Numbering Our Days' Illusions
- Rockingham Press, UK; 1995
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Numbering Our Days’ Illusions is Shanta Acharya’s second collection of poetry where she explores the complex, changing nature of reality in language that has freshness, wit and a novelty of expression. The poems here reflect on the fragility of love and human relationships, its temporal quality. She is all too aware of human limitations and how our prejudices influence what we think, see, and do. There is no escaping the human condition except by being true to oneself as our perception of reality mostly defines us. Her poems offer multiple paths to self discovery, making us see better who we are.
The story begins with a teacher,
Medvedenko, in love with Masha
who is in love with Konstantin
who is in love with Nina
who loves Trigorin, a minor
novelist in love with himself.
Trigorin is also loved by Arkadina,
an actress, the mother of Konstantin
who is in love with Nina-in-love-with-Trigorin.
In one inspired moment,
Trigorin tells Nina a fable
about the shooting of a seagull;
about a man who meets an innocent girl
like Nina, near a lake in the country
and quite idly destroys her.
Nina does not listen carefully to his story
nor does she think before she leaps into his arms.
Nina wants to be an actress and Konstantin a writer.
Both ruin themselves and each other
cocooned in their world of illusions.
He continues to love Nina and she continues to love Trigorin
Trigorin continues to love everybody but mostly himself.
Nina calls herself the seagull that Konstantin
had shot casually. Konstantin never decipheres
what she means. In one distracted moment
he kills himself just as he had shot the seagull.
And, thus mercifully ends a tale of unrequited love.
Helmeted musclemen gliding on steel escalators
bomb-proof buildings in the City against terrorists.
Space-walking on huge walls of glass,
they examine me as they would any other lass.
Smiling, they take a random walk, unafraid of vertigo
like the stock market index raring to go.
Who said men do not make passes at women with glasses?
Real men do, particularly at women in city offices!
Cubicles, now shatterproof, hold fragile egos.
Men in dark grey suits shuffle in corporate shoes.
Pin-stripe suits come and go, talking of P/E ratio,
top-down, bottom-up methods of the intelligent investor.
As I mend the rules of the old boys' network
and demand my share of the profits of my work
I hit the invisible glass ceiling each time
I stand up for myself as if that was a crime.
A single, Indian female, I am trapped, alas,
in a cage of bomb-proof, shatter-proof glass!
The Jurassic laws in the City continue to spawn
dinosaurs that even Spielberg cannot improve upon.
Next time these helmeted musclemen blow me a kiss,
I will signal to them to rescue a woman in distress.
When two individuals meet
and the chemistry is right
for friendship and love and more,
or whatever the final score;
they consent to play a complex game
with two sets of jigsaw puzzles
of each others identity
except that the pieces are all part
of the others chameleon personality
and one is expected to assemble
an image of the other
with ones capacity to feel,
to sense and to know the other
like a game of chess being played
by the imagination alone
but the game is not to checkmate
your partner but to anticipate
every word, action and thought
picking fragments that fit into place,
the pieces finally beginning to make sense.
In their efforts to identify what they love,
two friends help create the lover in the other.
Often the essence is discarded or simply lost
for one cannot construct the full image ever.
It is simply a process of intuitive selection
better known as self-preservation.
So when I create you, I create what I love;
the rest I leave as excess baggage in lifes journey
hoping that life will not compel me later
to put all of a lifetimes pieces together.
I may not have the courage or the desire
to take a good look at all of myself or you
but if I can create as complete a picture of you
(knowing that Time is the best artist of all)
and you attempt to do the same of me
with a lot of help from each other,
we stand a pretty good chance of never
having to fall out of love with each other.
That is why I am content
to let us take that bit longer
than is customary in delicate affairs of the heart
to get our jigsaw puzzle fit right from the start!
After Great Struggle
After great struggle
an alternative calm.
The minds swirling sky
now emptied of its thoughts in snowstorm.
