Loved. Lost. So what? Radha still sings
Review of ‘Radha’ by Leena Saldhana
Creativity has everything to do with a new perspective… always and invariably. By this definition, the short poems in this collection by Leena Saldhana, are simply charming. I mean, where else would I get Radha that ‘…fyi / They invented Kajal / And lipstick / And I’m going out dancing’ but in this collection? The poetry here can be aptly described as:
Well, the dance may be similar to what we have been reading for years in various collections of poetry and prose where Radha and Krishna are extolled, but the treatment is new. It is only in this collection that Radha reaches out to readers and lovers of poetry with factoids that are contemporary and so we have her lamenting that she is ‘…the one / Responsible / For the drivel that is dished out / In the name of prime time television’. This Radha drives a swanky car, reads newspapers, thinks of what would happen to her after she turned forty, and admits that her ‘jewellery is not always coordinated’ and her ‘belly isn’t always flat’. Like a modern woman, Leena Saldhana’s Radha triumphantly proclaims:
Look at me,
And then look away
I dare you.
The poems travel a great distance and manage to capture the essence of the Radha in the epics with ‘Pristine / Stratoscopic / Clarity / Of thought’ even as she does it with modern day metaphors like phone pings, Ctrl Z, champagne, and even double chins:
The Radha in this set of short poems is the one ‘known now for a few millennia’ but connects with the modern reader as she is ‘packing my bags / And heading to the mountains’ or is simply socially conscious of times where everyone is ‘Peering into each others’ / Most private orifices / Nothing hidden / Nothing private / Nothing sacred’. As I read the poems I did feel as if I were transcending the limits imposed by time and having ‘an endless conversation that ebbs and flows and heaves and rests like the rhythm of a vast ocean’. The blurb says that ‘the book is an imagined conversation between 2 of the most evocative characters of all time. Her Krishna is as present in the writing as Radha is, although he never speaks a word’. Now that is being such a wonderful present day male, I muttered.
For those readers who expect poetry to follow metres, the collection will disappoint. There are no syllables too, in some ordered fashion, to save the day. Therefore, at times the poems only seem to be poems because they have had line-breaks awarded by Leena. There were times when I did read out entire stanzas as if I were reading a prose passage and they actually had my ears fooled. Try this one… the prosaic format would go: ‘They draped you in that flag like so many other common soldiers slain in battle that day and consigned you to the greedy flames that scorched the night sky rising exultantly higher with every new body that fueled their insatiable appetite’ and then once you consider the line-breaks, the appearance of a poem emerges: ‘They draped you in that flag / like so many other / common soldiers / slain in battle that day / and consigned you / to the greedy flames / that scorched the night sky / rising exultantly higher / with every new body / that fueled their / insatiable appetite’. Now, if you happen to open the book randomly and chance upon this or some similar stanza, you’d certainly be disenchanted. But then poetry isn’t always about hard-core rhymes but about going deeper and connecting small images to create an entire picture. This book does this in its own style.
As I mentioned earlier, what I loved most was the poems being able to evoke an imagery that connects two dimensions of existence without any form of discordance creeping in. Read these lines and you’ll know how Leena gets under the skin of conversations between Radha and Krishna that we have as yet imagined to include only cows, milk, and curd…
There is no defined sequence advised for readers of poetry, but as one reads them, one does begin to appreciate a bit of the chemistry that must have existed between the two. And if you think Radha and Krishna had chemistry working for them, Leena pointedly tells you that the two ‘Are / Chemistry’.
Author: Leena Saldhana
Price: Rs 225/- (in 2017)
05 May 2017