‘TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN’
SARAH MAHAJAN’S POETRY: NEGATION OF NON-BEING
Hailing from Dalgate, Srinagar, Sarah Mahajan is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree from Govt. college for women, M.A.Road, Srinagar.
By: SHAFI SHAUQ
While writing about the poems of Sarah Mahajan, I am rather painfully conscious of the fact that, in terms of time, I am distanced from her – at least by three generations spread over half a century. Yet I feel undeterred because there are about last two decades of shared experience. Pain, loss of all manner of joys, social ruptures, despondence, mayhems, falsehood branded as sanity, and our sense of being used as cannon fodder by the most unhappy persons under the camouflage of might- this is a moment I share with a budding English poet of Kashmir (I despise any woman poet, because a poet has to be considered on the merit of his/her poetry, not gender).
I, however, hasten to say that after reading all poems in her debut collection ‘For Whom It May Concern’ (2019) that in terms of the milieu and the moment there is not even a shade of shared experience in it. I am happy with her poetry for certain deficiencies in it: deficiency of morbid feminist jargon, morose amorous sentimentalism, lamentation on the loss of values, and deficiency of excessive romanticism. Sarah, it is my sincere opinion, is a ‘pure poet’ who sings of her personal gnosis in a very personal way, unmindful of the times and the people around her – and then she has no burden of nostalgia even because she was born when the Kashmir of my times was already dead. Sarah’s poems strengthen my belief that in a n era of extreme tyranny and fears there is complete withdrawal from the world to produce mysticism and mystic expression. Nevertheless, Sarah, like a seasoned poet, has prefaced her collection by a wonderful poem about the aesthetic of writing of the moment; the poem is titled ‘Initium’: here is how she sings of the real life lived by a highly individualized individual:
Each moment is spent, only- only half in living, the
Rest or maybe more-
In mockery, in believing, or hoping
Too much in backwards, much too in forwards;
In thinking, in feeling
Forgetting or remembering, expressing, connecting,
Attempting to live; taking notes, underlining
Each hue and sight, sound and touch
Collecting, recollecting- for whom, for what?
The sense of futility of writing for an indeterminate audience is what sparks her poetry to negate futility itself and know the significance of the moment by bringing it to the fore in the shape of images, rife with suggestion. I am sure this urge in her shall continue to spark more and more poems in future. Emily Dickinson wrote a beautiful poem on this perception of essential binary opposites in life:
Is taught by thirst.
Land- by the oceans passed.
Transport- by throe-
Peace- by its battles told-
Love, by Memorial Mould-
Birds, by true snow.
The poem ‘Initium’, expressing Sarah’s unequivocal allegiance to the moment, gives us sufficient confidence that she, severing all anxiety about ‘mockery, in believing, or hoping; too much in backwards, much too in forwards; in thinking, in feeling, forgetting or remembering, expressing, connecting’, shall always be guide by the irresistible force of novelty and uniqueness of every moment that actually brings us felicities or pain; the rest is nothing but the time narrated to us by others:
Poetry is a moment, a moment
To melt into life
A life distilled
Before the duping veils of reality
Regain their throne
Before they drop us back
Into the abyss of everyday
This is all there is, this
Here’s where one lives it, her
In ink and paper. (BLURB NOTE)
All the poems contained in the 100 pages collection, are such inquisition for the real self as are not definable within any framework, convention or custom; they are the result of roving in all directions with simultaneous sense of futility as well as consciousness of the ability to overcome futility by getting transformed into flowers, ripe fruits, jewels, dispersing perfumes,…, in short ‘ reaching for a world, reaching beyond it/ reaching within, and then without/ talking to air, listening, touching and feeling- what?’(Initium, P. 7). This desire for, what Sarah calls ‘another attempt to live’, is human destiny of being of being condemned to ‘ forging meanings, where exist none’. She as a precocious mystic seeks shelter in the within and have the ecstasy of intimacy with her ‘Me’ that otherwise remains in amniotic state of complete oblivion:
The escape into some me
Brimming with some glee
It is but a consolation
My rendezvous with Elation (OBLIVION, P. 19)
The daring dive deep in the psyche, in spite of apparent stillness, in Sarah’s poems tends toward truth of femininity ‘enshrouded in the night of things’, that ‘ shines forth in the sky’(Simone de Beauvoir, 1949. 211)- all haunted by impalpable femininity. Sarah’s poem ‘Still Life’, densely packed with visual images of verdure, sublimates her longing for getting transformed into transcendence, redeemed of carnal substance, not to be possessed but venerated in her splendor that upholds the sky for the wellbeing of the world of its:
And I (or the tree) stand upright
With uneasy feet, the heavy sky
Wrapping us more, standing upright
I wished for the coming of the night
Perfect as a picture, the tree and me
Flat, fixed, barely breathing
Floating leaves smothering me
I felt their burden; light or empty?
I still didn’t move, I won’t lie
It wasn’t the night I missed, but missing myself
I prayed for the sun to drown in the sky
The squeezing weight, it wouldn’t fall
Those toothed leaves, a coffin round the dead
Stuck always, through spring and fall
Growing bigger, and I – too small… (p. 22-23)
The weight does not dither the poet from holding the responsibility of holding the sky and protecting it from caving in; waiting itself is a reward for this stupendous deed of forbearance:
There is such a freedom in still life
And waiting, and waiting; the sun drown the sky. (p. 23)
(I, for the consistency of the image, take the liberty to change ‘sky drown the sky’ to ‘the sun drown the sky’)
This Gnostic way of transforming night into luminosity and wickedness into purity is what Sarah has perhaps acquired from reading such poetry as treats femininity as a substitute of Alterity, a soul or idea that is absolutely disembodied by patriarchal aesthetic.
Each of the 50 poems contained in the 100 pages is an attempt to achieve affirmation, most often through overcoming negation. The courage to be while being surrounded by non-being entails spatial metaphor that does not ignore nonbeing while knowing true being. The courage comes through inexorable encounter with nothingness and the strife to prevail upon it. Each poem, free from reference to the milieu and the moment, is a concretion of sense of finitude and anxiety of a creative mind and demands contemplation on the extraordinary in the most ordinary- the essence of poetry. I cannot say what form this process of perpetual quest and discovery in her shall take in future, for she is too young to be prognosticated about, but foe the present her poems intimate that she shall dive deeper and deeper into the unknown, both in the within and the without, through her power of imagination that she is abundantly gifted with. The last poem ‘Life’ concludes thus:
Behind those wistful notes
Of music unheard
Or between some lines
Of abandoned poetry
Or in the sorrow
Of an artist’s colours
Maybe in the aroma of coffee undrunk
In the tears of the sky
And joy of the flowers
In the mourning of the waves
Or singing of the stars
I know not what it all means
I almost do.