Latha Prem Sakhya, Nature at my doorstep. Roots and Wings Publishers, 2011, pp.xxi + 103,Price Rs.150/-, ISBN 978-81-909900-3-5.
‘Nature at my doorstep’ is the second published work of Latha Prem Sakhya,, the earlier being ‘Memory Rain’, a collection of poems published by Monsoon Editions,2008. This slim volume, a unique collection of forty-six poems, twenty one reflections (prose) and mainly eight oil paintings, is no doubt ‘a master stroke of Roots and Wings in alternate publishing’. In addition to the main paintings every tale is accompanied by heart warming acrylic paintings, in black and white. The poems, paintings and prose complement each other and are closely intertwined.
Told as tales of Kanaka,, the reflections that give us a insight into the poets’ own childhood days which ‘was always filled with excitement, fun and laughter, sometimes tinged with tears and sorrows’ and it is this tinge of tears and sorrows that has paved the way for beautiful pieces of art and literature.
The tale of Kanaka is a spiritual assay into the arms of a loving God who ‘is a living reality’ to Kanaka. is aware of her ‘vulnerability as a human being’ and ‘is constantly evolving into a better human being’. Like all human beings she forgets the
‘open jaws of the plotter’
Sliding down his slimy interiors
reach square number one in no time
Shaken and contrite, I ardurously
Toil up the ladder, watchful and careful.
To reach square hundred
And partake in heavenly joy’. (Colours of eternity).
Colours of eternity, the painting and the poem, reveal the constant struggle of mankind to choose between good and bad, the struggle with overcoming sin and the attainment of eternity , having chose well. It is the basics of Christian faith and like most of Latha’s poems reflect on the tenets of her Christian upbringing, the greatest being love and compassion for all created beings, self introspection and the bettering of the self to evolve into better human beings. This painting in multicolored hues adorns the jacket of this collection.
Her sensitive timid lonely nature is revealed throughout her writing and as she herself puts it ‘secretly she liked being compared to such a timid lovable creature’ ( the rabbit) more than anything else.(pp.7). Rude words
‘slash and pick you to hasten
To find solace in the inner den’
( Why are you so crazy’).
Loneliness, is an oft repeated theme of her poems. So is self pity and withdrawal into the self, probably a defense mechanism, when things get too difficult to carry on. The title poem “Nature at my doorstep ‘ reveals two basic human attitudes
The black and white robin;
A visitor regular, at my kitchen window’
Piping his sweetest song interspersed with
Signals for food, morning and dusk,
Branded a lazy bird, by my partner,
Attitudes is what makes human beings different from one another. The poet watches the bird with ‘awe and wonder’ whereas her partner is critical and loses out on a chance and respond to nature at close quarters. This difference in attitude is seen in almost all her poems… the casual indifference of people to the suffering of creation as a whole whereas the same scenes make her heart writhe in pain aqnd churn out a wide range of emotions she transfers to paper.And it is this that makes Kanaka (the poet) stand apart .
As the poet herself says:
‘wrenching my heart
On the human insensitivity
On nature’s darlings inflicted’ (Lord of the night),
where the owl “King of the night’, ‘farmer’s friend’ is seen ‘huddling in a makeshift cage’ of an animal shelter , the poet visits , near Chandanathoppu.(PP.18).
In Sans Fangs ,Sans Teeth the snake,’ embodiment of evil’ (Love birds) , ‘dancing to the magudi longs for rest.
“Tired, my torn jaws
Oozing blood and pus
Ii longed for rest’, is befriended by a stranger who binds up the wounds and releases him
‘on a leafy surface’
‘the earth woody smell
In search of a new home
Far away from humans’.
‘Shall I let her go’ is yet another read that makes one ponder for a long time. It is the sigh of a dog killer who curses his job as he kills the dog
‘with a lethal shot’ and watches as
‘whimpering fell down
Her large eyes fixed on me’
He poem doesn’t end there… when someone answers the question echoed
‘why is it taking such a long time?’
‘she would have delivered
In a day or two’
the reader too falls silent.
Kanaka listens and identifies human emotions in the
‘sharp sharp piercing agonized hoots’ (pp.21) of the night,.
