The critic David Orr, while discussing Robert Frost’s career, famously declared that as a society “We choose our actors and popular musicians; we are presented with our poets.” Poets are ‘discovered’ by other poets, agents and editors; by the time they make their way to the larger reading public, it seems as if they “have appeared out of nowhere and all at once, like a whale breaching, as a thousand unseen currents come together.” Kunjana is poised to captivate the ‘larger reading public’ with what her fellow poets have already discovered: a fascinating and novel poetic voice.
There is much to love in Parashar’s deftly woven poems, but love can be transient; more importantly for me, there is much to return to. I found myself — many days after first encountering them — making my way back to her poems for their gentle continuities. It is entirely apt that her poems structurally give the impression of having no beginning and no end. In fact, ‘Offerings’ starts with a conjunction, as if it were plucked mid-sentence from a conversation or a thought. When combined with Parashar’s subject matter, it reinforces that there is no true cosmic beginning, just the ‘passing of things’ from one state to another, just the shaping and reshaping of casual kindnesses, just the plucking of language from silence to image to poem.
Parashar’s images remind us that the ordinary is poised to become the extraordinary. Her lens zooms in on fisherwomen, stray dogs, lizards and yes, sewer gnats. However, what makes her work stand apart is that Parashar does not rely on the static image; the poem’s transcendence comes through movement. The emphasis is not on the gift but on the giving, not on the thinker but on the thinking, not on the dew but on the act of dewing. The physical becomes metaphysical in the act of [ex]change. It is no surprise that all of her titles use the continuous tense in one form or another. If Proust said that the purpose of the artist was to draw back the veil that leaves us indifferent to the universe, Parashar demonstrates that we will see the universe not after the unveiling, but in the very act of unveiling.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
And haven’t I seen this
many times before,
squatting on the footpath
at the lower end of the tekadi,
rubbing a dark paste of tobacco
in her teeth,
with a plastic tub of piscine festivities,
laying out bodies of surmai, bangda,
bombil, callously tossing away
a thin piece or two,
in a loose mercy, one to the crow
hopping and cawing around her,
one to the slobbering stray dog
with fur the colour of a milky tea,
while giant buses honk,
driving shoals of children to school.
And do we not survive this way too,
each morning, receiving
a sliver of such plenitude, however
slim, small, or rotten its proportions,
however inessential the ritual,
this careless, casual
passing of things,
hand gesturing, fortuitously,
On Not Cleaning the Bathroom
They linger there in the damp, in the dark—
chemicals from lime-green bricks of cinthol, blue bits of
rin still stuck to the holes of the drain, a black tangle of
hair from three heads, carbon from the filters of ACs.
Each night a family of sewer gnats coagulates on
the broken drain cover, feasts on the quiet moisture
of the black brink. The earthworm peeks its head of string
from some epoxied gap of a cracked tile
and the millipede hungers for a spider yo-yoing
from the emptied pocket of an air-freshener.
Who am I to shake the confidence of the lizard
grown catatonic behind the bristles of a plastic broom?
Who am I to ruin the unity of things for the sake
of a sanitary impulse, the dream of a cleaner drain—
rubber pump gasping with humid air to quench
the throat of an old god, the ancient thirst
of some plumbing machine?
Scores of them swim unbidden
in the wettest of canals teeming
with caddisfly larvae
and smooth otter-snouts,
amphibian affairs unknown to us.
Speaking in low squeaks which is
the secret language of frogs as opposed
to the national & public croak,
they keep a shy disposition
except an occasional spa-in-the-sun
out by some rocks covered with
a green and gunky moss.
But at night, all across dark,
a million of these luminaries
anointed with a kind of holy slime
gather at the edge of the suburbs,
which for them
is the edge of the world.
Guardians of the threshold
between water, dream,
they begin the business of oozing
a transparent loam, something
lighter and moister than the skin of eels,
wispier than the slide of earthworms,
or the oiled scalps of babies,
there in the hushed nursery
of a private waking.
In the morning,
when all alchemy liquefies
to turn common as the sky,
and the frogs return to the undergrowth
and the stalks gush with a milky sap
and the palm secretes a potful of toddy again,
all surfaces misty as the pistil of a crying eye,
nobody can tell
the secret work of dew
from the simple fact of it.
Kunjana Parashar is a poet from Mumbai. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Indian Quarterly, ASAP|art, What Are Birds?, SWWIM Every Day, Columba, Heavy Feather Review, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2021 Toto Funds the Arts award for poetry and the 2021 Deepankar Khiwani Memorial Prize.