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The poet is a rosary


06 Sep 2021 By Hawakal Publishers

Looking at Teji Sethi’s moss laden walls, Urvashi V. finds the collection cinematically significant. 

Teji Sethi’s moss laden walls is a ceaseless collection of loss ripening (like a cuckoo’s voice and mango blossoms in one of her poems) through sun and rain—the very first offering, previous even to the book’s first section break indicating ‘haiku and senryu,’ memorializes a lost father:

starched turbans
in your wardrobe
long to be

Memory acts in her poems as the verses themselves do—revisiting grief, she nourishes it, grows it into being as all but embodied kin out of absence, wounds, silence, the caress of incredible emptiness where there was warmth, stillness echoes, and felt music where there was movement and audible sound, ‘nothing’ where there was ‘something,’ light sunk to shadows and darkness, formlessness that remembers shape, and the sigh of words:
reading between lines
the silence
he never wrote


the only sound
he left behind
rustle of leaves

In her tanka prose piece titled ‘Fragments,’ an old woman “lost in the echoes of the past” sighs as she braids the poet’s hair, “puttar jis Lahore nahi vekhaya o jamiya hi nahi”—child, s/he who hasn’t seen Lahore hasn’t (even) been born. Sethi’s poetic intervention terms her (or perhaps herself, gathering to herself the woman’s past) “weaver bird / picking up the strands / of unfinished stories.”

Partition is kireji, spoken or unspoken, a cutting word through poem after poem: “line of control / my identity / in halves.” Just as she traverses Delhi, Lahore, and the borderlands in between, Sethi wades through metaphors in three poetic landscapes—all in their own ways liminal.
In one series of experiments—and all her poems are experiments, “swinging door[s]” through which she ‘learns to unlearn’—Sethi associates a familiar turn of phrase or image with an object unfamiliar, even antagonistic, a manifest opposition, to it:

city lake
a cluster of hyacinths
choking its breath

In another, she makes (an invariably many-dimensioned, aged and stratified from birth, startlingly beautiful in its vari-tongued, multi-meaninged) metaphor out of quotidian circumstance:

looks up at the sky
parched lips

And again,

menopausal blues
it is not red

In a third kind, the poet brusquely brushes metaphor way as an excess—the possibility of metaphorical construction always crowds around the edges, of course, but the visceral urgency of sensation being expressed seems almost to ridicule is presumptuousness:

pruning bonsai . . .
father talks of
a pay hike


shattered glass
wrapped in white muslin
another stillborn

Or, parsing the pandemic,

tree sap

the life in
quarantine d me out

Sethi’s verses are, one and all, cinematically significant—backdrop and soundtrack populate with a single word or phrase the stage or set upon which figurations of poet or those she is inhabiting play their parts. In the prose piece ‘Countless Days,’ “[t]he walls of the wooden lacquered room look forlorn” as kehva simmers unceasingly through an uneasy, drizzly dawn. In a “childhood home / the walls still nurse / a shape of an old picture” and elsewhere, “desert winds / a caravan of camels / loses its way.”

What binds this rosary together is that, subtextually and textually, it characterizes itself as such. The scope of the substance Sethi gifts her readers with in moss laden walls is impossible to pin down, fix, or delineate—memory is everything, after all, everything an individual, her kith kin and communities have touched or imagined. Rivers, forests, wind and wit (that vehicle of the human being’s travel transformation and transpositionings) run through the verses, carrying written word and reading consciousness across time space and scales of feeling. But in the end, it is they that encircle the whole: creations of her craft, they bind the one she speaks to in a kaleidoscope of deeply personal meaning as surely as the finite, physical pages of the book contain her sea of joy in sorrow. The poet is the rosary.







Moss Laden Walls: A Review 

 by Dr. Pravat Kumar Padhy

By Teji Sethi, (Hawakal Publishers, 2021). 107 pages; ISBN: 978-93-91431-05-1. Price: Rs. 350, USD 14.99, Available on Amazon




Teji Sethi is a bilingual poet and anthologist. Her haiku are often illustrated by the sense of wabi-sabi (aesthetics of natural simplicity and solitude). She is emotional and the memories strike the note in her poems:


moss-laden walls her fingers trace remnants of the past (p. 9)


It reminds me how closely it makes a poetic parallel with the haiku written by Gabi Greve: mossy steps overgrown by time and loneliness

She has intelligently engaged the sense of touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste:

autumn breeze …

her forehead still moist

with the parting kiss (p. 12)


Creativeness and contrast imageries have been often enamored as poetic metaphors when she presents:


Ganga aarti …

a million suns

sink into darkness (p. 18)


She often blends science with poetic symbolisms when she awaits the rhythm of the moon and tides:


new moon

the stillness of sea

awaits a tide (p. 37)


She is bold, evocative, and paints womanhood with sharp contrast:


menopausal blues

it is not

         red always ( p. 45)



She is equally brilliant in crafting senryu with a touch of wit and human attributes:


shelling peanuts

neighbours once aggrieved

share a gossip (p. 43)


therapy session

with her autistic son

she learns to tie a lace (p. 53)


Teji writes haiku with lightness (karumi) and elegance (fuga). She articulates vividness through the art of juxtaposition.


mango orchard

the planter sings back

to the cuckoo (p. 49)


origami swans …

father shares

it is time to depart (p. 89)


migratory birds …

carrying home

a piece of sky (p. 91)


She has also tried a 4-line haiku (haiqua): bus ride … / waving at a friend/ I grab/ a handful of wind (p. 81) and an experimental vertical array in the haiku on pandemic (p. 87):


tree sap the life in quarantine d me out







Teji recalls the trauma of partition of India in haibun, ‘Tapestry’ and ‘Fragments’. The tanka prose ‘The Road Not Taken’ is a brilliant piece of reminiscence. She enumerates the contrast between the crowded modern city and the serene silhouettes of the mountain range. The concluding tanka manifests the ‘dreaming room’ (to quote Dennis M. Garrison). a beam of moonlight sieves through the window … the mesh of relationships I have lived all these years


When she writes, “a tender plant/ pushes through the cracks/ cemetery” (p. 21), I recall the ray of optimism portrayed by Issa:

moss blossoms

blooming a little crack...

stone Jizo 

Kobayashi Issa (Tr. David Lanoue)

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