September 19, 2020
Home  »  Website  »  Books  » Reviews  »  Snowflakes Of Time: The Poetry That Grabs You
Book Review

Snowflakes Of Time: The Poetry That Grabs You

A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life

Google + Linkedin Whatsapp
Follow Outlook India On News
<em>Snowflakes Of Time</em>: The Poetry That Grabs You
Snowflakes Of Time: The Poetry That Grabs You

So said  John Milton, no mean poet himself, and it stands to reason that he would have rated a good book of poetry even higher.  For poetry, as Kanwal Sibal notes in the preface to his  perfectly named Snowflakes of Time,  is not a matter of writing  to  order.  The poetic muse is a demanding mistress, and she insists on inspiration. Which abounds throughout  this book, making the reader’s heart leap up at times like Wordsworth’s when he beheld that rainbow,  wilt at others in contagious  sadness, and laugh out loud when  swept along on a tide of smooth, sarcastic wit.

I shall not try to define whether Ambassador Sibal is a poet-diplomat or a diplomat-poet, for he has rendered such quibbling meaningless. Poetry seems to flow through him like his life-blood. His preference for  rhyme and metre notwithstanding, he is equally at home in  free verse – whether in the menacing, almost violent  similies of The Torch of Nostalgia and Death of Winter,  in the whirling, eddying ebb and flow of Stringed Music  and The Raga,  or the bitter resignation that permeates  Sepia Prints. I am, however,  at odds with him about this last; I stand by Mira Nair’s old shoe love in Monsoon Wedding, and WB Yeats’ faith, in When You are Old,  in  love defying age and wrinkles.

Whatever their style or genre,  these poems are like the Sirens’ song in Homer‘s  Odyssey, they  grab you and do not let go.  Plus, this book is like a deluxe buffet spread, there is something for every taste. The author being  a very experienced diplomat, many might focus on the satirical insights and tongue-in-cheek sallies in Humour, the section dealing with matters political. I, though a member of  the same diplomatic tribe, revelled  in the earlier Moscow Musings, Memories, Reflections.

In these sections, there is  a distinct undertone of sadness, of incipient melancholy, but always delicate, muted. The title poem  flows smoothly, softly, like snowflakes falling on the palm of an outstretched hand. The discontent with the past is not acrid, it is tempered by sentiment. Exquisite  turns of phrase abound: across the window  of his mind ,  the denuded branches of time, crystals like particles of mind ,  from skies within him undefined

My own  favourite is from The Winter’s Secret , the stanza that inspired the book’s elegant cover:

He felt the sky within him fade

And light in pensiveness retreat,

Over the mental snow he made

A lonely trail of his own feet!

In Memories, sadness deepens into a sense of loss, the pain of what might have been, of unfulfilled hopes and desires that linger in the mind. Helpless questions in Memories Unbound become almost desperate, hopeless,  in The Finger Tips of Memory and The Distress Call. The unbearable aridity of The Desert Within fades to muted resignation in Distance and a hollowness inside in Moisture in the Eye. The promise of a blooming relationship – so  clear in  Corridors – is abruptly fractured in The Tapestry, and  ends in a tragic  breakdown   in No Road Ahead, a conclusion which I simply cannot accept. Even  The Crow  on the Balcony signals a  fruitless wait for a visitor who never arrives.

Poets  generally seem to prefer  to sing of loss and unrequited longing than of joy and fulfillment. Perhaps this is why  these  memories are  mostly steeped in nostalgic sadness.  The lines, though,  are  lovely enough to make even unrelieved pain seem appealing.

Now comes familiar territory for an Indian diplomat - the murky, hypocritical, manipulative world of the  Great Power bullies.  Humour  is awash with  the black variety, as the author slices the  international body politic with the sure touch of a sushi chef, and lays bare its dubious inner  workings. Multipolarity, Multipolarity Bis, Double Standards. Counting 123 or the  Cookery Deal- all drip with savage satire, but  not one line in them can be contested.

Negotiation -Indian Style  is a candid  precis of  the weaknesses in our  national psyche  - hesitation in going for  the kill, readiness to be satisfied too soon with  too little,  a tendency  to yield prematurely and, above all, the urge to be thought of  as good, reasonable, patient – that have hobbled   us in our dealings with global bullies. As I have always felt strongly , we are the perennial Pandavas in the Great Game against the rest. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in our dealings with Pakistan, which Kanwal Sibal skewers in  a  series of acidulated poems, notably  Kneeling for Diplomatic Slaughter and The Pet.   It  is  as well that the  despair these  would engender in the reader is lightened  by a  comic take on The Birkin Bag!

One last point. Some might question Ambassador Sibal’s world view as too pessimistic. To them I would quote EM Forster, who saw the Greek poet Cavafy as standing at a slight angle to the universe. In this case, maybe it is Kanwal Sibal who  is plumb straight, and the doubters who are at an angle!

(The writer is a retired Indian Diplomat)

For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine
Next Story >>
Google + Linkedin Whatsapp

The Latest Issue

Outlook Videos