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Seclusion, the Inherent Design: Poetry of Dr. Nandini Sahu


A poet who is unlikeably liked by everyone, one among the incredible contemporary Indian English poets, Nandini Sahu is a promising voice of high reputation in the post-modern Indian literature. The present paper ventures to identify the inherent design in the poetry of Nandini Sahu trying to justify her seclusion, loneliness, expounding her potential voice as an ambassador of femininity.

A child of freedom, she has insisted for freedom of humanity in the common man’s idiom. Primarily a nature poet, her literary output lays bare her taste of simplicity and colloquialism. Loneliness is something that dissuades the modern man which is felt in modern literature in the form of identity crisis. The problem of belongingness speaks aloud in the poetry of Nandini Sahu as a response to it. Solitude implies segregation from the society and deliberation on the self, on the other hand it also implies rejection by the society and the subsequent seclusion.

Nandini Sahu voices the anguish of the modern man in her poems in the form of the repulsion from the outer world. Her poetry is a prolonged meditation, culminating in internal exploration and purgation. In some of the lines in her poetry we find a note of hesitation. There is a multi-colored and multi-dimensional vision in the poetry of Nandini Sahu. She has brought out two collection of her poems, The Other Voice and The Silence. And several of her poems have been published in books, journals, magazines in the country and abroad. Her uniqueness in composing poems is not only based on varied themes like the romantic, socio-conscious, ironical poems, the profuse pain and despair experienced by her, but also her lines are flooded with the beauty of life, her poems are a feast to the heart and the soul. For her, the beauty of a poem lies in the use of novel figures of speech, use of idioms, images, metaphors and similes along with a realization of the veracity of life.

It is the metaphysical thought expressed after seeing a reason, achieving reality and its communication which makes her poetry distinctly different from other poets.

In the Preface to her second collection of poems, she writes,

“The Silence is my second collection of poems where I have taken care to include poems treating with the secret chambers of human heart, and poems revealing a complex and rich treasure of emotions. As a sensitive poet, I pour out my concerns, fears, ecstasy through these poems, attempting to trace the social, philosophical and spiritual environment around. …I have always been interested in the universal themes of poetry—love, life and death; most of the times my poetic personae tries to incorporate the world in the cosmos of her womanly existence. For her the world is full of miracles, which she constantly discovers in her poems, and her senses are acutely open to life when she continues her quest to unravel the mysteries of man and the universe. Life is a flux disintegrating in eternity, and the human being has witnessed a relentless time for centuries—dismayed, helpless and daring.”

She carries herself with a tradition and raises her level of deliberation and action, emotions and content, language and expressions to a higher degree to enchant the readers by flouting new and fresh ground that makes the reader relish her poems.

The hallmark of Nandini Sahu’s poetry is the astute and the immediate recognizable feature of a validation of the freedom of the soul. Nandini Sahu has created a fresh path in the Indian English poetry for the younger generation and brought in linguistic and vernacular influence in her poetry which is quite apparent. The poet has succeeded in realizing higher thoughts and values of life and has conveyed her emotions and feelings in a subtle and simple way, rhythmic with the flow of words communication of her message with clarity by the use of metaphors, which are the hallmarks of good poetry. The poet, for introspection, looks inward in many of her poems like ‘Hand-in–Hand’, ‘The Moon Garden’, ‘A Land Where Rocks Melt’, ‘On All Who Suffer from Sleeplessness’, ‘These Evenings’, ‘Sonnets Six’, ‘A Silent Dialogue on War’. The poet shuns terrorism, barbaric fanaticism, excessive religiosity, and advocates humanism:

Manu speaks of the twelve impurities of men:

Oiliness, semen, blood, cough, urine,
ordure, earwax, nails, mucus,
tears, rheum of the eyes, sweat –

and speaks of their remedies:

knowledge, austerity, fore, food, earth,
mind, water, cowdung plaster, wind,
sacrifices, the sun, and the time.

Did he mention any let out like global peace
for the thirteenth impurity, the hell that
lives in human mind? A mind that
throws atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
mind that oils the fires of war in
Palestine and Israel,
That loves watching America’s vengeance
on Saddam Hussain, killing innocents,
and Vietnam war Kargil war.

(The Thirteenth Impurity, The Other Voice)

In some of her poems her personae pines for rationality and compassion to achieve bliss. With most beautiful poems to her credit and scintillating ideas therein besides her endeavour to achieve bliss, she has certainly achieved a niche for herself in the contemporary Indian English poetry.