‘did his beloved leave him for another?
Was the vision of lonely years
Yawning ahead trouble him?
Did the fledglings’’ plight worry him?
Was he betrayed by his best friend?
Was he irked by his kins’ injustices?
Was he in a state of indecision
That paralyses humans, to inaction?
Or was he just overwhelmed
By the struggle to survive in a world,
Not always friendly?
These lines reveal a trouble mind that finally finds no answer and wait sleep tossed ‘till the arrival of Aurora’.
In (Lonely Plight) Latha Prem is again torn between two emotions . To befriend ‘ruffled feathers’ on the one hand. On the other hand she sees him as a disturbance to her serenity. In removing the hook where the visitor is perched she hopes that he will ‘fly back to your own nest, where
She waited with her fledglings for you;
And I could forget your lonely plight.
The plight of a young lover on a ship far away from his beloved is portrayed in Ache and in Play of life.
‘The handsome gull …….dreaming
Of his beloved , in some lonely shore ‘ (*Play of life)
Yet for the one on deck
An unutterable ache….
To be enfolded in his beloved’s arms’. (Ache)
Man has invaded nature and poems like ‘Spark’ ‘Where shall we go’ ‘Once’ and ‘Shaddock’ leave an imprint on the reader’s mind. The symphonies of the croaking frogs, the chirping of the cicadas’ and the days of exultant play in the rain are all fast disappearing.
In the poem “what am I now’ Mother Earth mourns over herself
‘A haven once’ ‘now a shriveling waste land’ and asks
“Do my children
My earthlings , see my struggle?’
‘will they revive me to survive
Harmoniously with them?’
As suggested in her previous collection Latha sees natural disasters as Nature
,wreaking vengeance upon humans’ without realizing that
‘the poorest of the poor and the innocent become victims of the terrible vengeance’. The poem ‘Elizabeth’ is penned to this effect.
Kanaka is “haunted by the other self residing deep within her’ The wild self curbed and imprisoned within the inner space of her sophisticated self’. The poems ‘ The Trapped Bird’ ‘visibility ‘ and ‘Wild Woman ‘ is a cry to tame the alter self who is also ‘ensconced in mores and traditions’ .
A disturbing question is raised in “Visibility’
Just body and womb?
And yet another one ’Does anyone listen to her tortured howls which come from her innermost being?’ (pp 68) asked in the context of her ability to love in spite of the suffering inflicted upon her in so many ways. Yet she smiles and bears it all .. like Mother Earth, being killed inch by inch.
She empathises with Iron Shormila Thanu , in her struggle against a callous and apathetic government , and her poems ‘Iron Sharmila’ And ‘To live freely’ is a statement against oppression.
When the poet says
‘My body and soul dedicated
To ensure freedom for my people
To fearlessly survive the iron rod of the oppressor’
(To live freely)
Iit is a wake up call for woman in a broader sense.
After page 58 , Latha Prem seems to have lost the thread that held her nature poems //thoughts together. Was it because Kanaka too grew up and thoughts of adolescence maturity love bloomed within? Or was it because too many poems were being put together in a slim volume? I really do not know.
Personally, I think the latter poems , all which make good reading, would be better if put together in a separate volume. All poems more or less in this half deal with love , bereavement, old age and death. Dedications for amma and ‘paattie’ , and unveil deep rooted love for elders, while ‘In Memoriam’ is the tear drop of a mother who never gets over the loss of her child.
Reading the illustrated slim volume of poems reflections and paintings by Latha Prem was a journey in itself.. A journey where one takes time to stop over , see and listen to the surroundings around, watch its wonders, grieve over its destruction and then move on with decisions made. The writings are to a great extent influenced by her Christian upbringing, The Bible and hence inspirational too. The sprinkling of Tamil words in between lends the reading a natural charm and sense of belonging. The book is a statement for survival in a fast changing and disintegrating world in every way. . And for Latha, love is the answer. And then there are the words with which she expresses herself. Like she says at the start
‘Words from my heart
Are my only possession
O paint, to sketch ,to trace , to portray ,to mourn to reflect ,to revel,
Words from my heart
are all I have.’