AN EXPANSIVE ECOLINGUISTIC JOURNEY –
SHABNAM MIRCHANDANI REVIEWS
GEETHA RAVICHANDRAN’S BOOK OF
Title : The Spell of the Rain Tree
Author : Geetha Ravichandran
Genre : Poetry
Language : English
Publisher : Red River
Year : 2023
Pages : 72
Price : Rs. 269/-
ISBN No : 9392494459
The Spell of the Rain Tree is an aural hike into rhizomatic trails brimming with chromatics of twilight. Geetha Ravichandran’s latest poetry collection when held in one’s hands, feels like an unopened gift. The sensory exuberance of its cover’s leafy brushwork by Uma Singh is a synesthetic invitation to pause, and to listen to the scarlet heartbeat of vibrant flowers peeking through dense shrubbery. These wild emissaries ensconced in their verdant nest hold up a translucent parchment emblazoned with the title in bold and cursive fonts. The animistic aura of this visual sets the mood for the fecund vernacular to follow. Wooded whispers drizzle on the by-lanes of memory, as throbbing absences populate the poems. These hover as a dimly lit backdrop to the neon buzz of a digital world, giving a palpable sense of time moving both ways at once.
For some, the draw of reading poetry lies in its existential possibilities and also in the promise of an unexamined self emerging raw and un-redacted through another’s words. A quiver of relational coherence is often experienced when a finely wrought poem rises like air from the page and envelopes a reader in its rhythms. Geetha’s poems offer this vicarious sense of homecoming, and more. A “tousled cloud” and “coins of light” sprinkle ruminations, letting nature’s voice waft in subtle wisps, creating an ontology of consolation through acts of retrieval and reclamation. This unfolds in a powerfully luminescent quietude despite violent hijacking by projectiles of stress, distraction, and pervasive ecocidal mania consuming a world which abuses the very biosphere that sustains it.
Geetha employs pixelation as a neon trope that colonizes pristine echoes of a past, now shrouded in loss and erasure. “Chirping squirrels” and “forgotten sparrows” form a surreal canvas animating a mindscape of longings. The conjoining of discordant realms creates a strangely alluring music. The “friction of despair” and the “static of unfinished chores” interspersed with “a sacred pause” and “ethereal patience” capture whirling sensory journeys as they “soothe the turbid air”.
A “cloud moves stealthily” – its eerily glowing trail creating an extra-linguistic modality of receptivity in a reader. While navigating the raging melancholia of fractures created by displacement, the poet also unleashes private transgressive histories of rebellious women resisting repressive conventions. One feels their somatic presence in the fleshing out of their voices, telling their story. This refracting lens is masterfully used to obliquely frame a kaleidoscopic coalescing of voices and images in three sections.
A spell begins to weave its magic as a sepia-toned album figuratively unfurls family lore, in the initiating section called First Appearances.
The inaugural poem Grandmother ushers in a presiding deity of culinary craft “plotting the daily menu”, creating a bardo state (i.e. a state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth) where food becomes language. A kind of paradox-lost plays out in “plenty amid scarcity” and the succulent promise of resolution in the “soft core” of a hard coconut. Bejewelled heirlooms with a mystique authored by the contrarian grandmother turn out to be fake, in an unexpected plot twist recalled with amused disdain. And yet in the onomatopoeic vignette featuring a “waltz of walking sticks”, poignantly held in the heartstrings of a poem called Long Years, one finds grief-imbued longing witnessed by a lone peepul tree. Trees are a stoic presence throughout the collection which reads like a slow meditative shedding of silent tears as they flow through the words, and gently dissolve the travails of transactional existence,
But we still remember
how we stood
under the peepul tree
Geetha’s signature is her ineffable horizon: her sacred neural space where the lineage of lost worlds remains synaptically alive, retaining its poetic potency on the page.
“A subtle melody / snaking up the streets” rides the undulations of a flute’s silken timbre. This is one of the chords strumming the deep silence pervading the heart of poems such as Beyond Hashtags. But there are also dramatic tonal shifts in Geetha’s complex tapestry.
