Category: India

Shringara, a poem by Shanta Acharya

Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Friendship.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Spring in Kew Gardens.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Strange Times.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Alphabet of Erasure.”

 

SHRINGARA

The image in the mirror is no longer frozen
in an unimaginable longing.

A participant in life’s carnival, I prepare for illusion.

Elizabeth Arden’s flawless finish foundation frosts
on skin breathing Shahnaz Hussain’s sandalwood face cream.
Givenchy’s mascara thickens and lengthens eyelashes,
rosewood powder blushes on cheeks. My mask is complete
with desire red, double colour, everlasting Estee Lauder lipstick.
I spray myself generously with Nirvana and Samsara.

I travel towards what end I cannot say –

Along the way, those I meet and those I do not,
all the things that happen to me and those that do not
keep defining me in some inexplicable way.
Daily the mirror mocks my wrinkles, streaks of grey.

If I am the result of unrepeatable circumstances,
what use is there in seeking escape from self-enunciation?
In the end we are all dead. The days become my shringara.

Note: Shringara is one of the nine rasas, usually translated to as erotic or romantic love. The theory of rasa is the foundation of classical Indian art, including theatre, music, dance, poetry, sculpture. Much of traditional Indian art deals with the relationship between a man and a woman, the primary emotion generated being shringara. The relationship between lover and beloved is also a metaphor for the relationship between the individual and the Divine. In classical Indian painting and sculpture, the shringara rasa is represented by a woman getting ready, putting on make-up, sitting or standing in front of a mirror, facing herself, preparing for a lover, her life. In my poem, shringara refers to all kinds of preparation we make for Life itself. The idea of being prepared also reminds me of Shakespeare’s ‘ripeness is all’ (King Lear, Act 5, Scene 2, ‘Men must endure/Their going hence even as their coming hither./Ripeness is all.’).

Shanta Acharya, Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers, India; 2017)

Friendship, a poem by Shanta Acharya

Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Spring in Kew Gardens.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Strange Times.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Shringara.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Alphabet of Erasure.”

 

FRIENDSHIP

Like birdsong beginning inside an egg,
a flake of snow dreaming of an iceberg,

the rainbow sky beyond judgment,
a soul dwelling in two bodies.

Names safe in each other’s mouths,
walking together, sometimes in the dark,

in silence more sympathetic than words –
something treasured, understood.

Not a duty, but a responsibility gladly undertaken,
a comfortable hand-in-glove feeling.

As the giving grows, the taking goes –
angels let us see the best of what we can be,

the shimmer of dawn prophesying
the appearance of a zillion stars at night.

Not following, not leading, just loving
for trying, not blindly, but closing one’s eyes

in forgiveness, in prayer, finding the hard times
worth suffering, there being no better love than love

with no object, just being there, believing,
willing to be trusted with everything

Shanta Acharya, What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams Publishing, UK; 2020)

 


Photo by Dr. Sanjay Acharya

 

About Shanta Acharya

Shanta Acharya DPhil (Oxon) was born and educated in Cuttack, India. She won a scholarship to Oxford, and was among the first batch of women admitted to Worcester College in 1979. A recipient of the Violet Vaughan Morgan Fellowship, she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy for her work on Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University before joining an American investment bank in London. Founder of Poetry in the House, Shanta hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate, London, from 1996-2015. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society, The Poetry School, and the Arvon Foundation in the UK. The author of twelve books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance. Her most recent books include Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2017) and What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams, 2020). www.shantaacharya.com

Spring in Kew Gardens, a poem by Shanta Acharya

Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Friendship.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Strange Times.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Shringara.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Alphabet of Erasure.”

 

SPRING IN KEW GARDENS

Under the spell of cherry blossoms,
verging on crimson-maroon to blushing white,

loneliness scatters like particles of dust in light.
I suck the honey of this delicious solitude.

Lifted on the wings of a warbler’s song,
a cuckoo’s ecstatic call carries me home –

I’m speaking to my mother recovering
from her fall. She calibrates her voice against

the koels’ song, full throated, unseen among
the trees in her courtyard. Is it the other way round,

we wonder, birdsong rising in decibels
as noise in cities grows deafeningly loud?

Planes flying over the Royal Botanic Gardens
distract from the peace of ancient trees.

The all-seeing peacocks, their fanned tails quivering
with wild, forlorn calls awaken in me immortal longings,

making it possible to be in two places at once.
I am in Mathura, inside the temple of Krishna,

waiting for darshan. Outside, these proud defenders
of faith and grace teach us to be incorruptible,

discover our inner strength and beauty, display
our true colours as we dance to the music of humanity.

I came into this world with only my shadow,
wake unexpectedly to this rapture of being.

