Tracing the contours of memory

by samantakbhadra

“Use Grammarly’s grammar check because that will help you gain salvation! *insert angels playing harps in the background*.”

When a colourful topographical map is sketched using poetry, varied images and the seductive power of memories, one can simply marvel at the creation and take in the undulating contours that dot the landscape. One does not simply read such a creation but travels along the very bends and ridges and highs and lows that the map brings to the fore. Geography Of Tongues by Shikha Malaviya recreates such an experience as the reader travels over miles before zooming back to the point of origin and then jumps headlong into the depths of memories of the past only to emerge in some distant region. The author herself has resided on different continents and experienced starkly different types of environments all throughout her life and this particular factor contributed to a unique atmosphere and theme as far as the poetry in the book is concerned.

The poems travel from fond vivid memories of her childhood right to the highlighting of social issues and candid bursts of sensuous imagery. India and the nuances of its various avatars coupled with permanent photographs fondly ingrained in her mind have given rise to poems that wonderfully depict various themes which vary from the idea of being a Hindu to the emotions that rise when one’s own motherland beckons one to come back to its shores. The book opens with reminiscences of the past and of loved ones in the family – the memories of her grandmother, fond recollections of the time when her ears were pierced followed by her efforts in learning the basics of the language. The poet then moves on to sculpt an image of her grandfather from scattered memories that ranged from his love affair with poetry to her regret in not having solved the mystery behind his magic tricks. This is followed up by a poignant account of the degree of yearning her father had for the beautifully picturesque and peaceful memories of his tryst with the mountains of his youth. While the reader travels sedately over boundaries and memories, there come times when sheer fervour and a natural pride in the author’s identity brings forth poems like Where I Come From which steadfastly and magnificently declares

“My country is
Every manifestation
Between a fiery red chilli pepper
And your tongue
A peacock dancing against the setting sun”

The book also has its fair share of colourful descriptions through poems like Mad About Mangoes, which glorifies and vividly describes the varied textures and methods of enjoying the simple wonder that a mango is capable of being, and Blessed By The Banyan which beautifully brings forth the mystic charm that has wrapped itself around the much-celebrated holy tree. Humour is also to be found in generous doses as little nuggets of witty wordplay blend in effortlessly here and there. Sometimes, humour takes precedence in poems like This Just In which is a witty take on a fictional disease characterized by an overdose of multiple accents in the victim. At the end of the map, the book meanders off into a rhythmic reminiscence of the days spent on foreign shores and how her mutated identity resulted in a silent struggle with her environment. Titled Silver Bangles, the poem ends with a reversal of her experiences when she reconnects with her motherland.

The book, in itself, is a yearning for the true definition of identity, a constant search traced through the contours of the tongue and boundaries that move in and out of lives interspersed with fond and candid memories and vivid colours of different lands, both foreign and home. While the author has brought to life sensual, sarcastic, concerned, comparative, proud and a host of other moods while sculpting such wonderful imagery, one cannot help but lose oneself in the sea of memories, the sensual moments, the quintessential Indian pictures, the travelling across boundaries and the topping of humour. Pico Iyer’s famous TED talk on “Where is home?” is perhaps the best supplement to Shikha’s debut book of verses. Iyer’s comment, “My home would have to be whatever I carried around inside me.”, resonates with the anecdotes in the book that are essentially broken images and ideas of new-found, mutated, lost and re-discovered identities, all bursting out from the inner reaches of the author’s experiences. Geography of Tongues is like the discovery of torn and tattered pieces of a map languishing in a long-forgotten corner of the basement. Once it is accidentally discovered, the torn pieces are put together and an attempt is made to discover a coherent path for the mind to travel on and to attempt and discover its true identity.