The melancholic lyricism of reflection morphs into an abrasive take down as she goes for the jugular in her exposure of performative affection on social media and its disastrous consequences. The ‘wokerati’ who are bastions of inclusivity are shown in all their kleptocratic self-absorption, which leaves emotional casualties in its wake. </p[>
Ardent stewards of WhatsApp circuits celebrating rapturous digital proximity leave a “dear family member / subtracted” when she passes on. Now silent, the family member remains entombed in a “weeping chair” in Mourning.
Similarly, For Our Anniversary reveals congealed moments embedded in edifices of assumed truths. This poem employs an aesthetic of suggestion which transcends logic, subjective paradigms, and myopic classifications. The flickering silhouette of a “sweet-sour tamarind tree” standing moon-spangled in a gray realm, swollen with the dew of possibility, hermetically documents this union and subtly conveys the social constructs that provide its scaffolding.
Our life is like the overarching
Sweet-sour tamarind tree
that sways in the night air,
even as ghosts hang about its branches.
The metaphysical schema of persistent memory is the imaginative fuel for a poem such as Prayers.
Micro-dramas which rewind time feature a listening father who is showered with benedictions by a woman receiving his charitable donation. This poem unravels a tangle of hopes, projections, and furtive impulses within a family. It cleverly provides a prismatic gaze into patriarchy’s saviorism and into roving female energies that burst out of its confining protocols.
The paradigmatic sociological shifts in the poems’ subtexts bear a corporeal imprint. Hibernation is a shadowy field of nomadic thoughts lost in the technoscape where the efficient shorthand of Bluetooth and Google operates. Slow meanderings in the trenches of doubt and conflict linger and the meta-judgmental echo of the patriarch becomes faded collateral as “time tiptoes noiselessly.”
Homecoming seethes in the tremulous fragilities of married life, which often boils down to conditional co-habitation caught up in a neurotic matrix of need. And still within this interactive asceticism “calming breaths” harness the air of existential pastures, still open for exploration. Oscillating images spiral their dreamlike way through the poems – girl being yanked off her rocking horse, young sons cocooned in their mother’s arm in a bedtime story-telling ritual, and a domestic worker crumpled up in a heap after a grueling day.
span style=”font-weight: 400;”>Geetha’s sensitive gaze confers an animistic tangibility to lamentation of the flesh, in lines, such as,
She curls, groaning under the stars,
as pain kneads her muscles, and a sneaky breeze
blowing past the gutter, shakes out her breath.
Locus heralds a section with a wider lens focussed on social myopia and capitalist excesses, and their insidious effects on lives rural and urban. The greenly pristine ambrosia of wild places overtaken by the pernicious charade of economic growth in modern Chennai is poetically evoked in burning cadences. Lamenting the entropic chaos of contemporary life, their lyric intensity traces the jagged concrete cityscape, its tangled symbiotic agonies, and harsh commercial idiom. Its fiery consumerist take-over of a once serene venue is sensitively rendered.
Return turns grief into song, as the remnants of liminal knowing hover amid the ecological trauma and its violent grammar of vandalism. The misting breath of words is the only armory of remembrance as a web of haptic correspondences unfold with lonely strangers dotting the highways.
A cosmic geometer seems to appear in the unexpected artscape of “plants, succulents and creepers / filling out broken teacups and decoupaged jars” as they vie for oxygen in a shelter ruined by torrential rain.
The winged hermeneutics of flight in As Light Fades distils a concentrated intuition in the orbit of kits, crows, and pigeons. Findings hones in on feeding centipedes and stray dogs roaming a ravaged quarry.
A dusky web of pulsing silences in Hikers makes audible the aching darkness enveloping a group huddled around a bonfire, punctuated by hovering wolves and owls. A persistent script that anchors the reversals, fissures, and losses is legible in the rootedness of the poet’s feelings.
Walking Away recalls the sun’s fingerprints on a memory-laden rubber tree, the vibrant cacophony of birds, and monkeys around it still within intimate imaginative reach. The sense of betrayal strewn across the emotional landscape of this section then moves inexorably into a quasi-present in the next entitled Catchlight.
An expansive perspective enters the imagistic poetic conversation here. Birds swoop into a redemptive arc – a suggestive choreography of inner routing. The geometry of starlight, the semiotic wanderings through hillocks baptized with rain and sculpted by lightening, amid the grand amphitheatre of croaking frogs and laughing children is meditative in its musical murmuring. The golden sheen of pickle jars full of marinating mangoes is an audible memoir of koel songs.
