Vinita Agrawal: Words Not Spoken
Publisher: Gayatri Majumdar
BrownCritique – Sampark, ISBN 978-81-926842-2-2 Pages -121 Price: Rs. 125/-
“In the way you hear the sea in a conch shell, if you press your ear against a work of art, you can overhear the artist’s spirit, tossing and turning...” says Yahia Lababidi.
That is what we hear when we listen closely to the poems in Words Not Spoken – the churning of the restless sea of a compassionate spirit speaking through the finest poetry anthology I have read in recent times
As stated on the back cover page, Vinita Agrawal is a Gold Medalist in M. A. Political Science. She has worked as a freelance writer and researcher but remains a poet at heart. The cover design by Sunanda Roy Chowdhury, speaks for itself.
Vinita is a creatively inventive poet. Similes, distinctive metaphors spring with invigorating regularity and alliteration-peppered poems in impeccable language spread like the warm, welcoming aroma of freshly brewed tea on a wintry morning. Masterful word-strokes entwine colours, imagery, emotions, philosophy, a deep, empathetic understanding of human dilemma and environmental concern into a priceless, exquisite tapestry that is not just delightful in its poetic excellence but is also enigmatically elevating in the vast canvas it explores.
She seeks the sublime in the mundane; examines death, illness, loss, betrayal – the universal human occurrences with insightful reflections and independent thought. Her poems foray into compassion and suffering, humanity and interconnectedness, breath and stillness, heartaches and happiness, womanhood and its travails, pain and patience, with powerfully carved images. The words not spoken in this collection become dark, haunting shadows in the spaces between her words, taking the uttered words onto a different dimension. Her poems make you prickle or be attentively silent; they can make you smile or cry; they provoke and prod.
She can deal with the vulnerabilities of others because she has examined and mulled over her own. Magnified under her disturbed gaze, everyday occurrences take on a new significance. Words spring to graceful dignity. Articulation is in step as she connects the dots of internalised experience and exhales it in poems that glint with witnessing awareness, probably sharpened by her deep involvement with Buddhism.
Her sensitivity to the woes of “the slant-eyed fair maidens”, leaf-pluckers of the tea gardens of Darjeeling, redefines our perception and shakes off our torpor faster than the tang of that morning ‘cuppa’ can, in the first poem “Oolong, Orange Pekoe or Darjeeling”.
their wayward pain rises like steam
and sears our lips
as we sip the brews delicately
from gold-rimmed china cups.
“The Logo of Being” and “Coffee, Tea and Rebirth” are inspired by her Buddhist learning and leaning.
A little badge of life pruned and polished
so that not a single breath of life is out of place
or out of count...and I am born again
after the night has passed. (The Logo of Being)
In “The Light Maker”, we are told
Buddha – the enlightened one...lives in all of us
fold yourself inwards – as fine and deep as you can go
to reach the light-maker in you.
‘If you have a mother, cherish her with care/For you will not know her value till you see her empty chair.’ The veracity of this age-old quote, her pain at personal bereavement and the universal regret experienced when a dear one (particularly a mother) is no more, are achingly distilled in the title poem “Words Not Spoken”.
Brokenness stood on the spindly legs of a
yawning regret of words not spoken. Love not
expressed, miasma not cleared.
We are sucked, empathetically into the vortex of the poet’s anguish, as she mournfully laments words left unarticulated when her mother was alive -
“ Scabrous conscience aches
for the words not spoken.”
Rhythmic emotions and melodic dreams come fascinatingly alive in a clutch of poems like “The Image and the Form”, “Some Day”, “Whispers of Time” and “Consecration”
Fill me too
with spools of kind voices embossed with warmth
and cubes of coloured emotions,
One for every cell.
Bring me alive
so that I may hear
and answer. (Consecration)
The extremely penitent daughter becomes an appreciative mother who swells with pride in “A Musician Son”
Once in a while
you, me and the dog
sit on the terrace in the moonlight
and you brew me a mug of your kind of brilliant coffee
strum the guitar
the music fills the craters of the moon
or is that just my pride?
The lilting cadences of “Think Like a River” provoke the mind as it meanders with “lifting and folding cusecs of time-travelled water, through clefts and chasms...” She says that it is not just H2O. It is “...a ligament of peace, a flag of fluvial pride” and gently cautions - “Think like a river...Save the river”
“Anklets of a Lost Habitat” is another poem that tinkles with musicality. It strums a blue song interspersed with cheerful notes whereas “Time” ticks with its own terrifying beauty in her proficient hands.
Pain, sadness, loneliness and longing are a recurrent theme in many of her poems as she beads agitated ghosts of old memories (“Thoughts”, “Mortakka”, “Monsoon Showers”, “Office”, “Pain”, “Puppet” to name just a few.) She presents her personal experience and also stark realities around her, without morbidity or self-pity, seizing our attention intellectually.
“The Refugees are here” clenches emotion and brings a lump to our throat.
the refugees are here
only to keep alive the stories of their land
through chapped, charred lips
that dried up kissing loved ones
“A Birthplace but no Memories” and “Bikaner” again convey the throbbing emptiness of being displaced
Without the anchoring thread
of our soil
we are like drifting kites
conquering alien skies;
always aching for “home” (Bikaner)
“Poetry is my destruction but it might also save me,” says Vinita in “Hangman”.
I don’t know about her but I am positive that the precious jewels in this collection will save the day for those readers tired of wading through heaps of fake gems that often pass off as good poetry.
I am tempted to quote endlessly from this delectable feast for the mind and heart but I will let readers discover the memorable ecstasy of relishing it. I recommend this book to every lover of good poetry.