The poetic output of Nandini Sahu is enormous and covers a wide range of themes. Death as a theme is also given a prominent place in her poetry. Apart from the other phenomenon of the world, death has also attracted her attention. On the one hand, death is an end of life, on the other hand it is a commencement of a new life. Her poems show her inner strength and firm determination, death is a reliever for her, it is a metaphor for renovation. She uses poetic idioms and expressions with a certain toughness which seems to be the trademark in her poetry. Though the theme of most of her poems are common with the attribute towards human psychology and the mystery of the universe, her language is erudite and ironic. Hers are the poems of the common man in an uncommon tongue:

A man was sitting sad
I did not know him.
I only knew the masquerading sorrow.

I smiled at him.
He did not know my smiles.
Only knew the sharing

I extended my hands.
We did not know each other’s hands.
Only knew walking hand-in-hand.

I picked a handful of salt water.
I did not know his tears.
Only knew thirst quenched, hearts drenched.

(Hand-in-Hand, The Other Voice)

With the passing time the signs of maturity and adulthood can be observed in her poems with a strong inclination towards time as a redeemer.

Nandini Sahu attempts to reflect an essentially Indian ethos and native consciousness in an alien language in both her collections of poems. Her poems are remarkable for their stark Indianness with a current of the social, cultural, religious and political panorama of India:

O Mother of the earth
come down with your gaiety
and make we mortals
feel your immortal presence.
Your auspicious hour has come
O human Creator
O Killer of sin
O Maker of the universe
O Sculptor Deity
O the Commotion
O all-embracing Power
O Shakti
Come down.

(The Mother, The Other Voice)

There is a local experience hidden inside the global, the poems are but ripples in the calm consciousness of the poet. Most often it is the circumstantial compulsions that compel a sensitive soul of the poet to commit to the paper her restive thoughts and emotions. Her descriptive and reflective poems appeal to our senses, some poems rib our mind and sensitize our perception to the evils prevailing around us. She attempts to take up the moral responsibility of purgating the society of all social tribulations:

You are white washing
every wall, rinsing the
verandah, wiping the sky,
cleaning the idols and faces.
But whatever you’ve
written in the back of the past
and whatever mud you’ve
thrown on hearts and souls,
who’s going to wash?
Rather throw some water
on hearts
and save some
for future thirsts.

(Heart, The Other Voice)

Why not destroy the monster
inside than striving to raze the sinners
and saving the civilization?
Why not pour water to the plants
of repentance, regret to the sins
than watering to the seeds of vengeance?

(Micro Verses, The Other Voice)

The rites and rituals of India are transcribed in her own lingua franca giving the taste and color of Indian life. Another prominent feature of her poetry is her contemporary consciousness of the social evils and her indisputable reflection. She is in favor of cultivating poetry in herself which is also a kind of fight against the social evils, dehumanizing forces, poverty, violence, illiteracy, breaking bonds of fraternity corruption and degradation.

The modes that follow from an Indian pen is a English with Indian fragrance, myth and imagery. In the choice of subject, in the texture of thought and the play of sentiment in the organization of the material in terms of form and in creative use of language, she uses superb imagination.

About her second collection of poems, The Silence, she writes,

This collection contains some of my very favorite poems that reveal the poetic personae with her vitality, passionate striving to be free and her pronounced feminity. The woman’s voice is the center of the world she creates and love naturally is one of the central themes. It is the essence of feminity, a form of realization, a creative and regenerative impulse. For me, woman is at once tender and powerful, in her total surrender to the irresistible, fateful feelings, she ironically becomes a rebel against conventional norms and becomes very modern. Some poems are a reflection of the personal tragedy of the human being, which of course, cannot lead me to metaphysical pessimism as I regard death and suffering as the inextricable part of the rotating wheel of life. Sorrow is my constant companion through life with its joy and misery, the point where happiness and despair meet. Some other poems reflect my acute perception of the topical and current events of the world we live in. However, I feel, poetry goes beyond an immediate reaction and record of the present, rather it attempts to lend emotional, moral and philosophical dimensions to the world around with a view to individual freedom.” 

She uses a new voice in her lines projecting the indigenous values more forcefully and enthusiastically than her contemporaries. She is committed to her mission through her pen to wake the slipping souls. She is a messenger of Indian culture which is rooted in love and peace. She has a strong social consciousness which she expresses in her poems like ‘Giving them a Smile’ (For Tsunami Affected People):

Let's listen to the roots
and ask---
can there be a tomorrow
where the world could vibrate
Can we give them a smile again
caress them with morning sun's flames
with sweet anticipation?
and with hope of a new dawn?
Can we mend their live once more
and green the curly, leafy hill?

