Reviewer: Shabir Ahmed Mir
“Wayfaring” published by The Leaky Boot press (2017, 136 pages) is the second collection of poems by Tikuli Dogra. The collection is divided into seven asymmetric sections. Despite the thematic difference between the sections as well as within the sections, Tikuli Dogra emerges as a poet of transcendence. She seizes a moment, (be it in memory or imagination or in real time) describes it in broad word strokes, bringing her inherent painter to fore. This description itself becomes a meditation of sorts and culminates in a Zen-like insight/awareness that leaves the reader in a state of calm stasis. For instance, consider this poem from the first section, “Trains”:
The sky was stained the blue of berries
on that peppery winter noon,
when we sat on the wooden bench,
outside the tea shop overlooking the valley,
we watched the toy train trundle slowly past
the oaks, rhododendrons, firs and pines
the hot masala chai melts our inner strife
filling us with a warm comfort
or this one from the section Remembrance:
Rain pours like old jazz,
scribbles itself onto roads
shimmering like piano keys,
liquid notes cling to trees,
a train leaves the station,
packed with salt laced bodies,
as night absorbs the evening.
Notice how both poems start with a word picture of a moment in time and space; a real-time one in Entr’acte (one that of rain falling) and one from the memory in WINTER. As Tikuli goes on to paint the picture of a winter noon and a rainy day she is also, at the same time, meditating on these particular moments (s) and by the end she has reached a level of calm but heightened awareness of these particular moment(s) as they stand in time and space. There is no spectacular revelation or fantastic insight at the end but rather just a heightened sensibility; a transcendence. A stasis of sorts that lingers on with the reader. This transcendental temperament of Tikuli coupled with a predominance of and preoccupation with nature in her poems make most of her poems read as extended Haikus. And when she resorts to a minimalist expression the poems virtually become indistinguishable from a Haiku. Sample these:
the scent will slowly
fade like the last notes
of your favourite song,
ebbing into silence.
In the quiet,
things I forgot to say,
rustle in the wind
time stands still
like the empty pitcher
at the mouth of the village well
Tikuli carries over this transcendental temperament and metaphysical sensibility over to her longer poems as well but not as successfully. Her Exile poems, for instance, are a testament to her exile which is foremost psychic; the exile that time imposes on everyone. And she realizes this herself as she puts it so overtly in lines like:
“winter has become a grisly metaphor
for the loss of life and hope
and things that will never be again.
The calm mysticism of Tikuli reaches to its sensuous ecstasy in “Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah”:
I lean on the afternoon draped pillars
and feel my inner darkness melt
into their lengthening shadows,
the ancient walls soak up the pain
as my finger’s trace time’s erosion.
Across the courtyard, time, like a poem,
burns in the dua-e-roshni as the day
meets the loban perfumed night.
Two lovers completing each other
like reunited hemispheres.
Coming to the diction and idiom of this whole collection, Tikuli appears at her best in the shorter, minimalistic poems as here the form complements the thought: one that of an immense solitude and a metaphysical hermitage. And she is at her weakest in the longer poems wherein her verses frequently degrade to clichés particularly her metaphors which lack either freshness or ingenuity. That being said she occasionally surprises the reader in her longer poems with such evocative lines like these:
Night shivers on quiet trees,
the silver disc of midnight moon,
torn by the branches of conifers,
drags its light over rustling deodars,
drops behind houses at the valley’s edge,
Tikuli is also at her best when the objective locus of her poems is deeply personal. No sooner does this locus shift to outside and/or becomes subjective than the Tikuli’s verses regress to superficiality and show the strain of forced expression and thus lose the reader’s emotive connect in the bargain. And this dislocation happens frequently, if not exclusively, in the longer poems of Tikuli. One more reason for the smaller poems outshining the larger ones. Lodi Gardens and Medical Migrants being the most glaring examples.