FROM THE PEN OF A GROUNDED POET

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FROM THE PEN OF A GROUNDED POET

Sunday, 30 June 2024 | Swati Pal

FROM THE PEN OF A GROUNDED POET

It is important to note that Neerada is as much a Nature poet as she is a people’s poet, says SWATI PAL

Book Name: Alignment

Author: Neerada Suresh

Publisher: DC Books

Price: Rs 199

How many of us have had to be admonished for things not being aligned? The books in our book case in the days when books were bought and read? The clothes in our cupboard? The shoes in the closet? How many of us were ticked off at school perhaps for the tie being askew or the pair of socks not  climbing up at the same place on each leg? Or the writing in our notebooks being asymmetrical? For the better part of my childhood and those of my friends, there was a constant, relentless push and shove towards alignment and well, we certainly rebelled at it as young people! A part of me still does and thus when I chance upon a poppy flower for example, in a neat bed of chrysanthemums in the college gardens, I cannot deny that my heart lights up with joy at this break in the order of things!

So when I was invited to read and speak on this utterly delightful collection of poems called ‘Alignment’ by Neerada Suresh, I cannot deny that my interest was instantly piqued by the title and I immediately read the title poem. Rohan Kaul’s home and his partner, Promilla simply came alive by the word picture painted by Neerada Suresh in her rib tickling comparisons between the state of the house in the absence and presence of Rohan. There is a certain glee in the air when Rohan is away as things lie unaligned and unfettered; the same things, to quote,

But when Rohan Kaul is in,

Newspapers stand stacked,

Compressed, breathing in.

Shoes align themselves

Awed, open mouthed.

Paintings, curtains, Cushions, sofas

All tell a tamed tale.

The fact is that while alignment is not only, politically speaking an important credo that nations strive for and while it may have its merits, alignment can often come at great cost. It may be the cost of freedom, it may be about being ‘tamed’ as Neerada put it; it may leave us in gaping fear and thus ‘open mouthed’. The hope perhaps lies in Promilla who, as the poem ends with

defies

A certain kind of alignment.

Don’t let the light and bubbling language deceive you, this poem has far greater implications if we read it closely and it is this deceptive mirth that the poem has which makes the poem, like many others by her, such a joy to read.

Neerada is a grounded soul. Her poems reflect that and she makes poetry out of the ordinary quirky eccentricities and foibles that fill all of our lives. A poem that really clicked with me is Of Lists. It has that elegant humour that seems to be a characteristic trait of Neerada’s, the wonderful ability to laugh at one’s self. It begins with the declaration

I am one

For lists.

And then, with great good humour she narrates how fishing out her list from her bag full of things makes the list redundant as she involuntarily lists from memory and then she swears,

Under my breath

Now to list down

A set of instructions

How not to forget

Getting across

The list you make.

I cannot recall the uncountable times that I have had to strip my entire bag to find a list and then found it much later. It is such a relatable experience and that is what endears the reader to Neerada’s poetry, the sheer relatability of the experiences.

Life and the times as we live them are the focus of Neerada’s poetry. We talk for example about how communication between people now is held ransom by the cell phone. Neerada converts our trite conversations into a poem which she entitles, The New Normal.

New normal is

Sitting side by side

On a sofa

With no eye contact

Chatting of this and that

These are the first few lines and the poem ends with the sad fact that the new normal is:

And at all times

Not facing each other

But thumb twitching

On the mobile through

Inane vicarious clips

Of far and near ones

And total strangers

Never once glancing

Directly or even sideways

Smiling at each other.

Modes of communication or rather the language of communication comes up again in another poem called Version 3.0 where the poet talks about her journey from the deep south up north ‘travelling light with nothing/more than a bilingual tongue’. Subtlely yet strongly commenting upon the Rashtrabhasha issue, she says,

At the workplace, monolingual, mute

Biding time mastering a language

National though notional,

Opening floodgates of ecstasy mouthing

My own tongue, my mother tongue,

At regional gatherings.

This is such  striking comment upon the way in which so much in our relationships with people , so much of our identity, so many of our needs, are determined by the fluency with which we speak different languages. But are we accepted because we speak the required language or do we remain strangers divided by our regional differences, not explicitly stated but always there? Do we, in turn, become one with the region of our profession or adoption or do we still dream of lands we associate most with the tongue that comes easiest and naturally to us, our mother tongue? These are questions to think about. Neerada makes you think.