In Kuppa Kathigai, a Zen-like cosmology emerges in sentient vignettes free from the freight of interpretation as the gaze dwells on “earthen lamps / near the dust heap” and then shifts in The Forgotten Temple to a pithy judgement of our death-phobic machinations and bargains with stone deities.
Amid the dilapidated ruins of a structure once construed as divine, a priest dryly reveals himself as closeted dystopian who demystifies group-think and brings a feral dread into a ritual crawl through a “narrow unlikely passage”. Without unregulated monopolists of collective fate present, aspirants have to turn into existential imperialists themselves. The poem is powerfully tantalizing in its etymological proximity to the precipice of revelation, wherein the poet observes,
Chipped edges, rounded corners
mark the slow and certain transition
the flow of forms to the formless.
An exquisitely calibrated emotional inventory unfolds in Seeing it Thrice: the Rain Tree: wherein we come across an artistic consecration composed in haptic timbres. This is a homage offered to a pulsing numinous presence: the arboreal protagonist of this collection.
The rain tree’s wild essence is woven into the tissues of the musings, seeping darkly into the soil from where they germinate. The flowerings that follow synergize flux and flow, spreading like a canopy over lives in “earth-sky space”.
Lotus Love blooms like a visual chant: “a sharp stillness / in awe of the unstruck sound.”
The fragile liminal echo of a home in its heyday, reordered by the carnal callousness of time is captured through the inside-out moment experienced by the poet when contemplating an “old well in the backyard / surrounded by cobwebs of neem and prickly lime”.
The frothy tints of light in its depths are a gauzy diary of the past. In Penumbra, coconut palm fronds sway in the wind, unknowing of their future as broom sticks – a metaphorical document of existential inevitability. Window seat gives an aerial view of the sun’s chimerical whimsy as does Monsoon Skies where it “retreats without pomp and show / behind a diaphanous veil of clouds”.
A tongue-in-cheek reference to the cloud brings to the fore a surplus of unheard stories calcified in pixelated documents, virtually consigned to oblivion by forgetting,>
Cloud storage is full…crammed
with memories and photos
and unlearned lessons.
Abstractions distilled from experiential and physical voyages dazzle with their beauty and mystery. From Dawn to Dusk traces the swooping choreography of seagulls over “sun-tinted” waters, landing slowly into the rippling pastures of homecoming.
The wafting “aroma rising from a cooking pot” in When Less is More brings a welcome repose amid the “quietness / of non expectation.” Flash philosophy glitters through the poems in utterances that startle, especially those with iterations of light in subtle gradients. “Light comes / with a steep climb / of thirst” in Streaks, and turns into a “phantom of delight” in A Flickering Flame, and curiously into a comet’s “cold perfection” in Who am I?
Closure comes with a heartfelt afterword: a salutation to the sage-like presence that has stood rooted in the backdrop of the poet’s life. The beatific rain tree whose constancy has nourished her restless wanderings through the terrain of career stresses, household juggles, spiritual sleuthing, and epiphanic encounters, finally guides a diurnal turning of her soul to the very ecology that she was seeded in.
Earthly wisdom that sprouted from a rain tree’s wild signature in Geetha Ravichandran’s imagination finally brings her home to herself, and alights like dappled light on the page. Once opened, this book is a gift that keeps on giving. In sun-washed waves, her words unfurl their energy, speaking seagull tongues in monsoon odes, their viscera vibrating with temple gongs and city noise, their soaring reverberations blue with the wingspan of sky.
Shabnam Mirchandani is a follower of her own questing spirit which finds expression in an epistolary network of fellow writers, spiritual aspirants, birders, artists, naturalists, musicians, and other souls lost and found. She enjoys exploratory delving into palimpsests which host stories, journeys, histories and silences. Mutual mentoring, deep listening, and affective reinforcement have yielded a richly interactive space between creators and their creations within her adventurous platform of long form letters. Shabnam’s approach to her essayistic reviews of literary works is often haptic in its flavour, involving pottery, painting, singing, and writing.