Thursday, May 19, 2022

Spreading #LoveFlakes || Launch of Vibha Malhotra's Book of Prose Poetry, Published by Hawakal Publishers

Vibha with Bharati Malhotra (Cover Artist and Illustrator)(Left) and Poonam Bhalla (Illustrator)(Right)

Vibha Malhotra’s book of prose poetry, titled Loveflakes: Memories of Mirages, published by Hawakal Publishers, was launched on April 30th at Kunzum Bookstore, Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar. Eminent poet and recipient of the 2018 Tagore Literary Prize, Kiriti Sengupta, introduced and initiated the event. Editor and Theatre Artist Somudranil Sarkar initiated the conversation with Vibha about her creative process and her thoughts on accessibility or inaccessibility of poems. The discussion also veered around the choice of the topic – ‘Love’ – in times when people are increasingly using poetry to raise questions about the current state of affairs. 

Saturday, April 23, 2022

'Loveflakes' - Memories of Mirages || The Story Behind the Title

Love has been part of the conversation ever since humanity learnt how to communicate. So, you might think that everything that needed to be said has already been said. Yet many of us who brave love feel the need to share our experiences. Love unifies us with infinity. Only while we are in love do we have the opportunity to absorb answers to our existential questions. The cosmos holds these answers, and love is its DNA. 

'Loveflakes' did not begin as loveflakes in my mind. It began as short notes to the Beloved, an attempt to capture the constant inner dialogue that one keeps having with oneself in the absence of an outlet. The collection began with a much more direct and personal title "Dear One". I began putting these notes down in a google drive about 2.5 years ago. 

But even at that time I was sure that one day, I wanted to see these published as a book. I ran this thought past my friends and family and was overwhelmed by the belief they expressed in me and these little pieces of poems and prose. Everyone found something or the other that resonated with them in these lines. That encouraged me a lot. 

When I met Kiriti da at a literary event in Delhi in 2019, I asked him if I could read out a few of these pieces to him. I hold his opinion in very high regard because several years back when I had asked his opinion on one of my poems, his feedback had been very candid and constructive. Upon hearing the pieces that I read out to him, he said that he liked them and that I should get in touch with him once I have enough for a book. That was when I started visualizing the book. 

Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and we retreated to the confines of our homes. And I hit, what I call, the spurts - sometimes I would write four pieces in a day, and sometimes four months would go by without anything having been written. Despite this inconsistency, Loveflakes evolved mainly during the unpredictable times of the pandemic. 

The isolation forced us inward, yet it had never been more important to express what we feel. Moreover, the canvas of emotions had never been so stark— joy, sorrow, love, anger, loneliness, and belongingness all stood out with their vibrance turned up many notches. And this reflects in the flakiness of the pieces as they jump from one emotion to the other.  

Once I thought I had gathered enough loveflakes (this title was still nowhere in my imagination then), I messaged Kiriti da and he graciously asked me to send across the manuscript. The process went into fast-track after that. And then one day Kiriti da asked me what would be the title of the book. I was taken aback. I had been working with "Dear One" for so long that it was almost impossible for me to think of any other title that would work for the book. 

But I could see Kiriti da's point - "Dear One" was too personal and the title needed to be universal. I brainstormed with friends, family, and of course with Vijay. Then it was during a session with Vijay that I suddenly said "Lovescapes". That sounded good. we almost decided on it when I saw a drawing of a snowflake somewhere. And then emerged "Loveflakes". It immediately felt perfect for the book and the writings inside it. Each poem is light and different from the others and the flow is flaky, just like snowflakes.   

I have deliberately stayed away from arranging these flakes into themes. Love is flaky, and so are love flakes. Experience this book as you would experience love. You never know what you will find on the next page.

