Myriad colours of life
Jaishree Rana

The Strawberry Sun and Other Poems
by Manjit Kaur. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Pages 57. Rs 120.

This is a collection rich with myriad colours of human experience told in such a simple yet engaging manner that the reader doesn’t even realise when the personal transcends into the universal.

Many poems depict feminist sensibility, which are perhaps the most powerful ones. In some poems, like The Dilemma, the poet talks about very personal and intimate experiences of a woman:

Am I a freezer?

With frigid emotions?

When bodies meet

Urges are not always strong

Just by nature.

The status of women in society is touched upon in some poems like The Woman with a Cow, where the poet states the miseries of a housewife:

She bared her injuries

To the listless brats.

Yet her bruised soul

Abused at every moment

Shrouded itself

Behind the mundane tasks

She took soon after.

The poet is very clear in her mind that the much-hyped-about status of women in the Vedic era, when women were worshipped, is not what she wants. "Don’t deify me" is her expressed desire in the poem Set me Free. Another recurring theme is the mother figure shown as innocently dancing to nature’s rhythm hiding her bleeding heart and finding childhood dreams in her children.

However, the genius of the poet is not confined to feminism only. With equal ease, she talks about melancholy, fear, sorrow, ego and conflict with the outer self, but later the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ are absorbed in each other:

When I am

No more me

But a visitor

Of your self


Such are/Divine moments

Occasionally arrived at

Through an inward gaze Propelled by the gospel Or
the Grace.

The poet reaches a yogi-like situation where detachment and involvement are combined:

"Matching the outer beauty / with the inner glow" and "The trivialities / That may slither by me / Unnoticed".

The last poem Tall Growth sums up this journey:

I am a tree now

Taller than my size

Unburdened, unaffected

Lone and free.

The poems are short and pithy, e.g., Life and Death is complete in one sentence only, yet sums up the whole philosophy of life and death very deftly using the same metaphor of wrapping with entirely different connotations—hope softly wraps the baby like a nurse and despair like death shrouds the body to its smooth stillness.

The whole collection is a beautiful mixture of different styles sometimes reminding one of Keat’s sensuality, sometimes Whitman’s simplicity; while sometimes there is a hint of existentialism. All these streaks run side by not conforming to any one in particular. That is what helps the poet find her own niche.