Rati Saxena Sept 3, 2008 13:47:03 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 3, 2008 13:47:03 GMT 2
A Passage to India
a review by Kimberly L. Becker
One Window & Eight Bars by Rati Saxena
KRITYA Publishing, 2007
Hindi poet, translator and Sanskrit scholar Rati Saxena believes that, “To write a poem / you have to / walk on fire.” In her second book in English, One Window & Eight Bars, she seems to do just that. It is apparent why Saxena has won major awards, including the prestigious Indira Gandhi National Culture and Arts Fellowship. Saxena is on fire with her gift for language, readily igniting admiration in her reader.
To read Saxena’s poetry is to be transported not only to a physical country, but also to a spiritual one where, “The taste of last night’s dream / persists on the tongue.” In the journal Kritya that she edits, Saxena provides insight into the philosophical basis for her work: “…poetry is not just words. There is something which gives life to poetry, something more than words…Vedic philosophy equates the ‘kavi’ (Poet) to Brahma. Thus ‘kavi’ could be the creator of this universe.”
Saxena’s universe is informed by ancient tradition, yet attuned to contemporary, especially women’s, issues. In “I, in Udaipur” she contrasts a peaceful setting with a painful reality: “By that tree, that temple- / thick with gods, drums and bells / longing for an offering, a cow waits- / with fly-flickering tail.” Then: “At the shore of this Lake / in some middle class family, / a fourth daughter is born. / No applause- / No drumbeat- / Only the shadow of a silence.” Forster portrayed colonial India; Saxena probes her own post-colonial India and bravely questions tradition: “A woman, have I / nothing to offer / my ancestors?”
Saxena explores the role of women across a lifetime. A mother responds to her daughter’s maturation: “She says / ‘Mother, I am really grown up’ / She catches a piece of cloud / spread across her face / I am worried / cover her with a red chunneri.” A daughter cares for her mother with Alzheimer’s –“It is my turn. / I shall comb your hair now”– even as she struggles with role reversal: “Oh! Is this my mother / or a careless little girl?” In the final poignant image the daughter acknowledges losing her mother as she has known her: “Like a flying kite / she is slipping from our hands.”
Women are also lovers. Some poems are deeply sensual: “I…have given you warm kisses on your feet / and stroked your whole body with my eyelashes.” Always there is the recognition that the body, for all its pleasures, is moreover, “a long bridge / from soul to soul.” Caress of the sea, taste of mango, scent of spices, tinkle of anklet bells, flash of a parrot’s wing: sensuous details such as these render the book a feast for body and soul. Saxena won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for translation. In this book she translates the mysteries of the heart for an international audience. One Window & Eight Bars opens a view on a world at once familiar and exotic. No passport required.
review originally published in Her Circle Ezine