Amazon links:

In India:

https://www.amazon.in/dp/9391431593

In the United States: 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/9391431593

In the United Kingdom: 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/9391431593

In Australia: 

https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/9391431593

In Canada:

https://www.amazon.ca/dp/9391431593

The book will gradually become available across other Amazon portals like France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, among other countries.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

"The Opium Toffee" by Khushwant Singh || A love story that transcends violence, oppression, addiction, and guilt

Woven around the turbulent Punjab of the 1980s and London and Mumbai of 1990s, The Opium Toffee, in spirit, is a love story. Shabnam Singh, a supermodel from India, chances upon the boyfriend of her teenage years, Ajit, in London, begging in the streets. What is most surprising about this encounter is not just Ajit’s decline, but that he had gone missing almost a decade earlier from Chandigarh, and was presumed dead. During the process of rehabilitating Ajit, Shabnam unravels the story of their past, in the process bringing to light tragic events involving violence, drug abuse, oppressive patriarchy, and malevolent politicking.

The author’s keen eye for details makes the fields of rural Punjab, the schools and houses of Chandigarh, and the opulence of luxury London hotels come alive in vibrant colors. After living through a realistic portrayal of the pastel-hued world of young romance juxtaposed against times that were getting more and more unpredictable with each passing day, through Mr Singh’s highly visual prose, I found it easy to overlook the slightly Bollywood-like beginning when Shabnam identifies Ajit through a song he used to sing in his school days. Even here, one cannot but praise Mr Singh for his ability to bring scenes to life as the reader turns pages.

Shabnam Singh’s open challenge to the rampant patriarchy, her rise to glamour and fame against all odds, and her capacity to love and forgive make this more Shabnam’s story, than Ajit’s. And this is where the author is the most successful as well – despite the morbid times a large part of the story is set in, the author is able to tell a compelling tale of triumph, bravery, large-heartedness, and, above all, forgiveness. The book, therefore, leaves the reader with a feeling of redemption and peace.

Another note that I would like to add to this review is about an inspiring initiative Mr Singh undertook while this book was being published – he made The Opium Story go green. He approached the Hoshiarpur Literary Society, who in turn collaborated with the Punjab Forest Department, to plant 1500 saplings to offset the release of greenhouse gases that happens during the publishing process. Click here to find out more.

The book is soon being made into a web series. This is the third of Mr Singh's books to be adapted to  visual medium. Other books by the author that are being adapted are Maharaja in Denims (historical fiction based on the life of Maharaja Ranjit Singh) and Turbaned Tornado (biography of veteran athlete Fauja Singh). Mr Singh is also the author of The People's Maharaja (authorized biography of the former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh).

Friday, February 4, 2022

Book Review : "The Moonsmith Gulzar" by Shailja Chandra

The Moonsmith Gulzar: orbiting the celebrated words
The Moonsmith Gulzar: orbiting the celebrated words by Shailja Chandra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been fascinated by how accessible Gulzar's poetry seems to be and yet there are layers and layers to unravel before you can begin to understand it. Shailja Chandra's "The Moonsmith Gulzar" inspired me to initiate my own inquiry as a scholar of poetry.

The "simplicity" of language in Gulzar's nazms can be very deceptive. And one needs either years of focused study or a mentor to structure one's research. And just like Chandra looks at Gulzar as a mentor to decrypt the mysteries of the Cosmos, I look up to Chandra as my mentor to start my own inquiry into Gulzar's poetry.

The word "Moonsmith" would literally mean someone who creates new entities from the Moon. Or it may mean someone who shapes the Moon. So who is it? Who motivates the Moon to change its shape? That is the "Moonsmith". That is the Sun. That is Gulzar.

"The Moonsmith Gulzar" celebrates the philosopher poet as that source of light that illuminates whatever small percentage of truth we as human beings are exposed to. Of course there are still umbrae and black holes that would elude us, but Chandra recognizes Gulzar as the perceptive individual who is eons ahead of us in scratching the surfaces of these universal and eternal questions. As Chandra basks in the light of Gulzar's resolute journey as the seeker of the Truth, she does reflect some of that light toward her readers as well, in effect becoming the Moon for those us who are further behind in our quest.

"The Moonsmith Gulzar" makes it possible to relate to the various streams of thoughts that Gulzar's nazms drift in. Be it the many yearnings one associates with love or relationships, or his own enquiry into self-reflection and truth, or the eternal question of death, or the poet's relationship with the creative process, Chandra has searched through Gulzar's work and managed to pull out gems that not only allow us to follow Gulzar's quest for the Truth, but also to gain some perspective of our own.

