FIRST LITERARY REVIEW-EAST
FLREV BOOK REVIEW
Historians of Redundant Moments, by Nandini Dhar
(Agape Editions, 2016)
ISBN # 978-1-939675-41-5
Reviewer: Ann Wehrman
“… not all flowers can be folded into origami
cranes. Not all flowers can be chased out of their ghosts
Simply through the memorization of craft and diligence.”
—Nandini Dhar, “Map Pointing at Dawn”
The free verse stanzas and prose poems of Nandini Dhar’s 2016 collection, Historians of Redundant Moments, spin stories of dark games, fears, and oppression that fill their characters’ days. Dhar’s poems are set in India, across the world from the USA, and many details of daily life portrayed in the poems and tactile references Dhar uses differ from the experiences and surroundings of her non-Indian readers. Nevertheless, the raw problems Dhar mines are universal; issues of family relationships, power struggles, cruelty, degenerate and perverse experiences, and the sadness, frustration, and alienation that accompany all that.
To be clear, Dhar’s poems in this collection do not literally retrace her own life, at least not in every way. Interviewed by Julianna DeMicco at Agape Editions’, Blogging the Numinous (2017, March 20), Dhar states:
“I was born and raised in Kolkata in the state of West Bengal, India. Bengali happens to be my native language. Most of my poems are about Kolkata in some way or other because that’s the space I happen to know best. So, in a way, yes, this book is intensely personal. Like me, the twins of this book grew up in the eighties and nineties. Interesting times to grow up in Kolkata, interesting times to grow up in India.
"But at the same time, I’m not very interested in what I call vulgar autobiography. I am a person who believes that everything that passes through my consciousness in some way or other becomes part of this ever-changing self that is me. So, to state something seemingly obvious, everything in this book is pure fiction. For starters, I am an only child. So, no, I don’t have a twin sister. I am also not a mother to twins” (paras. 3-5).
Recognizing the core of the experiences and relationship dynamics in Dhar’s poems can verify the reader’s humanity, showing him/her that the horror and darkness that cling to memories of dysfunctional family experiences are not the reader’s alone, that other people understand, even if only in imagination. Dhar’s gothic and fantastic characters in these poems dance in a dark puppet show that may well trigger readers’ memories, since issues of familial and interpersonal dysfunction are not limited to one race, one country, one color, or one faith. Dhar writes, “We both knew our mother was painstakingly braiding the emptiness inside. And she happened to name that emptiness my daughters. [. . .] I wanted to warn you. That our mother, who has grown up on Vidyasagar’s morality tales, sprinkled hot mustard oils on erring daughters’ eyes” (“Bows”). The issues run deep and are universal.
Some readers of Historians of Redundant Moments may recognize the pain resulting from twisted, razor-sharp parental control; the contrast between idealized, joyful, trusting home life and a reality of continuous apprehension, revulsion, danger, and distress; and the sibling closeness that shares unspeakable, hidden acts of intimacy and violence. Undeserved forgiveness and sometimes even love are given to family members who continue to trespass, horrifically bending daily life into a frightful funhouse of mirrors. For example, “[. . .] only / my sister’s coloring stains on the wall—what remains / of the blemishes—after our uncle made her / scrub them out with her tongue” (“Historying this Syllabic Landscape”). The betrayal that is familial abuse raises rage, and it requires supreme effort, as well as intensive internal growth, if those involved are to admit, forgive, and heal. That healing may well be aided by writing about such issues, and perhaps by reading about them, too.
Dhar masterfully crafts language less as decoration or to delight than to carve meaning in space, within the reader’s mind, as a master woodworker whittles the shape or face unborn, inherent within a hunk of wood. She writes:
“Our grandmother, who darns a neighborhood full of women’s wounds into slipcovers, says dreams like this can kill without a single drop of blood. But we who know how to sculpt our dreams into moss-green brick walls know otherwise. If these dreams can kill, they can also force open. Force open the windows shut to wind and rustling leaves. The dew-drops on the tips of the grass, a vulture is imprinting the history of this city’s bruises on our window-sill—for us to decipher.”
The poems explore and unfold the generally dark, heavy, often frightening essences of the emotions, behaviors, and events in the relationships and tableaus that they narrate. One such main relationship is the deeply sympathetic bond between the central characters of Toi and Tombur, fictional female twin girls, bullied by parents and in-laws, twisted this way and that as they are being raised, like bonsai.
In this world, some rise beyond their demons, and some sink back into themselves. Dhar’s speaker (Toi) says, “My sister is learning to befriend whatever the goddesses were meant to kill—a darkness that resembles the raven’s feathers, a blue that echoes the starlit sky. This is how this city whittles its own little girls, and we let her” (“Teaching this Syllabic Landscape to Dance”). Abel and Cain surely loved each other. The depth of love struggling with horror and rejection repeats itself in all cultures, goes far beyond nations or races, as it’s the essential test of the human soul: can one rise from the darkness, even if that means letting go of the hand of a sibling who prefers to slide back beneath the waters, at least for now.
The psychological and interpersonal depths Dhar plumbs in Historians of Redundant Moments, as well as her enviable craftsmanship with language, make this collection a remarkable achievement and a moving, memorable read.
DeMicco, J. (2017, March 20). Interview with Nandini Dhar on Historians of redundant moments. Retrieved from https://bloggingthenuminous.com/2017/03/20/interviewwithnandinidhar-on-historians-of-redundant-moments
Nandini Dhar is the author of the book Historians of Redundant Moments (Agape Editions, 2017). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in New England Review, Memorious, New South, Best New Poets 2016 and elsewhere. Nandini hails from Kolkata, India, and divides her time between her hometown and Miami, Florida, where she works as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University.
Ann Wehrman is a creative writer and musician living in Northern California. Ann is a faculty member at University of Phoenix, where she teaches English composition. Ann's writing has appeared in print and online journals including Tule Review, Blue Heron Review, Medusa's Kitchen, The Ophidian, Rattlesnake Review, and Poetry Now. Rattlesnake Press published Ann’s broadside, Notes from the Ivory Tower, in 2007 and her chapbook, Inside (love poems), in 2011.