Finding Oneself

Scrawls and Scribbles by Sharmila Ray

Publisher: Howakal Publishers, Kolkata – 700049, India

Price- ₹ 180 INR

ISBN: 97893-85782-90-9      


Review by Gopal Lahiri

It’s always fascinating to read poets not so much by their experiences but by the evolution of their words- by their voyages, by how their poems grew and changed over the course of their writing lives.

‘Scrawls and Scribbles’. the latest collection of poems by Sharmila Ray takes up reality and fantasy in words and sentences with an essayistic sense of exploration and feeling. The complexities of the concept have rarely been given such delicately tender treatment. Finally, at the end the poet has stitched a new assemblage in free verse, that meditates on light and shadow through dreamlike combinations. There are fifty poems in all including one prose poem which has no line break.

The poet is candid about her thoughts on poetry, ‘As far as I am concerned poetry is a universe composed of infinite number of sentences, hallucinating sentences, meditative sentences, adoring sentences, impenetrable sentences, sentences which threaten our composure and therefore our existence. Words squabbling in the confined corridors of sentences greedy for combination.’ Her way of looking at life are at times imposingly alluring and deeply felt.

Every day I sit and pray for words.
Every day I’m tortured by words.
Words superimpose on my life every day.
Every day, wherever I go, I walk with words. (Writing a Poem is not Easy)

Gopal Lahiri

Robert Frost once said ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words’. Sharmila works quietly into strange places often to good effect and there is a strong feeling that her technically adroit and emotive poems do the needful through juxtaposition of history with shifts and precision.

The poet finds her way to nature with a magicians’ command of atmosphere. Her poems are also a reminder of how potently prose and poetry can reinforce each other It’s this force that culminates in that congruity, in that wide view of time. She designs a liberating space in her poems which contains her own share of dreams and inner-workings.

A poet of mainly free verse and open form, she strives toward a style that excavates the collision of real and absurd influences and give the impetus for poetic breakthrough that allows her to think deeply about the relationship between the realms of imagination and of experience. For this crafty poet, the feeling flows on the ongoing stream of consciousness and there is a frank admission in the beginning and finally emerges in analytical and starker images of the past and present. She knows that time whitewashes, coat after coat and the proverbial midnights find place in museum halls.

T. P. Rajeevan, the poet, novelist and script-writer, has rightly pointed out, ‘Sharmila Ray’s inner self as a poet find its authentic language and expression in this collection. She often takes the less travelled in Indian English Poetry in the perception of the world, word and poetry’.

Her poems conjure up a world in which nature is animated and can be talked to. Their surfaces sometimes are roughened with twist and turns yet they hurtle towards intricate metrical patterns of time and space.

Under rumbling, burning, cracking sky
I rise and give the first infant’s cry. (Night)

It’s the manner, the disposition and pitch; it’s the way of looking at things that makes her unique. Her poetry is soulful, engaging and her vein of expression is not just in a mere portrayal but actually a magical tale, a journey to the land of unknown.

Remembered history plays
Snakes and ladders with
Intricate time! (Sarnath)

Sharmila Ray is open to talk about the labyrinth of shadow and light, ‘It rests on an individual as to how she or he will decode this labyrinth.’ Sometimes the metaphor and simile rise to the numinous empire and the images are both crusty as well as clear-eyed.

Because we care
The uncurtained unfurnished room
Of ours in the lazy afternoon
In matt gold and
We’re two black dots
Washed in salt and saliva
On the same pillow together (Because)

The poet takes her readers with psychological probing on surreal and wonderful walk through her ‘Words breathe/ words speak’. The metatextual predisposition of the poet to envisage universe as word as told in whispers.

Perhaps, the story I’m looking for
Is buried beneath the mosaics and
In the whispering of the lizards. (Ruins)

To understand the blankness of ruins, the poet scales height in her conciseness and imagery, ‘gods of night draw their curtain/over moon-drenched pillars’. Here the concept is the occasion to get things going and the poet put ‘grasshopper’ in place of light rain which gives freedom to propel into sound.

The warm-veined alphabets meditate with other
Within the organ pipes and steeples of my mind
In search of new words. (Sentences)

The observations drawn from her poems are elegantly evocative and are infused with those words which have colours of coral, topaz and cerulean. The language is utterly simple at times and the words and sentences are laced with austereness.

The poet believes in ‘my thoughts are silent words,’ the nuances of which she wants to express and does not want to miss the punch points when the secrets of the universe are more attuned to the whispers and forgetfulness. Her voice is reflective and thoughtful where excess prospers in restraint.

I merrily forget that day is

Prefixed and suffixed by
night. (Forgetting is easy)

What strikes me most in her poems, is the power surge in reshaping our thoughts ‘where frozen walls breaking into an echo’. Some of the poems are crafted for their own lush in such a way that words and sentences weave the pillars of loss, aspiration and love on the contemporary mosaic. They are also a poignant map to a world that forms an essential part of who we are,

There are stories that will not go away
Black motifs burnt into my skin. (Song of Mohenjodaro)

Sharmila Ray is one of our acute poetic chroniclers of possibilities, failings, dreams and ruptures amongst the contemporary Indian poets writing in English.Scrawls and Scribbles’ is a wonderful book- an invigorating revelation and striking contemplation on conscious living.

The cover page design is illuminating. And surely, it is the right kind of book to fill up your empty moments.


  1. Poet Gopal Lahiri have gone into the flesh of the volume. His obsevation is acute contemplative and most interesting leads the readerto more thoughts and different ways of seeing. The use of language is lucid free flowing and one does not have to google meanings.A lovely interesting read in fact.


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