Book Review: Memory Braids and Sari Texts

MEMORY BRAIDS AND SARI TEXTS: WEAVING MIGRATION JOURNEYS 
Author: PUSPHPA NAIDU PAREKH 
Publisher: ARCHWAY PUBLISHING, BLOOMINGTON

Year: 2023
PP 91
Softcover: 
$26.99

E-Book: $3.99

This delightfully insightful book is an important addition to diaspora literature.
With deft brush strokes, the writer paints emotions into breathtakingly beautiful poetry.
The title of the book is culturally resonant, and the tripartite structure of the book embodies the Border, the Body, the Edge or pallu of the sari.

Pushpa-Naidu-Parekh
Through the sari and braid, ‘the quintessential hairstyle and garment’ worn by the Indian woman, the poet manages to unravel the many layers of herself. 
In the Preface, she says, "My personal journey includes certain intersections of various kinds", where education, inclusivity, and independence of thought were more emphasized. Worn-out beliefs, traditions, and customs were not a part of her South Indian middle-class family who lived in Chandigarh, North India, and spoke Telugu, English, and Hindi, but 'the norms of ableism and patriarchy ruled the world,” she stepped into. 

In the Introduction, she writes,
 “They are both texture and text. The braid—often kept long and styled with flowers (especially in South India) or lengthened with extensions (as in North India)—is a prized possession with both aesthetic and spiritual meanings. The sari is a length of untailored cloth material that has been the traditional everyday garb of Indian women for millennia."


Santosh Bakaya
Very creatively using the braid and sari as the framework that defines and unifies the collection, the poems of Memory Braids and Sari Texts: Weaving Migration Journeys, encapsulate the memory of independent India, which turned seventy-five in 2022.

Richly layered and textured, the book explores a woman’s vivid and sometimes muted memories of her life in India, her move to the US, and her diasporic experiences there. As she covers the distance from one homeland to another, many layers of herself, involving her physical, emotional, and spiritual self, are revealed- the braid and the sari both being symbolic of the draping of oneself and the unraveling of many selves.

In the very first section, Borders, in the first poem, she says,

“I carry my country

in the crucible

of harrowed language,

at the edges

of faded photographs,

on the backs of displaced “coolies,”

Indo-Caribbean diaspora,

Migrants from distant shores (Memory Poem, P 2)

 

 And in ‘The Sari’, she says
“This sari I wear—

You and me.

Women’s journeys

Spin my body.

Fold your pleats;

We are one and many.

Parted by generations,

We are the same:

A diaspora.

Fabric and fabrication”. (The Sari, p 3)

 

I read three poems about her mother, absolutely benumbed.

 

“I watch
my mother’s fingers

enveloped
in the giddiness
of creativity
 in a game
 of memory
 Seventy some years
falling away
the pain of
rheumatoid
held at bay
for now she is a young girl
writing her life
 into meaning
. [I watch my Mother’s Fngers, p 14]

  
 “My mother
said
 I could climb
 the Himalayas
if I wanted to
That she would
climb with me
With my polio
and her arthritis
 we did not need
 too much help

Only perhaps a shift of the mind” [Together, P 16]

  
 I could almost see the inspiring mother’s hand on the daughter’s head, boosting her sagging spirits through her wise words.

 

In Swordswomen [p 17], she talks of her mother’s ‘tenuous tenacity’ and her own ‘tranquil temerity’ –
‘a pair of mothers caring
 absurdly fighting for the same thing.
Poised swordswomen.’
 
Two accompanying photographs of the poet as a small girl, holding her mother’s hand, and another of her mother standing in solitary splendor, wrung my heart.