Wrapped up like Trappist monks
the trees preserve an immaculate silence.
The cold wind shakes
this proud stillness Into crumbling flakes,
smiling at the helpless struggle
To keep up appearances at all costs. Strange faces
move in these streets
Wanting a more direct relation with the sun.
Names As Homes
Whats in a name? You jokingly quote the bard.
Everything! Take mine, for instance:
Shanta Acharya, I introduce myself
and the faces suddenly go blank,
not the oriental sort that reveals nothing
but a western impasse that conceals nothing!
I try to connect and negotiate
as I underplay my embarrassment.
Do you remember how The Wasteland ends? Shantih?
Shanta is the same word, meaning peace,
and Acharya refers to the enlightened one!
The exercise is only meant to break the ice,
makes a change from talking about the weather.
Most people reckon it is an Indian sort of name
even though they cant pronounce it.
They enquire politely which part of India Im from.
After all, it passes the time in a civil way
and I do have a pan-Indian sort of name and face,
quite difficult even for an Indian to guess!
When I say Orissa, you hear Mauritius
and recognition flickers across your face.
I feel guilty of having to deny you that much success,
but having lost our way all over again,
we are on another journey through unfamiliar terrain.
I try a simpler route to explain:
It is south of Calcutta.
Whats a few hundred miles between friends?
That usually works, thanks to Mother Teresa
and the others who have laboured
to put Calcutta in the map of the world.
And, if I really want to expand your mind, I add:
If you draw a horizontal line from Bombay,
across India, it will pass through Bhubaneswar,
the capital of Orissa, in the middle of the east coast,
south of Bengal and north of Andhra Pradesh!
I grow into that dot in the atlas of the earth.
Acharya is alertly conscious of the complexity of the self.... Some poets hide from their readers. Acharya doesn’t: she is generous with her reality, in every sense. Reading the book is an experience of meeting the poet. She has a distinctive voice, and when she is true to it (which, in Numbering Our Days’ Illusions, is most of the time) it has a fine magic of its own.
R. V. Bailey, Envoi
... Out of the linguistic self-awareness come some convincingly accurate annotations of psycho-spiritual states... Out of the tension between her two (or more) ‘languages’ is created poetry of a very distinctive cast, which registers the poet’s Indian origins without ever being merely exotic.
Glyn Pursglove, The Swansea Review
The sixty-four poems comprising the collection Numbering Our Days’ Illusions by Shanta Acharya reflect a variety of human passions ranging from the pangs of separation, the trauma of loneliness, the anguish of spurned love, the torment of compromise and the immanent shattering of the individual self, to a feeling of absolute mental calm and resignation sprouting from the awareness of everything in the material world as an illusion. Love as well as life is illusory and we grow old in this world numbering our days’ illusions.
Dr Jayasree Ramakrishnan Nair, Journal of Literature & Aesthetics (India)
Here is a ...distinctive, unclassifiable voice, very inward, private, solipsistic, drawing upon the reserves both of Western culture and Eastern spirituality, and reminding me of no-one else, though there are far echoes of T. S. Eliot.
John Coldwell, Iota Poetry Quarterly
- Kavya Bharati (India), Number 10, 1998, pp. 191-92. “Snapshots of a chimerical world.” By Lakshmi Holmstrom.
- Journal of Literature & Aesthetics (India), Vol 6, No 1, Jan-June 1998, pp 108-110. Dr Jayasree Ramakrishnan Nair.
- Envoi (UK), Number 115, 1996. By R.V. Bailey.
- The Book Review (India), Volume XIX, No. 9. By Shobhana Bhattacharji.
- The Hindu (India), March 5, 1996. “True Voice of a Poet.” By Shyamala A. Narayan.
- The Swansea Review (UK), No 15, 1995. By Glyn Pursglove.
- The Sunday Observer (India), July 2, 1995. By Keki Daruwalla.