Book Review | Wayfaring | Tikuli Dogra

Tikuli Dogra’s second collection of poems, Wayfaring, published by Leaky Boot Press reached me some time back, courtesy the author. (Her first, Collection of Chaos, was also published by the same press).
I had read her poems in magazines and social media earlier. But reading them compiled as a book was a different experience altogether.
Organised in seven sections, the poems cover a wide range of emotions and experiences. The book opens with the section called Trains. The poems included in this section set the tone for the rest of the book, in a sense. Some of the themes dear to the poet, especially the contrast between her origins – which she traces to the mountains – and her life in the city are established here. While the mountains bring her calm and respite, city life is hectic and demanding. As she notes in the very first poem, Winter: “We watched the toy train trundle slowly past/ the oaks, rhododendrons, firs and pines/ the hot masala chai melts her inner strife/ filling us with a warm comfort.”
City life has none of these charms. As she writes in the poem, The Local Train: “In contrast, outside the window, / a dry, bleak lifelessness prevails, / the hellish summer sun spits fire, devouring all life on earth.” This poem, The Local Train, also shows us that the poet is a very keen observer of the life around us and that she can articulate using striking metaphors and similes. For example: “Two women, / with their noisy kids, / inch their way through the crowd, / find an empty seat and settle there, / wedged together like orange segments.”
The next section called Exile Poems, introduces a sombre note. We learn of hurried departures, and scattered belongings, under the shadow of violence. “The sky that final evening / was smeared red with death, / and a tangible odour of fear / hung oppressively in the air” (Exile). As the poet writes in one of the poems in this section, this is the period of loss, of innocence most of all. In the poem Ghosts of War – striking for its precise imagery and details – she writes: “This was a reminder / of when the city smouldered under clouds / of dust and smoke, / when I was deafened by shrieking sirens / and the wails of devastated lives – women and children.”
 The third section, fittingly, is named Remembrance. The metaphor of rains is used prominently and frequently in many of the poems in this section, to denote what this ‘remembrance’ means to the poet. “Loneliness curls in the spaces / between the notes of the rain, / the night bleeds neon, / reflects in puddles on the sidewalks, / cigarettes float like corpses / bloated with memories” (Void). The section ends with an intriguing poem of a personal nature where the poet narrates how a long relationship of hers ended over imaginary descriptions of an affair in some poems. It is a particularly touching poem and forces the reader to reassess how they view poetry, for this poem informs us that it can have very real and damaging consequences for a poet’s personal life. “I mourn the love that’s lost / and struggle to accept / this end to all we had / imposed so ruthlessly on me - / two poems and a conversation / the cause of all my grief”.  

Travel follows Remembrance. Once again, the same skills are seen, to turn the mundane into something more than what meets the eye; to find an epiphany when nothing seems to happen. She also manages to include a striking turn of phrase in almost every poem, or a newly minted metaphor, which gives the poems a certain uniqueness. 
Two more sections follow in a similar vein before we come across the poems about Delhi in the last section. This section, in my view, completes the journey that the poet undertook, in her mind and in reality as well. And she pays Delhi a worthy tribute. Especially noteworthy is the first poem about the Dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia. It is here that she receives her final epiphany, the sense of becoming one with the world, which good poetry seeks and finally achieves, for both the poet and the reader. “Possessed in a feverish frenzy of longing/ and sensuousness, bodies merge/ and become the saint and the poet, / love rises, as smoke at the end of incense/ and floats through the prayers/ tied to the marble lattice. / I sit in a corner, eyes closed – entranced, / the poet in me loses herself to the scents, / the sounds, the sights, the dust, the birds, / the trees, the sky, the marble, the songs, / and then dips herself in holy water / as green as the greenest emerald.” 
All in all, a worthy collection to follow a debut. I would advise even more simpler expression at times, and to drop mercilessly the ones that feel worn out from use. At the same time, there is no artifice or pretence in the poems. They do not seek to bedazzle by trying to be more or something else than what they are -  an honest record of the poet’s feelings and that is what gives them their value.   

- AK

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