Language developed in human beings in the evolutionary process as an important tool of survival. It is considered as an abstract system of signs whereby the user can go on perpetually creating new sentences and each of which will be intelligible. It gives us a sense of endlessness. Language itself is intangible and yet it gives meaning to both terrestrial objects and amorphous feelings. Had we not grown up with the perceptive bias of assuming that everything that exists has a maker leading to the conception of god and that too in our own image, we could very well have imagined this emanation from our mind, which we all have an innate cognitive ability to acquire, as the god substance. For Immanuel Kant language was the tool to experience the world, for Wilhelm von Humboldt it was equal to thought, for Franz Boas it was inseparable from culture, for Edward Sapir it was language that influenced thought, for Benjamin Lee Whorf language was to determine the house of one’s consciousness and for Noam Chomsky there is a universal cognitive pattern in all languages. Nikita Parik, who has a Master’s degree in linguistics, in her debut collection of poems, Diacritics of Desire, takes the readers on a journey through language from the ephemera to the terra firma.
Diacritics of Desire (Kolkata: Hawakal Publishers, 2019) is divided into two parts, “Semantics of Longing” and “Deixis of the Soil.” The former section searches for a meaning of an emotion whose cause cannot be pinned down to any definite stimulus. It is the domain of interpreting longing, love, language – the transient, the unachievable, the ephemeral but also the ethereal. The latter section points towards or indicates the soil, the terrestrial, the terra firma, one that gives one a sense of belonging.
Reading Nikita Parik’s poems produces a pleasant problem because they arrest the readers at the level of language itself before there is chance to go into the context and art of it. Her usage of language itself has a beauty that becomes poetry. It is an art that comes naturally but it also requires a honing of the talent that will give birth to a right mix of instinct and intellect. The title poem itself gives ample evidence of how Nikita’s learning of the intricacies of language, in this case English, French and Hindi, produces poetry of both art and craft. It is through this mix of art and craft that she creates “a ruin in rawness that only knows/ the language of fierce love/ and aggressive prayers…” Nikita Parik gifts us the “design of desire” as if in bespoke spontaneity.
The dilemma for any reviewer of Nikita Parik’s book is twofold. Firstly, the reviewer is wont to give some quotations from the book in review to whet the appetite of the prospective readers, but with Nikita’s book to quote seems to fritter away in review something that is so precious that it should only be savoured while in possession of the book. Secondly, even if the reviewer decides on quoting there is always the problem of plenty and every word of Nikita Parik’s book seems of equal value. But a choice has to be made and so I choose a stanza from “Semantics of Longing”:
and mark them with the dust of
butterfly wings. My solitude tends
to a library in the hills,
something you always wanted,
but we do not know
each other anymore.
This stanza which runs on from the previous stanza is so delicate both in sense and context. It creates a tapestry of estrangement and solitude that is as mild and elusive as the “dust of butterfly wings”. It is also a poem of regeneration and letting go, of “blue sunlight” and “sparrows in the hair”. It is a poem where she gives us the paradox of not knowing only after knowing. And all that Nikita does in her poems is use words to transport us to the world of her imagining be it the “gaach tawla” of Calcutta or “sector satrah” of Chandigarh.
In the second section of the book Nikita talks of her native land Rajasthan with which she has a distant connection in consciousness. In the poem “Personal Pronouns, circa 2014” she writes:
That summer, I discovered that it is quite alright
to have two homes; even though you feel a little
alien to both – to the former, by origin,
to the latter, by habits.
It is both an acknowledgement and a reconciliation. While discovering her origins she comes to locate that “If motherhood had a sound, it/ would be a mixed tape// of your high-pitched bhajans in my/ burnt orange subconscious”. She discovers that “In brief moments of complex linguistic/ exchanges, the water-fetchers from the sea-state/ of Odisha connects to my mother/ in a way I never could”. She also discovers her inheritance from grandma of how to suck the nazar into a magic mix of dried red chillies, rock salt, and mustard seeds, an inheritance she will never bequeath. Nikita Parik writes poems as if she is drowning but without dying because there is a constant instinctive struggle to resurface. The air in her lungs is all she has and she does not have a choice but to create bubbles to survive. What fills the bubbles is no longer a part of her. It no longer remains her language but becomes the language of her poems. Nikita’s poems are a language in itself because they speak to the readers in that universal cognitive sense.
Amit Shankar Saha is an award-winning poet and short story writer. He has won the Poiesis Award,, Wordweavers Prize, Nissim International Runner-up Prize. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the co-founder of Rhythm Divine Poets, Assistant Secretary of Intercultural Poetry and Performance Library, Fiction Editor of Ethos Literary Journal and Chief Executive Editor of Virasat Art Publication. His two collections of poems are titled "Balconies of Time" and "Fugitive Words". He has a PhD in English from Calcutta University and teaches in the English Department of Seacom Skills University.
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