Shanta Acharya, What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams Publishing, UK; 2020)

 


Photo by Dr. Sanjay Acharya

 

About Shanta Acharya

Shanta Acharya DPhil (Oxon) was born and educated in Cuttack, India. She won a scholarship to Oxford, and was among the first batch of women admitted to Worcester College in 1979. A recipient of the Violet Vaughan Morgan Fellowship, she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy for her work on Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University before joining an American investment bank in London. Founder of Poetry in the House, Shanta hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate, London, from 1996-2015. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society, The Poetry School, and the Arvon Foundation in the UK. The author of twelve books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance. Her most recent books include Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2017) and What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams, 2020). www.shantaacharya.com

Strange Times, a poem by Shanta Acharya

Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Friendship.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Spring in Kew Gardens.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Shringara.”
Read Shanta Acharya’s poem “Alphabet of Erasure.”

 

STRANGE TIMES

Strange times are these in which we live –

the falsehoods we are taught, the freedoms we have lost.
Yet humanity never lets go, will not give up the ghost.

It’s taken a long time to get here. There’s no turning back –
no walls, camps, guards, check-points can prevent

a man on his way home, shopping bags in hand,
stalls a column of tanks as if it were an ordinary thing,

not mankind making a stand, landing on the moon,
planting a flag. They never wanted all that attention –

not the stowaways who died of asphyxiation,
angels who flew for their lives from blazing towers.

The price is always the same, your most precious
possession, your life and dreams, your future

drowned on a beach, face half-buried in sand;
a daughter, brutally violated, dead in your arms.

Not knowing if we can find a way forward,
we stumble on like spirits possessed with sixth sense,

carrying the torch of hope in our hearts,
believing in the darkness of the world –

a crack is all it takes for light to get in,
alter our vision, fire a revolution.

Those who trust know how to dream,
keep faith in things unseen –

the quality of darkness is how it lets us see.

Shanta Acharya, What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams Publishing, UK; 2020)

 


Photo by Dr. Sanjay Acharya

 

About Shanta Acharya

Shanta Acharya DPhil (Oxon) was born and educated in Cuttack, India. She won a scholarship to Oxford, and was among the first batch of women admitted to Worcester College in 1979. A recipient of the Violet Vaughan Morgan Fellowship, she was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy for her work on Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of English and American Literature and Languages at Harvard University before joining an American investment bank in London. Founder of Poetry in the House, Shanta hosted a series of monthly poetry readings at Lauderdale House, Highgate, London, from 1996-2015. She has served on the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society, The Poetry School, and the Arvon Foundation in the UK. The author of twelve books, her publications range from poetry, literary criticism and fiction to finance. Her most recent books include Imagine: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2017) and What Survives Is The Singing (Indigo Dreams, 2020). www.shantaacharya.com

“A Shining Forth,” a review of Shanta Acharya’s poetry collection, What Survives is the Singing, written...

WHAT SURVIVES IS THE SINGING
By Shanta Acharya
Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd.
Devon, 2020, £9.99
ISBN 9781912876211

 

“A Shining Forth” 
Review of Shanta Acharya’s poetry collection, What Survives is the Singing, by Lance Lee  

Darkness has an unexpected quality, the quality of ‘how it lets us see’ (‘Strange Times’) — so begins Shanta Acharya’s powerful seventh book of poetry, What Survives Is The Singing (Singing hereafter), marking new paths after her recent selected poetry, Imagine: New And Selected Poems. Singing also sees her integrate into her poetry the abuse of women that appeared powerfully in her novel, A World Elsewhere (2015). There her heroine endures abuse (at times graphically) as she breaks free from tradition, marriage, and India for a new life in England. The abuse of women may be only one kind of abuse, but Acharya makes sure we get the point about its barbarity before she turns to other issues.

In ‘Alphabet Of Erasure’ a daughter’s life begins ‘with a bloody Caesarean’ to produce an almost perfect daughter doomed ‘to live in the shade if not oblivion’.  She is ‘crossed out’, pursues ‘other people’s dreams’ in a ‘self-mutilation’; she might just as well be ‘bleached/reefs of coral as the earth’s treasures disappear’. What can you expect when ‘barbarians run the city, legislate on art/and beauty in the name of progress and diversity’ to deny ‘us the gift of exploring the world’, let alone ourselves.

A young woman in ‘Ambala’ admires another, more free-spirited, but finds her one day before a mirror ‘peering deep inside herself’. Is this a new yoga position, she wonders? But there is blood on the carpet as Ambala sees the clitoral mutilation of her friend, ‘a most brutal and unkind cut,/nothing like male circumcision’ but now her friend’s ‘wound, her shame, her secret laceration/as she lay writhing on the floor,/unable to face a life of pain and humiliation.’

In ‘Can You Hear Our Screams’, Acharya evokes the variety of such abuses, while in ‘To Lose Everything’ she shows how a sophisticated, ‘knowing’ woman lures another into prostitution. Alesha witnesses the murder of her liberated sister by her tradition-bound parents in ‘Alesha’s Confession’. She shudders as she hears ‘mother whisper: Let’s finish it here —’ and mother and father strangle her sister to death. This poem is partially based on such an ‘honor’ killing by Pakistani parents in England. Only in 2016 has Pakistan outlawed honor killings. These poems add a poetic immediacy and urgency to a subject too often relegated to prose, even in so fine an examination of the abuse of women as Rachel Snyder’s recent No Visible Bruises.

