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.
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.
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 Hindu, The Caravan, The Little Magazine, Indian Literature, Mint Lounge, Pratilipi. 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.
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!