USHA KISHORE :NIGHT SKY BETWEEN THE STARS
Book Reviewed by Asra Mamnoon
Usha Kishore Night Sky Between the Stars Poetry Collection Allahabad: Cyberwit India, 25 January 2015 ISBN 978-81-8253-566-4 Pages 110 | Rs 200
A Star in All Its Radiance
Manifesting her concerns over Indian womanhood, the Indian born British writer, Usha Kishore smiles at us with another anthology of beautifully carved verses, Night Sky Between the Stars. The fierce femininity of Draupadi, the virtue and silent strength of Sita, the devotion of Mira and the loyalty of Gandhari: Kishore has magically rendered the many facets of a woman into poetry. After having carved a niche with her debut collection of poems, On Manannan’s Isle, Kishore’s second outing, Night Sky Between the Stars can indeed be a very rewarding intellectual and fulfilling experience for lovers of poetry. Night Sky Between the Stars is a sea change from the postcolonial palette of language, culture and identity of On Manannan’s Isle towards a more feminist discourse, drawing on Indian mythology and Sanskrit verse.
With a cover photo of the epitome of woman power, Goddess Durga, the book catches one’s eye in no time and with every turn of a leaf,Kishore’s poems give voice to Indian women who have long since been silenced under masculine supremacy. One realizes that the idolization of women in Indian culture is perhaps a myth and their marginalization in the present era is solely a continuation of the past. Though the poet draws heavily from ancient Sanskrit lore, myths and legends, she does not celebratory in her stance; instead, her poems are reactionary, which shake the very roots of Indian values. In keeping with the Indian tradition, Kishore begins with the Gayatri mantra, the mother of all Vedas and challenges the lack of patriarchal acknowledgement to chant those mantras which had been solely reserved for men.
The collection includes poems which deplore the excessive humiliation faced by several women in Hindu mythology. “Draupadi” is a poem of boundless emotions of a highly self-respecting wife of the Pandavas, who put her integrity at stake in a game of dice. Her pleadings to Lord Krishna are extremely heart rending-
Honour the piece of my torn sari that once bound your bleeding hand Clothe me from eternity to eternity and save womanhood from ruin,for a tale to be told until the end of time.
Not often have we heard queen Gandhari’s dejection at her own fate of being shorn of her physical vision and also of her inability to stand against her blind husband and unjust sons. One can hear Gandhari’s own voice through the poet in this eponymous poem. Kishore also speaks of Indian wedding rituals which have bound women in their knots, since times immemorial. The poem, “The Henna Ceremony”, is about the feelings of a bride-to-be who is to marry a man whom she has met for only a couple of hours-
……….Before my henna fades,my husband would fly away and I would watch the colour dulling in my palms, wait for my visa and pray to the eternal bride for a land of dreams.
(“The Henna Ceremony”,21)
The idea that the universe operates on the unity of Purusha and Prakriti or the male and the female energy lies at the heart of Indian philosophy. In the event of this balance being disturbed, everything goes awry. Kishore lays emphasis on this balance and of the equality between men and women. Her feminism is quite distinct-
My ecriture feminine does not chain itself to lamp posts or wander around, waving placards, shouting in loud voices. It is more subtle;
(“L’Ecriture Feminine et Indienne”,75)
The title poem, “Night Sky Between the Stars” is an epitome of that Female Force which extends itself to time and space and declares-
I am she-cosmic soul, dark warrior, fecund earth, making love to the sky… ……………………. I am no goddess, I am a woman, birthing gods, like bubbles in the sea;
(“Night Sky Between the Stars”,45)
Through the poem “Five Virgins”, Kishore invokes the Pancha Kanya hymn from Indian epics. There is a footnote to this poem, stating that the recital of this Sanskrit hymn can redeem sinners. How ironic!
Kishore’s diasporic bipolarity finds expression in poems such as “Writing in Exile”. This one would remind the readers of Nissim Ezekiel’s poem, “An Exile”, as Kishore finds herself unable to pass a day ‘without thoughts of home’. “Translated Woman”, also a personal favourite, is another poem, bringing out the poet’s existential angst-
My insides are a tug of war between East and West, Who keep their trysts in darkness;
Poems such as these sprout postcolonial displacement and nostalgia for home and hearth. To talk of Kishore’s poetic diction, she creates a kind of diasporic Indian English tinged with a Western seasoning by using words from languages such as French. Like many contemporary Indian diaspora writers in English, Kishore plays with words and uses the English language in her own unique way.
The longest poem in the book, Ode to the Monsoons, is exquisitely romantic and rich in beautiful imagery. It makes one delve into the evanescence of a beautiful dream as Kishore finds herself reminiscent of Indian monsoons ‘in exiled tears’. The book contains a section entitled ‘Prerna Poems’, a part of the poet’s Ekphrastic project,‘Prerna’, in association with Sandhya Arvind, an artist of Madhubani and Warli paintings. These depict traditions practised by Indian women: “Palaghata”, “Lagna Chauk” and “Radha to Krishna” to name a few. Furthermore, in the section entitled ‘Gendered Yearnings’, Kishore takes inspiration from the passionate palette of the renowned Indian painter, Raja Ravi Varma. Kishore has captured the many moods of Indian womanhood in all its sensuality, in her own poetic hue. Poems such as “Ahalya” and “Descent of Ganga” are sure to wring a poetic heart.
Kishore’s poetry has a confessional note attached to it, much like the feminist proclamations of Kamala Das. The all-encompassing ‘I’ manifests in poems such as “Translated Woman” as the poet confesses of keeping ‘liaisons with many tongues’. Kishore speaks not just for herself but for the entire womanhood. This theme may not be new to an avid reader but it is its amalgamation with Sanskrit verse, Indian mythical figures and a native consciousness, which gives an entirely new freshness to contemporary poetry. This is what makes Kishore’s poetry unique and innovative and makes it one of the brightest stars in a sky with many stars of diasporic writings. It won’t be justifiable to consider it a drawback, but this poetic anthology is more suitable for an informed audience. Though the collection is meant for a global readership, one is expected to have a good enough idea of Indian culture and mythology in order to appreciate and draw out more pleasure from these extremely beautiful verses.
Night Sky Between the Stars, a book of some 109 poems, concludes with the very inspirational, “Tired of Being Coy”. It is an epitome of Usha Kishore’s L’Écriture Feminine et Indienne, where one can hear the echoes of many subjugated women saying, ‘No more’. Kudos to Kishore for such an enlightening gift to her readers. Feed your brains with this one, for it will leave you richer while making yo look forward to another poetic endeavour by the exalting poet that Kishore is.
Book Reviewed by Asra Mamnoon.she is currently pursuing her Masters in English from University of Lucknow, Lucknow. Born and brought up in Lucknow,she is a voracious reader along with having a wanderlust. She has diverse interests in reading and apart from Literature, Philosophy is where her interests lie. She also likes to write randomly on anything which makes her think.She wishes to be a Professor in English and share with others what she has learnt from her subject and life.