(Giving Them a Smile, The Silence)

The poet wishes to give the message of true love which is spiritual in nature. Her agony and frustration on the contemporary social reality comes out vividly in several poems. But at the end of the day, optimism is her life blood. Poems dance on the tongue of her pen whenever her world turns upside down. In a poem ‘Dialogue with a Fistful of Time’, she writes about the futility of war and non-violence. Whenever disaster strikes, whenever she is misunderstood, regardless of its scale or nature she breathes a sigh of relief by giving birth to a poem:

Flower – hungry thou art, O my dear butterfly
Your heart is as intimate as the expansive sky.
I wish, I could put out your luscent wings,
you would not stand a beggar
at the threshold of flowers.
Yet, long after your silence a fragrant
Garland would be hung beside your corpse.
You won’t beg for the flowers,
and their fragrance at someone’s door.
The flickering age and the in capacitated
flowers would shed molten tears;
Surely they would flood the bosom of the earth
with their offerings, and pray
and wait for your next birth in vain, in amiss.

(Long After, The Silence)

Nandini Sahu is treated as one among the remarkable post-modern Indian English women poets. Silence is her strongest weapon, seclusion is an inherent design and an interior monologue in her poetry. She has be interested in the problems of the society faced especially by women, has always tried to create a women centered community, in which women can express their feelings. Her poetry is a powerful commitment to the alteration of lived experience and an aesthetic familiarity. Her poetry challenges the promises the patriarchal discourse gives women through her poem enduring solipsism:

The broken glass bead rusts
with dots throughout the soul, black.
dots from an unmatched marriage,
matched for convenience
compelling me to cross sometimes
the forbidden territories
of habit.

(A Glass Bead, The Silence)

She has focused primarily on her struggle to bring her personal conflicts in consciousness. Gradually her emphasis has shifted to the ways in which the world treats women at large:

Smile is what the losers use
pretending that
pain doesn’t matter.

This anniversary
no longer smile and smile.
There are things
I no longer wish to win
Hunted by some deathless memories
waging wars to defeat philosophies.
the surdied gluttonies of flesh
manufactured by a loved-and–hated man…

(Yet Another Anniversary, The Silence)

Woman is good at path works.
Frills, long skirts, mirrors,
needle and thread
virgin colors, dreams…

(Patch Works, The Other Voice)

She is evenly eloquent about the male chauvinism in the Indian society and the subjugation of women. The poet asks the mythical Draupadi to confess and pour her heart out, to be a voice designed for truth and freedom of women:

Sycophants, one and all, encircle me
Sway and swindle me, sweltering my bones
As if tickling me
by putting one after another tiara on my head
Trying to heal my unlocked hairs – the
of the Pandavas.

(Draupadi, The Other Voice)

She is a conscience keeper of the time and clime which is one among her most important helm of affairs. She has an independent feminine voice with a bold assertion of the self, with remarkable simplicity and directness. Nandini Sahu shows ironically how a woman enjoys life by role playing. Her needs are given no importance, she lives in a society that trivializes her contributions. She grieves over the difficulties encountered by a daughter-in-law working in the kitchen, a professional sandwiched between the household and career, a typical Indian wife whose needs – physical and metaphysical – are hardly understood. For her the only pride of a woman lies in motherhood (Lines for my son). Seclusion is the dominating motif in most of her poems as she loves to recede when misunderstood or ignored. This romantic escapism has given birth to a mature poet in her at a tender age:

When heaven watches
my silence through the corridors
of clouds
I close my wakeful eyes
as I can't afford to see
more of life –
I am an overfilled balloon
ready to burst.
In a tranquil mood
comes a spontaneous flood
I listen to the silent songs of falling leaves
Singing and rejoicing in the wind.

In a pleasure dome of rare device
I crave to create a fairyland nice
It's the way of life now
the silence...

(The Silence, The Silence)

In intellectual woman, Nandini Sahu mourns that all energies and abilities a woman has in life get wasted by male domination; female energy turns into guilt, anxiety and hysteria due to the lack of its utilization. So she voices the innermost sprit of every woman in her poems, strives to be the spokes person for the common woman and objects to the facts that the identity of a woman. In most of her poems Nandini Sahu looks forward to the emergence of a new woman who will be in complete command of her energy and power, who can come out of her barricade and confront turmoil directly and optimistically.

