It was a game we played often. Spinning grandfather’s brass globe with our eyes closed, then stopping it with one finger. Whatever country we landed in was ours. And to prove patriotism, we had to know both the capital and the currency... We memorised countries and capitals like multiplication tables...Whenever we played who knew the most capitals, I always lost, but I didn’t care. It was the music in the names that mattered, not the names themselves. So read excerpts from the opening passage in Geography of Tongues, poet and writer Shikha Malaviya’s debut publication.
The poems and a few prose pieces are divided into three sections, each dealing with various themes - relationships, a sense of belonging, cultural and geographical boundaries and influences, impact of disasters, catastrophes and people movements including the 9/11 attack, the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the Kudankulam protests. Born in the UK and brought up in the US and India, her journey across borders and ‘dialogues between countries and cultures’ is apparent in the text.
Rich in imagery, every word seems worth its weight and the text evokes in a reader the emotional turmoil the subject is experiencing. The descriptions are so vivid that, they read like personal experiences of the author. They are a collage of everyday experiences recounted, not always with a fresh perspective, woven with thoughts that one often has but doesn’t pay attention to, making the writing easy to relate to yet interesting.
Like Any Good Indian talks of beggars who knock on car windows, shake passengers in autos at traffic signals and of the resulting discomfiture and guilt of not yielding to their demand for a rupee or two; of how one tries to pointedly ignore them, giving one’s ‘phone unwanted attention’. As Malaviya puts it:
... (their) half opened palm the size of my heart beating like a silver coin that I won’t give because it spoils them Some of the poems where she reminisces her Dadi, who spoke to her in Hindi so that she would learn, Dadaji, from whom Malaviya believes she inherits her love for literature and poetic inclinations, or her father, who used to think of home (India) from far away lands with nostalgia, are dedicated to them.
Easy to read, yet not something one would forget easily, this is a book that’s worth picking up for anyone who loves poetry.