“This small volume of poems contains a world of confidences that have been beautifully articulated in a fine poetic sequence.” This is how Jayanata Mahapatra, renowned Indian poet, describes Guru T Ladakhi’s collection of poems, Monk on a Hill. The collection of poems was published in 2017 by Speaking Tiger Publishing House, New Delhi. This collection offers the reader a journey into history, memories and stories unheard and words unspoken through the poet’s eyes.
The book is divided into four parts: People, Places, Seasons and Postscript in addition to a haiku. Guru T Ladakhi’s writing style juxtaposes memories with history as they come to life as an interwoven spread of words. The collection takes the reader from the passes that connect Tibet to India to the streets of the hills of Sikkim through the eyes of various characters the narrator introduces the reader to. The poet shifts between his memories of the revolution and violence in Manipur in For Robin the Poet and Manipur to the last days of an ailing, lonely and losing ruler, Chogyal PaldenThendup Namgyal in Jhunkyang: The Last Dream.
In the first section of the book, People, the poet remembers and brings back the music of Jimi Hendrix to all music lovers through his work Bird of Fire. His various encounters with people are reflected in many of his works, like The Chowkidar and A Marwari Gentleman Mourns for the Tibet of Yore in the Summer of 1968. He also juxtaposes the personal with the political, giving the reader a taste of both, therefore allowing him/her to connect and relate to the writings. His works are also inlaid with the rich culture of Sikkim. In A Forlorn Monsoon Afternoon, he remembers musician Steve Namchu.
The poet also takes a dig at the so-called idea of development at the cost of the nature. In his work Monk on a Hill, the reader is introduced to a monk who stays the same in times of great changes and transitions. A similar sense of disappointment with the changes that had occurred in the hills over the years, is also reflected in his work Shillong, 1992 in which the narrator concludes the poem with the lines, Farewell, Shillong, I came because you beckoned/but I must leave now, /for the songs on your lips have died/and you live clinging to the ghost of yesterday.
This part of the collection also contains one of the most political poetrys, In the Words of Socheat. This work recollects the victims of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Between 1975-1979, over 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians were executed by the then rulers Khmer Rouge. The poem describes the incident through the words of a survivor who witnesses the downfall of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) in 1979.
The second part of the collection takes the reader through a journey of the various places that left an impact on the poet. From the expansive valleys of Ladakh in Ladakh to a trek in the West Khasi hills in Nongkhnum, the poet creates a picturesque image in the minds of the readers with his words.
The third section, Seasons, contains three short poems describing Sikkim through the seasons of Monsoon, Autumn and Winter. This is followed by a section of haiku.
The final section of the collection, Postscript, contains a collection of works by the poet, many of which close to his heart and homeland. The impact and reality death leaves an individual in is captured beautifully in Death and the narrator’s sense of alienation at home in a newly formed State of India cannot be missed in the work Sub Merger. In Lhamu’s Scar, the poet also reflects upon the existing social orders of patriarchy that dictate and demand much out of women, through the voice of a narrator who is a young boy.
The collection of poetry offers insight into an array of subjects and welcomes the reader to take a journey along with the poet into his heart, travels and ideologies.
By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]