Art and Culture


Timeless in its tenor, Mahima Sethi’s debut collection of poetry is an absolute revelation

Siddhartha Tripathy

In this day and age of social media and mobile phones, a knockabout world where mindless sensationalism, naked narcissism and fake news fervently vie for a morsel of space and time in ever-shrinking attention spans, it is almost preposterous to expect coming across post-millennials who might have an imagination akin to that of the olden poets.

Hence, when the intro poem “Blank Pages” from Ink from Night Skies – the debut collection of poetry by Mahima Sethi, a Bhubaneswar-born recent B.Tech graduate from IIT Mumbai who is still in her early 20s – went, “I use words to fill blank pages of solitude”, it made an intriguing first impression, instantly arousing curiosity and raising expectations about what might follow.

The poet’s spiritual mooring is evident right at the outset (“I believe he is somewhere far, at someplace greater / Still I feel his unworldly grace lingering over my head”) in the follow-up “God’s Glory”. While it has a recurring presence throughout the 119-page book featuring well over a 100 poems, it is probably “In Each Breath” where it is the most profound (“You permeate into darkness with light I have never seen / words are inadequate to demystify the vastness of your existence / So I will just close my eyes and breathe”), being infused with impressive simplicity.

This very mooring seems to inform the poet’s inner strength, as brilliantly reflected in “Indestructible” (“I am not a pellucid pearl / I am a resistant rock / Hurl me at the wall / For I am not one who will break”), and amply enough in “Armour” (“Engrave agony on me / I shall wear it like an armour”), among others.

This spiritual grounding perhaps even facilitates the lucidity, finesse and frequency with which the poet conveys the indomitability of the human spirit, including her very own, as presented through third-person perspectives in “Fireworks” (“She is fireworks / Do not try to restrain her / She will explode in your palms / Blow off your thumb” and “Wildness” (“She is a gushing waterfall / Do not try to contain her in your cups and glasses and jars / Do not try to get in her path / She will polish your rugged edges”).

Not surprisingly, but certainly refreshingly, a rare level of self-awareness is discernible throughout the collection – unforgettably so in “Memories” (“I wonder how many of us choose to truly exist / breathe in the present / instead of downing, caging ourselves again and again”) and definitely even in “No Regrets” (“I do not know who I shall be as I take my last breath / But I hope I meet a future self with whom I can be content with today).

Interestingly enough, inner conflict is another recurrent theme of this maiden oeuvre. The poet soars with unbridled optimism, as exemplified in “Hopeful” (“Let Your being brim with small desires / Till your life overflows with profusion of purpose / Till it makes you fearlessly hopeful”) as much as she plumbs the depths of despair, as epitomised in “Towards Perdition” (“Singing about the sun does not make me warm, but scalds my feet / Walking towards perdition suddenly feels serene / I did not reach for the abyss, it arrived to glance at me”).

Yet those endless spiritual quests, that introspective self-awareness, and those raging internal struggles have not come in the way of the poet’s heightened sense of social awareness, which is abundantly observable in “Proportions” (“Do not teach little girls to need to have sharp jawlines / Instead, teach them to slit tongues of imbeciles with their sharp brains and wits”) and even in “Beauty” (“When people call you beautiful / Do they see something beyond the shape of nose, lips and eyes?”.

In the book’s penultimate poem, “Existence”, the poet ponders: “I wonder if forgetful winds will remember my name and whisper it in aloof ears long after I am gone.”

The way she is fearlessly vulnerable, unapologetically driven by her convictions, and the way her poems are unfailingly thought-provoking (not to mention her prodigious talent – or “the gift”, as legendary writer Ruskin Bond himself attests in her book’s opening pages), it does not require the imagination of the olden days’ poets to respond to her with a resounding “yes”.

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