Sunday, 18 November 2018

NEAR THE EDGE

Tick tock goes the clock, mocking my smugness.
 I will leave behind immortal songs, I tell myself.
Writing away into my nineties, 
gnarled fingers scribbling away. Scribbling away.

A nonagenarian lingering near the edge,
 reining in  her swan song.
Not letting it go. Not letting it go.
More, some more.
 Flowers fragrant with my last breath will woo me,
tantalize me, trying to lure me towards death,
but I will hold tenaciously to that last breath, defying death.

Hush, the adrenaline rush! 
I suddenly glimpse in myself the contours of wings
 and gloat in their fragile strength.
I watch bewitched, as a beetle creeps up the bark,
and a five year old shins up another tree,
with the dexterity of a squirrel, feisty and free.

Time seems to have gone berserk.
 I perk up, and am once again a five year old, 
bemused at the confusion of the mocking clock .

Saturday, 27 October 2018

REVIEW OF THE GYPSY TRAIL : LILY SWARN

Book : The Gypsy Trail
Author :  Lily Swarn
pp 179
 Price Rs 395 , $ 20
 Publishers:  Authorspress , Delhi , 2018
ISBN 978-9388008686
Through  her exquisite penmanship , we see  the dreamy eyed ,' gawky girl with oily pigtails', in love with the  idea of marrying an army officer , eventually realising her teenage dream , and getting married to a dashing , young , army officer , and travelling with him all over the country , from  , Sikkim to Dalhousie , to Deolali Camp, Alwar,  Bagrakote, Dinjan [Assam] ,Pune , Janglote , [Kathua], Meerut , Allahabad , Lucknow,  Hyderabad , Ferozepur  and finally to Chandigarh .' leaving the previous station with a few sniffles and tears ,having packed a truckload of  assorted  commodities ranging from wicker baskets picked up from a wayside stall  ......to huge hunks of artistic driftwood   gleefully hauled out of icy rivers  in the Himalayas. [p 16] .
Through it all, we see her  emerging a highly enriched woman , and in the bargain , managing to enrich us too, by writing  vividly about the history and the mystery of the places that she has travelled to, with her man in Olive Green .

The Gypsy Trail , dedicated to her beloved son, Gobind Shahbaaz Singh , 'an angel in Heaven , who lived all of twenty three years',  is a poignantly penned 'work of fiction in a bit of a twilight zone'[P 9, preface ] ,  a 'salutation to all the unknown and unsung  ladies who wait and worry but hardly show that they also weep '[p 10] 
Going through the book  , I also doffed my mental hat , with the author , to those intrepid soldiers who brave blizzards in high altitudes  and treacherous climate , leading a lonesome life , yearning   for a whiff of home.
We find the newly weds gathering straw and twigs , for their miniscule nest in Baloon cantonment in picturesque Dalhousie , and some humorous incidents that occur there  , made me laugh uproariously.  Seva Singhji , the elderly Sikh , her husband's helper , literally had me in splits by his innocent quirkiness.
The army officer' wives were to come to her place for a morning cup of tea, , and the young army wife  , frantically consulting recipe books , had rustled up some snacks for the occasion , leaving the making of coffee to Seva Singh. No sooner had the dishes been polished off , than she
"  saw Seva Singh poke his head out of the kitchen door in a melodramatic manner  . He whispered in a loud theatrical soliloquy audible to all , "Madame ,I   have added the tea leaves to the boiling water. May I add the coffee powder now ? "[p 37 ]
 Many such incidents embellish the book , funny , sunny and sad , leaving one with the fragrance of a lingering  nostalgia .
This is a book which should definitely adorn the libraries of the Armed Forces  , and be read by all book- lovers .

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Review : of a man and the mountains - Madhumita Ghosh


BOOK:  of a man and the mountains: collected short stories
Publishers: Rubric Publishing, Delhi,
Year: 2018
pp. 216
Price Rs. 450, $ 40
ISBN:  978-81- 93 5295 – 84 


 Dedicated to ‘My mother, my first teacher, ‘of a man and the mountains, is a delectable collection of forty three short stories.
There are stories strewn all around us, stories of all hues, of all shades.  In this collection, the writer weaves stories around those very hues - dark, dismal, bright and sanguine.  She writes very sensitively about the world around her, which she sees ‘blossoming or being torn apart’, offering us stories which are surreal, real, spooky, mundane, and also stories based on pure fantasy.
Through a brilliant play of words, and a deft handling of the various themes, the seemingly ordinary hues of life, in her hands, assume extraordinary hues.  We can hear the palpitating  of a sensitive poet’s heart in almost all the stories, be mesmerized by the play of light and shadow, feel that tug on the heart strings , and that tingling sensation in the eyes . Marked by poise, purpose and the pulsating power of poignant penmanship, we find heartwarming   stories about little men and little women, with their frailties, flaws, and also stories about those marching to the tunes of a different drummer.
Everyone loves a story, and if well-written, it always sits snugly in one’s heart. Based ‘on life in its various scenes and sensibilities’, the stories between the pages of this book , awe, amaze, inspire, make you wring your hands in despair and also gnash your teeth in impotent rage .   

