A Study in Nandini Sahu’s Silver Poems on My Lips
Nandini Sahu as a poet needs no comment, neither criticism nor any critical appreciation because her poetry seems to be simpler, pithy, lucid, candid and reader oriented, rightly beginning from her first volume, The Other Voice (2004), the second, The Silence (2005) to the third one, Silver Poems on My Lips (2009). From the first to the last, each volume maintains experiential sophistication and experimental aestheticism without fluctuating the growth of life and poetry. Thus the volumes receive thematic inclination of stipulated time. True to say, her poetry is sequential and born within, that is - day to day living records are gravely and seriously dealt within her poetry which never go beyond nor behind time and space. She has adequately offered herself to the progress of her poetry. In other words, if we talk of space, it is nothing but the space in the poet herself. One can easily find three kinds of selves in Nandini Sahu’s poetry - the personal self, the private self and the poetic self. Others may say the first two selves are one and equal but in her poetry, both are individual and categorical. This paper intends to scan and scrutinise these selves and there lies the hidden truth and beauty of Nandini Sahu’s poetry though it bears a time - space continuum. She writes: “whenever time seems ripe for reaction on anything under the sun - I dearly love to give birth to a brain child, a poem”. (Preface, vii, The Other Voice).
On the other hand, linear assessment is neatly visible directly and through flashback from the points of views of contextual swiftness and consequential compulsion. Therefore, her poetry does not lack coherence and all her poems are seemingly a single body of poetry taking suitable positions to shower poems. Words, sentences and stanzas are so irrevocably woven in each poem that the poems are more jocundly a game of the inexplicable throbs and vibrations of transitoriness. The poetry of Nandini Sahu creates more challenge too while searching for roots and identity of her own, with a definite music in sentences and a magical voice in the poems. Subjective needs and objective overtones both follow Keatsian ‘negative capability’ of the non-presence of presence and presence in absences in the use of first person narration. Self retains its value and worth through fusion and infusion.
Let us discuss the three categories of selves one by one. Her ‘personal self’ is the exterior self —engaged in routine activities to fulfil the basic needs and material pleasures. It is therefore corporeal. But the ‘private self’ is the interior self, undoubtedly seeking for the remedial measures to the first one, which even needs help from others who can console the grieving self by sharing the deep felt pain, agony and suffering. For her, poetry is the outcome of these two selves in a quite newer form - that is the poetic self. Time is kind enough to provide her ample space for expressing thoughts, feelings, emotions and imaginations before the other by dispersing anguishes and sorrows for which she stands as a major contemporary voice amongst English poets. In her confessional tone, both time and pace act like conjurers and healers of concerns by purifying the impurities through the voice of her poetic self. Thus the poetic self acts as a media, powerful force and a supreme voice to lighten the burdens of other two selves that makes Nandini Sahu more radical, energetic, vigorous and enthusiastic. Thus recollections become redemptive, the silence becomes the other voice and finally silver poems are born on her lips.
Two things are obvious from Nandini Sahu’s poetry — self - dissection and self - revelation. Her self-dissection is the deepest enquiry into the selves, which later introduces self-revelation. Her self-revelation is the matter-of-fact and truthful records of childhood, youthful days, mature mind, on and off spousal life, motherhood, seclusion, frustration, rise and fall, sobs and smiles, day and night, morning and evening — all dance with the manipulations of time and space showing the density of colour and colourless, shape and shapeless, voice and voiceless. In a few poems, she keeps herself dissembling which is Jacques Deridda’s term, ‘lack’. Where as it lacks nothing because each ‘lack’ is replenished in the subsequent poems. Self-revelation may be easier but self-dissection is not at all easy. Nandini Sahu is an exception to it. She dissects her own-self on the dissecting table in a poem, “An Opened Frog”. The poem begins:
On a dissecting table
you open me
my breath, my skin, ribs, limbs,
my lips, breasts and whatever you wish,
you dissect my
diary, my poems, blood,
past, present and future : (The Other Voice, 11)
In this poem, two characters are involved - one is the victim, the dissected, the lone sufferer and the other is the dissector. Both are significant for a good dissection work and a better result. Here, the poetess offers the self to the reader, lest she may lose authorship. Therefore, the author knows well who she is and what makes her a poet. Referring to the self as an opened frog, not dead but who has completed living, silently watching the dissector bit by bit, she maintains a silence. Her silence is the power and the forceful voice of her poetry. She uses images like frog, kite, bird, tree, butterfly, flower, mermaid in her poetry sustaining her womanism because “pleasure of being a woman, the opposite sex is immense” in her. Again, for her, “woman smiles sucking the venom of life opposite to the sweetness” and as an Indian woman, the poet knows that she is a part of the Indian traditions rites and rituals. There lies the taste and delicacy of being an Indian woman who never allows herself to exceed the Laxman Rekha. Posing herself among the great women of the Indian mythology like Kunti, Draupadi, Savitri, Radha, Mira, she readily accepts pain, sorrow and suffering silently with a greater intention to hold ‘home’ which is metaphoric in its true meaning and delineation. In “The Homecoming”, she exchanges words through the silence of the night for better understanding among people of the world being oblivion of space, time and motion. The poem ends in:
