Book Review: MANDALAS OF TIME poems by Malashri Lal

Review by: Satbir Chadha


HAWAKAL PUBLISHERS
Malashri Lal
Year of publication: 2023
ISBN 13 978-9391431990 ISBN 10 9391431992

The book has a beautiful cover indicative of the journey the poet is about to take you on. As I turn the pages the dedication saying “for the poets under the Pilkhan tree” brings a smile on my face, and I think of a group of merry friends rhyming and chatting in the lap of nature. I read the poem “Another New Year” which says: 
“Pilkhan is tired of hearing
Scandal, gossip, jokes
Of the young 
The worries and health bulletins of the old
The strategic plan of family and builders
Of knocking down the old house
For commercial profit”
The Pilkhan is glaring at urban reality, so subtly the poet makes the mark.
The first poem “ARDHNAREESVARA” made me bow my head to the profound ancient philosophy, as in the present context it is a claim to universally of the human, beyond masculine and feminine to eternal equality. 
“In creation there is only one 
Ardhanareeswara 
The God who is both woman and man
Ubiquitous, limitless reminder of equality”.

This is a book of lilting soft and subtle verses, layered with powerful social comment and concerns, also sighs when talking of centuries of misogyny. Several poems are structured around history and mythology with some dedicated to strong mythological characters like Manthara, Radha and Sita with their enduring qualities of fairness and righteousness, as in “Sita’s Rasoi” Malashri writes, 
“Rotis dance into shape
Flat, brown edged, uneven rounds
Take one each
Little Bakha, you too.
Be sure it’s an equal share
Not a morsel must
Exceed anyone’s due”.

“DREAMING OF MA BY THE SEA” really touched me, as did poems like “SILVER CLUB” and “GERIATRIC PARADISE” that talk of the plight of our elders searching in vain for their progeny who have grown wings and flown away, 
“The mellow sun warms her feet
While she imagines 
Grandchildren
Speaking in accents strange
Young ones she has hardly seen
Except in photographs “

History is so integral in this volume, I saw, as in the poem “RANI PADMINI TODAY” Malashri says one should judge history in the context of society and politics of the time and not today’s values, I quote,
“Today Padmini’s sacrifice
Is frowned upon as wrong
I ask you if you can rewrite
Values the past held strong?”
History again peeps through “Hawa Mahal” and you almost see 
“A princess in royal blue
The colour of Diwali
Peers through the shadows
Looking eagerly at the carriages below
Thirsting for a paramour”
while the passages enthral you with powerful imagery.

Duality and multiplicity are a part of life, one struggles with them and is troubled by them, as we see in many of these poems, and gradually one comes to terms with them, and identifies with them too, as Malashri deals with it in her poem “The Rivers”, 
“The sacred confluence of rivers
Dark Bhagirathi
Born of women through union unnameable
Sprightly Alaknanda
Dancing blue and transparent
You mingle at Devprayag 
We foolishly think waters lose their identity in unison”

I quote from the poem “To Rabindranath Tagore” to make the point again as she writes, “Among the sands of a desert state
I heard and read your poems
Gurudev, distant yet close, familiar yet alien
While I struggled with my 
Identity flitting between Rajasthan and Bengal 
Unable to claim either 
Unable to let go
The language and legacy 
Of my ancestors in
Shantiniketan.
Then I learnt from Gurudev
Emotions have no fixed language
The mind has no physical limits
Music resounds in the open sky 
Dance is the joy of a free spirit anywhere.”

My learning from this collection is that a skilled poet can say what she wants to and much more in a few crisp and concise lines, that make the read a pleasure and an exercise in thought, all texts condensed yet clear. 

I congratulate Malashri Lal for writing this exquisite poetry and the editors for the taut editing and lovely structure.

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