Book Reviews

Compassion, Delicacy, Devotion and Femininity

The Achievement of Sukrita Paul Kumar

Eko rasah karuna eva — Bhavabhuti

In the process of writing
I am ahead of myself always
And there’s no look back

The rest of the time
I am stalking myself
And there’s no looking ahead
The issue is
That of keeping pace. — (Sukrita)

Sukrita, born in Kenya and travelled to and fro Mugabe and Mumbai, saw and experienced a lot removed far from the shores. The addition to her collection Untitled at the end of the book speaks of her varied accomplishments and distinguishing qualities. Daughter of reputed writer/painter herself, Sukrita took to academics, poetry and painting as a duck takes to water – not a cliché here. Reading her poetry needs our hearts in the right place. To put it in other words, it is like glancing at the sea where the shore is nowhere in sight – wondering at the ebb and the tide.

To begin with Unititled, the title, needs no title since it is a communication of the pulsations in the heart and brain, deep, captivating and more importantly path-breaking. Her poetry is inward-looking, searching for the shores, looking up at the sky and losing one’s self in thought. Thanks to her educational and other various qualifications, she has penning experience which included the paint and brush too. She worked and participated in literary festivals in India and abroad. She is recognized and worked in literary organizations like ICCR, Sahitya Akademi, Bharatiya Jnanpith, Poetry Society of India and some universities also.

Unititled is her collection of poems which was published first in 2014 and a little later Ink and Line, another collection with painting and poems in the same year. The publishing house Vani published her Dream Catcher along with slender little one of the title Behind the Poems first in 2014 and later reissued in 2016.

“The Art of Wearing Bangles” is the first poem. There is a connection between the art of writing poetry and loving and wearing bangles. Both have significance and finesse. Pleasure and a symbol of pride and satisfaction are all there in wearing bangles. Here is what the poet has in her mind:

The blank page bears words
With the fondness and patience
Of girls wearing glass bangles
One by one, carefully and gently
They are not to dangle lose and wide
Or remain too close and feel the skin

Let them take over the throb
Jingle in glee, glide into action
Tune in to the dance
of a poem
on the page. (Unititled – p 11)

The other poet Sarojini Naidu, the Nightingale of India wrote about bangle sellers. But here is the poet singing about jingle and glee.

The words in the poem have to come in like breathing in life. They gallop too like a trained horse which cajoles the rider with enthusiasm. The poet suggests to the writer to get on to the saddle and reach out to those ‘still’ words that fly the rock of silence which lies in wait. One has to soar high and higher:

From the black holes
Of the universes, seen and unseen,
Through meteor storms and
Somersaulting planets
The hand has to appear pointing

This way
That way (“How to Begin” – p 14)

Conceiving and delivering a poem is one great act of enlightenment, a matter of delicacy.

The poet sees in Aurangabad, a place of worship, Sulibhajan Temple. Temples are the sacred gifts of a person who gave to man the soul-elevating contemplation called tapas. The poet pays a tribute to the seer:

The sacred gift of
Tapasvi Aiknath,
Here, in complete isolation
Ouside time,
Dogs and stones create
Fellowship in suffering and joy... (pp 15-16)

The poet has many an arrow in her flowery quiver of enlightenment, wisdom and the peace that passes understanding.

Ideas, feelings, emotions, compassion and ardrata, get mixed up raising treasure troves for the poet and through her the understanding and appreciative reader – from Vasco de Gama, Quit India, Spices and pepper, along with tales hidden in layers and layers one over the other, lower and lower and higher and higher. There is glory in the poem “Liberation at Kappad, Calicut” (Kozhikode) if you please.

Each wave on this beach
Brings a throb from the
Heart of the Indian Ocean
Sighs from history
Tales hidden
Layers on layers
Spilling over
Bleeding on the sands and
Washing away at once. (pp 18-19)

The poet was the guest editor of a poetry session on the University of Hawaii and the poem “Ambers in the Pacific” is about the mythology of their islands: Maui, the ancient chief is the culture hero who appears in many genealogues. Kumulipo is the son of Akalana and his wife Hina. Maui is cognate with Maui, the Hawaiian island. The poem refers to the myths which make enticing reading. (It is interesting to note that this poet guest edited Crossing Over a special issue of a journal of the University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA.)

