By Vandana Likhmania and Shikha Dwivedi
Vandana and Shikha met Samiksha Purohit, an old classmate from their bygone days at Lady Shri Ram College for women (LSR), to discuss her recently published poetry collection Virah Ke Rang. It opened a box full of memories and nostalgia, spilling ittar on that fateful afternoon over zoom, and everything smelt of freshly cut grass and freedom. Had someone thought to add the shudder of the overhead metro, the virtual recipe would have been complete.
“What is grief if not…”
A few years ago, one could often hear Samiksha’s booming voice and infectious laughter echoing through the red corridors and green lawns of LSR….the sound of which could make you want to get up from bed and chase your dreams. Quick-witted, confident, resourceful, and slightly unrestrained, Samiksha could take up space in every room she entered and make her presence known. She was a rare amalgamation of spontaneity and endurance: while she could make you like and befriend her within minutes, she would not cease to show her loyalty to you even years later.
Samiksha the Poet, is hardly different. She creeps up on her readers like a branch of nostalgia and longing on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Like the fragrance of wet mud and loneliness, she compels us to hold her hands and grieve with her for all that was lost in the past year but will not be forgotten next Monday. Swaying rhythmically through her lyrical words, we are plunged into both a sense of bliss and mourning all at once. “Grief is a little easier to deal with when cherished,” she says in her defence.
We meet, as well as one can meet another in this pandemic year, on a cold monsoon day over a Zoom call. Our faces are partitioned into neat squares next to each other like in a live comic book. Instead of restricting them in thought bubbles, we express our thoughts out loud. It would be facile to say that she is still exactly the same when scarcely anyone can make that claim today with any conviction.
This afternoon, she is no less confident or high-spirited but her voice resonates calm and assurance more prominently than we remember. With 45 minutes on the clock, this call is our window into reliving the days of being 20 in New Delhi while we catch up with all the lives that Samiksha had lived in the past two years of our separation. And in keeping with tradition, we begin with the historical context.
“My dear Buzzy didi, she is like a bumblebee.”
“Yes, I remember”, she exclaims excitedly when we ask about the first time she wrote a poem. “When we were in junior school, we used to get this newspaper every day: The Times of India, student edition. In there, students from different schools used to publish their poetry and that was my first trigger. And the first poem I wrote was about my elder sister. I was in class four and I still remember the poem very clearly.” “Please, recite!” reverberates our virtual mehfil, our ears yearning for two lines of this poem about Buzzy didi.
Two months since her first book was released, Samiksha is already the creative head of a brand new venture. Iris Poetry Prints was recently launched on Instagram where she sells customised poetry prints along with her best friend of 17 years. Toiling through making reels for the marketing of her novel business, designing prints, and writing university papers, there is no rest for the poet.
Samiksha traces her literary genes to her grandfather and his two-storey library (aided by hauls from Daryaganj) which used to be her haven during the summer holidays as a child. “He has been an inspiration for the person that I am,” she says, fondly remembering all the ways in which her own interests, in history and literature, were shaped by his presence.
Leap of Faith
In 2019, somewhere between Japan and New Delhi, Samiksha lost her troves of poems, two notebooks bursting at the seams, entrusted with the responsibility of her every stray thought and emotion, recorded to a whimsical rhythm. Late in 2020, she lost her father among the drudgery of life and death. But what is lost has a strange way of finding its way back.
Early in February 2021, Samiksha answered a call for poems by Bookleaf Publishing. Having lost a lot of her poems, she felt apprehensive at first, reluctant to pick up the mighty pen again. Evidently, changed by her circumstances and her head full of thoughts, she began to feel that she had a lot to say. Mustering courage, she drew in a deep breath, her chest full of memories, and decided to give the unarticulated emotions a language. “And so I started just penning down whatever I had to say. And that is how these poems came into existence.” One each day, for the next twenty days.
The tempest, however, had to be tamed. “I started writing couplets. Two lines that may or may not rhyme. I have a very spontaneous way of doing things. I did not choose the theme for my poems before I had written them. And every time I sat down to write I had to trigger myself to get going that okay, now think about grief. Eventually, I did not bring all the random thoughts together into something more stylised because that is just how human brains work. From one thought to the next, line after line began to materialise. And where my thoughts stopped, the poem ended.”
An Echo of Goodbyes
Virah Ke Rang (विरह के रंग; translated: The Colours of Separation) is a collection of 20 poems, each seemingly woven out of the same yarn yet strikingly different from the rest. Although composed in the Devanagari script, the language used knows no human bounds. The pandemic has taken something from us all, something we will miss forever; a scar on our memory we will fondly graze every now and again so that it may elicit a sweet searing pain as a reminder of love and loss. However. the essence of Samiksha’s poems are conveyed by way of our shared emotions. The obscure Urdu words are made familiar by the common feeling they convey.
Her anthology oozes with elements of remembrance and separation. Brimming with sensation, the first set of poems are light and smooth, slipping through our fingers before we can gather their smell and touch. They recall playdates that will take place no more, trysts that will only be revisited in fiction and fantasies. But they take a gradual turn, beginning to lean toward a more sombre tone until finally, the end leaves us aghast. And so we are forced to go back to the beginning for more.
Baarish and Chai: the recurring motifs
It probably rained the day Samiksha lost the two notebooks and the day she grieved an eminent part of her life for how strongly she associates rain with loss. “For some reason, I feel like every time it rains, something changes in my life. I have come to associate rain with a lot of agony in the past. And it was related to my dad in some way. And now my dad was no longer there with me.”
However, tea is all about the 6 pm evenings spent at home with mother, a ritual that was continued even during the one-year hiatus, between cherry blossoms and amaltas. “Even when I was in Japan, I would call her while having my evening tea, and she would be having lunch here. It’s that particular time that my ma and I spend together. We have our biscuits and we watch something.”
Lost and Found
Samiksha’s book documents her struggles through the pandemic year. The poems are a reflection on personal agony and an effort to find hope at its epicenter. “I was struggling even as I was writing,” she says earnestly. “And very subconsciously, it became about grief. This was not pre-planned. And so while I was writing, the second wave was going on.” And that made it worse.
“When the book first came, it was liberating. I thought, okay, I need to acknowledge that something major has happened in my life. It has changed my life forever. I realised that I have lost something but it can lead to something positive. I lost my grandfather but he gave me a legacy to follow. I lost my dad but he also wanted me to be the person that I am today. And I can cherish that.”
Humbled by her experiences, Samiksha is not expecting an extraordinary outcome. She is overwhelmed by the outpour of love and support from family, friends, and now retired school teachers. “This book is not by an extraordinary person,” she says shyly, not letting the praise get to her head. If people can connect with this book on a human level, find something in it that strikes a chord with them, that will be enough.
How to experience Samiksha’s poetry collection? Grab a copy at the earliest, preferably before the monsoon may bid us farewell, then sit idly by the menacing branch of a tree or soothing grassland (the one closest within reach), and savour every bite, chew the words between teeth, allowing their taste and texture to flood the tongue, slowly, or loudly if that is how one prefers it. And embrace the sadness and the hurt, in memoriam of the departed, the lost, every moment and memory rendered permanent by their absence.
Vandana is a fat, feminist, writer whose works have been published on several online platforms. With a degree in history, she takes a special interest in the eerie smells of dilapidated dwellings, the dilemmas of being a woman, the poetry in prosaic sentences, motion pictures, and rock music. She often forgets what day it is while watching British panel shows.
Shikha is a History graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women and the School of Oriental & African Studies. She seeks to understand the chaos behind the seemingly un-chaotic narratives.