Book Reviews

Sneha Subramanian Kanta's Whispering Paths

... Cute poems plus short stories with an elegant getup

Here is a bunch of cute little sweet poems from the pen of one who “started penning her poems from the incredible age of four.” A frequent traveller seeking out the beauties of nature – “trees, lakes, flowers, birds, mountains, hills and valleys” – the poet Sneha Subramanian Kanta fondly acknowledges that she has “got the skill of writing poems through my mother, who was a poet as well. Nature inspired both of us the most.”

The whispering paths of her travel take her not only to the myriad scenes of nature but also to a host of places like Bombay and Kolkata; Kashi and Rameshwaram; Worli and Ratnagiri; Nasik, Pune and Singhad.

A childlike simplicity runs through Sneha’s poems as an undercurrent, and this has been expressly nourished by her Amma who “painstakingly” collected and saved all the “random pieces of paper during my childhood.” The neat volume of 38 poems (plus a bonus of 6 short stories) captures the writer’s reminiscences of places and people with a nostalgic or wistful flavour.

The opening poem with its evocative title “The Book and the Flower” carries a fragrant image of their association:

It’s an old book
with the smell of
the flower smudged
into print
gently pressed
across page number
fifty nine...

It is a common experience that the word ‘independence’ – just like the much-touted shibboleth of ‘socialism’ - means different things to different people, in our country.  Raju, the little blithe and carefree lad that he is, is given to fun and frolic; and enjoys his childhood with a lot of freedom and parental affection. His sweet innocence charms us when he queries his mother on his return from school:

is this independence
the one bapu ji was talking about the other day?  -  (Raju)

Can we deny this child’s interpretation of ‘Independence’? And that cheerful worry-free age takes in oodles of wonderful sights with its wonder-filled eyes:

...look at the sun make a big
‘O’ with an outline of orange  -  (Raju)

Then we are introduced to a cameo where a child uprooted from her Karachi home is forced into and faces the partition trauma - “full of violence” - to eventually transition into a wise grandma:

a ravaged era of
partition and a
childhood full of
she left her home
in Karachi
and cruised the
waters to reach
the then Bombay
she lived in camps;
the fair girl who
everyone loved
illiterate, yet so
articulate                -  Grandmother)

The vagaries of modern life are not without their eroding effects on our traditional and cultural values. And how even those from the priestly community, the quintessential torchbearer of the ancient values, are not immune to the modern onslaught but become a cog in the wheel of routine, impersonal, uninvolved and commercial compulsions:

I heard the brahmins mobile phone ring
in between him chanting mantras for my
dead grandmothers soul to rest in peace   -  (Memoirs)

Villagers are no longer the artless lot that they once used to be. The winds of globalisation bring in both good and bad – but mostly bad – into our cities and towns and then they sweep even our villages – in this era of global village. As a result, the rural shopkeepers don’t hesitate to exploit the rich visitors or those looking rich; they are smart enough to take advantage of the “urban dimwits” by charging “ten rupees more than / the actual cost” (Memoirs).

What with the creative world where we have more writers than the readers, the ordeal of turmoil that most of the budding writers go through is well reflected:

one letter of acceptance
and a thousand rejected manuscripts
one letter of appreciation from the editor of a ‘small magazine’
two hundred ideas hitting the head
and one hundred words missing in the mind
going to social dos with the ‘right people’    -    (Writer’s Life)

The behemoth of Kolkata what with its historical background has its irresistible appeal – accentuated by fascinating contrasts and contradictions finding themselves in co-existence:

Kolkata is not only about fishes;
Who told you this?
It is about the many little coffee shops with
the many intellectuals and
pseudo-intellectuals sitting inside
And of Kalighat, the famous temple
Where smell of flowers mix with
The smell of sweat
Kolkata is humid, you would know          -   (Amalgamations)

In the poem “Get me Flowers,” the poet splits the verb ‘fall’ into as many lines so as to visually capture the process of slowness in the falling of the leaves!

Get me flowers
I won’t mind
but get them when they

Perhaps this “visual effect” is one of the experiments the writer claims she has attempted in this volume. “I have experimented with poems in the book; in terms of language, style and visual effects.” As part of it, we see dropping of the apostrophe in the Possessive Case. E.g.: “brahmins mobile phone / grandmothers soul” (Memoirs); and “my husbands corpse” (Jallianwala Bagh). Similarly, we see a deviation from capitalization in many cases including proper nouns.

Then there are some glaring things which cannot, probably, pass off as experiments. In the poem “Wooden Table and Three Generations,” the poet refers to the “sturdy pillars” of the table; it would have read better as “sturdy supports/legs.” We have the expression “freezed in this moment” (Window of Love). Shouldn’t it be “froze” instead of “freezed”? See the lines “Where smell of flowers mix with / The smell of sweat” (Amalgamations). Wouldn’t “mixes” be more proper than “mix”?

The six stories are simple and with tender themes and emotions, covering - partition traumas; glee or glumness of child birth; people dying and the heirs carrying on the life’s baton; dangers of reckless juvenile bravado; how a smiling facade can have an excruciating agony behind it. There are poignant and significant observations like “The wife of a martyr is never a widow” referring to a young soldier killed in the Kargil war (Oil Lamps at Night). The stories which brake us with their slips of pen would have read better had there been good editing.

Overall, crisp are the whispers from this book with its elegant getup and idyllic-verdurous cover. And let’s hope that the whispers propel Sneha onto a more resonant path in the time to come.

Whispering Paths
Sneha Subramanian Kanta
ISBN: 978-93-5067-036-1
Pages 126


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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