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Wayfaring by Tikuli

Reviewed by Shikhandin 

The poet as a wanderer. This is what comes to mind when reading “Wayfaring” by Tikuli. Not as a wandering minstrel. Rather as one who collects snapshots of experiences and sketches of mental spaces, through seemingly aimless wanderings. Yet nowhere does Tikuli come across as footloose and fancy-free. Rather there is an oblique brooding quality to the poems. In her foreward, this New Delhi based poet points out that poems in the volume go beyond the elegiac, “there is an interweaving of shapes, smells and the changing moods of a city” where she grew up. The poems have history and landscapes running down their spines. And then there is protest, subtle, unobtrusive, but it is there. 

The book is divided into seven sections or themes: – Trains, Exile Poems, Remembrance, Travel, Mosaic, Acrostics and Delhi Poems. The poems, fairly straightforward and easy to decipher, are mostly short, almost concise. Few are longer than a single page, and many are less than ten lines. They are almost like postcards mailed back by Tikuli during her sojourns. The white space around the shortest poems add an ethereal quality. The book would tempt a doodler to put down his or her reactions to the poems. Perhaps Tikuli intended it so, being something of a painter herself. 

A poet’s other parts may well seep into the poems. ‘Wayfaring’ is no exception. So Tikuli’s passion for food and cooking lends a tactile quality. For example, “The edge of the rain slices the ruddy sun” from the poem ‘Rain.’ One can even taste them in some – “that peppery winter noon” – from ‘Winter.’ Tea is a recurring motif pouring down her poems. Then again, most of her poems are set in winter and/or in trains and railway stations, where tea is a ubiquitous presence. 

The poems in ‘Wayfaring’ call out to themselves as they move through the pages. In the poem ‘Snow,’ which is set in a narrow-gauge train track, the line “a poem uncoiling into oblivion,” evokes the train’s passage. In another, ‘City Metro,’ evokes a similar mood with “laden with shopping bags/this poem rides the rush hour tide.” 

In the section ‘Exile Poems,’ nostalgia cradled in pain takes centre stage. Even in the poems that appear to be purely descriptive, a phrase here and a line or stanza there, reveal Tikuli’s inner feelings. This is abundantly obvious in the title poem ‘Exile,’ which makes no attempt to couch its emotion in descriptions of the past. The poem bares itself at the onset, refusing to relent even in the last line.  And in the poem ‘Winter,’ that season becomes a “grisly metaphor.”  There is a raw honesty in Tikuli’s work.  

Many of the poems in this collection have a little story at heart but leave themselves open ended. At times this becomes a fault, and the poems feel like flash fiction pieces broken up into stanzas. ‘Home,’ ‘Child Widow,’ ‘Exhaustion 1 and 2,’ and ‘The Last Meal,’ are examples. Then, there are poems at the other side of the spectrum, very, very short poems that feel like jottings or sudden musings. ‘Words,’ ‘Traces,’ and ‘Monsoon,’ to name a few. But these are minor hurdles in a book that has no pretensions, where the poems are brave enough to show themselves as they are, and (as cliched as it sounds!), even wear their hearts on their sleeves. 

‘Wayfaring’ is sprinkled with memorable images, which uplift the book. I quote from a couple of poems: “To you I may be only a memory/to me you are a pause in my thought.” From ‘Trail.’ “Waylaid, the night snuggles in to the bed of morning…” From ‘Kinnaur Revisited.’ 

Many poems in the collection carry the shadows of the personal, as if they were first written to dispel the poet’s own tragedies. But they manage to move beyond the personal. They cannot be called autobiographical. It is like, Tikuli snatched those moments from her own or her immediate surroundings and buried them inside her poems. Other poems become keen observations from her wanderings, sharply detailed, turning them into her own experiences. The title is apt. And, taken in its entirety, this is what the book is trying to say – that everything is a sojourn, even movement within the tight bounds of one’s own emotions or domestic space. And, that nothing is permanent; everything dissipates. Life itself is an act of wayfaring. 

It is refreshing, in these times of loaded poetry, to sit on a quiet day with a book of poems that speaks in a pure, almost youthful voice, guilt free and with a steadfast gaze. There is no sophistry here. No trying hard to be poems that cry out to be intellectual. The poems are clutter free. They set the reader free. And in doing so these poems speak with a clarity that draws meaning for the everyday reader looking for some comfort and repose through poetry. It is this quality that gives Tikuli’s poems their sheen. 

Shikhandin is the nom de plume of an Indian writer, whose recent published books include a story collection “Immoderate Men” published by Speaking Tiger Books, India, and a children’s book “Vibhuti Cat” published by Duckbill Books, India.  Shikhandin has won awards and accolades for her poetry and fiction in India and abroad. Her work has been published in journals and anthologies worldwide.

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