I spoke to Soni Somarajan just a few months ago while curating for SamyuktaPoetry. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that he lives in the same city as I do and that too right on my way home. We made promises to meet and since then, we have been trying to do so! But in a way, I have already met him. His words carry the fragrance of his thoughts. And such fine thoughts they are! Soni’s words are in constant motion. And they speak of two or more worlds- from different time zones, different dimensions, different perspectives- which constantly move towards each other but never meet. A feeling of anticipation hangs over them. It’s like waiting for the rains to descend from the hills. Like it is only a matter of time.
I see the rivers of my childhood become a trickle
some even disappear to become poems of eulogy.
Yes, this happens to memories too.
We sit in a circle as a survivor group
Our monologues, the strength we seek.
These are some of the lines he read at the Mathrubhumi Festival of letters at Thiruvananthapuram in 2019. When I read his verse, I form the mental image of Soni as a sculptor, going into the core of the rock and awakening the image within. There is something simultaneously concrete and amorphous in his works. The images are tangible, they glint under the sun and are very, very alive.
Anomaly’s throne, on wheeled feet.
Stirrups walking the air,
Son of God. Address the reins, tap
flanks, command it to move.
Horse the wind, light-studded,
on a donkey’s path.
When I think of Soni, which, given the frequency of our communication, I do quite often, I like to think of him as eternally busy chiseling ideas from monoliths, breathing life into them and setting them free to roam the earth and bring back the sights they see, the people they meet and the friendships they forge. For, Soni is well regarded in poetic circles.
Says Sumana Roy, “Soni Somarajan's poems have – to use a phrase from one of his poems – the 'vapour of stories'. That is his aesthetic – being caught unaware by the moment, catching the moment unaware. That secret is the secret of his poems – a secretive and intimate pleasure, as nutritious as dreaming.”
And here, I would like to leave you with Soni’s words. I think no one can tell his story like he does.
“Two different lives in a single lifetime.
The first part is all memory — nebulous, therefore endangered. The second, the world today, takes most of who I am, to exist. As years went by, I feared I might lose the first, or most of it — the finer details — due to the enormity of the second. The trauma of everyday existence threatened to efface what I hold dear: the memories of my younger years.
For the past thirty years, I've borne the brunt of a progressive neuromuscular disorder. Two-thirds of this time, I've made do with a permanent sidekick: a wheelchair. It's almost as if I've accessed a parallel world. Quite naturally, I yearned to express this experience.
However, I do not possess the gift of the gab. The spoken word eludes me; public speaking is my Waterloo. Prose was not it either, I felt, for memory has a transitory form: diminishing, failing, effacing, shifting, evolving. I needed a medium that best reflected this transience.
Poetry, I realise, is the finest way to express myself and my fading past. I recognised its unique ability to speak for me in ways inconceivable. Where social anxiety overpowered me, poetry became my anthem of freedom — a confession in an everyday tongue, coded with secret doors and traps. Perfect for my anxious need to hide in plain sight.
With poetry, I began to record my two lives — a memoir in verse. It hasn't been easy. It has taken a while longer than I've imagined. Memory is an adamant child: you've to be patient. At first, when I tried remembrance, the details refused to yield. How do you know what to find if you aren't aware of its existence?
One thing led to another, one detail to another — a slow release over time. It's astonishing how much you begin to remember if you persist. Memory can be kind when it chooses.
As the verse emerged, it became my deliverance. The horrors and joys I experienced daily, it did set free — so that I may exist, live further. In poetry, I learnt to process the tartish upsurge of sentiments I woke up to every day, to be unspooled to a semblance of clarity on a page.
I remain ever astonished by how verse takes form: a miraculous assemblage of impressions — of the past, the present, and the future — transmuted to words by a random play of grey-cells and a breath-taking, inexplicable force we’ve come to call life. With poetry, I never know where I’ll end up — my kind of armchair adventure.
My poetry is also a testimony to how I negotiate the world's expectations, and its default normalcy. In a more profound sense, it became the device to chart my story and how I accomplish what's expected of me in return for my right to life, a privilege we're all given. Poetry records my gratitude for this privilege as well, a thanksgiving.
I'm often asked why I write poetry. I'd say it's how I’ve come to make sense of my world.”
Look at the cloak of secrecy, what might hide within
The grey-green spires. In the blueprint of an assault,
Countless flowers have fused into one, the dovetailing
Whorls a labyrinth for seekers.
Sightless, it yields under a resolute sun—
Observe the wedges lined with tiny honeytraps,
Prepare for a counter-charge on your senses.
(Ode to a Pineapple)
(Featured on the Facebook page of The Quarantine Train)