Alone I am Not
Velvet Dusk Publishing, Sacramento, CA, 2022,
A review by Dr Pravat Kumar Padhy
I felt rejuvenated and stirred as I browsed through the artfully woven tapestry of words and ideas in the poetry collection ‘Alone, I Am Not’ by Vandana Parashar, one of the prominent voices of modern haiku literature. The slim book, interlaced with brilliant and ingenuous art by Unsplash, is published by Velvet Dusk Publishing, Sacramento, CA, 2022. The collection is a treatise on ‘equality irrespective of colour, creed and gender’ impregnated with perceptive haiga, insightful haiku and ironic senryu. Vandana Parashar is one of the finest haiku poets of recent times and has earned many accolades including the prestigious Touchstone Award (shortlisted). She is on the editorial board of many international journals of repute. Vandana chooses her words with care, her creativity juxtaposed with the kernel of feminism.
She rediscovers ‘womanhood’, portraying the sense of poetic creation with panache. The sensual images are depicted with dignity. The transcendental flow signifies the aesthetic representation of a woman in our society. She strives for social equality from the point of the feminine perspective. The poems resonate with candour, poetic style and brilliant language.
While reading through the collection, I would often return to the thoughts of eminent feminist poets like Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton, Judy Grahn, Kamala Das and others. She has ushered in a new path to demonstrate feminism and sentiments through minimalistic poetry.
Vandana’s haiku are characterized by succinctness and sensibility. The textural virtuosity, allusion, use of subtle metaphor, sound and rhythms are skillfully crafted. The poetic skill and juxtaposition of enriched images have unearthed feelings with thematic sensibility and synaesthetic:
will the stars mistake
me for night
Racism and oppression related to colour have been an indubitable curse of our society. Vandana, metaphorically, portrays issues related to prejudice and discrimination with diligence:
everyone jokes it looks
like my face
Her art of analyses of life is prudently exhibited and she discovers the inherent human psyche:
“not a racist”
I push the dark crust of bread
to one side
The much-ridiculed racial riots are often seen on the street reflecting the darker side of our society. She is critical of the socio-political shadow as she laments: ‘racial riots/ the case files covered/ in white dust’.
She highlights the prevailing sexism, homophobia, misogyny and chauvinistic attitude in the section of modern society. The psychological disease of narcissistic psychology has been there in society for a long as aptly depicted by poet Henjen Bunpitsu (b. 1878):
At a festival I wink at the ladies, I’m that kind of firefly’ (Tr. Yuko Otomo) and continues today as exemplified in the present collection:
his eyes rove over
the girl in tights
The medieval oppressive attitude has no place in contemporary society. She artfully sketches the regressive thoughts of man and his ignoble agenda. Vandana coins it in the form of allegorical expression and vivid images:
pouring tea, he asks
my cup size
the boss says I should use
the office gym
he asks me if it’s
“that time of the month”
Society needs to imbibe an aesthetic way of life, mutual respect, and graceful dialect. Vandana’s brave and bold manifestation of the societal flaws encourages the reader to self-evaluate, re-assess their opinions and reform. She is against child marriage as often seen in our society and she crafts the issue: ‘an orchid/ trapped in a paperweight/ child bride’.
Vandana dwells the inherent truth about gender bias. The woman fettered by social constraints opts for ‘negotiating a moral code Eve hides the apple’. She often reconciles herself as she nourishes:
I weave a story
around each scar
A patriarchal society pivots around the framework and values set by men, values that reign in the potential of a woman. Vandana is saddened by this circumscription, and her poetry reflects her melancholy when she narrates: ‘college topper/ granny says a girl should/ cook and look good’ and ‘horse riding/ the aunt says a girl/ shouldn’t be wild’.
She is not in a position to accept the social evils causing depression and anxiety in the name of physical changes. Indeed she is correct when she emphasizes:
Vandana is a critic of exploitation and interpretation of pseudo-modernity. The human body is not a mass to carry, but a creation to cherish with dignity and she aptly exalts it with depth:
I don’t want
to own a body
In the end, she reconciles with her body and mind as if ‘a mother’s life a revolving door’ and accepts the inherited changes with a philosophical tone:
adding two more dots
to the full stop
in the deep
spaces between polarities
A woman has a special dignified share in society and independent space as enumerated by Inoue Nobuko (1869–1958) in her senryu:
No matter how I sit I only see myself the way I am (Tr. Hiroaki Sato).
Prakrit as female and Purusha as male have been manifested in Vedic literature and feminism is worshiped with great reverence. Kalidasa, a great Sanskrit poet of the 5th century CE, enunciates on the woman in Kumarasambhava 6-63: ‘Kanyeyam kula-jivitam’:
‘the girl is the very life of the family’.
It is trusted the world would imbibe the spirit of women who symbolize beauty, love, kindness, compassion, well-being, harmony, and creation. Aptly Terri French urges in her blurb: “Vandana Parashar’s poetry speaks emotionally and passionately about the struggle between fulfilling and fighting against culturally conditioned attitude and expectation. Her work strives to bring about the paradigm shift necessary for people to live as and be accepted for their authentic shelves…”
I wish to conclude with the relevant stanza of Maya Angelou from ‘Still I Rise’ that reverberates the lifeline of Vandana’s impulse.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
About the Author
Vandana Parashar is a postgraduate in Microbiology, an educator and a haiku poet. Her haiku, senryu and tanka have been published in many national and international journals of repute and has won her many prizes and accolades. Her haiku was also shortlisted for the prestigious Touchstone Award in 2021. She is the Associate Editor of haikuKATHA and is also in the editing team of Poetry Pea. Her debut e-chapbook “I Am” was published by Title IX Press in 2019. Her second chapbook “Alone, I Am Not” was published by Velvet Dusk Publishing in April, 2022.
Pravat Kumar Padhy is an award-winning Indian English Poet, haikuist and essayist. He has obtained his Master of Science and a Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, ISM Dhanbad. His literary work is featured in Interviews with Indian Writing in English, Spectrum History of Indian Literature in English, Alienation in Contemporary Indian English Poetry, History of Contemporary Indian English Poetry, etc. His poem, “How Beautiful”, is included in the Undergraduate English Curriculum at the university level. His Japanese short forms of poetry have been widely published and anthologised. Pravat served as the panel judge of ‘The Haiku Foundation Touchstone Awards Committee’, USA, and is on the editorial board of the journal ‘Under the Basho’. He devotes time to writing scientific papers on ‘Planetary Geology’, listening to classical songs, music and exploring poetry behind paintings.