Still, when the world is still
when pearly beads of perspiration
on my forehead smell of love
my hidden soft blood wails,
and space, time, motion are thrown
to oblivion for a moment
our petrified birds wake up
then sleep plays treachery on us;
you’re home. (The Other Voice, 18-19)
Home, family and familial relationship also remain as the central theme of her poetry. Centring round the self, she writes poems in which her concern for grandparents, parents, sisters, and her only son seems unending and undying. Like other contemporary women poets of the globe, Tess Gallagher, Jane Kenyon, Rita Dove, Maya Anjelou, Sujata Bhatt, Kamala Das, Gouri Despande, Mamta Kalia, Mary Gilmore, Margaret Atwood, she not only raises her feministic voice but also tries to depersonalize the personal self through feverish attitude to time and space. In another poem, “Aside”, she introduces the feminine self:
I am everywoman
dribbling, pouring desire
into the feminine dummy. (The Other Voice, 80)
As a woman and a feminine dummy, the poetess has her own desire, lust for love and life. She also expresses her passion, romance and bliss of togetherness in her poetry. She looks gleeful, graceful, and angelic when she has love. She is rather deprived when she is abstained from love. Love, for her, is sensual, phenomenal and celestial. Pregnancy is a blessing because that gives motherhood, a kind of fulfilment. In one poem, the poetess is waiting to be a mother. The time-span of pregnancy shakes her mind a lot and shrouds darkness, fear, mystery and of course a strange insecurity. Dreaming of a serpent one night makes the poetess cry as it is swallowing her and sits heavy on her like sin. Sin in a different kind of entity, a hallucination of self which haunts to the very core. How sin is the passion and the self, the self within the self Nandini Sahu’s exposition of self and her assessment of self in “The Serpent” creates a flavour:
it is the self, the self within the self
that ripened into the serpent
the all expensive, creeping, sensuous, inevitable
to show me the passion
called ‘sin’. (The Other Voice, 70)
Self is an inner being, insoluble, indivisible, enclosed and dissipated. Nandini Sahu catches breath from the self, forgets her abode in her own nestle, watches time to pluck the feathers of hope and sprinkles the clouds onto them all to become a poem. Her poetry is the carnival of life, the illusions of body and soul, the tears of temporary vanquish, the devil of jealousy, the proud smile of victory and the aching souvenir of the past. She wonders how change takes place with and without time and discovers life’s peculiar bonds where her bones and veins sway in a chain — and that is more humane. She is not ignorant about her past and therefore, she wants to rectify the unchangeable past to build a solid future. For her, both time and space are overlapping. “Silver Smiles on My Lips” is a poem in which her attempt to walk on the sharp edge of life is laudable and recordable:
Even when mind’s hazy eyes
fail to reckon the earth
and all my endeavour
fire to have a space here
I watch a future from
an unknown distance —
the dream of a lightning
moon kingdom. (The Silence, 15).
Nandini Sahu’s poetry is never diverse, rather a journey motif of Indian families. It is the poet’s time-bound journey to occupy a newer space from time to time. Accompanied by misery, sorrow, unhappiness and even complexities of life, she never becomes pessimistic in her poetic journey. She writes in the preface: “Life is a flux disintegrating in eternity, and the human being has witnessed a relentless time for centuries - dismayed, helpless and daring.” (The Silence, vii). She is such a major contemporary woman voice whose essence of poetry is feministic — a voice, not tender but strong, not liberal but radical, not negative but positive, not emotional but philosophical. The world she tries to create in her poems is a world of love, not lovelessness where love is metaphorical, meaningful and purposeful. For her, lips await and assemble to regenerate words, lines and anecdotes in her poetry. As a whole, her poetic journey is the journey of the ‘self’ from the past to the future through the present. She likes to go back to the past and prefers to re-live in it. Such a revisit to the past makes her quest motif too. Her childhood is an abode of peace, progress and prosperity and the later phase, the youth, makes life too critical to be endured beyond her willingness with the best hope that future is ahead. Therefore, she, as a sensitive poet, wants to act as a psychotherapist to heal the wounded and agonised mass in the disturbing, mechanised the dehumanised encircling globe. What kind of poetry she now intends to write in the new volume, Silver Poems on My Lips is quite clear from the “Preface”:
An insecurity and some reservation move me the most in my expedition through life. My idea rotates round a belief in human values. Love and poetry are my therapy to live, breathe, sing in a world which, otherwise, is a pool of personal pain and suffering. (Silver Poems on My Lips, ix).