She makes you laugh and cry as well, sometimes together. One such poem is When my brother fell sick in which the poet describes her brother who was bedridden after a botched up eye surgery. She writes about his courage,

He still smiles as always.

Not once did he

Lament this plight, foul mouth

The surgeon or contemplate

Suing. Resigned at once

To a possible, partial vision

In his bad eye, pacified

His wife, my raging sisier in law.

His expressive eyes

Now inscrutable

Behind the dark glasses.

But his smile had the same texture and tinge

Of the smile he sported

When Mother died

And he lingered by her one last time.

The poem is such a beautiful reminder that warriors are not found only on the battlefield; there are many who soldier on heroically confronted by the vicissitudes of life. The brother you read about will surely capture your heart and become your hero.

One of the characteristics of Neerada’s poems in ‘Alignment’ is that there is a lot said through implication which is sometimes sensuous and can get your heart beating a bit faster. For example, in the poem Delete, the poet writes about

Your unsolicited

Picture on FB

And she goes on to say,

The familiar contours

Of your face

Traced out a trillion times

Through summer and winter

Stood out embossed

On my finger tips.

The best option now

For the photo shopped version,

Press delete

To wipe out that sting

Of dormant memories

Off my fingertips.

This is a brilliant use of synesthetic imagery and one can literally feel the tingling in the tips of one’s fingers.

A poem that ends with a delightful twist is Chrysnathemums where the unnamed  ‘he’ always came when the chrysanthemums bloomed and he always asked if they were dahlias or marigolds, and the poet says

Too polite to correct

She’d smile- a wide smile

Her lashes lowered and

The chyrsanthemums paled

Into insignificance.

The evening

Stretched to its elastic limits

Catapulted into night.

What she didn’t know was

That he had always known

They were chrysanthemums.

There is the sweetness of romance in these lines that is unmistakable and so appealing ; one can almost imagine the whole scene played out in one’s head.

Tea 1 carries the same fragrance of romance very delicately framed, implied through such lines as

While I made tea

On a rusty stove

He stood watching

Leaning by the door

Aand then said,

I like the cut of your dress

As though it were a cue

To turn the stive on to sim

And let the simmering within

Come to a boil.

Coming back to the pictorial quality of the poems, a reason why many of the poems in fact can be almost dramatically played out in the imagination is the kind of detailing that Neerada works into her poems. Take the poem Of Haystacks. This entire poem is literally painted with an eye for the minutest of details and it reads

The cotton tree stood

In its slender trunk

With its bursting pods

Of parachuting blobs

As the turbaned, earth hued

Cart man, cushioned

On bales and bales

Of golden yellow straw

Came swaying, swinging

Whistling to the orchestra of

The hoof clicking clap dance

Of the ambling bullocks.

Colour, sound, movement all seemed fused almost like a motion picture being played out on the printed page. And of course the symbolism, the personification is discernible, as is the use of alliteration in the swaying swinging, cart cushioned, clicking clap. This lends a wonderful rhythmic motion to the scene and has been really cleverly used.

Again, in The Breadfruit Tree, the poet describes the tree,

We didn’t make much

Of the breadfruit tree

That stood sentry like

By the boundary wall

Spilling its bickering spread

Over the neighbour’s roof

Dropping yellow leaves

Plopping crow eaten messy fruits

Like I said, the tree, pretty much like the haystacks in the previous poem, comes to life in the mind’s eye.

If brevity is the soul of wit, Neerada really aces it in her short poems, two of which are Absence and Sorrows.

Absence,

Distance

Were surefire

Terminators

Of whatever was

Between us

I thought,

But they

Like rings in trees

Add girth, depth

Linking the past

With the present,

Casting shadows

Of decay

Into the future

Direct and simple, the simile  is so apt and new- the rings on the trees and the passage of time . It’s important to note that Neerada is as much a Nature poet as she is a people’s poet. In Sorrows she says,

Sorrows

Like a newborn

Arranged itself

In my arms

Purring in content

As if to say

Never let me go

For the reward

Of great truths

To be reaped

And revealed

In the future.

Those who carry their sorrows with them will feel that the poem is made for them. But that’s the magic of Neerada’s pen, she will make her readers feel that the people, places, thoughts and experiences are theirs that she writes about.

Read her, you will feel at home.

— Swati Pal, Professor and Principal, Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi, has been a Charles Wallace; John McGrath Theatre Studies and Fulbright Nehru fellowship, scholar. She has published on theatre, creative and academic writing, education and translates from Hindi to English. In Absentia is a collection of her poems

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