Reviews

‘Mona Dash’s verses have a civilised quality that will appeal to members of every diaspora.  While holding Shiva and Durga dear she has embraced Claude Monet and the Palais Garnier. In short, she is a new woman of a new age’ Reginald Massey, poet

A Certain Way also contains poems that explore religious, spiritual and mythological themes. Dash finds it ‘comforting / … to see Shiva in this land’ and know that ‘the all-pervading / everything of Shiva’ is present in England, as much as in India. (‘Shiva’) ‘Metamorphosis’ interprets the Narcissus story through the medium of Salvador Dali’s painting ‘The Metamorphosis of Narcissus’.

A number of moving poems are on womanhood and motherhood. In ‘Woman’ Dash asserts her solidarity with women the world over:

Always, a different name,
a different country,
a different life.
But the same I

Love is a crucial theme running through Dash’s collection, as important as her focus on the diasporic situation. Many kinds of love are celebrated in her poems – the love between man and woman, a mother’s love, love for a father, love for a vampire, cynical love, wistful love, sensuous love, spiritual love and love that is lost. Love is a difficult subject to write about with originality, but I applaud Mona Dash for essaying it with courage and flair.  In the fine poem ‘Happiness in Love’, Dash speculates on what expression gods and yogis would give to their joy in love, but asserts that human love can grow close to perfection:

You are you, I am I
a mere man, a mere woman,
we hurt, we pleasure
we try everything
to be closer together
to keep the oneness
as long as we can
with candles, aroma, tantra.

Sometimes I think,
in our happiness
we are almost there.

Many a first generation British Indian writer has commented on their diaspora experience – in poetry and in prose – and indeed some have done so memorably. While I welcome this first collection that adds to this growing body of literature, in my view, its author’s true forte lies in her intimate poems of connectivity. It is in these poems about personal relationships with people, places and traditions that emotions surface with authenticity. There may not be many answers in these poems, but Mona Dash does ask the right questions.

By Debjani Chatterjee, MBE, poet, scholar in The Book Review, June 2017. Read more at The Book Review Literary Trust.

An Uncertainty of the Certain

There is a great calmness at the heart of tears in Mona Dash’s windswept canvas of A Certain Way. A great objectivity and dispassionate detachment marks her profound involvement in the human experience of her own, yet universal suffering in the light, taut poems of time past, present, and yet to come – in which she locates the vast continents and depths of her mind, soul and body – uniting the acts of love, grief, and poetic release. In most of her poems the slight opening of the analysis is rapidly developed at the centre that takes off effortlessly into the universal from her personal, familiar observation: she carries us from her own world into the reaches of memory, desire, mood, thought and feeling that is the vessel from which we are carried from the mortal to the transcendent, from blood, bone and nerve into an eternal, solitary, yet all-embracing spiritual, soulful and almost celestial sphere.

“There are two voices at work here: the personal domestic one, and the bold public one,” writes Saleem Peeradina in the blurb. Indeed, the two worlds do not exclude one another in Mona’s poems but merge into a beautiful synthesis of detailed reality and evocative imagination like a martini delicately stirred, not shaken. The first poem, ‘A Certain Way’ juxtaposes the need to conform to Indian culture with the freedom to live life as you like allowed by the liberal culture of the West but again the need of conforming to that particular “public” culture:

As an immigrant,
I am expected to behave in a way,
A certain way…

The poem then continues to refer both to the Indian and English ‘way’s. With the memory of Frost’s ‘How way leads on to way’ in ‘The Road Not Taken’ and both the blending of the “domestic” (English) and now foreign Indian ‘way’s, the synthesis and contrast form a brilliant polar analysis. The first sentence, however, might have been less direct and blunt, in keeping with the technique of subtlety in Mona’s extremely delicate and elegantly crafted style: but reading the poem as a whole, one wonders, again, how else the statement could have been written. Followed by the impressionism of ‘Belonging’ (see the poem “Nympheas”) and “The Skin of Tradition,” the titles of all three are the definition of the elusive identity one must search for, but may never find, in neither location nor dislocation. ‘Typically,’ writes Peeradina, ‘she mirrors the lives of all migrants, in achieving a poetic disequilibrium suspended between belonging and dislocation’, almost as in the visualisations of the major paintings of Dali. A difficult achievement, accommodating, say, Van Gogh, and Dali (see the poem “Metamorphosis”) in building a striking technical and thematic structure.

The ‘bold personal’ voice leaves reality alone and takes us by the hand into the floating realms of emotion – primarily an overwhelming, heartfelt love, as in –

So close to the soul,
So close, only you. (‘His Gift’)

By Chandan Das (Late), poet, English professor. Read more at Muse India.

Mona Dash’s new collection of poems, A Certain Way, displays a heightened sensibility that straddles the East and the West. The poems reflect the narrative of displacement and question tradition and modernity in language that is lyrical and full of strong imagery. In ‘Home and Beyond,’ she writes about the many who pine for “the country they came from where the frangipani breathes, where the fish glisten…forgetting they were the ones who decided to leave the country of the narrow roads and claustrophobia.” A number of poems in the collection hark back nostalgically to a past and a way of life left behind.

This collection marks the arrival of a poet with an astute and sensitive awareness of what it means to arrive and leave.

By Reshma Ruia, author. Read more at Episteme.