By Namrata Pathak
“I thought I was suffering from not being loved, and yet it is because I thought I was loved that I was suffering; I lived in the complication of supposing myself simultaneously loved and abandoned.”
“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”
A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments
One look at the cover page of Vibha Malhotra’s Loveflakes, and my mind wanders about: how to embody love and its varied hues? That nebulous emotion and its limitless manifestations: how to hold the vivacity of love in mere words? Can love be transferred across time and space, and if yes, in which language do we have to be well versed in order to know it, feel it? Can this axis of giving and receiving that love entails be conveyed at all, without losing the alchemy, the magic that love inspires? Or does love behave like that truant school boy who smirks in glee clasping his mouth with his hands, refusing to show his actual face, runs and runs amok, his unkempt hair glistering on his forehead, his feet matching the fleeting wind, his winged soul doing the acrobatic leaps in the sky? Is he free? Does love hide behind muslin veils, sheets of fog, an indecipherable paradox? Why is it specific if it is universal?
My first experience of reading Vibha Malhotra’s poems borders on an encounter: I saw/found/discovered myself as a lover in different stages of my life. I am plural and this experiential reality of encountering the multiple selves that I have compressed in or within me stemmed from how I loved, whom I loved and who loved me back – does not love bind me to the other in an act of shared nurturing and reciprocity? If yes, I can’t talk about love without talking about the other. In this context, love is an initiator of shifts and displacements where the lover bears a subjective intensity, an obligation towards the other. Likewise, in Malhotra’s book, the “I” splinters and scatters across every experiential plane, thus staging an utterance, for a lover’s language which is figurative in nature is performed, enacted across diverse spatio-temporal clusters. Is this book suffused in partial autobiography, I pondered, as every lover’s discourse is composed of the reflections, scenes, tableaux, fragments, parts of the “I” – call it a constituted closeness of the other. The “I” has a simulated function of spilling across the many places that the lover occupies. More so, the poems give birth to a philosophical meditation: there is a trance like moment when everything becomes still and calm; there is no turbulence in the surface, no concentric ripples on water, no piercing cacophony. This satiation and fulfillment permeate most of Vibha Malhotra’s poems. But in her set of other poems, she takes a menacing knife and slices the serene and placid heart, and blood oozes out of it. She talks about the brutality of heartbreaks, agony, pain and anguish – the common, inner language of grief that every lover is acquainted with. Consider “Inner Child”, for example:
You appeal to the 15-year-old me.
She did not know heartbreak yet.
When I met you I met her again.
Here she is, ready to put her all into this,
with an abandon that
only the naïve are capable of.
Vibha Malhotra’s poetry book, Loveflakes: Memories of Mirages, is published by Hawakal Publishers. The illustrators of the book, Bharati Malhotra and Poonam Bhalla, have added a visual and visceral charm to the book. In the words of Kathryn Brettell, author and editor, “…her (Malhotra’s) words on love are timeless. With each passage, the reader’s heart reconnects and relives some distant situation, awakening a remembrance that softens the heart and refills its boundless capacity for love. Love is many things, and as you read this beautiful compilation of insights, it will change you. Everyone is guaranteed to find themselves on these pages.” What ensnares me is the fact that each one of us can relate to certain segments of the book, in parts or whole, take a sigh and retort that, “Yes, that’s me. I have gone through it. It happened to me.” The poet has a special ability to connect to the masses, to take the world in her stride while she celebrates love, paints its interesting colours and patterns, and weaves her narrative on “the monad of the ever-expanding Universes — the invisible force that keeps cells, molecules, human beings, solar systems, and galaxies from falling apart.” The poet dwells on the concepts of infinity and homogeneity, love’s known offshoots, in “We are homogenous”:
That day when we first held hands, I felt our souls merge.
That moment was infinite. We were infinite.
Whenever we are apart, that infinity embraces me.
I still feel your hand in mine.
I still find your soul in me.
What is love but an act of unification, an extension of one’s heart and soul in the other? What is love but a meeting point of the self and the other, an intersection of two hearts, two bodies? Rightly it has been said that love is a “prism through which we can hope to decrypt our connection with the infinity.” Love is unbound and unruly; it does not know the decorum of a law-abiding language. It proliferates and runs wild. It is a maze of interconnected yearnings, dreams and hopes.
As I was going through Malhotra’s book, I had a desire to know how love is theorized. Goethe, Plato, Nietzsche, Freud, Sade, Sartre, Barthes, and many others have written about love. In the texts abound in love or in the great works of literature and philosophy on love, the author always tries to strike a fine balance between his personal experience and the impersonal discourse of love. I keep wondering how it is done. The first-person narrative that emerges from the lover’s pen has to be foregrounded, but is it possible to disentangle the fantastic and imaginary, the cooked and created, the fictive imaging from a lover’s discourse? What is lost in translation, between the lover and the writer if both are not the same person? In the words of Roland Barthes, every act of love begets a chain of responses: “admiration of the loved one, the magic of love rituals, longing for a sign of attention, courtesies, mutual love, trust – and the opposite: disappointment, despair, the end of love, dramatic scenes. All these are fragments in the puzzle of a lover’s mind – a fragile and complex organism, where thoughts, memories and emotions come together to create an individual language.” If we look at love from a theoretical point of view like Roland Barthes did in his A Lover’s Discourse, we are tempted to ask, “If love is indeed so common, can one find a shared inner emotional language? Is there even such a thing as an emotional language?” Barthes’ short fragments focus on a thought, an idea or an image that crosses a lover’s mind or springs from a lover’s heart. Instead of presenting us a slice of a continuous spectrum, Barthes zeroes in on “the chaotic flux of emotions,” “an unstructured flow of hopes and frustrations.” Like Barthes, in Malhotra’s poems, too, we come across the lover’s inner monologue, in which the readers will find themselves anchored or at least recognize a speck of their personality or a part of their being. Perhaps love is about familiarity, a strange way of knowing oneself through the other. Of tasting the foreignness of the other and yet knowing the vitality of discovering a familiar map of one’s desires in the lover. Perhaps love is about losing ways and retracing the footsteps back home.
Namrata Pathak has four books to her credit, and her latest is forthcoming from Sahitya Akademi. Her recent publication is titled, Indira Goswami: Margins and Beyond (2022), a part of the Writer in Context Series of Routledge, UK. Her articles and creative writing have found a place in Outlook, Scroll.in, Vayavya, Nezine, Café Dissensus, Northeast Review, Kitaab, Coldnoon, Setu, Indiana Voice Journal, Muse India, Raiot, The Tribe, Dead Snakes, The Thumb Print Magazine, Wagon Magazine, Bengaluru Review, to name a few. She has been a recipient of FCT-Ford Foundation Fellowship and UGC-Associateship by IIAS, Shimla. Her debut collection of poems, That’s How Mirai Eats a Pomegranate, was brought out in 2018 by Red River. Her poems are included in the Sangam House Monsoon Issue: A Special on Poetry from North East, July, 2019 and anthologies forthcoming from Aleph and other publishing houses.
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