Islands with white shores
Combating tiger waves
Islands held in Kumulipo
The Creation chant
In multiple rainbows
That Hina climbed
To reach the moon

When the moon is full
They see her
In the tides that rise

They hear her
In the rumbling belly
Of the dormant volcano.
Mauna Kea . . .
(“Ambers on the Pacific” – pp 20-21)

The poet is fond of mythology, folklore and belief. “The Strange Gift of Sharad Poornima” is about Hindu feeling and belief. The poem describes both:

From the centre of the earth
It rose as a streak of lightning
And entered the soles of my feet
and thought:
The bright ray of the sun
Pierced the dark clouds
Broke open my head
Settling in the cage

Whiffs of reason and logic
Filling the cranium
Stretched in anguish as if
In search of madness ... (p 23)

Himachal, Kashmir, Valley of Flowers, Line of Actual Control are described in a poem with a clear imaginative, poetic vision. In “Out of the Box” another world was seen beyond stars.

That this world has worlds
beyond the stars
I did not know.
Bits of truth buried
in the graveyard of words
rose as if from the vaults
in the bottom of the sea
like fireflies
lighting the dark shores of life. (pp 24-25)

“Meta Cacophony” is a poem about words and their myriad powers, effects and meanings.

Words are weapons
Hurled to hurt, to cause pain
Even to kill
Over and over again.
Words are winged tools
of communication
flying and merging
into the black hole of silence
deep in the centre of our galaxy. (pp 26-27)

A poet has mastery over words. Only poets know how best to use what words at what time. The nature and quality of words are multitudinous and not many are cacophonous.

Good poetry lends itself to interpretation and explanation and leaves many things only to the ability of the reader to understand. Sukrita is of the stature of great poets. “Mountain Nights” is about fear, dreams and feelings of anxiety and even a kind of neurotic outburst. It is surrealistic at times:

The big thud on the roof
That cracked the rocky silence
Of sleep day after day
Was that of a flying fox
with wings that do not
carry its weight into the firmament
Not combat mountain fog. (pp 28)

There is horror, real horror, in human acts in “The Hazara Poem”. Screams of Hazara captives sold as slaves in 1893 in Afghanistan brought the following idea:

Birthing and dying sounds
incubating and gestating
babies born in anguish
and the emerging poems
paving the way
to dreaming
the dreams of homing... (p 29)

The poet is an intellectual, a spiritualist, and essentially a woman and she goes on citing instances of the fiendish behaviour of inhuman demons.

“The Myth of Recreation” is again about horror. There is reference to Columbus landing on the shores. A series of references to horror take us to the devilish human cruelty.

Every inch savagely cultivated
Beauty a metaphor of atrocity
Moments of joy
Pumped from the lungs on ventilators
Men and women in love
their hearts beating on pace makers (p 30)

Mithila, the of Janaki, the Ganga, Patna and raising questions with images and metaphors are here in the journey by team boat into the throbbing heart of Bihar. The poet goes fast deep inside the sloughs and scales the peaks too and the more the reader reads her poems the more the vastness increases filling his heart.

The idiom and the turn of expression become unique when compassion and kindness bring out the feeling of basic humanism. “What am I to her and she to me” talks of the growth of intimacy and relationship. In “Seven moons away is when I met her” – see the expression moon – not a day in travel. The speaker of the poem sends up a prayer:

I hear, you are from Delhi
-the city of power-
get me shelter
get me food and clothes... (p 32)

And then this happy ending:

what has woven those threads between us,
do our ancestors awaken each full moon
to connect us
she calls me and I rise to walk tiptoe
on the rays of light
and embrace her. (p 33)

Many tales, many feelings and many experiences are told and retold in many languages described in the Folk Lore Society of London. The fast shifting scenes, the men and women and their languages are evocative in the poem “A Tale Untold”.