Acharya is a poet of great sophistication, Indian and English culture, capable of subtle reflection, and, at times, humor as in ‘Testing The Nation’, where, after exposing some popular absurdities, like French fries are not from France, she asks:

then waht is rong if r children
cannot reed or rite, lak comun sens,
tink egs do not gro in Grate Britun
and potatos r milkt from caus?

But she has a more urgent range of abuse to pursue, as in ‘The Bull Fight’ where a bull is wounded by lancers, ‘until he staggers in pain’ ready for a matador’s kill— which leaves the bull standing, suffering a slow death ‘marking man’s inhumanity,/bearing witness to the barbarism of human beings.’ But then it takes ‘a long time to be human’, Acharya points out in ‘Parliament Hill’ where children, oblivious, learn to fly kites, unaware of the layers of violent history represented by this hill, an ‘ancient site of druidic disputation’ and later a retreat for Roundheads against Cavaliers, among others.

Most of all in Singing Acharya searches to find place, home, self, and meaning in our ‘strange times’. Her mixed English and Indian background attunes her to the variety of cultural traditions which at once frees her yet leaves her to wonder to which she belongs, and if not to one or the other, then to what? In our world of unrelenting technological upheaval, the wearing away of cultural and historical norms, the accidents of globalization, to which we can now add pandemics that seem almost to strike from a clear sky, how is one to think of him or herself? In what are we to root? What is to give us the strength ‘to be our self’, not just a statistical entity, a ‘consumer’ of this age group or that, a ‘user’ of this who is ‘used’ by that; the strength to prevent ourselves from being defined by income as a matter of fact and, among some of our barbaric (neo-Liberal) neo-Darwinians, character? What would ‘being our self’ mean? In fact, does our life, does our world, would our freedom, have any meaning at all?

Not many take on considerations like these, or manage to do so with the resources of their art so that meaning strengthens their work’s artistry and emotional impact. Acharya does. Take ‘Belonging’: to have one’s ‘meanings inhaled the way elephants/ smell water from a distance’ is striking, but the poem is an ‘ars poetica’, wondering if words were ‘turned over’ like a matriarch elephant who nuzzles ‘the bare bones of an ancestor’ meditating, ‘her sensitive trunk caressing the carcass/as a blind person memorizes a face’, then they could hold memories that ‘travel from bone to bone/like words from mouth to mouth’. What else should a successful poem do but move ‘bone to bone’?

‘For this is a world of empty promises’ (‘Exile’), one where ‘you simply play a part, an actor on a screen’ (‘Parallel Lives’), one where we are ‘trapped in relationships’ (‘Relationships’), a world we come into with ‘only my shadow’ (‘Kew Gardens’), where if you try to define the color red (‘Infinity Of Red’) you end with a flood of contradictions that sum up the world, like ‘A newborn child wrapped in its amniotic fluid crying’. It may well take ‘a lifetime to be oneself’ (‘The Best is Yet To Be’), while age is ‘ultimately the triumph of matter over mind,/revenge for the idealistic delusions of youth’ (‘Indian Summer’). A word master, Acharya can ask ‘Is poetry so bitter, bitter the company of poets,/a jungle consuming itself like a raging fire?/… we are drawn to illusion,/dreaming of worlds other than the one we live in’ (‘Where In This World Does One Find Happiness’) because this world is so brutal, illusory, repetitious, and senseless. That she intersperses humor in these poems testifies to her self-confidence.

‘Shringara’ in her earlier book of that title gives us a good way to underscore Acharya’s development in Singing.  There as ‘A participant in life’s carnival, I prepare for illusion’. She imagines putting on makeup, including Nirvana and Samsara, ‘to travel towards what end I cannot say’. Along the way she is defined by all she meets, encounters, becoming the result of ‘unpredictable circumstances’. So what, she wonders: what else is there but this shringara, this shining forth of herself? But in Singing, in ‘Self Portrait’, she again looks into a mirror, and now sees … strangers (‘incarnations of myself’). No sooner does she identify with one of them than she finds herself someone else. ‘Imagine,’ she writes, ‘finding yourself at an exhibition/where none of the portraits resemble you’, leaving you nothing but shadows. Whitman might celebrate his multitudes, but through all her multitudes, Acharya searches for ‘the life that belongs only to me—’, to ‘discover what manner of human I have been’.

This is a ‘shining forth’ with the strength to face searching always through the passing moment in which we find ourselves which in turn involves ‘startling discovery’ (‘Being Human’), yet without reaching a final self-definition or comprehension. In ‘Did You Know’, ‘A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer—/it sings because it has a song’. For Acharya finding our true self is not our end: the journey itself is our being, our song.

 

 

Lance Lee is a recipient of several awards including the Creative Writing fellowship of the National Endowment for the Arts. His collection of poems, Seasons of Defiance, was a finalist in the 2010 National Best Books Awards in the US. Elemental Natures (2020), his seventh poetry book, includes a selection of work spanning more than thirty years of poetry, art, and essay.