Words love other words and have that strange magical power to turn each of their get-togethers into duels, sermons, inquisitions, insights, decisions, barbs, directions or whatever else they are asked to do. Sometimes we just let them clump into complex shapes that defy any description and allow them to go on with their search. It is this alchemy of words that has come together in ‘The forest I know’ by Kala Ramesh and it is this slim volume that introduced me to the ethereal beauty of tanka, tanka sutra, tanka prose, tanka threads, the experimental tanka doha, and a few permutations of these forms. I admit that as I read through the pages, words took a back-seat replaced by images that stayed on…

in your eyes
the darkness of moist earth
it’s beyond me
to unravel such horizons
… I live with the image

Loving and appreciating poetry does not mean that one is aware of the myriad ways in which it is written. So, before I talk more about Kala’s poetry, let me just try and explain whatever little I could read about tankas.

The tanka is an old Japanese form of poetry from the seventh century that isn’t bothered by punctuation and generally remains untitled and unrhymed. Technically it has thirty-one syllables written in a single unbroken line with a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic scheme. There is a pivotal image in the third line and following git is a personal response. The Japanese call the first three lines a kami-no-ku or the upper poem that is seamlessly merged with chimo-no-ku or the lower poem of two lines. For those who love trivia, the haiku emerged around three hundred years ago and the tanka has existed for well over 1200 years.

Tankas are often about seasons, nature, desires, or feelings and have the rather tricky target of telling the whole story in just thirty-one syllables with the poet being free to use a variety of literary devices like personification, metaphors, and similes. Historically, the tanka is also linked to sex as the underlying tone, at times, resembles messages of gratitude between secret lovers. Thus, it is not surprising that even in the verses in the book…

truth lies
concealed in maya
and, beneath the veil
  once lifted
truth lies

The tanka recipe is all about diving straight into the cause and effect of an adventure with two lines that address the experience of the poet or whatever it is that he or she has felt or tasted. As pointed out before, the third line is the pivot and this where the twist in this poetic quest lies but must be sagacious enough to be a bridge between the conflict and the resolution, so to say. The final two lines need to ‘express a profound transcendental meaning’ that completes the image that will stay on forever stimulating reflection.

Book review - The forest I know - Kala Ramesh - Harper Collins
Book review – The forest I know – Kala Ramesh – Harper Collins

This volume of poetry has Kala Ramesh setting out with a resolute intent to let words guide the mind of readers to unhesitatingly uncover themes of varying human emotions like disillusionment, betrayal, and alienation with the aim of making the art of constantly recreating, restructuring, and renewing come alive. Almost the way nature does if one chooses to look around with awareness.

my whistling
has a will of its own
each tune
helps me discover
if I’m happy or sad

Poems in this collection are a mix of emotions… some that fill me with dismay and also an alarmed surprise because they are possibly based on experiences that are not universal. For instance, marriage is not necessarily ‘…equality / with iron bars concealed…’ nor do red dots necessarily bind a woman to a man ‘who’s in his own orbit’. The only times I have come across incidents that may justify such lines has been in Bollywood movies from the fifties until the eighties or in social media updates of aggressive activists who love to create situations that enable them to initiate scuffles with society. Not that such cases are absent altogether, but the life of relationships even in our country has moved on. Women from all socio-economic strata are self-sufficient, empowered, and are an equal participant in every kind of conversation… and, to quote lines from this book, there are:

mango blossoms
all over
how soon
how very soon
spring has come!

Yeah, I know… maybe it has taken spring a rather long time to manifest itself in the universe of human relationships, but it is here with a sprinkling of bad weather now and then. Thus, it better to rejoice over what we have than lament what isn’t there. I loved lines by Kala that talk about ‘a rhythm that stirs / even my tired feet’ because ‘with each day’s rains / the hills turn greener’ and this is when ‘I simply slip into / my beingness’.

The truth is that…
incomplete beings
you and me
complete the city

One can go on walking through the forest that is a gathering of tanka verses, but poetry is not like a giant slice of ice-cream cake that you devour all at once. Each spoonful needs to be savored until the flavour seeps into your consciousness. This is exactly what I do… a page or two a day with hours of thoughts meandering through the taste that it leaves behind. I call this my day’s thrilling dive.

Book details:

Title: The forest I know
Author: Kala Ramesh
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-93-5422-758-5