“I remind you that where I live now
smoke and ash hide the stars,
that I haven’t seen them in months-
but when your voice cracks as you explain
how being alone is harder
than the nausea or the fear,
I have little to offer”
The words pierce right there, that part of the heart that always knew the answer why I would never be able to leave New Delhi in search of a clear sky.
At the Badarpur border, may it be the shakarkandiwala whose Atlas cycle pedals away carrying single, once warm sweet potato or the broom seller whose brooms fall like stalks of cut wheat, the minute observations and the tenderness with which Michael Creighton steps into the world of these invisible people on the streets of Delhi stumps you.
The portrayal of Bhagwan Kumar on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding makes you smile- at him, at those around us and at yourself.
“The groom will arrive on a white horse,
a fat garland of a 10-rupee notes
strung round his neck,
fireworks hanging above him in the sky
like burst pomegrantes.
And you will be there, taking his hand
and leading him into the photo:
he and your daughter,
flanked on one side by his parents,
on the other by your wife
and by you, in your brand new suit,
chin lifted, back straight,
showing no sign of your smile.”
Halfway through the book, I go back to the cover to confirm. It says ‘songs’ in bold and the word ‘poems’ appears in small letters. My feeling was right. The flow is so spontaneous and the structure so fluid that each poem sings to your heart.
Michael’s style is different unlike any poetry I have read in English of which honestly my experience is very minimal; Hindi being my first love when it comes to poetry. But it is the way the poet says, in hanging sentences not weighed down by big words but floating with deep affection that I don’t miss Hindi at all. The poems talk to you. His conversations are with you. That is why from the very first poem you develop a bond with the poet and you readily accept his invitation to meet people and visit terrains you may have never noticed. And through his eyes, you fall in love with Delhi all over again.
“There is no way home.
This is the only way home.”
There are places where you find so much beauty in pain that you will want to burst. You will want to put a word to how you feel but it will be so tough. Like in Michael’s words-
“You asked me: how would longing feel,
without a word to hold it?”
There is a child like spirit in the poet.There is a trail of innocence, an irrepressible hope and the ability to see wonder even in the mundane. Like when he describes sharing a glass of milk with a cow herder’s son.
“Then came the pair
of tall steel cups filled with sour
buffalo milk; I loved you
for trying and for your relief
when I turned magician,
switching cups when no one was looking.”
After you close the book, you realize how much more you have begun to see, hear and feel about Delhi. Through this 119-page book journey, something changes within you. That cannot be undone, cannot be taken away.
“There’s a purpose behind our choosing
which stories we conjure or board,
like this train rushing south through the flatlands”
Maybe I was waiting for this book, to erase any doubt I ever had about Dilli being there – again in the words of Michael Creighton –“just above the place where I imagine my heart to be.”