Book Reviews

Sum and Substance by K. Pankajam

Whenever I sit down with any book of poems by K. Pankajam, a sense of calm and tranquility pervades me! There is also this sense of the ethereal as if I am afloat in the clouds that takes me over…and I just sail along … traversing through poem after poem that just fascinates me and keeps me riveted to her words ...

Pankajam’s latest offering ‘Sum and Substance’ is no exception. Her very firstpoem in this book, also titled ‘Sum and Substance' says it all. This poem couldapply itself to any context:

Words are like feathers
dropped by birds
to remember you were here;
love, like forest breeze
scented by sandal trees;
smile, the summer showers
patting, cuddling, caressing
and life, a flowing river
carrying all the silts at its depth. (Page 13)

What sets Pankajam  apart as a poet of great calibre, is her economy of words – her poems are never verbose. Each of them invariably leaves an imprint and an impact on our heart and mind. Gentle as a breeze and subtle as a tease – that’s how I would choose to describe Pankajam’s poems. They just linger on with you like the fragrance of a flower – soothing to the nerves and senses and yet compelling us to think. Sample these lines from ‘An Orchestra’, her ode to nature and its beauty:

Breeze blows music
sifts itself
through the bamboo shoots.
While trees rustle their harps,
the earth starts to sing.
A conglomeration
Symphony perfect.
I realize
I have become
a song in the concert.  (Page 16)

Pankajam is a Sanskrit word that means lotus. In the poem ‘What is in a Name?’, the poet has, with great poetic beauty, narrated the various attributes of this flower considered very sacred in India and has finally submitted herself to “His lotus-feet”. Now we know from where Pankajam derives her  inner strength and superb writing skills!

With all credence to its sublime traits
having named to mean it
I submit myself
at His lotus-feet

to remain worthy of the name,
peeling off that bit of baffle
whether to call my parents
astute, optimistic or idealistic. (Page 32)

The poet herself is a woman of substance having straddled many roles in her life. Her varied experienceas an accomplished professional and an efficient home maker, and also her keenly perceptive world view that doesn’t miss anything around her, have apparently prompted and inspired her to write on a variety of women’s issues without making an issue of them but just gently nudging us to ponder over them …Here's an excerpt from her ‘Three in one’ (The race is not over, because I have not won.) :

She may have lost
and retreated from the race
but surely not the one
who entered raw,
with strengthened faith.
who convinces herself
prepares vigorously
All three different, yet one.
(Page 21)

Her empathy for the ‘non-working’ woman - the housewife - who toils thanklessly for her family day in and day out without any remuneration or any recognition of all the work she does, has been sensitively articulated in the poem ‘You are (not) a Working Woman’:

Seen fresh at the serving table,
her slot last, s
wift at the gate to see him off,
dash to the school to drop the kids,
bags puffy, palms red, an excuse little
to fetch greens and groceries.
Back home, dusting and ironing
not to ignore the care of elders,
Evenings into a teacher’s role,
though her visit to the dentist deferred indefinite
.…and slithers into the waiting arms.
He murmurs:
“Thank God, you are not a working woman!”

Her day continues.... (Pages 25-26)

Here again, the poet just narrates a day’s routine in this housewife’s life in a way that it provokes us to think…Mind you, no preaching here of any kind!

Other fascinating and thought-provoking poems on women’s issues in ‘Sum and Substance’ are The Pipal Tree’ (Desire for progeny – Page 24), ‘Hopefully’ (The Indian custom of keeping menstruating women isolated and confined for 3 days – Page 27), ‘A Mother’s Grief’ (A mother’s continued grief over the loss of her new born – Page 30), ‘The Forest Brook boils in Envy’ (A stranger’s eyes lusting after a girl bathing in the village pond – Page – 36), ‘Morning Blues’ (A leaf outof any working woman’s packed and demanding morning routine – Pages 79-80) 

While on this, the poem ‘Solitude’s Whimper’ poignantly deals with the gang rape of a school girl and her eviction from school:

How many, who, why and when,
it does not say or name them
their age, colour or tongue
or whether they were strangers.