While reviewing this new volume, Dr. Mohammad Saleem strongly supports the poet’s remarks on the ‘preface’ and further notices her love for nature in the poems rooted to Odisha, the ‘soul of India’, the landscapes around the hill town, Udayagiri where the poet is born, the beauty, the music, the magic, the landscape she creates all the time makes her a poet of ‘place and landscape’. Saleem reviews :
And here is a collection of poems that captures the essence of human beauty, a poet desperate to discover ‘a newer world and rediscover herself, in the lap of nature, full of beauty, magic on the top of the hill where one can enjoy amalgamation of music with the blow of the breeze and flow of the cloud’. (All About Book Publishing, 35).
Like poet Jayanta Mahapatra, Nandini Sahu more interestingly falls back on Puri, Konark and other landscapes rooted to her nativity, own place, people, history, myth, tradition, culture, rites and rituals, because poetry would remain incomplete without delineating them. Odisha, the cultural and mythological hub, the seed bed and flourishing bed of other poets like Jayanta Mahapatra, Niranjan Mohanty, Bibhu Padhi and many more, Nandini Sahu too tries to pick out her own root and identity for a concrete recognition and acclimatization because here lies the devotion, sacrifice, brevity, valour, value and greatness of Odishan people. While writing a poem, “An Evening at Konark”, the poet seems to be enriched and enchanted by the history associated with Konark and the sculptures engraved on the stones of the world famous Sun temple. To her, Konark metamorphoses everything but itself and Konark discloses all secretes but itself. How Konark becomes the message for the whole world, the poet writes:
The desolate sands up to the horizon
tell the story of time, the curious baby
tell the tale of Dharma, a glowing, elevating
message for despised mankind. (Silver Poems On My Lips, 108)
Similarly, the sea beach at Puri has its own myth, culture and sacredness which is not only famous for natural landscape but also decorates its value by holding on its shore, Lord Jagannath, the creator and the destroyer of the world. The poet, articulating the self as a mermaid, the Goddess half – woman and half – fish, wishes Lord Jagannath as her merman, longing for the incarnation of fish, the Mina Avatar, who fulfils her desires with His grace. In a poem, “I am the Mermaid” Nandini Sahu paints the shadows of time drowning in the mist because Puri is the heritage of love and bluishness, the Srikshetra, the place of fourteen worlds. The poet is in search of Nature Divine who sings of the waves that droop down and who pardons the sins. She orchestrates:
My desire is to love the lotus feet
the Creator and the Destroyer, his cubic feet.
I play in the deep waters and the sand,
in the sea of mercy, I only receive that sound. (106)
Thus Odisha and her landscape share a strong relationship as the mother and motherland are always merciful and benedictine to her sons and daughters all the time. Tinged with time and its fragmentary attitude, Nandini Sahu’s poetry, in its transparent voice and language, becomes a personification of joy and a cosmic upsurge. Her feelings try to share with near and dear ones and to capture them to the heart — the home of all homes. Swayed by the time’s stream, she also tries to discover herself among six sisters as six mountains and each one stands alone facing the gorgeous glaciers. Time flies and scuttles in such a hurry that she likes to seek refuge in a heaven, in her only son. She attempts to love her departed, cast out past where her half uttered phrases wake to cross the border line of all sounds, all echoes and all vibrations. She remembers how jocund and blissful was the togetherness and belongingness and how sinful and painful has been missing them-all, peaks the high mounds of memory that she can’t get back the fair times of indulgences and inclinations once again. She knows how to laugh with her buds and flowers and discovers a newer world close to nature, close to a power, unknown and rediscovers herself. She has transfigured herself in which the base of her harmony is her loneliness. Keeping her away from home, family, familial relationship and blood relationship haunts her to the very bone. In “My Home”, the poet while searching for her roots, often tries to focus the parental home and her present living. For her, where she lives is Delhi. Yet there is a distinction between her parental home and present living:
This is my home, home in Delhi
Delhi away from Delhi,
my dream home
the home of my long-cherished desires
at the foot of the hillock
flowers all over. (74)
Hailing from the foot of the hillock, a suburban town of Odisha, she is now living in Delhi. One can easily discern the difference between ‘home’ and ‘host’ in this poem as it happens due to change of place and in other words, migration does so in the era of neo-colonialism. She sees her roots as something unforgettable. Here her root is replaced with routes. She can be interpreted as a poet from roots to routes. In the “Preface”, she writes: “My Home” is a poem very dear to me, because I felt it when I penned it” (xi). One thing is true that she, like Ramanujan, gathers all the family members both dead and alive, in a poem through incidents.
