Diacritics of Desire by Nikita Parik
Hawakal Publishers (April, 2019)
Available at Amazon
The foreword of Nikita Parik’s collection, Diacritics of Desire, states, “The proliferation of young and talented Indian poets writing in English in recent times is truly remarkable. It is as if the sluice gates have been raised and the literary landscape is awash with youthful poetry that proves beyond doubt that the English language in India is not just the language of communication and business, but that it can be the preferred language for creative composition, in almost any literary genre.”
For a research project I’ve been working on, I’ve recently re-read the Mahabharata, the Rig Veda, the Ramayana, and other sacred Hindu texts. What a rich and interesting trove of knowledge and literature. The English language has already been made better by Indian writers and thankfully, writers like Nikita Parik, will continue this tradition.
Parik writes in a very impressionistic way, playing with language and ideas. I felt invited into her explorations. In the poem “Phonetic Maze,” Parik hints at the elusiveness of reality. How words act like “lithe talismans” connecting aspects of our identities. Yet words are also fluid and imprecise.
Our liquid existences
an incidental point
in a wave universe.
Words act as lithe
the portals of your
fluid identities. I’m
a traveler forever lost
in your wordways.
More than just words that live in the head, Parik writes about the maze of words between two people in a relationship. How she’s a “traveler forever lost in your wordways.”
I found myself following the bouncing ball in Parik’s poems, watching her chase down words, and meaning. The poem “Hexed” continues Parik’s meditation on language. That language is as much sheer magic as it is a tool that we use every day to navigate the world.
Our rituals have their own
grammar. The language
of longing invokes a charm
and spell they call poetry.
In between cycles of Alt-Rock
and Soul, it lights candles
of meaning from the fire
of my shamanistic being:
The circle is complete. The
goddess has found herself.
Thinking about the ideas in these poems I had to ask myself, How do I make it through every day? How is anyone able to get from point A to point B in life? And yet I do make it through the day. And in fact, what Parik states in “Hexed” describes what I’m trying to do in this review. I’m playing with the ritual of typing words, pecking away, click by click, to zoom in on my meaning. That’s where the magic happens. The world oozes around me, slipping out of my hands. But like everyone else, I try to contain the world. I trap the world with words, with ideas in my head and with rituals. The ritual of getting up, eating breakfast, going to work, jogging. The things we do to make reality real. Rituals are like the bottles we put the water of meaning into. Meaning is inchoate. But rituals have grammar. Rituals hammer meaning into shape. Rituals give us the feeling of clarity. It works and it doesn’t work. I mean, I still get paid (assuming I haven’t been fired, and the direct deposit works) when I’m supposed to get paid. The light comes on when I flip the switch (unless it’s broken). The world is mappable to what’s in our heads and yet it is not. So much of the world is happening out there beyond my control and understanding. Like other people, I think I sometimes have things under control.
Parik’s ruminations continue in “A’ La Carte,” although she compares the ritual of going to a favorite restaurant with someone who’s changed. In this poem, Parik transfers her emotions into the objects and scenes of the restaurant. Those “sicksweet” poems that used to bind her with this person she loved are gone now. The menu is the same, but that person has changed.
Menu is the same since the last decade.
For starters my favorite jazz songs you
would bob your head to while working
late. A plate of warm nostalgia to increase
the appetite for genuine smiles (rarity in your
city). For the main course, Philosophy
served with the right garnish (it’s Levi-
Strauss today, but I know you enjoy Nietzsche
and Foucault more). Next, kulhads of tea-memories
to wash it all down. Dessert?
Sicksweet poems on a flatscreen.
Now the meal is tepid. I hear your preferences
And what I like about this poem is its relatability. I can remember going to a favorite restaurant or other place with someone. Maybe the jukebox and chandelier shone just a bit brighter when I was with the girl I loved. But now, when I return, I see it’s an old broken-down greasy spoon. How bleak it looks. The jukebox shimmered with life when I played songs on it before. I loved those songs because she loved them, and we loved them together. But my mind is not made foggy by love now. The chandelier is after all old and shoddy. Its green color is an eyesore. Because you left me, Parik’s poem suggests, the world has taken on my sadness.
One of my favorite poems in this collection is “Gaacha Twala.” Parik dispenses with trying to make sense of anything in this one. She just follows the images and colors of what’s around her, like she’s on a carousel watching it all happen. The sleepy noon-naps that flew by like “half-baked poems, scurrying in and out of consciousness.” Where “passive joint fumes” turn into “drowsy summer dreams where their yellowness makes hot, hot love to a sea of yellow taxis.” And how in the mad swirl of all of this, life drifts past us. She asks “will you remember” this memory twenty years from now.
On red-eyed university summers,
broken Radhachura petals from that lane
overlooking Centenary Building fly
across guilty noon-naps, phosphenous
blindness, and their dull fated
much like half-baked poems
scurrying in and out of
before being lulled by passive joint
fumes into drowsy summer dreams where
their yellowness makes hot, hot love
to a sea of yellow taxis and cheap
second-hand book covers
outside dusty-magical bookstores.
On such passively pretty university
summers, when the world stands still,
I wonder if you will remember
say, twenty years hence,
that kalboishakh from years ago
when, at Maidan, we’d smoked one
together in turns, my first,
and the world had stood still.
And this is how most of our minds work. I can recall the minute details of things that happened thirty or forty years ago. Like the brown and red patterned carpet in my family’s living room when I was about eight. The tear in the carpet near the entrance. How that tear made me feel sad. How it makes me feel sad today. The light fixture that hung about the dining room table. Its multi-faceted faux crystals that looked like little diamonds.
In the poem “(Inter)stellar Gaze,” I must admit that Parik had me at “I dream of Sagan” and I just had to read the rest. This is a very playful poem. I don’t mind if they remind me of Carl Sagan jokes I’ve heard before. Billions and billions. But this is Sagan, goddamit. I can make room. The intention is innocent and honest in “(Inter)stellar Gaze.” It’s all about the love and for that that I open the window and let the sunshine of this poem wash over my face.
Since tonight I am hopelessly in love
with you, I dream of Sagan. If we
are indeed the universe experiencing
itself, it is safe to say your molten
black gaze contains universes of
universes that explode star stuff
whenever they meet the fulminating
thunders in mine. Tonight, the starcrossed
pathways forget all laws of
physics, as they gravitate towards
those two contemplating black holes
of wondrous, cerebral desires.
Parik’s poems are sometimes pensive, sometimes playful. But there’s always motion in her words. There’s always exploration and discovery. Get a copy of Diacritics of Desire and go sit in a café (wear a mask please). The poems are short – you can read them again and again and find new meaning each time. But it is not the length of the poem that matters. It’s the depth and scope. Wherever you are, Diacritics of Desire will deliver you someplace else.