In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner immortalized the lines, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ Suchita Parikh-Mundul’s work is an extension of this preoccupation, where the past is strategically, unusually, placed within a contemporary context. From ‘Online Lecture’, which references the dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro, to evoking Virginia Woolf in ‘Drama’ to the agility of ‘I Heart van Gogh’, the poems use history to shed a spotlight on the present. Their achievement lies in this delicate balance; the past may never be the past, but Parikh-Mundul ensures that it is past enough.
The poems cleverly set up expectations and then find ways to break them. ‘Online Lecture’, I was certain, would deal significantly with the pandemic, but Parikh-Mundul has nothing to say about this shift. Instead, she resolutely ignores what another writer might imagine to be the focus of the poem. ‘I Heart van Gogh’ again breaks expectations by populating the poem with asides. This technique creates a dual speaker of sorts, one openly addressing all readers and the other privately addressing a specific reader — you. The parentheses allow for unexpected insights, with their rhetorical questions and personal quips. Undoubtedly, this technique is most powerful in ‘Drama’. I leave you, however, to discover this deeply personal moment for yourself.
— Pervin Saket
The Bombay Literary Magazine
the historian sits resplendent on his throne,
his gilded voice heavy
with accolades and mountain-climbs.
Knowledge forms a chakra behind him.
He speaks of a feminine figure
armed with a rectangular torso,
towers of bangles, and parapet hips.
He posits tantalisingly – a dancer, a child, a whore.
The annals are dense, paved
with guesswork. His halo revolves.
We float on the golden river,
lost in the throat of history.
A woman’s voice interrupts his.
His conjuring dissolves:
the screen becomes a window,
his throne melts down to a chair,
his chakra dissipates midair.
His kingdom becomes a room,
a domestic stage with a woman
at the ropes. As the curtain draws higher,
we mentally posit her role –
a wife, a mother, a housemaid.
He continues to reflect gold
as if nothing else exists.
The woman’s voice recedes,
dissolving into rooms
behind it. The bone and marrow
of the dance girl
take centre stage again.
As we swim further into the mystery,
his divinity begins to crescendo
and we find ourselves once again
in a dead civilisation
with storied skeletons
and no definitive answers.
a fragment of my spine rolls towards the shore
as if in capitulation, along with the collarbone
and skull, all hanging on for dear life.
They look like an exclusive clique I’m not privy to.
It makes me feel the pangs of someone’s high-
school years. These are my bones, deserting me.
Waves begin to coax them into the depths, like
the sirens they are, goading my skeleton to live
independent of flesh, free of additional
cartilage, brainwork and contention.
I find it unpleasant to be divested of my parts.
I am unsolvable in their absence.
My remaining bits, the unoiled joints, grind
and reduce to dust a milli-percentage per second,
as if to remind me I will burn to ashes at some
point and no time’s better than now.
My limbs pull together towards the slick
of sand and wet shore where the rest of my
so-called compatriots are.
There is an epic field battle that takes place
here, minus the resounding background score
(which is a majority of the drama, I know).
For now, there is a terse setting and stubborn
parts that refuse to assemble with amity.
What a predicament! What a showdown!
Factions of an endoskeleton revolting, others
pleading reason, all fitting neatly together
if only they would allow it.
If you watch it play out, you’ll see me
disappearing as I follow my pieces into
the sea, hoping to put myself together again.
(Not quite like Woolf, though, not yet.)
I heart van Gogh
van Gogh etched cypress lookalikes into psyches – idyllic steeples performing elegant poetry for an audience of family and friends (same-same – those are my readers too) until his death, when history was posthumously made (my happy ending is under construction). I shut my eyes as I walk down the street and if I’m not run over by raving vehicles, the swirling landscapes imprinted under my lids, they flower (hardcopies available at MRP). A sharp scent of the French pastoral fills my nostrils (momentarily – no imagination can supersede real-time stink). I transform into a traffic island (urban oasis for the uninitiated) and orchestrate music from horns of scooters, trucks and taxis (who’s to say the policeman isn’t a composer?) all the while keeping a European summer under my skin and a line or two of poetry dangling from the earlobes. The purpose of this poem? To inform you I heart van Gogh in poetic form. Should I crowdfund a trip to Arles? Let me know in the comments below.
Suchita Parikh-Mundul is a freelance writer, copy editor, and poet. Her most recent poems appear in Outlook, The Alipore Post, and Yugen Quest Review. Her articles have been published at The Swaddle and Femina.