Words of timeless antiquity

Postcard Poems by Mugdha Sinha is a collection of 170 epigrammatic poems that uniquely delve into themes of love, longing, and the complexity of human emotions through vivid imagery and metaphors

Words of timeless antiquity

Bygone is the world of the neighbourhood post office, with its assortment of inland letters, aerogrammes, postcards, first-day covers, money order forms, and the special section on commemorative stamps, with the red post box as well as the postman who carried the mail from family and friends from afar! Bygone are the songs, sequences, and advertisements which featured postmen as the harbingers of change, and the illustrated textbooks for children which had ‘P’ for postman/post box! Today, we communicate ‘instantly’ and ‘functionally’ over WhatsApp, Insta, FB with just a few words, often abbreviated, and sometimes with just an emoji or a tick. Well, we have gained a lot: our school, college, cadre, batch groups also allow us to send and receive messages, Google reminds us of birthdays and anniversaries, but do we ever sit back to reflect on what is happening around us in the pin codes of our mind?

This is the context in which Postcard Poems appears, using the motif of an aerogramme, Mugdha’s mugshot as the stamp along with a New Delhi cancellation dated 01/12/2022. And though they say ‘judge not a book by its cover’, here is an exceptionally designed cover page and back cover which beckon the reader to undertake a tryst with her debut collection of epigrammatic poems focused on the universal themes of love, loss, longing, and learning. In fact, from times immemorial, and in all geographies and across demographics, emotions have been conveyed through words in so many different formats — sonnets, rhymes, stanzas, ballads, free verse, haiku, one-liners, and metaphors which convey much more than the literal meaning. Postcard Poems is a fine example of many of these.

Each one of the 170 poems is to be savoured individually. It cannot be gulped or kept away till it loses all steam: it has to be savoured like fine Darjeeling or perhaps champagne. And each sip has to be followed by a pregnant pause in which the reader must allow the words to sink in.

‘I am a wild woman/in search of my wilderness/and I find it best in my own company’. But the quest to seek love is equally pronounced, ‘I hold on to your words/like stars hold on to their skies/and there is never a dull, dark night’, for as she goes on to add ‘you breathe love into me/I breathe back life’. For her, ‘pine is not just a tree, but also, how I think of you’, and the sun and the moon are the celestial lovers who too ‘pine’ for each other. ‘I look at the sun and the moon/and wonder how they keep/their long-distance affair intact/they just show up day after day/irrespective, multiple witnesses/twinkle as they share their recipe’.

Then there is Spring inspired by Pablo Neruda’s famous lines: I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees. Mugdha writes, ‘I could be the cherry blossom, if you could be the spring’. But then life is not just spring and summer, and she explains this in lines which evoke both passion and compassion in equal measure. ‘Your kisses fall on me, hot/like flowers from a spring tree/wet, like cloud-bearing Westerly’s/clothes fall from trunks like autumn leaves,/the floor is quite a scene/and then I begin to shake and tremble/winter descends unexpectedly/I pick up the fallen snow and dress up as a/Christmas tree/How four seasons grow on me/when you hold me in your arms’. For, as she says: ‘stories are made/when a bee kisses a flower/honey well begun’.

That Men are from Mars and Women from Venus gets an affirmation from these very sensuous lines. ‘You love hard like brick and mortar/cement and concrete/I love soft like petrichor/aroma of vanilla and feather touch/of all things intangible/You need a cadastral map and compass/all I ever need is fertile imagination/to fall in love’.

But it’s never easy, for unlike lovers like the sun and moon who wait for each other (eternally), knowing that their orbits will never let them meet, Mugdha talks of love, lovers, longing, belonging, and breaking apart, as well as the void which existed ‘ab initio’. ‘You were perpetually hungry/I was forever on fast/it did not consummate/you dwelt in the past/I was future-focused/we could only meet/in disagreement’, and as time flew by ‘you were like an unfinished cup/of coffee that has gone cold’. ‘The moment you make me/feel like nothing/that moment I decide to feel nothing/nothing at all’

These two liners remind me of Dushyant Kumar who would use similar metaphors of the here and now – the moving train and the trembling bridge: tu kisi rail si guzar jaati hai/main koi pul sa thartharata hun’. Both the train and the bridge are inanimate; yet both come alive when situated in the context of emotional turmoil, much like her ode to memory ‘they come to see my ruins, and return/with the memory of a monument’. And then we have these very thought-provoking lines ‘can we make poems/the way we make babies –/simply, without condoms’

I close this review with lines which could well be a fine tribute to Gaura Devi, the young widow who led the movement to save the trees of her village, whose one action of hugging the trees led to the Chipko: ‘women and trees/have shared destinies/taken for granted, and/axed for what they have/to offer’. But when women take destiny into their own hands, the world is a much better place. Thank you, Mugdha, for such a lovely collection, which can be read over and over again, and each time one leafs through the pages, new thoughts, new emotions, and new vibes come to the fore from the deep recesses in which they lay frozen, for only poetry can bestir us from our comfort zones in which we take refuge, and remind us that in the end, a rat race is just a rat race, and the rat will never end up being a cat!

The writer, a former Director of LBS National Academy of Administration, is currently a historian, policy analyst and columnist, and serves as the Festival Director of Valley of Words — a festival of arts and literature

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