‘We’ve a bridge between us,’ reads one of Athena Kashyap’s poems, ending with ‘the country called home becomes manifest amidst street lights.’
The poem, a reflection of the upheaval Kashyap’s family went through during the 1947 partition, speaks about ‘home’ and crisscrossing paths ‘carrying bits and pieces of our hearts’. That sense of yearning for lost homes, crossing borders and fences are themes that continue throughout Kashyap’s collection of poems, ‘Crossing Black Waters’.
Kashyap, who was in the city recently to do a couple of reading sessions from her book, says that the notion of home and being tied down to your home is what links all the poems in her books together. “Home means so many things to so many people. The exploration of those meanings is the driving force behind the different sections of the book,” she explains.
The title of the book comes from the term Kaala Paani, explains Kashyap. “Earlier, crossing the seas meant losing your identity and caste. Though we have conquered that border, there are many others that bind us, that we hesitate to cross,” she says.
The title, like her poems, fits in snugly with her concept of borders. Kashyap’s poems are poignant, calling upon lost memories of childhood, of the home her family had to leave behind and the borders they have had to cross and borders of different kinds, of countries and walls. Even words and a page play an important part in Black Waters. “People who leave their homes have a sense of being free, but not truly free. You never let your roots go, no matter how far you have travelled. Your past ties you to the place you belong to,” she explains.
True to her explanation, a single sentence ‘I am knot’ hangs alone on a page, transcending the very boundaries Kashyap speaks about.
Black Waters, Kashyap’s first collection of poems, was at least a decade in the making and contains poems that were written by her some eight years ago. The book was a finalist in the Stephen F Austin State University Press Award and has been published in journals such as Exquisite Corpse, Sanskriti, Asia Writes and the Waits-Mast Poetry Collection 2012, among others.
In stark contrast her second book, ‘Sita of the Earth and the Forest’ is due in early 2013. “This book explores women in India — from Sita and Shurpanaka to our missing women and girl children. I think those issues faced by women back in our epics are still relevant today and I want to bring that into my poems,” she says.
This mother of two has plans for a third book too. “I’m very interested in the notion of a place. What makes a place so? I’m toying with that idea currently. We’ll see where it takes us,” she adds.