Rev.3 (5.1)

 Teesta Review: A Journal of Poetry, Volume 5, Number 1. May 2022. ISSN: 2581-7094

Vanishing Words: Poems’ by Sukrita Paul Kumar

Vanishing Words: Poems | Sukrita Paul Kumar |
Hawakal Publishers (2022) | ISBN- 978-93-91431-39-6 |
Pp 79 | HB | ₹ 450

– Semeen Ali

“If our times have not been kind to poetry, they have been even more unkind to what is its source, and the source of life and language – the living earth from which we have separated ourselves, but of which we are a part and in which we cannot help participating.”

This extract from Judith Wright’s foreword for her book Because I was Invited (1975) still holds weight as the situation remains the same or maybe has taken a turn for the worse. Ecocriticism as a field of study and when looked at through literary texts, tries to provide an understanding of the relationship that humans have with their natural environment. Human identity is shaped not only by the social/cultural environment that one grows up in and which invariably becomes a part of one’s identity with or without the social identifiers but also by the nonhuman spaces and beings which scholars have since a long time taken into account.

Beneath me

was that lush green grassland

Cushioned and calm

I floated amidst

Whiffs of cool breeze

When the creature with fangs

Dug its path out of the dark

centre of the earth

I watched that scorpion

soundless and sturdy…

As Susan Clayton in her essay titled Environmental Identities observes that psychologists have tended to “overlook the impact of non-social (or at least nonhuman) objects in defining identity… there are clearly many people for whom an important aspect of their identity lies in ties to the natural world: connections to specific natural objects such as pets, trees, mountain formations, or particular geographic locations.”

Cackling goats and jostling sheep

Wiggle through woolly tracks

Reaching the edges of their skin

Rolling like pebbles down the Himalayan slopes

In herds

Keeping this discussion in mind, Sukrita Paul Kumar’s new book of poems titled Vanishing Words turns to poetry to establish a relationship of words, one’s individuality and one’s identity with nature and its elements. The book documents not just a journey of an individual on a philosophical level but the environmental inclinations that jump out of its pages which one cannot overlook. There is a celebration of one’s own retreat from an ever-demanding and an ever-challenging world that one has created and become a part of. This retreat into the natural world looks into a sense of belonging that comes up with one’s relationship with the natural world. It is through these images of nature preserved in these pages that one realizes how vulnerable life can be.

From time immemorial

human ashes are immersed

in the holy waters of Ganga

as phool, petals of divine flowers,

stripped of bodily apparel

streaming through unseen and

unknown water paths

Dissolving with the clay of the urn

Flowing with no destination

Entering the mythical and

Discarding the ordinary

There is an entire body of work that one can recollect which comes from the poetry of the Sangam Age (the earliest writings in the Tamil language) in South Indian history.  S Murali in his essay on environmental aesthetics explains in detail the five-fold categorization of the environment into Kurinci Tinai (mountain tracts and where the valley begins), Mullai (jungles and the rocky land bordering it), Marutam (cultivated and fertile land), Neital (the seashore) and Palai (the desert land), sourcing an earliest attempt by poets to integrate or seek a correspondence with the human bhava in the natural vibhava.

Elephants and Jarawas

Of Nicobar

In tune with the song of creation

Heard the whispering earth

Felt her rumbling belly

Smelt death

And escaped into the

Heart of the forest

Away from tsunami…

The animal kingdom finds its presence in the pages of this book. It reminds one of Derrida writings on animals – L’animal que donc je suis (The animal that therefore I am) where he mentions how humans are drawn to animals due to our mutual capacity to suffer and our vulnerabilities. Animals have their own hierarchical system that does not adhere to the ones created by humans and therefore lies outside our philosophical systems; which makes them also turn into sort of a sanctuary.

The big thud on the roof

that cracked the rocky silence

of sleep day after day

was that of a flying fox

with wings that do not

carry its weight into the firmament

nor combat the mountain fog…

And as has been observed by scholars, nature provides an insight into our own behaviours and the influence that we exert on the environment around us; nature does not change very much as a response to a person’s changed behaviour. Thereby opening up a discussion on the socially controlled environment and how our behaviours are shaped according to the people we meet or live with. Our behaviour is influenced by the responses that it would elicit by those around us, but in a natural environment one gets a clear idea of to what extent can things be controlled or cannot be.  

Foot prints and pug marks

signal a present

That has its feet dug

Into the past

Tornadoes come erasing

Foot prints and pug marks


of telling futures…

Therefore, reaffirming that one’s identity cannot be categorized as fixed but is subject to change spanning across place, time and one’s relations with the outside world. Poetry holds the power to relegate the position animals have come to occupy in an ever-increasing world of humans as that of a lower level; and what poetry does is to overturn this perception and create a new narrative. One poem that stands out in this collection titled Crows are our Ancestors is one of the most interesting poems that I have come across in contemporary Indian poetry. The ephemeral quality to this poem and the merging of the past and the present; of dreams and the real world; of worlds not just stationed in a particular country but across the globe to the memories that are tied up; to an identification that arises with this bird have been merged together in a very beautiful way.

I am a crow,

With the deep blue of skies in my eyes

The night is

Envious of

My iridescent black

But I seek that

Shimmer of moonlight

That lightens the density

Of black nights…

In this book, there is many a time when the animals turn into metaphors and similes and thereby helps the reader and the poet in realigning their roles in their own temporal worlds by moving their worlds into a space for contemplation and with the questioning of where one actually stands; away from the political, social and cultural environments. Through the use of metaphors, one can dabble with two different thought processes, as I A Richards has helped us understand, where a single word or phrase can have a meaning that resonates well through the interaction. The book seeks to find that balance between the world of the humans and that of the nonhumans. The world with which we once were so deeply integrated but now have distanced ourselves from. I end with these powerful lines from the opening page of the book where this play of words comes out beautifully.

Why would the tiger of silence not leave

any pug marks behind in the forest of words?

My poems emerge while searching for these

pug marks amid the cacophony around…