 Always enamoured of short stories, I have never lost an opportunity of getting my hands on a good story. There are many short stories that have had such an impact on me that they have kept churning in my mind for many a day.  Vladimir Nabokov’s story Signs and symbols being one of them, where the old parents are mulling over what birthday gift to give to their suicidal son, who has been institutionalized.   I can still feel the tears tingling my eyes as I recall  the old woman in the story looking at the old man’s [her husband’s  ]hands  ‘clasped and twitching on the handle of his umbrella’ as ‘she felt the mounting pressure of tears .”  I could feel my own tears welling up in my eyes, and they still well up when I remember the plight of that old couple.  

Tears also welled up in my eyes as I read many of the stories in this collection.  

Crops for sale is one story which made me gnash my teeth at the rampant injustice all around [pp 57- 59 ]
 When the mist cleared, the sun rose from behind the hills, and shone bright, when the mother and son discovered each other on the potholed platform of a nondescript, unassuming railway station….[p38] .
The Railway Station
p 33- 38, where these words occur, is an amazing heart- warming story, and so beautifully penned.  

This raconteur is a poet at heart and one finds the notes of these lyrical stories throbbing in the air as one closes the book.  The title story, of a man and the mountains, [pp 79- 86]  vibrates with so exquisite  a lyricism, that I kept going back to it, wanting more, and also trying to read between the lines . Had I missed something?
 The denouement in Mrs. Sen made me lose my notorious loquacity; I regained it, albeit for a short period, to lose it once again.  All the stories give us immense food for thought, hence one inadvertently slips into a brown study, holding speech in abeyance.
Seasons in Two Suns, [P142- 147], Remembrances; A life of many Suns [103 -109] are two more stories that kept me totally enthralled.
Absolutely riveted by the patterned sunshine, that they are splashed with, they warmed me, in the early morning chill, as I sat in the balcony reading the book,
as the sun in the eastern sky serenaded me with morning songs. I  picked up the book with a contented sigh and headed inside , to put it in the book shelf, a book-mark in between the pages of my favorite story, where I planned to come back soon- The Banyan Tree. [P 192 – 195] I was absolutely hooked on to this sensitively handled story and the visceral satirical punches, hit me hard.
The great banyan tree hated the hanging roots for once and prayed for a bolt of lightning, the worst and the severest bolt possible.’ P 195.
So did I .

I have just talked about a handful of stories in the book, which of course, is just the tip of the iceberg; to get a feel of the entire iceberg, get hold of the book! It is indeed a great read.
The editing is crisp, and the cover art by Jagdish Shankar is indeed beautiful – a slice of poetry.
 A must read for all lovers of good short stories and lovers of good literature.  Highly recommended.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Review of When the Soul sings


BOOK: When the Soul sings
POET: Gomathi Mohan
PUBLISHERS: Authors Press, 2018
pp 113
ISBN 9789388332040
This sensitive writer, a lekhaakaar turned lekhika is indeed a delight to read.  A deft wordsmith, in this debut collection of 51 poems, When the Soul Sings, Gomathi Mohan has presented poems which are kaleidoscopic in nature and there is no dearth of tongue in cheek humour. Rhyming is her forte, and the poems flow effortlessly from one topic to another. Believing that ‘Imagination- makes the World go round’, [p 83], she maintains that it is ‘a magical wand weaving spells without a pause’. We see her magic wand creating beautiful scenes before us, her soul singing mellifluously of myriad things, making us tap our feet to this lyrical opulence. With a breathless fervor, skillful use of rhyme, and powerful and evocative imagery, she waxes poetic about summer delights, lush paddy fields, palm fronds, casuarina groves and childhood swings. Summer spells delight [p 106], putting us under a spell, also regaling us with the nostalgia of those long lost picnics under trees.
“Relaxing under banyan trees after all that binging, drowsy
 A voice booms, “chopsticks, Top gun, it is time for Housie.”
Picnicking Spirits, [p 48]

