A Fistful of Sky: A Collection of Poems |
Sanjula Sharma |
Authors Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-93-89110-78-4 | pp 112 | 295
‘How do poems grow? They grow out of your life.’
– Robert Penn Warren, the first U.S. Poet Laureate, 1986
Love in its many hues
Warren is proved right by many a poet. So it is with Sanjula Sharma, whose poems in this collection take us through the vicissitudes of life as we have lived it, if only we’re honest enough to admit that we went through the same gamut of attraction, love, deceit, betrayal, loneliness, and then love in its many other colours that helped us grow, enlarge our being and transcend some of our pet notions that we once held close to the heart. In short, it is about life as a learning experience.
Even the title poem ‘A Fistful of Sky’ shared in the Prologue seems to have grown out of a lived experience.
‘Just a pound of flesh, said Shylock
And you did not agree.
A little measure of love? Asked I
You still did not agree.
Just a dash of hope? No!
Your loyalty? Fidelity?
Well then…just a fistful of sky? I plead.
Yes of course! It’s yours for the asking
For that does not belong to me.
The sky – just a fistful of it
Open you palm and it still fits’
The wry humour and the ironic twist in these lines more or less set the tone for the poems in this collection. They are in four sections. Sparing Words; On the Wings of Poesy; Love Deciphered are the first three, all of which culminate in some of the most powerful poems in the fourth and the last section – A Tangled Web. Each of these sections are interspersed with pictures from the author’s poetry page on Instagram – @lostinverse. There is plenty of love, they are of many hues, their complexion changing with time and experience. Each passing shade of love is bravely borne, and each colour takes its place in the flowing transience of life.
The poems in ‘Sparing Words’ are a feat of short, aphoristic lines, effective precisely because of their brevity.
‘In stealing my trust
You doused the fire of faith
Then Brutus, now you.’ (Betrayal)
Wisely, Sharma avoids the clichéd term “et tu Brute?”
‘Fate will claim my hand
For another dance in Time
Two to tango still.’ (Destiny)
Striking a different note are the poems in the section – On the Wings of Poesy. The opening lines of the poem ‘My Own Earth’ read like the poet is giving herself a directive:
‘I try not to write sad poetry anymore.
Stop myself from painting shadows’
The poem has a life-affirming spirit after so many references to “dust” as something we inevitably return to, in many of her other poems. ‘At the Window’ in this section has a stillness that comes with the poet taking a look at the activities outside her window impersonally, like a detached witness. Although she declares that she has to return to her “empty house,” the glimpses of a fleeting life are given with an eye to detail.
‘Suddenly a car speeds into the night
A couple off to an overdue dinner
Warm in their Maruti intimacy’
Love for the family wraps around the poem warmly in ‘Autumn Leaves’ in this section, mourning the passing away of close relations, falling “One by one/ Softly upon the ground/ ... .../ Your father, my aunt, our grandmother.” The next poem ‘Places in our Hearts’ can be read as a companion piece, recalling people who are no more in a gentle, tender tone, just the way we tend to do, going over the places they once occupied.
‘In that special chair they sat on
That unmade bed they slept on… ...
At the doorstep, near the gate’
When we move on to the third part – Love Deciphered – there is a more marked shift in the tone. The thing we easily and glibly refer to as ‘love’ is analysed, described, and absorbed in all its complexity. ‘Love’s Metaphor’ is a poem that can also be read as a seeking for fruition.
‘It wasn’t you I was searching for
When I first began to look for love
It was me…a fractured bit of poetry’
And it goes on to conclude:
‘Compassionate heart that would pour
Feelings into sonnets like never before.
A loving script that would unfold
New chapters of love to make me whole.’
‘Once in a Lifetime’ addresses a person directly, with wit and a wry humour. Humour sure is a gift that can make life a bit more bearable.
‘What would you do if I confessed
To trusting you just a little less?
What would I do if you declared
You love me less because she’s there?’
‘The Anniversary’ is a poem about love within a marriage. It prepares us for another poem that follows, ‘The Aftermath.’ Both of them evoke the pact of love and loyalty in a marriage in all its grainy, gritty texture, covering quarrels, forgiveness that helps one to move on, and all the minutiae that we sweep up in the course of our everyday life as “The bloodless spoils of a fight.” The last four lines conclude with a mature acceptance:
‘This was the aftermath
Of our first quarrel
A time tested fire test
That made our love stronger.’
‘Come, Sit’ is a poem with a breezy, conversational tone that belies its serious content. It is all over between two lovers who now pretend to go through the motions of sociability. The last two lines given in italics seem to mock at both of them:
‘Shall we go now?
And talk of love another day?
The ‘Love Quatrains’ in the section are numbered and spread over four pages. They call for a terse economy and restraint in the use of the four-line form. A sensitive reader would like to pause at the end of each quatrain and reflect on what he/she has just read.
‘Some rents are dents that never mend
Despite those regrets that we send
Feelings uttered in anger and despair
No fine stitches can ever repair.’ (VIII)
‘Stay! Stay a while longer, I plead
And you, lovelorn, in your euphoria heed
Forgetting in that moment of transient joy
Soon I will not bid you tarry nor you say bye.’ (XIII)
The sky that the poet fondly remembers from her childhood as something like ‘...Heaven/ And magic rolled into one,’ is now a ‘Broken Sky’ – which is the opening poem of the last section – A Tangled Web. ‘Pilgrim’s Path’ on Uttarakhand, 2013 starts with innocuous lines that are yet ominous for us who have already been a witness to this horrific, cataclysmic tragedy that devastated an entire state.
‘It must have started with a trickle
A few drops of innocent rain
That suddenly fell on their heads’
The lines that follow about the fury of the elements deserve to be quoted at length.
‘Scooping the earth as river Mandakini
Furiously swelled into a menacing, white snake
Furling, foaming and fuming with rage
As it swallowed in its wake
Home and hearth, the laughing face [sic]
That road they had travelled as pilgrims.
It washed away their sins and their dreams
Eroded the belief with which they had gone
To pray at an ancient shrine
That had stood steadfast for centuries’
This poem makes us ask some rhetorical question: Does a poet/author need a large, tumultuous theme to bring out his/her most powerful response? Or, is it the theme that makes a poet larger than she/he is, in her other poems?
The poem ‘Kashmir’ also starts on a deceptively casual note:
‘One single pellet
For a hundred rupees.
You did not bargain.’
But the entire poem unfolds to show how the once lovely valley has now turned turbulent and violent with a raging politics of hate. “Kashmir burns again” is the refrain that cradles the poem throughout.
In the poem ‘For Nirbhaya,’ based on the heinous crime that shook the nation, Sharma returns to the brevity of terse three-line stanzas:
‘We condemn the act,
Said the politicians
And we heard them.
We did our duty,
Said the police
We doubted it.
Justice shall be done,
Declared the Court
We dismissed it.
We are trying to save her life,
Said the doctors
We applauded them.’
The poem moves at this pace, with one line in between that rings with a piercing truth: ‘For this is not the end of the story.’
‘Peace with No Refrain’ continues with the senseless killings in Kashmir, certain political events such as 9/11 , the slaughter of Indian soldiers in Pulwama, and the people who had gathered to pray for Easter Mass in a church in Sri Lanka.
If poetry can delight, it can also tap alive our slumbering conscience. We need more poems like these to stir us out of our numbed senses.
With wit and humour tempering its deep insights, A Fistful of Sky by Sanjula Sharma is a very welcome addition to the corpus of contemporary Indian English poetry.
Issue 93 (Sep-Oct 2020)