A chronological study of Nandini Sahu’s poems shows her discovery of a female beyond the patriarchal definition of women and sprouting consciousness of the modern woman. She writes in the Preface of The Other Voice,

I write poetry when words dance on my pen’s tongue; when my spine starts melting; the heart aches unbelievable, when I have the ecstasy of being a woman; when my pen needs to disturb the slumber of the society on sensitive issues like mental slavery of the human, subjugation of women; and when I rejoice at the beauty of the creation. Then I open up petal by petal through my verse. The ‘woman poems’ assume a feeling that not only the human but even the celestial beings need the feminine power to sustain them."

For her the modern civilization needs powerful women in order to survive and unmask the other sex:

Everytime I meet the woman in me
The pleasure of being a woman
I decide to balance her the opposite sex, in immense
but everytime I fail Opposite
for I only meet, never reach, by Nature, in dreams, ambition,
With all the walls about me obsession, recreation,
my ‘self’ echoes the ‘self’ purgating the creation, performing role
and I wish I could speak Opposite, perfect and different
from behind the walls, having beauty
could reach and touch others of face and the soul as well,
leveling all misconcepts the better part of man and
In my search for a river the mirror or God,
in the land of rivers, search teaching affectability to
for a star in the sky of stars, the opposite artless,
and thirst for a drop in the ocean heartless one.
itself my ‘self’ echoes the ‘self’, Woman smiles
someone peeps out form inside sucking the venom of life
into the free air opposite to the sweetness
mounts higher and higher, set in two sides of the coin.

(The Self : The Opposite Sex, The Silence)

Nandini Sahu’s poetry serves as a prophetic function by articulating Indian myth and the ideals of the feminist struggle. In a love poem she writes:

Like Kunti when I asked for pain.
He gave me you.
You are my seven lives’ gain.

(Pain, The Other Voice)

By drawing parallels between women today and their counterparts and by envisioning the women of the future, who will emerge from the feminist struggle, Nandini Sahu’s poetry celebrates women’s strength and possibilities.

Nandini Sahu’s poems are both playful and serious. The recurrent imagery she uses arrange the poems most artfully to reflect the themes of both the inner and the outer worlds. ‘A Garmented Metaphor’ is a beautiful poem about the life of a human being and the irony one has to face in the pangs of time:

To save my own shadow
from piercing sun burn
I struggled vigorous, exuberant
day long
losing my self
in the flight of the
shadow and the sun

Now in the darkness of the night
when I drop my swollen
heart heavy
hackneyed, tired of
guarding my
shadow from the sun
neither the sun
nor my shadow
are shown in the
silver air…

(A Garmented Metaphor, The Silence)

She writes cluster of poems about human psychology:

Tears are contagious
To dictate a world
sans brutality,
to save a civilization
in crisis,
to heal someone else
crying, moaning,
today someone else’s
earth of floods
and to moisten his barren trees
you, the elegy of two drops,
you, the gems of warmth,
crawl on cheeks, consoling aching hearts.
Tears are contagious.

(Two Drops: Sonnets, The Other Voice)

We shed tears on many occasions, the poet loves to celebrate all those moments of happiness and sorrow:

Moments come and go
Like my maid servant’s talkative daughter,
Moments get missed inside the vibgyor,
Green, the equilibrium of
violet, indigo, blue
yellow, orange, red
Moments get lost within merry basking,
or even within
the magenta or turquoise.
Moments are dappled,
like the dawn or the dusk,
like white
Moments are impatient
like an un married pregnant;
Moments make and mar,
Make one a bird, a cockroach,
a pole star, a grass, a poem,
a magic ward, a Socrates,
Moments change the order of things
the macrocosms, the microcosms,
Moments control dreams, knowing not
dreams only let moments
to simply pass by.
Moments are proud –moments are moments,
and nothing else is.

(Moments, The Silence)

She looks at the universe objectively, her highly subjective and personal poems are also the reflection of the objective observation of the universe that she has developed in due course. At their best her poems are stylist, wise and compassionate. Often her final couplets or single lines stand away from the main poem, sometimes with deliberate bathos and sometimes with a sharper sting. It may be also notable that she does not seek after obvious Indian topics, rather there is an easy take-for-granted attitude in her poems regarding her selection of themes. But she is comfortable with any topic she takes up, the marked quality about her poems is elegance and a pained honesty. It seems for her writing poetry is an exciting challenge. Her poetry has that mercurial quality of being tantalizing, elusive, frustrating and fascinating. Some of her poems about man-woman relationship have the typical attraction – repulsion syndrome, her love poems are most mysterious, feminist and domesticated:

In some modes of the lane
love seems uninspiring, reminds one of
passing time, and darkness
creeps slowly across the gaps
of relation ships…..
Youth bubbles at the roof top
of time, love takes
a tired place in the heart of the city,
indifferent, preoccupied ; saturated feelings
creep slowly across the gaps
of relationships.

