The debut collection of poems by Namrata Pathak, That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate, fills your platter with delightful ingredients. You have unusual metaphors startling you with their aptness. You have a rich “hyper-sensory” experience and sometimes it is shockingly surrealist because “you have ears that smell, a nose that hears, a tongue that feels, and a skin that tastes”—overall, you dig your fingers into a rotund, red, tempting pomegranate, taste the ripe, juicy fruit with an unmatched hunger. This hunger renews itself and partly, the book does not appease you in one reading. It demands continuous readings, incessant engagement and a rigorous involvement on the part of the reader. It offers a delightful treat to every connoisseur of words, a new unraveling or a fresh epiphany every time you read it. As the poet accurately puts it, the act of eating is evident in the book. The book is replete with words like ‘consuming,’ ‘gnawing,’ ‘swallowing,’ and ‘gulping,’ not to mention the political nuances of the act itself. “Don’t we eat love, memories, people, and places? Don’t we eat words and sounds? Don’t we eat our lovers? Don’t we eat ourselves?”— questions the poet! Moreover, “the resonances are awry, sometimes peculiar.” As the poet herself puts it— “Eating a pomegranate is about breaking boundaries. It’s a juicy rebellion.”
Every time you read the book, not only you unearth new shades and hues, but each poem conjures up a chunk of emotion, sharp and familiar. It is a dream packed in a few lines; the rhymes and metaphors, often unusual, twine grace with raw, earthy beauty. The poetry collection covers a range of topics, such as the dismay and desolation of a young wife in the ‘fish woman,’ the monotony of a professor and the day to day ‘mundane routine’ that binds her, the aches of loneliness of a lover whose beloved is no more, the disrupted ties between a mother and a daughter, reconstruction of writers like Celan, Marquez and Robin Ngangom and the eventual erasure of the boundary between life and art, to mention a few.
In ‘Bedouin,’ the freedom and adventure of a travelling nomad is sung in praise but the pain of the tired feet is not missed. Bedouin is the universal emblem of womanhood, that raw feminine force that lurks in the psyche of all men, a woman who cannot be possessed or marked as owned. She is to be desired and loved. She flows free. She flies free. Bedouin is in each one of us, that elemental wildness and that untamed zeal:
All the while
in moments of cobblestoned footfalls
when coming down
in iron rails and oars
she cuts through the flags of the wing—
her body caked with mud, slime, lichen,
as holding the sun on her forhead
she becomes a Bedouin (p. 25).
In “Sighting a Witch in Nongthymmai,” the poet shows her affinity with peripheral figures and the witch appeals her in more than one ways. The poem is also an attempt at undoing the fear of the unknown. This is a witch who does not move in straight lines. She has wiry, Medusa-hair and “paper-creased” feet. Her skin is crumpled like a “lizard lore.” “Night at Mohanbari” captures the rebel’s urge to break free of the chains and shackles, to find peace in small, small pleasures of life. The poem stands indecisive, like the poet herself, neither going here nor there. She beautifully played with words here:
In jelly nights footfalls get stuck
to porches. Only a verbatim monologue
spreads across the night sky.
Our words are nubile,
the rest non-seasonal like star fruits,
poky, plump artefacts on hands (28-9).
“Shillong” showcases the varied facets of life as found in different relationships that the poet gets into—each adding a different dimension, a different layer to her life. Mostly, the poem is coated with a sharp, intoxicating indigenous flavor. Places from Meghalaya find a repeated reference. Dalu, Bajengdoba, Nongrim Hills, Nongthymmai, Chasingre etc. not only anchor the poems to our region, our terrain, but they also reveal spaces that are deeply personal, warm and welcoming. But to the poet’s dismay, sometimes these spaces expel her out. The places are antagonistic and foreign. She deeply reflects on the changing equations of spaces, their malleability and dynamism:
Shillong, don’t play truant!
Hold me to the rim
of your long-stemmed wine glass!
of my drunk loyalty,
sends me to the arms of many-headed Ravanas (50).
“Kaziranga” is ghastly, dark and hopeless. It is haunted by screeches and shrieks, monsters, apparitions, and eviction drives—a place that does not treasure rosy memories. Here, she crawls under a blanket of fog and wild acacias “to grow resplendently into a boredom” (72). Unlike “Kaziranga,” a poem like “Lost and Down in Paltan Bazar” makes us familiar with the many voices, polyphony of a busy spot, but ironically this multilingual propensity is stifling:
Paltan Bazar squeezes
your vocal chords tight—
not any sound you want to be,
not any sound you want to be.
No Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, shards of rain on shops,
Berceuse, silence, our breathlessness—
not any sound you want to be (15).
That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate is structured into five stages of eating—Anticipation, Preparation, Feasting, Metamorphosis, and Rebirth. The poems are arranged in five segments, under each umbrella term, which in turn, woven into a continuous, colourful fabric. What is striking in the collection is the poet’s use of language—sometimes it is serpentine, sometimes hollow, sometimes untrustworthy, sometimes muggy, and sometimes it turns against itself. This self-reflexivity is noteworthy.
That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate by Namrata Pathak
Publisher: Red River, New Delhi,
Price: Rs 300/-
Afifa Kausar teaches Zoology in ADP College, Nogaon, Assam.