 

The second section, Body, pulsates with evocative poetic eloquence and intense yearnings. We listen to the notes of ‘a song braided in the breeze’, see her opening herself,  longingly touching soft cottons and shimmering threads of saris, ears riveted to songs of a country, left behind.
 With her, we trace the contours of chunks of selves ‘gathering moss on hidden pathways’, and try reading the

 “Footnotes of a journey
 still lingering
 on a page
[Footnotes of a Journey, p 21]


 
We salute the poet as she comes to terms with her ‘body and its recalcitrance’ and stays anchored while the world clashes, involved in a

“Biological warfare

of

daily violence.”[Biological warfare, p 36]

 

She writes about loneliness, peace, courage beauty, home, and homelessness, with a very sensitive minimalism.
“the elsewhere
 of home
……………..
 slips in and out,
a startled gazelle
“across a landscape of home
                                               less

                                                       Ness

[The Elsewhere of Home, p 42]

Survivor Labels, p 44, is another poem that shook me completely.
“You who wait on the sidelines,
waiting
for us to fall and falter;
 you are ready
with new labels:
“The Handicapped.”  

 
In Our Bodies Remember, P 47, it is a sad poet talking about the loss of compassion and sensitivity in human beings.
“our bodies
………
 are slowly
 forgetting
 to twitch in pain …
our bodies…
slowly
remember
 the carnival
that was humanity.”

 

The poems The Drink p 48 and Chai Tea p 49, are not just sprinkled with cardamom, ginger, and nostalgia, but also with dollops of humour:


“At the Customs
 the dog sniffed at my feet
 and my suitcase
stuffed with masala chai,
when I called back my mother,
 that night, I told her
the chai had passed
the customs, the dogs,
the guards at the gates
of America…”

 

In Returning, p 50, she says,’
 “returning is a desire we ache to hold,
……….
In that space of back and forth,
We tread a lifetime of longing.”

In the third section Edge, we find her, gently ‘probing the pain to the precipice’ pulling outweeds from the crevices of living’, the’ rituals of loss’ aching her.

  
Some poems are potent punches, making the reader scream at the horrors unfolding- war, violence, feticide, natural disasters, suicide bombings and missing girls.

 

 

 

The words in Global Death p 73, left me shocked.

“Hotel collapses

In Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

15 Al Hajj Pilgrims

Dead.

Kerbala dead rising to 45

and maybe more.

5 people injured

on train derailment

at Humphries?

The news is alive

with the stink

of

global

death”.

The book haunts, and I found the essence of her poems, in the following lines-
‘Two worlds,
 Two hemispheres,
Two continents,
Two dreams intertwined.

I draw a line,
Loop it in a circle.
Two spaces carved for
The resident and
The itinerant self.’ [The Oil Lamp, p 62]

 The book ends with a heartfelt plea from the poet:  
 
“Make of me

no fairy tales,

no songs,

no memorials.

Just braid me

in your hair

and, once in a while,

s            e

  m        l

     iiiiii” [My Wish, P 76]

 

 

The passionate intensity of the unfiltered eruptions is so palpable that one finds one’s own pulse beating with nostalgia, love, and indignation, simultaneously, trying to understand the myriad nuances and textures- bitter-sweet, tangy, sour, satirical, sad, and metaphorically profound.
With an invisible sleight of hand, she tenderly etches crisp, poignant details in her impressively measured, minimalistic style. I found myself saluting the enduring pride and indomitable spirit of a resilient woman, characterized by a never-say-die spirit and exemplary intrepidity.
  Aesthetically designed, embellished with sepia-tinted photographs, and sketches, the book is a treasure. I often stopped midway, trying to inhale the essence of a particular poem and doff my hat to the poet’s creative ingenuity.
Words can be honed into exquisite poetry in the hands of a deft wordsmith- and she has done that commendably well.

The introduction and preface have been amazingly well-crafted, and as one closes the book, one realizes that one has just finished a journey, not only of discovery but of edifying rediscovery and resurrection.

 
Author Bio:
Pushpa Naidu Parekh, PhD, is a Professor of English and Director of African Diaspora and the World program at Spelman College, Atlanta, Georgia. An award–winning poet, she has taught and published in the areas of British, postcolonial [including African and South Asian Diaspora Studies], and US immigration literatures. Her work has been published in various creative journals, and collections and she has contributed to the Atlanta Indian Community Journal, Khabar.

Author Website: https://www.pushpanaiduparekh.com

Publisher Website: www.archwaypublishing.com


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