Book Review: The Waiting, by Usha Akella

The Waiting, by Usha Akella (Sahitya Academy, India, 2019, Pages 45)
Mona Dash
I read this slim collection of poetry fittingly on the plane from the UK to the US. I say fittingly, because the poet lives in America, and some of the poems were written when she was here in the UK.  Secondly the location felt most appropriate– it was silent, most around me were asleep, our plane was somewhere over the Atlantic, over the seas, over clouds, not moored anywhere, and in that space between day and night, moonlight and sunlight, there I was reading The Waiting, unable to tear myself away from the beautiful words gracing the pages.  A sense of floatation   is what this collection inspires.

Love, is at the heart of this interconnected poems, numbered, not named, from 1 – 28. Many are form poetry, sentences decorated across the page.  The love here, is love for the Divine in the form of a Beloved, just like the mystic poets – Bhakti, Sufi, Kabbalah, all these ‘philosophies of rupture, rapture and release’ as mentioned in the foreword by Priya Sarukkai Chabria.
Akella starts the collection, dated 15th October’ 16, enroute to Cambridge, UK from Austin.
 All around me, people know everything.
 I am an unsaid question

Usha Akella
And this seeking and exploring continues throughout the other poems. She implores, she requests, she demands of the Master.  She says in poem 3:
Do not be the outpost of my heart,
Do not enter,
Do not occupy this house
Don’t hold my hand,
Don’t hold me close,
Don’t be the present
Or the past,
Don’t become my future….

Do not be gentle my Master
Do not melt me hidden fires,
Do not pull the wires like a puppeteer
I am breaking breaking breaking.

Elsewhere she says – Be a wingless cloud –  Colorless rainbow, scentless flower, Die!  This stripping of the ego and a complete offering is what the poems teach. How does one remove everything from the self and offer to the Divine? – ‘Here, I am slain! A heap of straw.’
Then sometimes it is as if the poem sings to the lover, as it seems, where she demands and rightly so, ‘if people are attached to their dogs and cats, why not you to me?’

These poems can be read all together, or on their own, and any way it is done it doesn’t fail to move. When reading a collection, I love to find my favourite story or poem. But it was harder to do it here, since so much of it is so beautiful, so deep.  In poem numbered 19, she says, 
You might say: the earth’s crevice is filled with sky,
This is law,
so, why not I?

Written in a deceptively simple manner, The Waiting is a song, a story, a poem, holding in its heart a rare intensity. Modern poetry is varied, sometimes clever wordsmithery, sometimes clever performances, striking imagery, in all this, The Waiting is a classic piece of poetry, and Akella has bravely experimented with the form and the structure of the poem, to produce this really unique collection.

Mona Dash is the author of ‘Untamed Heart’ (Tara India Research Press, 2016), two collections of poetry Dawn- Drops (Writer’s Workshop, 2001) A certain way, and very recently, a memoir A Roll of the Dice : a story of loss, love and genetics (Linen Press, UK) She has a Masters in Creative Writing (with distinction) from the London Metropolitan University. Mona was awarded a ‘Poet of excellence’ award in the House of Lords in 2016.  Her work has been published, anthologised and listed in various competitions such as Bath, Bristol, Fish, Leicester Writes, Asian Writer, Momaya Press to name some. Her short story collection Let us look elsewhere was shortlisted for the SI Leeds literary awards ’18.  Mona is also a Telecoms Engineer and MBA and works full time in a global technology organisation.  Originally from India, she lives in London.

Usha Akella has authored four books of poetry, one chapbook, and scripted/produced one musical drama. Her latest poetry book is published by Sahitya Akademi, India’s highest Literary authority. In 2018 she earned an MSt. in Creative Writing from Cambridge University, UK. She read with a group of eminent South Asian Diaspora poets at the House of Lords in June 2016. Her work has been included in the Harper Collins Anthology of Indian English Poets and included in various anthologies.
She was selected as a 2015 and 2019 Creative Ambassador for the City of Austin, USA. She lives in Austin. She is the founder of ‘Matwaala’ the first South Asian Diaspora Poets Festival in the US, and co-directs the festival with Pramila Venkateswaran. 

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