The book culminates in a deeply moving and highly inspiring conversation between Gulzar and Chandra and through that conversation, the readers are allowed a glimpse into the person Gulzar, his mannerisms, his contemplative articulation, and his reflection on the human beings' relationships with "non-humans". Immensely enriching, this conversation is the perfect note to end this symphony of a book on.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Enlightenment and Life-and-Death and Life-and-Life situations

I am starting this post with a promise to myself that this is going to be a brave and honest post. When I look at my past posts, I can see a trend that they are wanna-be brave and honest posts, but tend to end in cliched didactics or a trivialization of the entire subject-matter. I will try to ensure that this post does not yield to that trap. It should be easy, I think. But let's see.

Just yesterday evening, I was with a group of friends - my old colleagues and friends. And as it often happens during an evening spent with friends, an interesting topic came up - how one's perspective changes in a life-and-death situation. And this is the question that I want to examine in this post. I am not trying to provide answers, I am instead questioning the question itself. What is a life-and-death situation? And whether it does indeed bring you face to face with a greater truth?

Some of my friends in that group have been through terrible accidents, where survival was a matter of pure survival extinct, active brains and minds, and, yes, destiny too. One normally expects you to awaken to a greater reality after such an experience. But I think more often, the impact is more subtle and more long-lasting than an "enlightenment". More than an enlightenment, it is a perspective shift.  

And it isn't always a positive impact, it can also lead you to lose a precious part of your personality. Your innocence, for example. Or your confidence. Or your trust in your surroundings. So when you are studying the befores and afters of a life-and-death situation, it is important to examine both positive as well as negative perspective shifts. After considering both, you may choose to deliberately pursue the positive path for your study, but in my opinion, you cannot separate one from the other. Yin and Yang go hand in hand. 

My husband, upon losing his grandfather, asked me, "do you think dying hurts?" And it was then that I realized that this was the first death of a loved one that he was experiencing. He meant to ask whether his grandfather would have felt any pain when he passed on, even though he seemingly died peacefully. I replied "I do not know", truthfully. But I wanted to say that it does hurt. May be not the person who dies, but the ones who they leave behind. On that day my husband was forced to accept death as a reality and that has led him to more actively think about his loved ones. But at the same time, he lost the trust that his loved ones are always going to be there with him. Yin and Yang. 

Also, it is not only accidents that bring about this change, it can also be the 7 long-drawn stages of grief after losing your loved ones, going through a bad breakup, or losing a job. It can also be the aftereffects of serious illness that change your body to an extent that it becomes the pivot that drives the most important decisions in your life. 

And it doesn't always have to be tragic - it can also be a deep and profound love that makes you do things that you would otherwise not do. Or an awakening of the social conscience as well can happen without anyone actually undergoing trauma themselves, but witnessing them in others' lives. Both of these do not strictly fall under life-and-death situations, they are instead "life-and-life situations". In fact it is this category of life-changing experiences that has brought about a big percentage of creative experiments in human history. If you are studying enlightenment, do not forget to study life-and-life situations.  

Anyway, coming back to life-and-death situations - while an accident can be compared to an earthquake, the impact of the long-drawn after-effect phases, can be compared to the slow erosion of soil by a constantly flowing stream of water. 

In the group that I was with yesterday, we had people who were or are going through all of these long-drawn, slowly shifting changes, but no one talked about these. Instead we focused on the accidents or incidents. I am not opposed to that, nor do I say this frivolously, so hear me out.  

As a friend in that group put it in these words - "when you go through an accident, your subconscious mind tends to deliberately wipe out those unpleasant memories". I agree, and I will also add that this wiping out of those memories is as much a survival instinct as the immediate action that one impulsively takes to survive the accident.   

When you incur a personal loss, there are two stages of impact that the brain has to deal with - the impulsive-reactionary stage and the contemplative-reactionary stage. The impulsive-reactionary stage is pretty much the same in case of an accident or the actual incident of the loss of a loved one - the brain does its best to ensure that you survive the actual incident of the loss. But your mind often takes longer to adjust to the contemplative-reactionary stage where you are experiencing the 7 stages of grief. The brain is slow to accept that it is undergoing trauma and, hence, slow to put the survival instinct into action. And hence the impact is often more pronounced and profound and long-lasting. 

