REETIKA VAZIRANI, World Hotel, Port Townsend, WA, Copper Canyon Press 2002, pp. 121, $ 14.00.
This is Reetika Vazirani’s second book of poems. She was born in India and raised in Maryland.
«I am your mother. Invent me» says the mother, Maya, to her daughter. And the daughter does. She culls memories not her own, seeking to resurrect, relive and record her mother’s childhood in India and her teens in Maryland, her early married life in U.S., return to India, and a re-return to U.S. The narrative is chronological, and plays like a musical interlude, with soft strings and poignant pauses.
Born in 1937, Maya is the daughter of an army officer, and is educated at a boarding school in Mussoorie by teachers born in England. She remembers the barracks outside Lucknow, and being told about the island from where other officers came: «And when I said island, it was a mint leaf on my tongue, almond slice, a moon with its thin rays on the windowpane ». At about age nine, her mother leaves her father. Brother Ved and she «are stick people forever /climbing up the brown hill». They come to Washington D.C., and get a stepmother.
Many of the memories are common to the Diaspora. There is the British accent of mission schools, colloquialisms and rhymes typical of the 1960s: «Wish for me, I wish for you, ship’s in, we have to run.» There is the Indian mindset of new immigrants: father’s mind converts all price tags into rupees, so that «When I bought my first lipstick / it was as f I bought a cow in India».
William Stratford appears in her life, and with it the wish to be white: «I am nineteen years [...] and I’m left churning if I were / But I kept hearing us laugh were white as I dreamt».
Back in India, there are friends and visits to palaces and to the Taj, where Maya can only view Mumtaz Mahal with pity, imagining her dressing like her handmaid so she could sneak away to the bazaar and buy beads. Then marriage to Kiran, and two daughters; then a single poem about an extra marital affair that is intriguing in its mystery, but also somewhat disturbing in that he seems rather cavalier. «He asked would you, and I said I would» and after the one-week stand, he goes away. I suppose one should see it as an act of self affirmation. She had always seen herself as dark and small and married to a dark talent from a small world because of «The parent who. The British voices who. I became those who bent me. I am dark and small». This act liberates her in some way.
Then there are servants who domineer and cheat her, and the runaround at Kiran’s workplace, «for those who studied abroad nowhere to go». So back to the United States, a familiar ending for those of us who left India a second time, in search of job satisfaction.
I have dwelt long on the first part, because it is closer to me. The second part is the daughter’s story, «It’s me, I’m not home». The lilting syllables of the first part are replaced by a kaleidoscope of harsher tempo, shorter words, references to fast cars and designer clothes, series of lovers, the whole kit and kaboodle of living in this «young country»: «through orange portals lit tunnels / over bridges Brooklyn Golden Gate / weather be bright wheels turn yes / pack lightly we move so fast».
¬ top of page
|Semicerchio, piazza Leopoldo 9, 50134 Firenze - tel./fax +39 055 495398|