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Review of ‘In Absentia’ a poetry book by Prof. Swati Pal

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A mother’s heart can ooze merely love even in absentia, the feeling of being present yet lost within the real world. Lost for the love of her son, lost for finding that presence of hers in a world where they still reside together, one as the shadow and one as the form. And being absent is what she feels with her presence in the physical world but her soul is wandering alongside her son who has gone nowhere but walking in her shadows.

Writing a review for this poetry book ‘In Absentia’ naturally brings tears to my eyes, as I am a Mother too and I could feel each word, each poem and each emotion falling over my soul. I could, not only understand the verses from the place they have come from, but it was as if I walked along side each moment of hers which she had captured in this book through her poems.

Clearly, her son is present in each of the poems and she has poured her burdened emotions which she is always carrying inside her on each page of this collection. Bleed a poet must, to carve a poem that will be so melancholic that the reader should see the poet’s tears even from beyond the book. Prof. Swati Pal has rightfully said that she can’t write the merry and joyous poems that would only soothe the reader’s mind. She is unapologetically candid with her emotions in this collection and one has to fall in love with all her poems because they never at any point of time sound monotonous. The poems are rather a peek into the depths of the otherwise standing firm on her grounds, a woman I know who inspires many others around her each day and this time she has brought forth the most lamenting poems that sit gently over the soul.

“In Absentia” will take you into a world where we find a poet still looking out for her son in every drop of nature’s creation, be it a bird, the plants, the flowers; she sees him in each and every mundane thing around her. Will you call her a gloomy heart or a melancholic soul? No, absolutely not; because she has spoken to us all, she has shown her twinge that devours her each day, each night and it takes huge courage to bring out the true emotions in public. For this I would call her a brave soul who has found some respite to talk about those sour emotions through her poems perhaps to let out that burden which still sits over her jaded shoulders.

She won’t be able to get rid of those, not in this birth but she has hope that she will meet again her son in another universe. A feeling that I am a strong believer of, perhaps this is what makes a poet a poet! The world in their minds is different from the others and here they talk, they smile, they laugh and perhaps this is what absentia would mean to be doing all these in a world that is invisible to many eyes but a poet with her ailing heart finds hope within it.

I must have seen

The barren tree

On one end

Of the field

A countless times

With you.

The above lines from the poem “A Mommy in a Tree?” portrays it all. Said in a few words the emotions are intense, of how the poet feels the absence of her son in each thing that she did with him in the past. There are many such emotions you will find on each page hanging as heavy as her heart. The burden seems incessant, it doesn’t go away or weighs itself less, for every nook of her soul house is filled with his memories, his laughter, his innumerable waits that he did when she went to work. The wait is equal on both sides; a son is surely waiting in a space for her Mommy to return home again.

This analysis is the emotions that came brimming till my heart, but if I have to talk about the poetic style and about the book in a nutshell, I would say that the flow is lucid and simple. Every poem is short and effortless to read and understand the true feelings of the poet. There were no hidden emotions or heavy diction that will make one remain bewildered as what the true sense of the poem was or they are written in which light. The poems are flowing and so will you flow along. A collection that has broken the cocoon of the poet and has metamorphosed her into a new mother, who longs more now for her son to come back to her. The entire collection is like a conversation she wishes to have with her son, those words which will remain unsaid if she doesn’t carve them into poetry.

In the end of the book there is a poem titled “AE (Drastic Altar Ego) that her son has written and it’s the sweetest thing that a mother could do, to bring it to life along her presence in this physical world through ‘In Abesntia’.

Review by Monalisa Joshi

Prof. Swati Pal: Writer & Poet

Dr Swati Pal, Principal, Janki Devi Memorial College has been a Charles Wallace Scholar (1997 and 2008) as well as the John McGrath Theatre Studies Scholar (2005) at Edinburgh University. She was the first Asian to receive the John Mc Grath award.

Dr Pal is the author of the book, Look Back at Anger: Agit Prop Theatre in Britain from the Sixties to the Nineties and a co-author of the books A Handbook of Academic Writing and Composition and Creative Writing: A Beginner’s Manual prescribed by the University of Delhi. She has edited a volume of essays on Modern European Drama: From Ibsen to Beckett as well as a volume of essays on Australian Literature. She has translated a number of Premchand’s stories into English published by Penguin. Several of her newspaper articles articulate her views on education and her research in drama. She also writes poetry.

She is a member of the Executive Body of the Indian Association for the Study of Australia (IASA) and Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS). She is also Editor of the IACLALS Journal.

Dr Pal has presented a number of papers at both national and international conferences including a public lecture at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the life and works of John Mc Grath.

She has been the recipient of several awards, the latest among them being the Dr S Radhakrishnan Memorial National Teacher Award , 2018. She is also the Guest Editor for the collection of poems on the theme Shakespeare's Heroines Resurrected for the Monsoon Issue of Chrysanthemum Chronicles.

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