When one talks about "enlightenment" or a "life-changing incident", one thinks about the night when Prince Siddharth witnessed the three stages of life and realized the greater truth, and became Buddh. That may happen to some of us, but most of us will go through life-changing or enlightening experiences without realizing that we are doing so.  

Talking about impulsive-reactionary stage is difficult, but talking about these contemplative-reactionary stage is even more difficult. Many a times, people around you do not realize that you have gone through, or are going through loss or grief, and the extent of the impact. And then you yourself are so conscious of bringing everyone's moods down, that you are not comfortable with broaching the topic yourself. 

One of my friends who has undergone and is still undergoing trauma feels compelled to use disclaimers such as "this will only take a moment when I talk about..." while talking to us about his experiences. I can only speak for myself when I say this - it is my bad that I haven't been able to give you the confidence that I feel privileged that you want to share your experiences in my presence. And I do want to hear you talk about yourself. I may not be able to provide answers / solutions or even make you feel better. But I can be one hell of a listener. And I care. 

And when people like me are undergoing trauma ourselves, we often find it difficult to put our thoughts into spoken word - we intend to say something and something entirely different comes out of our mouths, so some of us decide not to talk about it at all. And hence, when we are going through the contemplative-reactionary stage, on the surface our lives may appear mundane. But deep inside, a tectonic shift might be happening. 

So when you are studying enlightenment, study it in context of both life-and-death and life-and-life situations. And while it is definitely worth exploring the impulsive-reactionary stage, it is also important to study the seemingly mundane contemplative-reactionary stage. And also study positive forces, such as love and social conscience (https://www.narayanahealth.org/), that have brought about some of the most powerful changes in the history of human beings. 

To my friend Swapnil, who is on a very interesting path in his journey, if you have read this post till this point, I hope you know that I am not writing this to question your quest. I do not consider myself in a position to do that. But if you ever want to talk about the long-drawn mundane contemplative-reactionary stage, I can share an experience or two to add to your wealth of knowledge.  

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Extraordinary Light - A Review of Shimmer Spring : Prose and Poetry

Title: Shimmer Spring: prose and poetry

Edited by Kiriti Sengupta

ISBN: 9788194853848

Price: INR 2500/- | USD 31.99

Page: 124

Published by Hawakal Publishers (New Delhi | Calcutta) in November 2020

Reviewed by Vibha Malhotra (Review first published on Kitaab.org)

Hope, the entity we desperately try to hold on to in these unusual times of loss and repatriation, is light, some would say. And yet, the light also reveals the desolation and destruction. What is light then? Is it the beacon, or is it the whistleblower? In this context, Shimmer Spring, published by Hawakal Publishers (New Delhi & Calcutta), is an extraordinary collection, embracing both the temperaments of light. This hardbound volume—presented by recognized poet and editor Kiriti Sengupta, designed by Bitan Chakraborty, and embellished with vivid and fluid paintings by Pintu Biswas—is as enticing to the mind as it is to the eyes.

In his introduction to Shimmer Spring, Sengupta states, “light is a common metaphor for all that is good, illuminating, enchanting, truthful, or exuberant.” American poet Dustin Pickering grasps the overarching philosophy that Shimmer Spring explores. In his review, Pickering observes, “Writing about enlightenment is a precarious event. One must have a sufficient understanding of the breadth of meaning. Enlightenment is a state of mind and being rather than a momentary eclipse—we are granted access to its furtive sorcery from time-to-time.” Referring to Shimmer Spring as a “glowing mixtape of art and poetry,” journalist and poet Sneha Bhura identifies the collection as the kind of light that can offer solace in the times when most of us are “mostly groping in the dark.”

