Book review by Keshab Sigdel
Title: Pearls of a Strawberry Moon
Author: Monalisa Dash Dwibedy
Monalisa Dash Dwibedy’s Pearls of a Strawberry Moon is not an ordinary collection of poems that only records the mundane realities of our times, our successes and failures, or our memories and hopes for the future. The poet meditates on the world around her, grows, and allows her awakened self to introspect objectively. She provides us with a yogic view of the world; not renunciation but an evaluation of the self and makes herself a witness to the demolition of her own ego.
In the times when poetry has been reduced to mere narratives of our own experiences, Monalisa has made it a vehicle for a serious purpose: search for wisdom
Everyone is subject to the pain and pleasure of their own life experiences. But they are not poetry in themselves. Churning those experiences for the realization of the ‘truth’ is what makes poetry. Monalisa has demonstrated herself as a meticulous observer of both the outer and the inner world.
She has divided her poems into three thematic sections: ‘Life’, ‘Lament’ and ‘Miracles’. The poems in the life category describe the human endeavour to seek happiness. They portray life in its totality. Verses in the second category ‘Laments’ include the ones of sufferings, regrets and failures. The last category, ‘Miracles’, covers the future, an alternate reality as perceived by the poet. All these poems are woven by a single thread of reflexivity of an awakened self.
The first poem in the collection,’My Life in Two blue Suitcases’ is a testimony of the poet’s divided self between the promises of the far-off lands and the warmth back home:
When the distant tracks call me,
Opening their arms,
I walk out of my comfort zone,
To embrace red-dusted earth and blue skies.
Staring far along the open roads,
As long as the sun shines upon me,
I try not to look back,
So many lives,
So many places,
There are millions of people who have left their birthplaces for better opportunities, but they have never been sure if that was really what they wanted. A perpetual desire to belong to the past continues to haunt their existence.
In ‘Soul of a Forest’, the poet tries to observe what is forgotten and neglected, the unseen. It is that unseen that has protected the seed of our life; that has nurtured the fragrance and the light we crave for. When she roams in the wilderness of the jungle, she finds darkness all around. But darkness is not the end. She reveals she knew that “the forest had a soul”.
In ‘A Butterfly’, the poet tries to find an answer to the question: what is the ultimate truth? The butterfly showcases an analogy of transformation from a caterpillar to flying wings! Change is the essence of existence. Being is not remaining static but transforming—probably for a higher goal. She writes:
A caterpillar to a butterfly,
Evolve through the dark,
I will gift my wings,
Kiss the sun.
Human beings are the slaves of their own ego. Our conscience is dictated by our ego. It is only when a great inspiration drenches us with all its compassionate blessing, we forget the ego. The real bliss is in surrendering the ego. ‘In Presence of the Master’, the poet creates an oxymoron to present this difficult passage of spiritual growth where the “surrendering of ego” becomes the most “ego-satisfying”:
Time stands still,
I melt in his presence.
Surrendering remnants of ego,
Was never so ego-satisfying.
The poet has tried to expose the limitations of human beings in ‘To the Atlantic’. In the poem, man’s vulnerability to nature is described in this way:
To the mighty ocean! We raised a toast
Roaring afternoon waves
Silenced our chorus,
The sea mocked and waves laughed
Watching us lose our thunder.
‘Let Me Unlock’ appears to be a romantic poem on the surface. But diving deep, we find out that it echoes the importance of independence and freedom of expression.
My love is locked,
In the vast vacuum of your heart,
Unable to find expressions.
The poems in the thematic section ‘Miracle’ resonate the poet’s expectations. In ‘A Thousand Love Affairs’, the poet expresses her unconditional love to the human and non-human. She loves them without purpose, with no expectations for any return: “My heart blossoms as it does not know heartbreak, despair or dark abyss.”
‘The World Goes Blind’ has the poet imagining that the universe has stopped and the world’s reverses from darkness to light. This reflects the poet’s sensitivity towards the darkness of inhumanity that prevails in the world. And she sincerely wishes to reverse it. Another poem, ‘A Speck of Dust’, is a meditation on how a seemingly insignificant dust speck is the source of magic for nature’s worldly manifestation.
‘Strawberry Moon’, the titular poem shows that the moon is eternal but is hung on its axis and man is transient and craves for the eternal. This incongruous juxtaposition of the moon and man provides us an opportunity to contemplate our lives – our desires and the reality we are destined for.
‘Fall’ tells the story of a season that undoes nature’s artistry. Everything has a limit; even creativity and construction. The old has to be demolished so that it makes place for the new. Everything has its time.
‘Niagara’ is a mystic poem where the poet imagines transforming herself into water droplets to immerse with the vastness of water:
How I can become one with the magnificent, majestic nature
Until I transform myself into a drop of water?
‘Goodbye’ brings forth the eternal struggle between the worldly ego and the awakened self. The first is merely a role player without knowing that she is a role player. The awakened self is a conscious witness. The poet wishes to bid goodbye to the unconscious self.
The last poem in the anthology, ‘I Set My Soul Free’ is, if not a declaration, at least a reflection, on the inner desire of the poet. The poet continues to live in her bodily form. Free soul is a metaphor of liberation — not only her personal social freedom, but freedom from desires.
A sincere delving into Monalisa’s poems clearly suggests the range of her imaginative horizon and poetic craftsmanship. I feel privileged to write my feelings for her poems. I invite the readers to have a go at them.
Keshab Sigdel is a poet, translator and critic based in Kathmandu. He is also the International Coordinating Committee Member of World Poetry Movement (www.wpm2011.org). He teaches poetry at Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University.