Nor the black bruises like fish bile ducts,
cigarette burns like button holes,

the cries for help muted by palms
dark mutterings nor their barbaric sizzles.
To share classroom with her
irks others;
she breathes heavily
as the door is being shown.
The folded paper in her hand trembles,
she scuffles, flings it afar,
also the pink school bag,
as bruised as her

and leaves the place in a hysterical wrath. (Pages 47-48)

I have quoted extensively from this poem because for me this one is easily an award winner for its topicality and sheerimpact.And I want no one, absolutely no one to miss even a single word of this moving poem. One is sure to experience a seething rage, “hysterical wrath” and also deep sorrow as one reads this poem. Another poem ‘The Journey’ is apparently inspired by various newspaper reports about girls who are either pushed out of moving trains for defiance andresistance to molestation and rape, or to escape the clutches of their would-be rapists, they jump out of the moving trains and lose their lives or are maimed for life. Nowhere are Pankajam’s poems preachy nor does she moralize. They all stem from her keen observation of the happenings around her. She takes no stands. She just holds a mirror for us to see, understand and think… ‘Sum and Substance’ is not all about only poems with serious themes. We get some great peeks into Pankajm’s wit, humour and satire in poems like ‘Bus Journey’ (Pages 44-45), ‘A Surprise Visit to a Bachelor’s House’ (Pages 49-50), ‘Sign Boards’ (Pages 65-66) etc. Another enjoyable poem is ‘Resolutions’ (Pages 18-20). Some of the other attention-grabbing poems in this interesting collection are ‘Faith’ (Pages 22-23), ‘Stains’ (Page 33-34), 'Second Childhood’ (Page 35), ‘Before the Ink Dries’ (Pages 41-42), ‘The Musicof Soul’ (Pages 43-44), ‘Vishukkani’ (Pages 55-56), ‘Gruhapravesham’ (Pages 61-62), ‘Muse Inspired’ (Pages 67-68), ‘My City Never Sleeps’ (Pages 69-70), ‘Back to the Earth’ (Page 75), ‘Wall says Something’ (Page 91),‘Silence’(94-95), ‘Tears Plead to Eyes’ (Page 96), ‘Poverty’ (Page 104), ‘GhostsBecome Guards’ (Page 106), ‘Life is a Circle’ (Pages 108-109), ‘Had the Dead  been Able to Speak’ (Page 115). These poems provide ample insights into the poet’s thought process, beliefs, her knowledge of various traditional customs and practices and their significance, and her keen observation that enable her to even delve into her childhood memories and infer meanings from them. Another redeeming feature of many a poem in the collection is an apt quotation that appears belowthe title that adds further value to the poem and enhances its impact.

The concluding poem of the collection ‘The Unseen’ (Page 116) graphically speaks of the power of the Unseen:

Listen to the magic of miracle
from the lone survivor in a tragic accident.
Feel the intensity of affection
from parents who discover their missing child.
and recognize the will of The Unseen
in all, ever and everywhere.

All in all, ‘Sum and Substance’ by K. Pankajam is an excellent collection of poems that amply demonstrates her sensitive, subtle and yet powerful poetic style, that keeps the reader engaged, interested and engrossed throughout. The poet’s command over the poetic medium and English, and he perceptive observations are on display throughout the book. All the poems have an easy flow that carries the reader along on a journey of discovery and understanding. ‘Sum and Substance’ is a must-own book to which one can keep going back at various points in one’s life.

Sum and Substance, by K. Pankajam ISBN978-81-7273-962-1
Price Rs. 200/- USD 10/- Pages116
Publisher: Authors Press
Author’s Mail Id:


More by :  Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy

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Views: 3393      Comments: 1

Comment Dear Paddy, Thank you very much for such a wonderful review. I feel honoured to receive such appreciation from an established writer like you. Warm regards.

23-Mar-2015 04:56 AM

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