at shadows,
hoping to make amends.
I reject your relentless absence.”

In the next section, titled “Places”, he delves into the intricacies of the land. His voice remains the same, honest and not scared to reveal truths about these places, but it also contains an aching depiction of nostalgia. These are places he has had a deep connection with, and has watched them change and weather trying times, as all lands must do. This duality becomes apparent in his poem “Shillong, 1992”, where he is both drawn towards, as well as repulsed by the city’s changing landscape:

“Farewell, Shillong, I came because you beckoned
but I must leave now,
for the songs on your lips have died
and you live clinging to the ghost of yesterday”

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Book Review: My Elementary Life by Amit Sharma

By Nilesh Mondal

elementary-life

When we talk about a poetry collection, the opinion about individual poems often contradict each other, which in turn makes it harder for the reader to take a stance regarding his/her feelings about the collection as a whole. These flaws become glaringly evident as one navigates one’s way through the new poetry collection of Amit Sharma.

My Elementary Life is a collection of poems with no dearth of ambitions. The collection contains 70 poems exploring a varied range of emotions — love, loss, spirituality and everything in between. The poems are short, and thus do not ramble or lose their way in a muddled narration of emotional outpouring. The cover is colourful and almost surreal, as if foreshadowing the circle of life and colours of different seasons that this collection tries to decipher. I say tries, because although the effort behind this collection garners applause, it unfortunately falls prey to its own ambitions.

Amit mentions in his foreword that this collection contains poems written in a span of 6 years. Although one must praise Mr. Sharma for being passionate and patient about this book for so long, this long time span of writing effects the consistency of the collection adversely. While some of the poems deal with concepts of love and spirituality in a commendable way, some fall despairingly short. To his credit, the poet uses simple and lucid language, which no doubt will find appeal with even the readers who don’t usually read poetry. But the biggest problem this collection faces is its lack of freshness in some of the poems. These poems thus appear blunt and don’t create an imprint on the reader’s mind, which leads to them fading away from memory with as much as a turn of the page. For example, here’s an excerpt from the poem “Those smiles of gay”:
There’s no end to my sorrows,
but the time of love in my heart
pulls me away from the scuffles of my mind.
Carrying these bewildered emotions within me
I walk nonchalant on the obsolete paths;
the path, they’ve crossed before me.
Without ostentations, I loved them all
not in the hope for recompose,
but for their own gay.

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New Release: Rooh se Rooh tak by Candy de Launey

front-page_v3Published in 2016 by Simurg, an imprint of Kitaab International Pte. Ltd Rooh se Rooh tak, a collection of poems by Candy de Launey explores dimensions of love and fury,
sadness and joy and quiet truths about the variety of human emotions … where soul and body and emotion and consciousness are never separate but a part of the great mystery of life, a riddle whose answer perhaps is love … or perhaps not … with all its fears, longings, expressions and suppressions … dying to take the
risk of discovering her own core self …

The 25 Poems are all in English, and only one is in Hindi of which 6 are musical
recitations which have been composed beautifully by Anand Dhamelia and
Vijutash Angurana and available on Sound cloud.

About the author:

Candy de Launey began writing at the age of 6. Candy holds a Master’s in Business Administration and has studied Psychotherapy & Counselling. She is currently studying Masters in Counselling and hopes to complete her Doctorate research in the areas of: The natural path to Happiness and application of neuroscience in Marketing. Candy is a Leadership & Executive Coach, and a Marketing & Strategic business Consultant by profession with over 23 years of an illustrious career globally. She hails from Bangalore and currently resides in Singapore.

In Rooh se Rooh tak…she bears her Soul to give us a glimpse into the musings of
the dawn, dusk and nights of Love, longing, silence, beauty…fragrant with the
notes of Indian classical tones and western hues which catch the breath and
wake up the senses.

 


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Book Review: An Ember from Her Pyre by Shelly Bhoil

By Anurima Chanda 

shelly-poem-bk

We see the various stages of birth – the birth of a piece of writing, in Shelly Bhoil’s maiden collection of poems An Ember from Her Pyre. She begins at the beginning, when there exists only the turbulent blank that comes before the beginning. The germs of assorted ideas squirming in the brain, while the mind is still trying to process which one of it needs to be carried for a full term and finally given birth to. This is what the poems in the first section of her book – “The Recalling” give you a sense of. Bhoil seems unafraid to let the reader penetrate deep within the poet’s mind space, where everything is still raw, half-processed and unbaked. It is like the dustbin full of scratched out first lines written down on papers that have now been reduced into crushed little wrinkly balls. Here the poet is not yet a mother, but still the one whose egg has not met its fertilising agent. The “dream” of a poem, the imprint of another poem or poet on your poem, the struggle with words, with meanings, with grammar, the play with form, with diction and with dialects, and the lure of stories heard and memories made – millions of these seeds of ideas ejaculated into the poet’s mind womb is put out on open display as they swim towards the egg trying to reach it before the others.

As we reach the second section of her book – “An Ember from Her Pyre,” the union of the two has occurred. As Bhoil herself writes in “Unstitch”, one of her poems, “the word is pregnant”. The poems in this section are more sure of their existence. They are no longer fragmentary. They have now become full grown foetuses, which the poet has carefully nurtured in “the womb of [the] waters” of the mind. The isolated words that had been floating in the poet’s mind, have now been assimilated through “self-consummation” to narrate stories of their own. These tales have reignited the memories of many a “forgotten story”, given words to many a story that have been guarding painful “secrets”, and encouraged the mute “mannequins” to shake off the weight of “scripted roles” and be born anew as “a bud”. Bhoil has carefully shaken out the ghosts of the yesteryears from her “urn of life” and let them form roots of their own, in order to branch “deeper into the earth” and unearth “saplings” of tales bearing the weight of those experiences that have so long existed only between the lines.

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