For Nandini Sahu, poetry is an untold and unstoppable tale in which she is simply holding off words to make her own world — the world of poetry. It concretizes the relationship between the poet and her readers. She is a poet who does not want to lose her readers. Because her poetry is a song, a lyric that remains unfinished without readers. Among her readers, she wants to become a myth slowly by telling the tale of her life in bits and pieces. For a poet, poetry is the invaluable wealth. Similarly, for Nandini Sahu, it is the untold pain, her capital investment for future beyond price. She knows who she is and where her future lies. The very answer is poetry. Regarding present existence, her doubt is not a sense of loss but a bridge between silence and poetry, voicelessness and voice. Now the whole length of time, for her, sinks to dusky spaces. She has learnt the truth of spaces between hearts and heard the echo of vacuum amid the memory of each time. With the voice of a nightingale, she reveals centuries in a second. Deconstructing the self, the vision she transmits in her poetry can be found nowhere if it is not found in it. For her, death is not the only truth of life; rather life can be more meaningful even after death if one lives it meaningfully:
Death stands at a distance
all day all night, smiling, unblinking,
like that picture under the staircase.
Are you waiting for the last bus?
Do you know, the sands are slowly
rolling through the gaps of your fingers?
Tighten your fist. You are enlightened to
pick one – the coffin or a life of action.
From one birth to another, augment the civilization.
Does your laugh tear your shrunken lips?
Open your wardrobe, cover the breast of the poor,
apply on your lips the balm of a millennium’s rebellion.
Who says death is the only truth?
See, your body of fog is still seated on the throne.
You still shine in the firmament of stars.
(Who Says Death is the Only Truth?)
In a recent e-mailed poem, “Chasing the Mirage”, Nandini Sahu seems talks of melancholy. While trying to translate her feelings, she loses the punch word because of the nameless and ageless sinking melancholy. In order to “disperse life’s own indigenous melancholy,” the poet “unpacks happiness”. She has the “world’s shared-dream of waiting for someone to ascend to his greatness” whom she has “placed in a pedestal”. Her quest for togetherness is time-bound and space-bound. In the process, she treats her heart as a monument, having the capacity to accumulate all humane and divine feelings:
My heart is a monument.
I have the world’s shared-dream
of waiting for someone
to ascend to his greatness
whom I have placed
in a pedestal.
Anyway, she concludes the poem in a different note:
I am the victim of my own optimism.
... I am just going to the core of life
peeling an onion.
It still remains ambiguous whether Nandini Sahu writes poems in terms of newer critical approaches and cultural theories because her poems are rather experimental and therapeutic, if one follows all of them. Shelley’s nightingale, Ramanujan’s family tree, Eliot’s quotes ‘Shantih, Shantih, Shantih’ and Frostian morality all would lose a bit of charm and beauty in the very face of Nandini Sahu’s poetry. In “The Veiled Beauty”, she writes: “Now my world of poetry is prosperous”. Doubtlessly, her poetry is now an ocean ward journey flowing from a stream and river. Her poetry contains the truth, the message from the Gita, Bible and Quran to embrace all and to purify all. The poetess as a messenger, dreams of “a world without walls” were visions of unity, joy and peace dawn upon us. In “A World Without Walls”, the poet seems to be a cosmopolitan in her vision, insight and outlook:
Man may accomplish it
allocate his head aloft
in a world without walls
and turn round and round
around it. (115)
Thus the poet talks of a global village and prefers to globalise her poetry beyond time-space continuum acclimatizing her own stance with the Indian vision in Sanskrit, Vasudaivkutumbakam, the whole world is a family. If we can categorize writers into problematizing writers and propagating writers, she can belong to the first category as she is focussed and the problems in her poetry are pin-pointed. Her poems are usually open-ended, giving the reader a food for thought. The ability to pick up a detail among so many details makes her a poet per excellence. Nandini Sahu, undoubtedly, is one among the most promising voices of contemporary Indian English literature.
Sahu, Nandini The Other Voice. New Delhi: Authors Press, 2007, Reprint.
The Silence. New Delhi : Authors Press, 2005, Print.
Silver Poems on My Lips. New Delhi : Authors Press, 2009, Print.
Saleem, Mohammad. All About Book Publishing. New Delhi: Authors Press, Volume-I, Issue-I, June-July, 2010. Print