Spilt Milk is Spilt, Nothing Else (Anita Nahal)

Book Review: Lopamudra Banerjee

Spilt Milk is Spilt, Nothing Else
ISBN: 978-9388008723
Author: Anita Nahal
Paperback: 124 pages
Publisher: Authorspress (2018)

Anita Nahal
“Life is quite odd,
Spilt milk dries up yet returns
again and again, smelly, damp, jeering,
And jarring. Spilt milk was spilt a long,
Long time ago then why are we discussing now? 
Was it really spilt though? Perhaps it fell but stuck to our garbs. 
Stuck to our minds, stuck to our hearts. To our conversation. 
To our expectations, to our losses, our hopes, our smiles, and tears. 
To our memories.” 
[Spilt Milk: From the collection ‘Hey, Spilt Milk is Split, Nothing Else’ by Anita Nahal
 
Lopa Banerjee
 Reading the starting truths and simple human revelations of a woman, an immigrant mother, scholar and a humanitarian in every sense, there are these sudden hiccups of emotional intelligence that sparkle, and emanate in the mind of the reader. While reading ‘Hey, spilt milk is spilt, nothing else’, the richly layered, evocative collection of poetry and prose poems by Anita Nahal, poet, author and academician, these spurts of intense, elemental truths of humanity erupt again and again. Whether it is the title poem ‘Spilt milk’ or the other musings in the collection, they all are characterized by these startling human revelations which subtly, yet dexterously convey how intriguing, multidimensional and powerful life is, seen through the lens of the author’s memory, personal experiences, metaphors and the incredible connections she forges with the readers.

Together, the prose poems and the verses compiled over the years, marking a significant period in the author’s writing career, encompass a unique concoction of human emotions ranging from her discovery of her womanhood and self-identity to her insights into her overpowering memories and her succinct, yet impactful poetic commentary on both her familial world and the colossal world outside. The emotions portrayed are sometimes raw and visceral, simply narrated as buried stories resurfacing from hidden nooks and coming to life in her poetry, and yet sometimes there is this riveting call of her memories and consciousness which she gives shape to, in structured, layered poetic narratives. 
Irrespective of the style she employs in her poems in the collection, the verses evoke strong, ardent emotions, whether it is her poems on her ethnicity, gender and cross-cultural experiences, or her more ethereal, symbolic pieces on the quirks and idiosyncrasies and the multi-dimensional realities of human life. 

In the poem titled ‘Minimalist immigrants’, she writes such deep, thought-provoking lines:
“We taught ourselves there was no use of crying over spilt milk and reverberated with Somerset Maugham “…because all the forces in the universe were bent on spilling it.”  Aftermaths are usually dirty, smelly, dried up, and shriveled like a body submerged in water far too long.” 
Here, her poetic self churns prophetic truths emblematic of our postmodern realities, which only a highly sensitive, literary soul can process and demystify with the power of her verse. 
Again, she is at her prophetic best with her myriad epiphanies in the poem titled ‘For whom the bells toll…”

“Truth, my native friend, is a magician’s trick, in deep hiding, avoiding eye contact like strangers on a rainy night, running, not sprinting, sometimes walking, hesitatingly, wondering if the bells will toll for us, them, him, her, you, me…” 

The poet in her absorbs the emotional wisdom and insights of the literary texts which she has come across in various stages of her life, and the intertextuality which she presents in her poems reflects her deep, mystic quest for life itself, where such texts become the springboard of her poetic expressions. 
The poems and prose-poems which emerge from her inner consciousness from her diaspora experiences and her sojourns across continents are also noteworthy in the collection.

In the poem titled ‘Big City’, there are these startling lines, depicting the soul of a true sojourner poet:
“I go hide behind my writing keys letting the city be my creative muse while 
I try not to get too lost, always remembering how to get back home.” 

Her existence in the vast scheme of things is expressed by her as: 
“a dot on the vast canvas of life/Unknown, known, notorious, popular/Loved, hated/No matter what you do/Some will like you, some not” (Poem: Life) 

This reiterates the same element of emotional intelligence, which works as the backbone of her poetic depictions throughout the collection. 

The depiction of Nahal’s own precious nuggets of emotions, centered on various places, people, cultures, the various curious concoctions of her microcosm and her macrocosm reflect her spirit of a constant traveler. It is like the author lets her mind wander without any physical boundaries restraining her, which makes her writing a curious, intelligent and veritable assortment of musings of a deep, nuanced mind that has traversed through myriad dimensions, myriad mysteries of life. Whether it is her soulful free verses or haikus, or her prose poems with a strong element of diaspora, the wanderer in her takes over and depicts her emotional landscape through these diverse musings.

The strong undercurrent of feminism in Nahal’s works comes through in poems like ‘Devi’, ‘Divorced Indian Wife’ and some other poems where her bold, subtle and evocative essence of being a woman with her unabashed self-identity surpasses every other emotion that she has depicted in the poems. 
She writes: “Nodding, smiling parentally, and nudging me not to cry or become overwhelmed, my feelings finally speak up “This is not where you belong, so make it quick, time bound. And, don’t worry, it’s not forever.

Dear ex-husband, don’t push me for more. I don’t keep my feminism for my classrooms anymore.” 
In her expression of feminism too, she is both intensely emotional as well as surreal and inspirational, as she writes these unforgettable lines which convey her essence of femininity to me fully:
“I think I am a minimalist, no drama mama, etching contours of my walk, talk, space in every trice with minimalist strokes, sometimes not visible to indentations of my inner thoughts.” (Minimalist, no drama mama)

As a mother raising her son with her diasporic and immigrant experiences, her poems like ‘Son’ come across as poetic utterings of a free-spirited urban woman whose voice inspires the new millennia of mothers carving their niche in a cut-throat, apathetic world. 
“I am a little girl shepherd
With just one loyal goat in my herd 
The journey is solitary and long 
I’ll cover it soon, humming the freedom song.” (Poem: Son)

At the very outset, in the Thank You note, she states that her son remains a constant source of inspiration for her works, and her poems too convey her narratives of motherhood in subtle, yet powerful strokes. Moreover, her epiphanies of life are seamlessly woven with the inherent power of her feminine voice, and the strong, distinctive poetic spirit of an immigrant woman of the Asian diaspora trying to break her shackles in a divisive, blunt society where injustices and oppression rule.  
In the final analysis, Anita Nahal’s voice is that of an intense, unapologetic poet with various nuanced layers who with her invincible brand of hopefulness, provides a breathing space to other voices who dare to transform the world. A voice which speaks of indomitable hope in the midst of stifling pain, sheer passion for her existence and the incredible journey of her life.

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