#7. Anupama Raju

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A land of eternal dusks, where days and nights are just shades of dark and darker. The lives of the inhabitants run parallel, yet intersect. Independent and interconnected.  The polyphony when listened to, tells stories of people who are segments of each other’s lives and yet live worlds apart. Love is poetry and poetry, a sharp blade in a velvet casing. Take for example these lines:

Blame it on the ocean,

on my frothing sea-breath,

on this opium air,

for all I can see now

are your plucked-out eyes

that continue to dream big

and become planets in your hands.

                                                (Disorientation)

The attendant revelation is sublime. However, sublimity does not guarantee tranquility. Rather, it carries the promise of distant thunder. And anticipation.

This is the multiverse that Anupama Raju has created out of vegetable markets that might be adjacent to flats from whose windows slivers of lives are beamed across the night sky. It is a place where memories of school days jostle for space alongside mother’s fish curry. Raju’s words echo the rhythm of Time itself. Unhurried and magnificent. She has a great eye for detail. And draws from the world around her. Some of her signature works such as the Windows series came out of her stint as writer in residence at the University of Kent where she was on a Charles Wallace Fellowship. Her time in La Rochelle in France, thanks to the residency programme by Le Centre Intermondes yielded Surfaces and Depths, a collaborative effort with the photographer, Pascal Bernard.

Apart from the evocative visual imagery, what stands out is the use of sound in her poems.

The lady upstairs grates a coconut,

drags a chair across the room,

hopes it will drown the argument

with the other whom she cannot hate.

                                    (Everyday Sounds)

At her hands, space, like everything else, is rendered transcendental, mutable. People metamorphose into walls, time melts and refashions itself and memories become edible. The effect is fascinating. Her language conveys the intangible longing that pervades maddening crowds and blank windows alike.

Hailed as one of the most interesting voices in contemporary Indian poetry, Raju has been featured anthologies such as the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, Yellow Nib Modern English Poetry by Indians, Ten – The New Indian Poets, Big Bridge Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry. Her works have been carried in The HinduThe CaravanThe Little MagazineIndian LiteratureMint LoungePratilipi. Her first book of poems, Nine received great acclaim and showed her capable of, to quote Arundhathi Subramaniam, “…transforming familiar tropes of blood and longing, pain and death, into the “burnt letters” of warm, pulsating verse. Anupama Raju cuts close to the bone….

This ability to transform extends to her presentation of the female. She engages her spaces and language to present a Calypso like persona who takes all or nothing. The demand for the absolute is unwavering and surgical.

The trauma of abuse has been a great concern for Raju, who along with Karthika Nair, K. Srilata and Priya Sarukkai Chabria, has written a series of poems that deals with the body vis a vis female sexuality. The ways in which the female body counters violence with instinctual power have been presented in extraordinary language. In a powerful image, a woman wonders if using a conditioner would have helped ‘smoothen’ the systemic abuse she encounters at each step. The word conditioner being a brilliant jibe at the conditioning that women undergo. The systematic recounting of abuse is as much a mental documentation as it is defiance.   The last lines read

Next time, I will condition myself, she thought,

as she brushed her down her knotted hair.

                                                (Conditioner) 

When not writing with such smouldering intensity, Anupama Raju is a communications professional and a literary journalist. She is a great conversationalist who can hold forth on any subject with aplomb. Her refreshing frankness is reflected in the honesty of her poetry. This week, we bring you the vinegary, molten, subtle and edgy words of Anupama Raju. Here’s to eternal dusks!

I Long

Lazy afternoons doze in familiar memories,

as parabolic eyebrows long for that creation,

in which I lose my inhibition

in which I let my senses dance

to the beat of a clicking tongue.

The red smells of the loving, spicy fingers

And the yellow, of the bright laughter.

All colours of a passion I’d die for,

Of a fragrance I’d live for.

Mummy, I really miss your Fish curry.

 

(This poem first appeared in ‘Kritya, A Journal of Poetry’, ed. Dr Rati Saxena, 2009)

Early poems from Nine (‘Mylapore, Chennai’ and ‘Fatima Convent’) 

Mylapore, Chennai

Fresh vegetables

and slush dot inviting streets.

Fight with gods for space.

 

Eager nostrils take

adai-and-avial trails

to ‘Karpagam Mess’.

 

Elegant silks dressed

up tall glass windows. I saw

my wedding sari.

Fatima Convent

Buffaloes graze on

green memories that sprout

on my way to school.

 

Remember that shop?

Bottles of sinful syrup?

Fruit juice on credit?

 

The white blouse and green

skirt dry on the red terrace.

With them, my school days.

 

We went together

humming film songs, spilling smiles

till we reached school.

 

Yasmin, we rolled our

socks down to show our legs

and paid fines to nuns.

 

(‘Mylapore, Chennai’ and ‘Fatima Convent’ are from Nine, Speaking Tiger, in association with the Jehangir Sabavala Foundation, 2015)

Window series

Window 1

Blond boy in red t-shirt

washes dishes in the sink

two hours later

he is looking at himself in the mirror

plucking his acne out

the lights have gone out

 

Window 2

Shoulder moves behind curtains

candle flickers like a silent movie

laptop does not take what it gives.

Someone’s on the other side.

But she won’t cross over tonight.

The lights are staying on.

 

Window 3

Is dark

Is shut

Is beautiful

Is small

Is cold

 

Window 4

Looks like a slab of butter

standing up to touch the roof

may be they’ll use it for toast

tomorrow morning.

Window 5

Heavy curtain folds

a face appears

every now and then

to peer into other windows and

then write poems about windows.

I am a woman. And I write

I am a woman and I write.

I write and I am a woman.

I write of longing, belonging

of my body, of every body

of my home, my country, where I roam.

I am a woman. And I write.

my poetics are screwed up.

my imagination dried up.

I lack conviction and I give up easily.

I lack direction and I give in easily.

I seek a voice, which will not be heard

I am a woman and I write.

I make things up because they seem right

I am a devoted mother, a faithful wife

I can be anything I am not.

I lie exquisitely, I choose my metaphors carefully

I say grand things like I’m a woman and I write.

I declare, denounce, decry and detest.

I have a point but don’t care enough to make it

What can I say

I am a woman. And I write.  

(‘The window’ series and ‘I am a woman. And I write’ first appeared in Domus, 65, Nov 2017)

What you don’t know

You think you can

Stun me to sleep,

Shun my words

And hold me down.

What you don’t know

Is I am an axe.

I cut you down.

(This poem recently appeared in Scroll.in) Here’s the link:

https://scroll.in/article/959572/can-the-body-be-a-metaphor-of-protest-these-poems-by-four-women-poets-show-us-how

 

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Sunitha

    She is an ‘axe’ alright! Slays with her words! The images she invokes are so real that you can touch and even smell them! Mum’s Hands, her divine cooking, The slab of butter and the peacefully closed but cold windows…these images stay with you for a long time…and her words come back to you when you remember similar instances….thanks Anu, for making our memories stronger!

  2. Anupama

    Thank you for reading, Suni! And glad you like some of these poems. Take care.

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