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Semeen Ali

Sukrita Paul Kumar | Yasmin Ladha
Country Drive
Red River Books, 2018
ISBN: 978-81-939403-0-3
Pp 134 | 300

A poetic exchange of ideas from a large canvas

We are both very good at getting lost on highways. Indeed, a highway is not a country drive. But missing a turn, we were in titters once again, like children on a country drive.

At first, we did not realise getting lost was our sub-rosa moments: that a book was germinating.

– Sukrita and Yasmin

The book makes for quite an interesting read with the two poets. Sukrita Paul Kumar and Yasmin Ladha exchanging their ideas in the form of poetry that criss-crosses through several themes like several roads that merges into a grand one.  Sukrita begins the jugal bandi with powerful lines that prepares the reader for what follows. Dismantling the structures on which words love to loftily perch on; she does not mince her words when she says –

Words defy dictionary meanings. Bring in new words, new foliage, new meaning.

Yasmin carries this forward with more force –

I borrow words shamelessly from other languages.
No one has stopped me.

And as both of them go ahead on this road to discovery – one realizes as one reads along, that the roads are not meant to merge – not right now. The aerial view of these winding roads cutting through a mountain of ideas makes a path for those who will follow these roads searching for answers that had remained elusive- that had remained somewhere evasive.

Colonization of the body and of the mind finds its place here and one realizes the impact it has on one’s mind and how it trickles down generations. This is a feeling that cannot be shared and cannot be explained- the dichotomy that exists between where one has come from and where one has come to stay remains deeply embedded in our minds. Sukrita’s poem probes this angle in a subtle manner.

The white of the bark
is the frozen heart of the white
turned white when Columbus landed on the shores
of what he thought, the land of spices

As a reader, what struck me was the ease with which both Yasmin and Sukrita blend their voices and yet retain their individuality. With Sukrita creating wisps of past and the future delicately and yet with an intoxicating effect; Yasmin on the other hand, soars like an eagle swooping down with words like claws to wrench your heart out; to rip you out of your complacency. A section on women riding a bike makes for a fascinating comparison between the two voices. The beautiful illustrations by Anadana Kapur bind the distinct voices together delicately with compelling drawings that makes you revisit them once you finish reading that section.  The incisive voice of Yasmin –  

A woman languidly scratches
The middle of her back with
Her thumb
The dick-ups observe the boss with her
So no chance
Even in loosey-goosey Goa
Two women on a bike
Ride no nonsense
Their backs washboard stern
No michieves [sic], please

Combines with the intensity that Sukrita brings to the table –

The two women on the motorbike
Lal Ded and Akka Mahadevi
Whizz pass through centuries
Multiplying in numbers
As also in Shakti
Each one searching
Her own path
Her own tune…

The fluidity of the self remains a dominant theme in this book. From looking at Draupadi to water erasing the concrete to Shiva’s tandav sweeping away life.

Where Sukrita evokes the mythology to address the destruction his tandav causes; Yasmin inverts the dynamics and brings Shiva to twenty first century with a Bond like charm to him. It is not just Shiva but even Krishna gets invited to be a part of the rigmarole called life as we know/live it –

Meera lived only for her K
she strummed the taut strings of her rotund iktara
K, sapphire blue, danced on her collar bone

What I liked was how a name can be reduced to a single letter- The very social identifier, a name that we believe is only ours to hold on to or own can be reduced to a single letter-  for aren’t we all identified through a conglomeration of letters?


Are we in search for madness? Is reason breaking the


The madness in decorum: the anticipation, the waiting,
and not to crack under the strain.

It is a delight to read this book and admire the conversational style that has been used throughout this book. Delhi finds a place in this book – and Yasmin nails the way a city should be described and how Delhi can actually feel like –

Delhi roads are Einstein chock-a-block
The guards are bards of Delhi’s languorous
winter sunshine, strumming cords in their heads…

And then we reach the title poem of the book. For Sukrita, the country drive is about a family- past and present. Her father, her children, herself. Her mother. The drives are not as easy as they seem- they have their own stories, their own histories. Whereas for Yasmin, the nostalgia remains under control- there is no letting out of it but it rises from the places she describes, clipped and kept short – a dam has been created to control the waters of nostalgia from drowning out what she calls a country drive.

And reading these poems one feels a pull – to look back, to see, to feel –

With each query
The destination farther and farther
Only, the tree sturdy and pink even now
Lasting in memory as in conversation
Showing us the way
Back from where we started

As the book starts winding down, the actual frontiers come up. The borders – man made borders are addressed. As Yasmin calls out –

At Wagah Border, there are buried love stories and
threnodies of lament.

And Sukrita observes –

Manto’s Toba Tek Singh died on no-man’s land…
That’s where the poem is born. Borders and boundaries
build prisons and nations.

One wonders if a book as powerful as this one could change a bit of us as readers – how we perceive things, ourselves, and others. The mirror that is raised up by Sukrita and Yasmin for us is a big one and there is nowhere to hide from it. You need to look and see the other side. The book demands that, and you concede.

For one must never forget  – real life has dirty glass clarity.


Issue 83 (Jan-Feb 2019)

Book Reviews
  • Ambika Ananth: ‘When Seeing Is Believing’
  • Bhanumati Mishra: ‘The Forest of Enchantments’
  • Bhumida Sharma: ‘Sita Returns – Modern India through Her Eyes’
  • GSP Rao: ‘The History of India for Children’
  • Malsawmi Jacob: ‘Heightened Senses’
  • Mamta Joshi: ‘A Map Called Home’
  • Purabi Bhattacharya: ‘The Island of the Day Before’
  • Revathi Raj Iyer: ‘A Pitch for Love’
  • Semeen Ali: ‘Hindi Short Stories – Editor’s Choice’
  • Semeen Ali: ‘Country Drive’
  • Sapna Dogra: ‘Preeto & Other Stories – The Male Gaze in Urdu’
  • Sunaina Jain: ‘Left from the Nameless Shop’
  • U Atreya Sarma: ‘A Basketful of Lies’