Some of the poems take a little time and careful study to understand and appreciate. Here is the sum and substance of Sukrita’s thought in her poem “Where Shall I Write”. I quote the poem in full:

Where shall I write
the paper twists in pain
all space is in awkward crinkles
Where shall I paint
The canvas fills
with sighs and whispers
As I lift those brushes
I carry the cross
nailed by
Unborn poems, aborted paintings
Neither living
Nor dead (p 48)

There are very small poems that display her mindset which I must include in full to do justice to the very unique poet who called them “Some Little Ones”:

Terror struck bees
Buzzing in harnets
Yellow sun
shooting out of black clouds (“Some Little Ones” – p 57)

grey stone
White peace (p 58)

Through the stillness
of my walk
The forest dancing
in foggy silence (p 59)

A scream shooting through
the eye of the needle
The baby
born. (p 60)

What glorious thoughts and how well expressed! Melting, white, peace are key words for a galaxy of thinking.

Sukrita’s paintings like her poems need quite long spells of time to look deep to take a glimpse of her personality. The best way to peep into her mind is to spend hours looking at the paintings and guessing the nuances of her imagination. Eliot’s Wasteland had to wait for exegetes to lift the curtains of the poet’s thinking. Sukrita’s many poems need exegesis. This poet is enchanting when understood with her references and dedication to the great women saints, Lal Ded (Kasmiri Shiva Yogini), Akka Mahadevi (of Kannada Desa) and Andal of Tiruppavai in Tamil. Painting and Poetry going together hand in hand is the latest addition of another genre of imaginative creativity and ebullient enthusiasm.

Sukrita published her Dream Catcher (2014) as two different volumes. One in the normal 1/8 demi size. And the other Behind the Poems – Dream Catcher, in the fancy 1/16 size.

The Ojibwe, natives of North America and their Midewiwin Society, are respected as the keeper of scrolls of events, oral history, songs, stories and memories etc. They believed that the dreams we have while we sleep, are sent by sacred spirits as messages. According to their belief in the centre of the Dream Catcher there is a hole. Good dreams are permitted to reach the sleeper through this hole in the web. As for the bad dreams, the web traps them and they disappear at dawn with the first light. For some, they try to determine what messages are being passed on to them and what the message represents. The poet states that the poems came from her sojourn in China etc and are ‘sieved’ from her memory of some odd dream-like reality. Published first in 2014 and later issued again in 2016, the books reveal a lot of the poet’s mindscape and her ability to scale and stay at the heights of creative imagination.

Faith leads to devotion and compassion leads to femininity. All the four are closely related. In Dream Catcher we see seven paintings and read forty poems. Some have titles and some don’t. The poems in the ‘Tsunami Snap Shots’ section are not titled and they are very short and very telling.

“The Woman with a Baby” is about Nature a mother’s feeling. There is a mention of many nations but the basic insight is just the same.

Tiny movements rising
in our bellies,
fish churning the ocean,
birds flapping wings in the skies
and eyelids, drooping and batting heavy,
to enter
or exist the bliss of sleep. (Dream Catcher – p 12)

For one immersed in the study of nature China and Tai Chi are places among many. “Tai Chi” has this for the reader to think about:

High strung and pulled to the
Roots in the eyes of the other
Stillness finely balanced
On the thread of their version. (p 13)

“Heights” is a very brief but very intensely imagined reality:

The Seventh floor
Tells Buddha’s tale
Above desire, above suffering
One day I was born
One day I shall die (p 15)

Mother’s touch is incomparable – it is divine. In “The Mad Woman on the Avenue of Stars”, the Chinese woman is viewed thus in the poet’s mindscape:

Chinese wrinkles
Giggling and breaking into
shimmering creaks
And vales twinkling
The old woman tearing her hair
Squealing in Cantonese glee
clearing cobwebs of silence
that masks multitudes
amidst din of stars. (pp 20-21)

Only an extraordinary poet can write the last three lines.

