Poetry is a dangerous thing because it can make you feel the experiences you never had in your lifetime. And, that’s perhaps, defines beautiful poetry. When I started reading Rehana Shamsi’s collection of poems, “Facts of Life”, I never could imagine what was in store for me. I have a particular predilection for poetry; I love reading them, all types from every literary epoch. So, I was intrigued to lay my hands on “Facts of Life” when offered a chance to read and review the same and, I definitely have got more than what I expected.
Rehana Shamsi was born in undivided India, but her family moved to Pakistan after the partition of 1947. Later in life, she migrated further west and currently lives in Toronto, Canada. Her myriad experiences of life have made her poems a reflection of the society, culture and time she has gone through. Lined with personal emotions and feelings, her poems are like colourful graffiti of words.
There are 11 distinct categories in the book, namely, Awareness After Repression, Gender Disparity, Resurrection, Health, Migration, Family, Facts of Life, Old Age, Bereavement, Nine-Eleven and Curiosity and Others. All of the 96 poems are placed in a way so that the reader gets a feeling of reading them in chronological order. They denote the poet’s personal journey of life as well as the journey of the humankind with time. Except for a couple of them, all the poems are in free verse, unrhymed lines with no fixed metrical pattern, but together they produce an artistic tapestry.
Still, in South-Asian countries, women are much infantilized and have to subjugate to the male-dominated patriarchal form of society. Rehana has given a voice to those mute sufferings of millions of women deprived of education and are forced to live an ignominious life. She has neither raised a furore nor has spoken strongly in favour of neo-feminism. But her words serve as an inspiration to fill up the lacuna between wish and action. She has accentuated on the inner strength of women, the determination and the mental prowess that help her to win over her destiny.
To liberate her stretched-out existence,
the girl strove to learn the art of healing.
Moon smiled with its
morning dew invited her
to wash away blues,
glorious sun helped visualize
rainbow on the sky,
inebriated her soul,
assisted her beyond the mist.
(Excerpts from A Brave Little Girl)
The tone of optimism and positivity echo in these lines from “Golden Dreams”. This optimism is the very essence of her poems.
I was one hell of a dreamer
of sweet dreams
holding on silently
to precious thoughts,
for prized ambitions.
Watching drifts of wind,
I stood firm and waited
for barriers of confiscated choices
to be removed.
Poets often have romanticized the concept of love with wonderful metaphors or ornamental imageries. Rehana, without using a figurative language has succeeded in explaining love here in the poem, “Taj Mahal”.
love, like a coin,
contains two sides;
receiving and delivering
do not differ in
I constructed a Taj Mahal around me
without waiting for someone else
to begin building the monument of love.
The poem“Sacrificial Lamb” blew me away. Poverty compelled a family to hand over their fifteen-year-old girl to the landlord, who deflowers her. The soul and body of the girl got shattered and, in lieu, the family survived for the season.
It reminded me of the poem Hunger by the award-winning poet Jayanta Mahapatra. Both the poems are equally poignant, they reveal the naked truth, the way girls are used as commodities in the South-Asian countries.Rehana’s usage of figures of speech is worth mentioning. Like she says in the poem, “Sweaty Terror”,
Your crimson affection like furious rage,
leaves me trembling inside
as though I’ve escaped, narrowly,
from my own Pearl harbor.
The mere mention of Pearl Harbour brings at once in your mind a picture of wreckage and devastation and what the poet wants to convey here.
The egregious effect of the partition of Indis is portrayed in the poem, “Jewel of Freedom”. The after-effect of 9/11, the way it created an atmosphere of distrust, terror and confusion is brought out poignantly in the poem “Soy Milk and Chocolate Cookie”.
Rehana has not only handled the social issues with a élan but her poems on personal relationships, on her family and grandchildren, her parents and friends- will produce a lasting effect on the mind of the reader. Her wisdom has reflected itself in her words. Her words have created pictures effortlessly in her poems.
In a few poems, there is a verbiage of emotions with more than necessary words and analogies, but that is again, what we call poetic license. I would have been happier to read some more poems on nature (as I’ve a penchant for writing on Mother Nature).
I recommend “Facts of Life: Reflections on Ignorance and Intelligence” to everyone who loves poetry and who believes,”Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” – Paul Engle