Suman K Sharma
In Sharmishtha Koul Sharma’s poetry collection Resurrection (Writers Workshop, 2022), one should not be looking that fora poem with that title. The slim volume of 68 pages gives instead the marvellous feeling of being in communion with a born again daughter of the land of Habba Khatoon and LalDed. It is Sharmishtha’s second book. Her first, Endless Longings…Journeys of a Kashmiri Girl(2012) ‘was based on the themes of conflict, despondence and resilience’ (The Author).
The 51 poems – all except one, ‘The Shadow’ (18-19), are no longer than a page. They are grouped under five headings, ‘Love’, ‘Nature-Nurture’, ‘Freeing Fetters’, ‘Conflict’ and ‘Resilience’. The grouping may appear rather disjointed on a cursory reading. Even so, one perceives an undercurrent of an intense Sufi emotion running throughout the collection.
In love, the poet becomes indistinguishable from her lover. ‘Why, in vain, try to separate/the pristine salt from the tears’ (10), she rhetorises. Her passion is ecstatic, above the sensuality of the bodily touch. She goes for the transcendental Touch of the Deity. ‘With His Touch, the body/and the Soul anchor in Maker.’ (16). It is ‘(t)oo sacred to fit in the profane spaces.’ (13). But, alongside the capitalised ‘He’ is present the ‘you’ in the lower case. Devoted to the Celestial lover, she lives in the mundane world as well. The dichotomy ruffles her not to a small degree:
The hands reach out, not seeking
what lies beneath the flesh.
The silent cries of shame, hurt
yet to find a release;
rumbling and imploding.
The touch resounds with defilement.
Her response to the invitation of life here-and-now is equivocal – ‘Beautiful is your invitation for life,/yet I quack to accept it.'(21).
Sharmishtha identifies herself completely with the Valley of Kashmir, its past and the present: ‘I am the ancient holy soil, yet soiled everyday/I bear the burdens of past within my present.’ (24). Words such as ‘ground, ‘soil’, ‘earth’, and ‘land’ that abound in the section ‘Nature-Nurture’ emphasise her territoriality. In the poem ‘Soiled’ (25), she gives to the word ‘soil’ its widest import. In stanzas 1 and 4, ‘soil’ is an object of ardent desire. She uses it not to cleanse herself but ‘to absorb His essence and colours’. Her ‘body knows the bliss of the soil’. The use of particular article ‘the’ in this line connotes the soil of the Valley. The repeated use of the adjective ‘soiled’ with ‘soul’ in stanzas 2 and 3 goes to the other extreme. Here ‘soil’ stands for what befouls that which has been pristine and pure. Though Sharmishtha might have travelled far and wide, she is rooted still to her motherland: ‘Tired of wandering and travelling/the gypsy soul seeks the Anchor’ (26), she says.
When one is devoted above all to the Absolute Ultimate and still is earth-bound, an oxymoron such as ‘Freeing Fetters’ could perhaps be the best way to express the irrepressible surge of emotion. This section is replete with the tropes of ice, icy winds, dark night, dream, beingness and nothingness.But surprisingly, the overall mood is far from chilly. The poet, thanks to ‘(t)he undefined flow of bond within blood’, is in a state of lasting euphoria. She calls it her ‘madness’. It is that which sets her free from all rules:
Oblivious of what one calls rules
My madness has only, set me free.
The fetters laid off, happily.
Should I now be condemned to exile?
There are ten poems in the ‘Conflict’ section, mostly with binary motifs. In ‘Head and Heart’ (49), it is head and heart; in ‘Immersion’ (50), it is immersioninto and crossing and over a river (in the Santana Dharma mythology, the souls of the newly dead have to wade through the frightful river, ‘Vaitarni’); in the ‘Body-Mind’ (51), it is body and mind; in ‘Fire’ (53), it is fire and water; and so on. In spite of the pulls and cross-pulls, the poet has the courage of conviction not to renunciate the world just because of the contrariness of life:
Renunciation is not for me, to flee,
neither in the depth of midnight,
nor in the broad daylight;
I can slip into other worldly robes.
The last section, ‘Resilience’ comprises poems of a heightened intensity, conveying both the anguish and pride of a someone who is a Kashmiri, a displaced person, a woman and a poet. In ‘Woman of Kashmir’ she asserts ‘The flow of Jhelum moves within me./I carry the stillness of Dal within./The snow lies immersed in my blood and tears./ within cold ravines, I behold all warmth.’ (60). She admits that the life’s tribulations have taken their toll – ‘I am not the same frame anymore.’ (62). Buther struggle has gone on only to consolidate her selfhood, rather than undermine it. ‘Yes, my wholeness stands integrated./I have aroused myself in gathering pieces.’ (63). She is not much of a believer in tradition; yetnotan out-and-out rebel. ‘I stand out/within boundaries/as an outcast.’ (68). How does such a social outcast relate to the Deity? For her the rituals of any religion do not amount to much.She has a direct communion with her Lord:
Having soaked myself in primeval words,
No longer are the interpretations moving me,
I have picked up His rosary,
Un-ordained, yet I join His Order.
Interestingly, the host of the poems in Resurrectionare written in the first person singular or the first-person possessive pronoun, talking mainly of the selfhood. Albeit, ‘Lost Labour’ (66) stands out as an exception in the collection as it pays homage to working women.
The collection as a whole delineates the poet’s journey from being immersed in love – corporeal and spiritual – to becoming one who savours the triumph of ‘the distinctiveness/to stand out, for (her) own stand’ (68). Illustrations by Anil Nakhasi add to the dhvani of the collection.
Seeing such an accomplishment as Resurrection, one should be chary of blaming Sharmishtha for being too free with her diction. Yet, she is. Take this line for instance: ‘I find self in your oasis with no mirages.’ (‘You’, 14). Does an oasis have mirages? Or this one: ‘Now that the gallows are withering’ ‘I Dance’ (17). Gallows wouldn’t be gallows if they withered. Here is one more: ‘I swam across the frozen (emphasis added) water all alone’ (‘When Time Froze’, 36). Really?And how about ‘snarling eyes’ in ‘They look upon me with snarling eyes’ (Woman of Kashmir, 60)? The book would have done much better with a bit of careful editing.
All said, in Resurrectionone finds a powerful Kashmiri voice.
Suman K Sharma