There are twelve snaps in ‘Tsunami Snapshots’. In “The Chinese Cemetery” this is about a child’s exit:

In The World of Suzie Wong
Consumed the baby,
And then lapped up
the letter of introduction –
“To whom-so-ever it may concern:
Flames are messengers
Carrying the known
To the unknown
Life afterlife. (p 23)

The grimness sends shivers down our spines. ‘Tsunami Snapshots’ are brief heart rending sighs, not mere poems without titles:

When the waves
relented and brought
the baby back on
the shores
snakes took over
and created a lap
of poison
to keep death
out of boundaries. (25)

There is another snapshot if it is just that one:

The dog is
Dragging the child
Out of tsunami thunder
Licking the wounds
And restoring sanity in nature.
But that dog is
Not God
- he saved
this child
and let others perish. (p 27)

The devastation and the horror are maddening.

The sea is called Kadalamma, Mother Sea; Kadali is sea and Amma is mother, in Telugu. The cataclysm and catastrophe were hell bent on devouring all and everything:

But today the sea
Swallowed her children
Her womb bleeding
Kadalamma had betrayed
Her trust. (p 33)

“New Life” explains ‘tsunami’, the Japanese word:

Sucking in
Frolicking humanity
With the first cry
Of the baby,
They named her
Tsunami. (p 37)

“End from the Beginning” and “Tughlak” are about Mohammed bin Tughlaq, and the following lines are from the latter:

Disengaging from
Barauni’s diaries
His steps measured and heavy
Inching towards
The ocean of meaning
where sanity drowns
And madness
Triumphs. (pp 45-46)

The drawings in this book are of varied numbers, perhaps of sari pallus. There are twelve poems on snow in ‘Winter Poems at Minnesota’ in their various avatars.

Black snow on the road
Is treacherous
as the white night
At full moon
Snowflakes in mid air
Looking for the ground
To settle or
Melt away. (p 53)

This poem is subtly suggestive:

Snow women
on the white streets
of the white continent. (p 57)

Then this is the state of penguins:

Emperor penguins
Hold their babies
in their body folds
through months of
Arctic blizzards
Ruling with
Power over the universe. (p 62)

The poet describes how the “Dream Catcher” holds her under its power. Just a few bits for a taste:

Each time I came home with a bagful
Of dreams
That drip through the day
For me and all
Each night
I wait for a new dawn. (p 65)

“In Corpses” dedicated to Kavita Karkare, she mourns pitifully:

You stood still
By the side of the
Bulleted body
of your husband
More dead than he (p 66)

Of the mourning over various holocausts in Partition, Gujarat etc there is this question:

Can language combat reality,
Rid one of
Memory? (p 68)

“My Lost Diary” written in words in which the alphabet soaked heavy with phantoms and angels there is this:

Hai Ram
At war with the whole world
And with self
Stuck in the sticky cobwebs here (p 73)

The last section is adorned with the painting of a six piece pallu, if it is that really. The first poem in this section is “The Chosen One”. It is about monkeys and chestnut trees:

Roots in knots
The tree barren
Is silhouette in moon light
Has monkeys in it
With chestnuts
As if
between their teeth. (p 88)

The poet has a special knack of looking around and within and beyond the situations and happenings in the world with men and women seeing what they are. Sukrita’s poems live long being remembered by soft and tenderly sensitive minds. One last word about the little book Behind Poems – Dream Catcher. This may be taken as the poet’s apologia pro vita sua. Here are a few of her statements in “Other” and “I”:

The blank sheet stares back at me in defiance each time I sit to write a poem. (“Other” – p 8)

I urge all words to vanish into their sounds and merge into the total experience of the poem. (“Other” – p 11)

Often have I wondered why I did not write a poem about my intense relationship with my grandmother; why did I write the story, ‘Visitation’, instead? (“I” – p 38)

And then, finally, she wrote the poem “Connections” – which can be termed ne plus ultra – on her granny starting thus:

Thank you, amma

for the moon, thank you. (p 39)

First Published in my Femininity Poetic Endeavors, Authors Press, New Delhi, 2016


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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