In this sleek collection, there are poems devoted to her father,
the Real Hero for life. [P 22]
 and also mother,
“Mother is a Feeling like cool zephyr on a hot sultry June,
Transcending to the genial warmth of a sunny, wintry moon.”[21 p]
Mother Centre of our being
 

“Fairy tales of hope, sagas of bravery, thrillers that dare
Helps retains one’s sanity, all credit to author’s flair. “[Imagination, p 83]

The Intruder’ [p 45] left me with a never ending smile , so did, ‘Fond of Mr. Bond’, a delightful, absolutely lip- smacking poem on Ruskin Bond. [pp 80- 82]

This   woman of substance has this to say about women in general:
‘Nor gauge me for my abilities or judge me by my semblance
 Just to assuage your curiosity, I am a self- made woman of substance.”
Beyond my fears I am [p 113] 
Authorspress has once again come up with an enchanting book of poems from a poetess who is soon going to create a name for herself in the literary world. Yes, the cover art by Monica Lugun is indeed a visual treat.
This delectable debut book is indeed a must read for all poetry lovers.


Thursday, 13 September 2018


 REVIEW OF BREEZE : SATBIR CHADHA 
Breeze [Poetry]
 Poet: Satbir Chadha
Authors Press, 2018, Delhi
 pp169
Price 295
ISBN9 78-93-88008-46- 4

Here is one bi- lingual writer, who writes heart – warming prose and beautiful poetry.  One look at this sleek and pretty book- the poet’s debut poetry book - and you lose your heart to it.    The cover is a waft of fresh breeze which serenades you by its exquisite notes.
 I have been fortunate enough to have read her memoirs, For God Loves foolish People, and her medical thriller, Betrayed, and I know, that this wordsmith pens her words with an awe- inspiring √©lan.
Divided into ten parts, each part is beautifully penned, verses coming straight from the heart.  Life in all its hues, throbs in her words,   you will find starlit realms of love, nature in full splendor, love, humanity, compassion, divinity,  spirituality, and also poems about the corollary damage of war.
The first part Love Stories, is all about love.  In the very first poem, Such an Unlikely Pair, she very lovingly talks of her parents, who were poles apart in everything, but deeply in love with each other.

Dad lovingly rubbed Mom's back through nights,
As she would cough and her lungs would wheeze,
Untiring, he was by her side as struggling
With her illness, she went away, one sad day,
As her head lay softly on his shoulder.
A quarter century passed by,
Suddenly
One day Dad said to me, ‘it’s time for me to go’.
I said, ‘No Dad, stay alive, we need you’.”[Such an unlikely pair, [p 19]



Then there is the star the poet falls in love with-

 Standing in the balcony
walking up the stairs
to view it from the terrace
above the dark swaying boughs
of tall coconut trees.
To preen at my star
Unfettered and free
as it passed through the night
on its ethereal journey
through uncharted worlds
on a well charted trajectory.”
[My star, my love, my Rara Avis, p 28],



The Soft, Green Patch is another sweet poem, throbbing with unadulterated love where one finds the inebriated lovers totally lost in each other.
                         
“Between the brown twigs and dry bushes,
We found a soft green patch, a cushion of grass
Two lovers dropped, and reclined and rested
In the mild shade of puny bushes.”[p 32]




And then the War began’, reminded me of the last lines of the famous poem,
Home they brought her warrior dead’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
“Like summer tempest came her tears
Sweet my child, I Live for thee.”

We were drenched in love
we were drowned in love
Became as one in love
became the world in love.

And then the war began.”


“I shut my eyes
To the whole wide world
Till one day my babe cried,
‘Ma, is this my papa?’
I shed more tears and sighed
But who is this who comes
And takes me by the shoulders
And lifts my chin
I felt I should see
Then I lift my eyes
And all is born again.”
[P 39]



In a beautiful poem, ‘Where would you like the Wind to take you?’, the poet beseeches the wind :
“Can you take me O wind to that sacred land,
On Baisakhi day, in the tent on the hill,
Where I can see my Guru's face,
Bow to Him, take the gravel from His feet
And touch it to my forehead?
I shall then be magically blessed!”[p. 57]
                                                                

The section devoted to Roseate Sonnets, is indeed beautiful.  Roseate Sonnet is a form invented by Dr Ampat Koshy, an internationally reputed academic- critic- poet, who has altered the sonnet form, making a hybrid of it, with the last quatrain being an acrostic for Rose.  It is indeed heart-warming that Satbir Chadha adheres to particular forms with great panache and still manages to do justice to poetry, which vibrates with myriad emotions. All her poems have something different to offer which enchant and keep us riveted.