“There are two kinds of light / at work always,” says Akhil Katyal, one of the contributing poets. Be it the tsunami-like light of the Sun that travels far and wide, leaving destruction as well as creation in its wake, or the subtle glow from “A firefly / —with his 3mm bottom—” that triggers a butterfly effect to make “a whole forest talk.” For Basab Mondal, light is also the mark of genesis, briefly anointing a pregnant moll, accompanying her “like a halo / while she walks through the mist.” For if you have light within, you cannot but exude it.

Light brings about transformation, as Anannya Dasgupta discovers in “At Lucknow Residency.” The “slanting light / of the evening sun” reveals the ephemeral perfection in “exposed brick wall / broken archway / ruined banquet hall,” and what was earlier thought to be “the heartbreak / of its former self” is found to be alive still. Right, then, are the artist and filmmaker Aaron Rose’s words, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” Even the ordinary. And this is one of the biggest lessons the current times have taught us. It is the mundane that we miss the most when times change. It is the routine that gives us comfort when nothing else remains.

One must remember that while light begets life, it is also a pulsating, spirited being in itself—disembodied at times, like the ruminations of a poet in deep reflection. Geetha Ravichandran observes this spectral light as “it stood above the heads of the trees. / Shimmer nestled / amidst the flock of birds, / sailing in the dusk.” The same light, when absent, can incarcerate physically as well as philosophically, as it does in Anu Majumdar’s “Seed,” where “the jailers are now in jail / in the darkness of their mind.” Sonya J. Nair aptly seals this thought in “Past Holy Cities” with “Feel / an acute lack of light. / Two trees—casualtrees. Fell.”

Jagari Mukherjee’s “Again” explores light from an unusual perspective—heartache expressed through poignant imagery. After all, when light exists only in memories, sometimes the most comfortable choice is to live in the denial of its absence. Thus, “yearning is a shimmery moon / seen through nets of rain / when the world is a / devastating storm of watercolors.” The poem ends with an ominously misplaced sense of control over one’s destiny with “Everybody tells me to forget you, / but I won’t listen. / I will meet you again.” Mukherjee leaves the readers with a sense of foreboding because we know that while our actions might be ours, we have no say whatsoever in the outcome. After all, as Basundhara Roy observes in “Reflections,” “Love lost, the story splits into a hundred / nameless bits spinning like dust motes in // memory’s beam.”  

While Mukherjee traverses transience through vibrant colors, Usha Akella chooses sepia in “My Father Sings,” when “from his shy mouth, emerge winged things— / Hindi songs testing flight in the darkness, / the songs flicker their wings / waning and waxing on an underwater / of too many denials in life.” Nostalgia’s restrictive palette still effectively serves as a spotlight on those fleeting memories that we never thought would endure, and yet they somehow do. Madhu Raghavendra’s “Lost and Found” latches on to these illuminated moments of hope, prompting the poet to “think / of the pillows under which” he may have “forgotten his happiness.”

Sudeep Sen’s “Hope: Light Leaks” oscillates between light and the absence of it, as “Light’s plane waxes, wanes — / viral load expands, contracts. // Photons spill, conduction sparks — / light slow removes cataract’s veil.”  And Tabish Nawaz concludes this struggle, as “Darkness sips drop by drop— / stealing from a boisterous bulb—a glimmer of gold. // Light— / resting inside the puddle—incapable of hiding. / Springs to shimmer.” For no matter what, light must triumph. There is little sustenance in darkness. We give up on life if we give up on light.

I conclude this review with this astute observation by the late American author James A Michener: “An age is called ‘dark,’ not because the light fails to shine but because people refuse to see it.” One can argue that light is life, and even in its absence, it must continue to exist, lurking at the horizon. In that sense, metaphorically speaking, Shimmer Spring is light itself—reflecting on the current times, inspiring dormant poets to write, triggering a chain-reaction of creation that is bound to transform the emerging dawn into a bright and sunny day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Possessed

 
I lie flat on my back
spreadeagled
life seeps through my pores
mingles with the earth
around me, saplings raise their heads
and wither

I count seconds with my heartbeats
time slows down
blood coagulates
breath freezes
it hangs in the air above my face
posing existential questions

The mind empties
one memory at a time
one thought at a time
until nothing remains
but your words
in what had once been
my brain

 Also published in the Issue #29 of Tipton Poetry Journal
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