‘Return Gift’ – A work of deep perception

Suman K Sharma
Shashi Pathania’s collection of Dogri poetry, ‘Return Gift’ (Dogri Sanstha, Jammu, 2022), stands out as a work of deep perception.
True to the Dogra tradition, the first poem in the collection, ‘Prarthana’ (Prayer), is an invocation to God. Here is no mendicant supplicating before the Deity for a favour, but an ardent lover confiding to Him of her love. ‘Migi tere nai pyar ai’ – I am in love with you: Mira-like she asserts (15). It is not a passing fancy of hers. Shashi Pathania has imbibed the divine grace through the nitty gritty of her life. Patience she has gathered from human condition, wisdom from the problems that she had to face and knowledge that she gleaned from her experiences. When she wanted to have a friend, who came to her but God Himself (‘Sab Milda Ai’ – Everything is Within the Reach, 128). A devotee with such firm conviction as hers basks in His glory despite the gloomiest of circumstances (‘Ohda Noor’ – His Grace, 130).
The poet has been a teacher for the most of her life. 49 of her 74 poems in the book either impart a lesson or throw a new light on the most mundane aspects of life. The eponymous poem ‘Return Gift’, which happens to be longest one in the collection (74-77), does one better. It is both didactic and looks at a very special phase of life from an entirely different perspective. The first three stanzas are devoted to mark the poem as a return gift to the poet’s children for felicitating her on the Mothers’ Day. The following four stanzas are confessional in nature. Carrying the children in her womb for nine months and sustaining them with her life blood brought her rich praise. She rejoiced in the glory of motherhood as well. But not for once did she utter a word about the silent sufferings of the unborn who were confined helplessly in the dark dungeon of her belly. The rest of the poem dwells upon yet more agony babies have to undergo while taking birth. It is not a mother in her labour-pains. She says it is the baby who suffers the most while fighting out its way into the world. She uses the simile of a seedling tearing open the earth’s surface to make her point. The poem concludes with a motherly admonition to her offspring to bear up with the troubles and tribulations of life with as much fortitude as they put up with the untold pains of being born.
Even a teacher/poet is but a person of flesh and bone like anyone of us. S/he too has a selfhood which oftentimes cries out for its singularity. There are nearly a dozen-and-a-half poems that bring the reader face to face with the person which the poet Shashi Pathania is. In ‘Shahkar’ – Masterpiece (23-24) – Shashi Pathania affirms her uniqueness without a trace of false humility. In her, “Nature created a masterpiece with a rich pallet of emotions, giving her the vitality of brooks, the dynamism of springs and the symphony of breath…” (23). This superb creation got sullied and out of shape by the world’s constraints and contamination. Even so, the poet assures us that by dint of her concerted effort she is regaining now her pristine form moment by moment “hun partoa karni-n aan pal-pal/apne mool roopai ch” (24). Does such a self-sufficient person fall in love? The last poem in the collection ‘Aks – Image’ (131) offers a clue. “Ajj apne aapai nai milna ai” confides Ms Pathania, “Jislai sheeshe ch jhanti mari ai/Taan sheeshe ne teri gai soorat usaari ai – Today I am to meet my own self…When I peeped into the mirror…/Then the mirror formed the very visage of yours. But for such a tryst, she had to prepare herself diligently – rubbing off lust with the cleansing ‘butna’ of love, removing dryness with the unguent of pride, applying the kohl of bashfulness to her eyes and adorning her forehead with the bindi of trust and confidence.
As expected, a poet of Shashi Pathania’s sensibilities could not be devoid of a sense of humour. In ‘Lekhak’ – Writers – (65), she compares writers with three types of mothers. Writers who nourish their creations with their life-blood like a hen does its eggs are of the first kind. The second type is like the mothers who adopt children of others – neither the egg is theirs, nor the womb. And the third is similar to child-lifters who steal away the creation of someone else. Onlookers, while showering praise on them are amazed. Such creations match neither in form nor in content with their presumed creators. ‘Ahinsa’ – Non-violence (27) and ‘Makodiyan’ – Ants (72-73) are the poems written in similar satirical vein.
Pathania’s diction is without blemish. “She is never caught in the fascination for words,” observes Ved Rahi in his Preface (9). Her style is unpretentious. She uses language as a workman’s tool. In this largely pedagogical work, one would hardly find any apophthegms. To quote meaningfully, one would require more than one lines from her poems. To her, a poem comes riding on thin air, hardly giving her a chance to put it down on paper (11). That explains her penchant for free verse, which gives her liberty to be true to her emotions. Yet, her words have a music of their own like the gurgle of a mountain stream. “Vakt da dhobi ussi/Halaat de patde par/pataaki-pataaki marda ai” (‘Dard-Duaa’58), for instance, is not only a telling metaphor on human condition, but the onomatopoetic words ‘pataaki-pataaki’ evoke also the ruthless thrashing of man by Time the Washerman.
Ved Rahi enthusiastically calls ‘Return Gift’ “Dogri Kavita da Nama ‘Dhya” – A New Chapter of Dogri Poetry (5). There is much substance in Shashi Pathania’s own advice to her readers, “…Read the poems as if you were reciting a poem of your own to someone….so that these poems should feel like your very own feelings….”(12).