The Roseate Sonnets in this collection- nine in number – are beautiful in form, and heart- warming in content. In one of the sonnets in the last quatrain, she writes poignantly, the four lines steeped in positivity.


Rise then I'm told it's the only way to be
Often we are hurt and struck by destiny
Still to be alive and be able to smile
Even a child's soft hands can deep wounds heal
. “



The book also has acrostics based on the poet’s name, tankas and a long dialogue poem, [with Alzheimer’s as its theme], which brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.
 A book for keeps, simple but powerful.
 A must read for all poetry lovers.


Sunday, 2 September 2018


BOOK “BIRDS OF DIFFERENT FEATHERS [POETRY]
POET: Dr. Ampat Koshy
PUBLISHERS:  AUTHORSPRESS, DELHI [2018]
 PP. 65
PRICE: INR 250   

In this delightful book of 65 pages, there are poems about pigeons, sparrows, the Greater Coucal, the Black Drongo, the crow pheasant, the Black Swan , nightingales , warblers, the raven, the harshly cawing crow- the scavenger with ‘the bright spark of intelligence’ in its eyes [p 15], the wheeling and reeling eagle [p 17].
Drawing comparisons between the birds tweeting and the human beings speaking, the poet finds the avian twitters very sweet, whereas, to him, the human beings talking is ‘often just irritating like a pestilential rat’s squeak’.  This reminds me of  what Walt Whitman had said about his desire to turn and live with  animals   who ‘are so placid and self –contained
‘not one is demented with the mania of owning things’
‘no sweating and whining about their condition…..’  
Well, the poet’s birds also fill one with such a yearning – a yearning to at least learn something from these charming choristers.



 My favorite in the collection is the absolutely heart – warming poem,
‘The Little Sparrow’;

‘The little sparrow
twittered for him in Tamilnadu
long ago
 twitters in my college courtyard
 twitters in SriLanka
twitters in Palestine
 twitters in the Supreme Court
twitters in my son’s special needs school
and even in -airports
All it wants is some grains of food’ 65

Ah,   the omnipresent sparrow has frugal needs - can we not take a leaf from it?

  Then there is another sweet poem dedicated to the little sparrow:
 Fly, little sparrow

‘Fly, little sparrow
You have gone beyond
me
become an eagle ……….
………..
May your wings cut the air
in a swathe of sunlight’ [P 60]

 This poem appears to be a prayer, a benediction, a blessing, that the poet, showers on his child, who, apparently seems to have stolen a march over him. 
 Here the sparrow also becomes a metaphor for inner strength and resilience . Despite its small frame, it has the spunk to exhibit the indomitable spirit of the awe- inspiring eagle.

 
And in another of his heart- warming poems, he says:
‘I love you birds,
 You are not like human beings
 You ask nothing of me…..” [My Friends p 45]

His birds become an allegory for freedom, harmony and peaceful coexistence
Yes, one of the poems in the book also transported me to the iconic filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice. [Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice, [p 56].   It was while my daughter was doing a Film Appreciation Course, that I also happened to see all of Tarkovsky’s films along with her and the scene where Maria runs after the skittering chickens that the poet refers to, is   etched in memory.  By referring to Tarkovsky’s classic film ‘Sacrifice’, is the poet trying to hint at the ravages that mankind is wrecking on nature?
 
The poet believes that the ‘Birds should fly free in the sky’ [A Bird p 27]

‘learn from the natural world,
I never saw a kingfisher against its own kind ……
I tell myself- the thought my only prayer
 that I light like a candle of no blame or accusation
 to blaze and flame like a wish for world peace in my heart
 today, of all days – I bow my head.
[Independence Day, p 29] ‘
 This is indeed a book to be kept within easy reach, to turn to, when ‘the weariness, the fever and fret’ of life becomes too intimidating.  Just flip the pages, and either a magpie or a tiny sparrow will fly out, bringing happy tidings, drenching one in the soothing notes of love and peace. 
Many are the poets who have written odes to birds. Was it not while strolling in the lanes of Livorno , Italy on a summer evening amongst the myrtle hedges that Shelley and Mary had been enchanted by the blithe notes of the skylark, wishing , that like the skylark , humankind could also ,
 ‘ scorn
Hate and pride and fear’

We continue to hear those immortal notes even now.
Whether ‘ Ode to a nightingale’ , was written under a plum tree , in his own garden , or in the garden of Spaniards Inn , Hampstead , where Keats  had been overtaken by a ‘drowsy numbness’ we are not sure , but  the themes of death, [the weariness , the fever and the fret] and annihilation  set against eternal renewal and immortality symbolized by the nightingale pouring its soul ecstatically forth , continues to serenade us even so many years after they were penned. 
Same with the poems in this sleek and pretty book, which the poet, ‘soul unfurled, spirit alight’, pours forth with a breathless exhilaration, ensuring that we never forget his birds and their messages.   
    

