A Certain Way
Collection of Poetry
UK: Skylark Publications. 2017
Pp 100 | Price: NA
An Uncertainty of the Certain
There is a great calmness at the heart of tears in Mona Dash’s windswept canvas of A Certain Way. A great objectivity and dispassionate detachment marks her profound involvement in the human experience of her own, yet universal suffering in the light, taut poems of time past, present, and yet to come – in which she locates the vast continents and depths of her mind, soul and body – uniting the acts of love, grief, and poetic release. In most of her poems the slight opening of the analysis is rapidly developed at the centre that takes off effortlessly into the universal from her personal, familiar observation: she carries us from her own world into the reaches of memory, desire, mood, thought and feeling that is the vessel from which we are carried from the mortal to the transcendent, from blood, bone and nerve into an eternal, solitary, yet all-embracing spiritual, soulful and almost celestial sphere.
“There are two voices at work here: the personal domestic one, and the bold public one,” writes Saleem Peeradina in the blurb. Indeed, the two worlds do not exclude one another in Mona’s poems but merge into a beautiful synthesis of detailed reality and evocative imagination like a martini delicately stirred, not shaken. The first poem, ‘A Certain Way’ juxtaposes the need to conform to Indian culture with the freedom to live life as you like allowed by the liberal culture of the West but again the need of conforming to that particular “public” culture:
As an immigrant,
I am expected to behave in a way,
A certain way…
The poem then continues to refer both to the Indian and English ‘way’s. With the memory of Frost’s ‘How way leads on to way’ in ‘The Road Not Taken’ and both the blending of the “domestic” (English) and now foreign Indian ‘way’s, the synthesis and contrast form a brilliant polar analysis. The first sentence, however, might have been less direct and blunt, in keeping with the technique of subtlety in Mona’s extremely delicate and elegantly crafted style: but reading the poem as a whole, one wonders, again, how else the statement could have been written. Followed by the impressionism of ‘Belonging’ (see the poem “Nympheas”) and “The Skin of Tradition,” the titles of all three are the definition of the elusive identity one must search for, but may never find, in neither location nor dislocation. ‘Typically,’ writes Peeradina, ‘she mirrors the lives of all migrants, in achieving a poetic disequilibrium suspended between belonging and dislocation’, almost as in the visualisations of the major paintings of Dali. A difficult achievement, accommodating, say, Van Gogh, and Dali (see the poem “Metamorphosis”) in building a striking technical and thematic structure.
The ‘bold personal’ voice leaves reality alone and takes us by the hand into the floating realms of emotion – primarily an overwhelming, heartfelt love, as in –
So close to the soul,
So close, only you. (‘His Gift’)
An endless yearning, a lingering longing never to be fulfilled despite many experiences, sings a haunting melody in ‘Love Lost’:
I still ask the questions now
long after he has left
not knowing if the answer
has come and gone
or will ever return, again.
Again, this time, a bold personal self, as in ‘Childlessness,’ a devastating psychological state, a confession searing in its detachment , the matter-of-fact way of both the title and the conclusion –
I have done it all…
When do I get lucky
like my harassed neighbor
Mother of four?
(The careful capitalisation involving the poems’ continuity is interesting.)
But Mona’s poems have a thematic diversity that is often overlooked in a simplification or generalisation of the poem into a thematic binary. Reality, the naked, brutal fact, still grounds her poems of skies in the “fury and the mire of human veins” –
Who will take care of her?
The wild-eyed woman
with the untamed hair? (‘Nowhere to Go’ – such irony!)
I too have traded my flesh. (‘Woman’)
Or ‘The Punishment’ (‘Written for the six-year-old girl raped by a teacher in Bangalore, India; unfortunately not the first, not the last’). Is the word ‘unfortunately’ redundant? Perhaps it is – among the minor sins of the beautiful poems.
Mona Dash’s A Certain Way is a certain and confident approach to the physical (the background of many poems, such as “A Fair Exchange,” is love-making), situational, existential, emotional, and spiritual world. Her many ideas and themes form a richly interwoven fabric of what may be called ‘the cloths of heaven’ (after the manner of Yeats). No wonder, then, that she is worthy of singing before the lords and ladies of Byzantium ‘Of what is past, or passing, or to come!’