The Poetry Annals (Oxford, UK), 2018
The legacy of partition in India is a deep one bearing scar tissue on the land, and in the culture and the mind of not only those who suffered through its terrible realities, but also the aftershocks that continue to reverberate through generations. Kanta is a poet with refined sensibilities toward those realities in both micro and macro ways. Her tone conveys a very palpable tone of grief for what has transpired and what has yet managed to be overcome.
In the opening poem, “Partitioned,” Kanta begins with what can only be described as a quiet jolt of the absence , unknowing and fear that will inform all of the poems in this tiny collection. Dedicated to “nani” the narrator begins thus:
The last train to Pakistan
left and you were unheard of.
The historical legacy of the dissolution of the British Raj in India was a turn of violence that marred what was always known and introduced further rupture and fissures into a society already suffering the legacy of colonialism:
Lines had been drawn
with clusters of barbed wires
we are like dissents
birthed within a parenthesis.
In “Bones and Rivers,” the cosmic and natural world join forces with deep culture to express the sorrow of what has been suppressed for generations and the birth pains to come:
The broken moon
Plays with grains of cracked paddy
my father holds a veena
adorns the posture of Saraswati
recites from the Sangram in Tamil
utters hymns for dry rivers
Further, we witness in Kanta’s lines the overlay of colonial consciousness and the havoc it wreaks in both subtle and overt ways:
The sky is our ocean
what we know of independence
is a road full of English bookstores,
Winston Churchill dust jacket covers
Where thin glass separates our reflections.
People drink democracy in a glass of tea.
The simple elegance of “Amritsar sun,” belies the contested status of what became a border city during Partition:
rises in the north
& sets by attari
tongs as a roti
roasted on a fire.
Kanta is a brilliant and sensitive poet who plumbs the depths of consciousness and nationality in this collection. Her mellifluous lines are subversive in all of the ways that make stunning poetry: she gets to the hard truths, but does so in a way that illuminates a painful period of history in a way that we can understand deeply and make it hard to look away. Country, family lineage, psychic trauma, nature and the cosmos are her themes and all conspire to give a very human view of a violent period of India history, perhaps best encapsulated in this excerpt from “Whose land is it anyway?”
early bird rises does not get any worm
dwarfed subconscious forgets its nest
finds aubergine dried roots and a sky.
Pictured: Sneha Subramanian Kanta