Linguist's love

Topics Weekend Reads

An early poem in the book under review, “Syntax of Thieving”, yokes the act of theft and the act of love. “This poem is an exercise in shop-/ lifting. It extols the personal without permission.” The poem uses several synonyms for theft — loot, burglary, pilferage, hijack. It is addressed to an unnamed “you”; a reader might imagine this person to be the beloved of the poet or the narrator. The final lines of the poem declare: “This is an act of theft, / but so are all things love.” One wonders if there is a comma missing after “things”. Does the last word refer to a person, or to all things associated with love?

The act of love, writes Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski in Towards a Poor Theatre, involves making oneself vulnerable; so does the act of theatre — or in fact any art, including poetry. The imagery of theft has been associated with love forever. What Parik does in this poem is deftly conjoin poetry and love. Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz — whose verses have become even more popular in the subcontinent recently due to protests in Pakistan and India — wrote in a letter in the 1940s: “The true subject of poetry is the loss of the beloved.” In Parik’s poems linguistic callisthenics reveal the nature of love.

The source of such deftness is Parik’s academic training. She has studied French and English and linguistics. This is her debut collection, but it has the confidence of a poet sure of her craft. It is divided neatly into two sections — “Semantics of Longing” and “Deixis of the Soil”. As the title suggests, the first section is about love and separation and longing. The second section explores the troubled nature of origins, of homeland, of belonging, all of which seem to have suddenly become so fraught in our society. 

Another poem from the first section that deserves mention is “A Russian Romance”. It begins with the Derridaesque act of ripping off pages of a book: “One fanciful Calcutta summer, / world maps were ripped off / from overused geography textbooks / in an act of innocent revolution.” One might wonder how the humid summer of Calcutta — Kolkata — once the colonial capital of the subcontinent, might remind someone of Russia. To do so, one must recall that the sprawling city on the banks of the Hoogly was also the capital of the Left Front government that ruled the state from 1977 to 2011 — transforming it into a cousin of post-Soviet cities all over east Europe.

Diacritics of Desire 
Author: Nikita Parik
Publisher: Hawakal
Price: Rs 299 
Pages: 77

Someone from Berlin carelessly strolling into the underground metro in Kolkata could be forgiven if they were reminded of the UBahns back home. (I had the same deja vu on descending to the platform of the UBahn station at Anhalter Bahnhof in the German capital a few years back.) The function of nostalgia is intermingled with the desire of change in Parik’s imagistic poem: “together, you and I, / we finger-painted the streets of Calcutta / with the colours of our Revolution.”

In the second part, the narrator of the book discovers “it is quite alright / to have two homes”. In “Personal Pronouns, Cicra 2014”, the narrator describes a first visit to the “home state”, which one might presume to be Rajasthan, thanks to the description: “sand dunes, indigenous people, / and other lies one learns from popular culture.” What the narrator finds instead is modern Jaipur — “the pretty pink city” — with “regular people”. In parenthesis, there is an ode to Kolkata — “the only city I had carried in my heart”. 

The conflict is resolved by becoming comfortable with discomfort: “It is okay to spoon a mother tongue after / twenty-one years of existence— / to be awkward in a language that survival,/ substinence”. All of us inhabit languages and spaces in different ways, not all of them comfortable. In a world fraught with uniformities of identities, Parik’s exploration of differences is a sort of reaffirmation.
The writer’s novel, Ritual, will be out in February

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