If I were to imagine Geetha Nair, I would like to think of her as an olive tree. That is not in any way a reference to her peacekeeping abilities. The olive tree (not those hybrid ones) lives on as just a tree for many decades. It stands there day after day, providing shelter and tending to its work of being a tree, till one day, perhaps, the roots stir, there is something in the wind- I do not know- and it bursts forth with its lovely fruits. The fruits are invariably delicious and the yield copious. The tree, is thus, at last- an olive tree.
Why this comparison is apt is because, for more than three decades, Geetha Nair taught English Language and Literature at All Saints’ College in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. She was the go-to person for poetry there. She would break into poems from a lot of other poets when she taught Keats, Shelley, Dylan Thomas, Yeats moving from one to another, graceful as a trapeze artist. All from memory and topically. But it was T. S Eliot with whom she would leave a lasting mark on the most obdurate, resistant of minds. The lore of the Fisher King, the travails of Tristan and Isolde, the modern waste land where the dead men lost their bones, the final search for salvation opened up worlds in the minds of her students.
And then one day, she began to write. Verses of such magnificence. Not for her the flamboyant laments, the dirges or elegies that she taught…her verse cuts close to the bone, there is fire and passion- regal, demanding.
I am not all heart you know;
I shall pierce your three- strong force
With my twin rapiers of ire
And pin you so
Till you see my heart, my love,
And cry out loud
And melt in my leaping fire.
A student of Ayyappa Paniker, she had the good fortune to be a part of his poetry club. She went on to help edit a book on him- a tribute to the great teacher by his students, Ayyappa Paniker Forever. Geetha Nair is an active member of Poetry Chain, one of the oldest poetry groups in Thiruvananthapuram, that has at its helm, veteran poet, Gopikrishnan Kotoor. She is also a prominent presence in Literary Vibes, an online magazine run by the renowned Odiya writer Dr. Mrutyunjay Sarangi.
If her poetry gets close and upfront with the stark beauty of mindscapes, her short stories examine the vulnerabilities of human relationships and those undercurrents that bind unlikely people together. There is always a sense of hope in her works. A feeling that they are about to set out on a journey.
The critic Sulochana Rammohan comments “There are poems that are not so easily digested. Metaphors, irony, a tongue in cheek disregard for sentiments, all add to the uniqueness of this collection. You cannot read with a mindset that is conformist or parochial. You must be ready to be surprised, taken aback, irritated, maybe even played on as a fool.”
Our towers of silence sleep now;
For how long?
Will smoke billow soon,
Build steeples here
And pierce the sun that dims in fear?
It is an uneasy peace.
(An Uneasy Peace)
She has two collections of poems to her name- Shored Fragments and Drawing Flame. Her works have been favorably reviewed by prominent publications such as The Journal of the Poetry Society (India). Her short stories have been published in The Punch Magazine, Literary Vibes and The Mag. Her first collection of short stories, Wine, Woman and Wrong has also been published.
As someone who has taught poetry for more than three decades, verse is probably as integral to her as oxygen. Geetha Nair’s poems are a pleasing blend of the traditional and the modern. There is the wonderful disruption of normative thought with the sudden turn of phrase, the ability to navigate winding staircases or take flight. Her works come from the world around her. And the erosions and resurrections they undergo.
In vain she scans the sky
To glimpse the gift of him
from the empty blue.
Then, grown red-tongued, ten-armed,
Her gleaming weapons
Drawing flame… .
The cry of crows rends the captive air.
This wonderful thematic spectrum of the poet has come in for considerable praise from many quarters, with Sheeba Ramdevan Radhakrishnan commenting, “The truths of life painfully interwoven, do truly and candidly stand out within the closely knit structure of the poems.”
The poems here are a testimony to the versatility of the poet. Her staunch refusal to be labelled. Schoolboy in one, scrubbed raw in another, a keen, merciless observer in some others, she sees gods and people as they are. And is unafraid to say what she sees.
Geetha Nair writes as she has taught- truthfully, with flair, leaping from life to life and captivatingly. As one of her students, I should know.
Sonya J. Nair