One closes the book with a happy sigh, wishing that one could learn something from the poet’s ‘pure pigeons’, who preen and twine their beaks in harmony.
“They dwell together in the land
I never see my pigeons fight.”[P 63]
These lines also catapulted me to that immortal Muhammad Rafi song, from the film ‘Hum Panchi ek daal key.’
‘Hum panchi ek daal key, sang sang doley , boli apni apni boley,’

The publisher has once again done a wonderful job, but for a book of 66 pages, one feels, that the price should have been lesser.  
This is a book for all lovers of good poetry and also all bird- lovers.  
Go grab it!


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Review of Duane Vorhees' book , Love's Autobiography : The Ends of Love


Review of Love's autobiography: The Ends of Love 
 Poet:   Duane Vorhees
Hawakal Publishers , Kolkata, 2018
price NR 250
pp 65
Duane Vorhees is one poet whom I admire a lot, and one can learn a lot from his unique and innovative poetic offerings.  This sleek book ‘The Many Loves of Duane Vorhees” is packed with notes of love, [also unrequited love], idealism and skepticism, longings, rejuvenated vigor, yearnings, nostalgia, desires, and tongue- in -cheek- humor. It is a book which makes one grin, giggle and guffaw, and also makes one think, rethink and mull over certain things.
While going through the poems, I wondered, how a poet could talk in so many voices. There is a euphonious simultaneity in his multi- hued verse. You can almost see and touch  the  passions pulsating and emotions throbbing  as you read poem after exquisite poem.  
 
 

 I was absolutely captivated by the internal rhyme in  ANOTHER SPRING NIGHT IN FARMERSVILLE, OHIO;
 
'The sun is a gong hung low across the sky.
 windswept. earthdirty. sunwhipped: farmers wait inside
 their bones
for the horizon to rise and beat the daylights out of the
sun
and call them from their long dungrows for a night.' [ long dungrwos,  hung low , song sung slow  , a thong - strung- bow, strong gungho....] 


Another of my favorites in the collection is, the  wonderfully  crafted prose –poem , JENNIFER IN TWO VOICES

I found myself humming this refrain [“I know why the sky sings the blues — for you, Jenny, for you – atmosphere breaks down and cries.”] long after I had finished reading the book .


The poem ‘Without you Beth
My Life’ , is such a heart- wrenching poem that it left me with a tingling sensation in my eyes, and I kept going back to it again and again.  

‘Death. Abyss-dropped coffin.
 Everyone wept. Someone mumbled a little Donne.
 Then they handed round the shovels.
 (An egg unhatched:
 without you Beth my life's another burial ground.)’

 Such poignant words which leave an everlasting impact. The imagery in the poem is stunning and one finds oneself unconsciously drawn into a little self- introspection as the words and their meanings slowly unfold.  

 Ah, yes, I was so carried away by the rhythmic cadences of ‘Montana Motel’ that I inadvertently found myself singing the song and later, even recorded it.

Come lay your body down close next to mine.

Sure, yes I’m sure, your husband won’t mind.
 Sure, yes I’m sure, your husband won’t mind.
 Sure, yes I’m sure. . . Sure, yes I’m sure. . .”


 DON’T GET ME WRONG

‘Despite all these eons of together, you still want me to write you poems?
Okay: “the stars: scattershot across the purple night / like bird shit on velvet”
Don’t like it? Terribly sorry.
This lack of sweet poetry, can you forgive?

The first stanza brought a smile of wry amusement to my face.  By the end of the poem, the smile remained, but the texture of the smile had changed.  

‘but your embrace remains a comforter in the cold winter nights
and the scenery's quite nice still.”

 There is nothing hackneyed about his poems, every poem falls in a different category altogether, multi- nuanced and multi- layered.  Some of the poems are thick with innuendoes, which, made a prude like me, almost blush. But, yes, I kept going back to the poem to find out whether he really meant what I thought he meant.
 What versatile creativity! This is a book not to be missed at any cost. Spectacular in imagery, rich in metaphor,   truly a masterpiece, you want to go back to again and again.