(The Passing Time, The Silence)

Let me go and
hang myself now
for your oceanic eyes
have extended my earth
from birth to your to death
where living is death
not living is faith.

(Love Poems for Two Opium Eyes)

With a touchingly transparent earnestness
we entered into the night,
experienced love which was
exciting, seductive, alluring, prosperous.
The night was a promising honey jar
a pot of gold perhaps;
we had to
stretch, expand, absorb, accept.
Had to sing
the song of man’s
first original sin.
The peak of the arrow
pierced us.
We were Adam and Eve
accompanying each other
into the wild wild remote regions
of love and lust (?).

(Peak of the Arrow, The Other Voice)

She uses the English language with competence and sensibility. Her philosophic remuneration is a mixture of the concrete and the abstract. As a matter of fact her pre occupations with the micro world slowly transforms into a macro world where human sorrow and suffering concern her the most and she hails humanity to take a plunge to a higher world which is above the meanness of the materialistic world:

When the memory of the planet would be fading
woods green and seas azure and clean
take you to a newer world
where others’ tear pain more than your own.
A breach of the laws of man would
hide death at the top of ruins.
It’s time.
Exchange hands of darkness with light
with a cosmic delight.

(The Cosmic Upsurge, The Silence)

The ascetic and the intensity of these lines are powerful. Desire, longing, anguish, sorrow, yearning for the out of reach, unattainable and the mystical aura are the cherished qualities of her lines. Her brush strokes milled touches on all these as her mood keeps swinging form time to time. She brilliantly merges experiment and experience, she is slowly reaching a turning point in her poetic journey of self discovery and discovery of the world. Nandini Sahu has been hailed as a cosmopolitan voice; her poetry is intellectually as well as technically sound:

From paper – boats to
blood streams,
from cockroaches in the
bed-past to
my paralyzed legs
stir, and move up to
Renunciation !

from their rose garden
to our sun-sets,
from the homing sparrows and squirrels
to the splendid life of
hot-afternoon-tea, chit-chats,
communicate up to
Redemption !!

having wings of a falcon
and thighs of the ‘sphinix’
remaining in losing hearts
of Dushyanthas and Shankuntalas,
sublimates lust and love into
life and art, upto
Revelation !!!

(Memory, The Silence)

In her lines there is always the possibility of alternative interpretations of language and culture. There is also an inclination towards the interweaving of eastern and western elements in her poetry, creating a kaleidoscope of images that can be defined as ‘dreamlike’. There is touch of magic realism in the poetic imagination she uses. Her familial past plays a major role is addind the sensibility of a poet in her, a few of her poems also reveal the same.

In the Preface to her collection of poems The Silence she writes, :

I have come from a literary family well educated with an intimate knowledge of art and poetry since my childhood, when my father had made it a rule that every night before going to bed we would have a literature reading session. This has undoubtedly helped me to mature as a poet and evolve my individual style of writing.”

Some of her poems speak about her familial background, like:

My granny crossed the ritual of death
today, a long awaited comatose death,
not a spitting, shitting, urinating on the bed,
coughing, aching, unwilling death, but
a graceful, peaceful, angelic, silent, indifferent ritual,
indifferent to all the four corners of that
ancestral house where her three daughters and
foster son learnt the ritual of living.

(Ritual, The Other Voice)

Nandini Sahu’s poetry is different in every aspect – in content, structure, style and intention. Her metaphorical and reader’s-delight technique of using representational and sensual imagery, the structural features of repeating the first line as the last line, the use of onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance – all blend into the creation of a wonderful atmosphere in her poems. About writing poetry, she writes:

While words dance
on my pen’s tongue
I feel language
is a flooded river
not to be dammed
and poetry flows
from the hedges of the mind
breaking the parapets

(Poetry-I, The Other Voice)

Her experimentation with language merging with the truth of her heart makes the poems quite appealing. She is a promising poet of high caliber, a voice to delight and enlighten our progeny. 

More by : Prof. Suresh Nath
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