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Late Blooming Cherries

Haiku Poetry from India

Edited by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih & Rimi Nath

Harper Collins India

Haiku Poetry from India

Dr Pravat Kumar Padhy reviews Late Blooming Cherries: Haiku Poetry from India

Haiku tradition originated in Japan during the seventeenth century and has become mainstream short poetry worldwide. Its brevity, aesthetic beauty and unfolding human perspective with nature have acclaimed a unique poetic status. Referring to cherry blossom, the Japanese proverb says “Hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi  “the [best] blossom is the cherry blossom; the [best] man is the warrior”). The haiku anthology Late-Blooming Cherries edited by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih and Rimi Nath is a testimony of haiku attaining an important place in Indian literature. As mentioned, the editors are inspired by the haiku: late-blooming cherries / by the highway – how else/ can I describe my haiku?  from Time’s Barter: Haiku and Senryu. John Stevenson Managing Editor, The Heron’s Nest attributed the accomplishment: ‘A flowering for the English-language haiku community of India.’ Lynne Rees in the Foreword spreads the fragrance across by penning “These haiku and senryu by writers from India transcend all geographical, social and cultural boundaries and enter the experience of the readers, no matter where they might live.” A note on the Haiku by the editor, Kynpham, enriches the opening pages of the anthology in a poignant style outlining the historical perspective and aesthetic value of haiku poetry beginning brilliantly with the example of Basho:

 

in the twilight rain

these brilliant-hued hibiscus—

a lovely sunset

 

and concluding with a senryu by Kobayashi Issa:

 

all the time I pray to Buddha

I keep on

killing mosquitoes

 

(Tr. Robert Hass)

 

Undoubtedly the editorial note would remain an eclectic reference for the readers about the aesthetic of the haiku genre.

 

It is mentioned that the anthology is the first English-language haiku collection featuring exclusive Indian poets, making it unique in its merit. It is also worth informing that In One Breath- a haiku moment haiku anthology edited by Elaine Andre and Sandip Chouhan in 2013, Atoms of Haiku, edited by Archana Kapoor Nagpal, Arie Gerev and Sanjuktaa Asopa in 2015 featured both Indian and International haiku poets. This being the anthology of English-language haiku by Indian poets, as stated in the introductory note, reference of  “A History of Indian Haiku” by Kala Ramesh, 2015 (archived in The Haiku Foundation Digital Library) and “History and Development of Haiku Poetry in India” by Pravat Kumar Padhy, Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi),# 334, March-April, 2023,Vol. LXVII, No.2 pp. 106-126, would have provided a broader perspective and deeper understanding of the historical perspective of haiku in India for readers in general.

 

The anthology covers poems by 58 poets from different of walks of life, professional backgrounds and geographical spread. This aptly adds a multifaceted socio-cultural fragrance to the anthology. The representation of haiku appears fairly balanced though at times it looks widened with a minimum of five poems and a maximum of twenty-three. The anthology is well-endowed with an appreciable number of poems of high quality. 

 

The anthology broadly embodies the enduring links to childhood memories, family life, self-expression, socio-religious aspects, the human spirit etc. The neo-classical haiku written by the established poets along with some new poets showcase the poetic sincerity (kokoro) and creativeness (zoka) of modern haiku poetics and editors’ attempt in this regard is praiseworthy:

 

out of the fog

a crow’s cracked caw

drips into silence  (P.37)

 

-Angelee Deodhar

 

The senryu included in the anthology are human-centric with a touch of humour and satire: 

 

felling the tree

an axe-man takes a break

to eat the mango  (P.157)

 

-Srinivas Rao Sambangi

 

Bruce Ross in his preface in Haiku Moment writes “The movement from a special attention toward a non-human nature to some kind of union with that nature is a central facet of Japanese culture.” Interestingly, references to trees, animals, birds, and smaller creatures find their places to extend and honour the surrounding natural beauty and explore human feelings. A Thiagarajan explores human relationships with the animals with compassion:

 

hot afternoon

the carter wipes his hand

on the donkey’s back  (p.187)

 

Madhuri Pillai refers to cicadas, mosquitoes, cat, dove and dog etc. She laments when she lost her dog: “lost dog / I leave my voice / in every street” (P.123).

 

A few haiku reflect a sense of Indianness with the usage of new idioms, visual imagery and cultural aspects. The one that stands out is by Muskaan Ahuja:

 

temple visit

ants on the wall

returning with prasad  (p.4)

 

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant” Emily Dickinson once said. This is close to Japanese “Hosomi” or thinness. The examples of haiku in the anthology embody the spirit of awareness, imagination and realism. Poets portray self-experience, awakening the happening of the moment with cadence and resonance by implying the fundamental elements - the seasonal reference (kigo), the surrealistic silence in the form of pause (kireji), juxtaposition  (a type of metaphoric language), depth and mystery (yugen), contained space (ma), becomingness (kokora), lightness (karumi), ), simplicity (wabi), solitude (sabi), poetic elegance (miyabi)  to make the poems memorable and meaningful. Good haiku practice can be defined in the line of Alan Watts’ definition: “a pebble thrown into the pool of the listener’s mind, evoking associations out of the richness of his own memory.” The anthology includes some of the best examples of neo-classical haiku written by Indian poets. Angelee Deodhar, R K Singh, Rohini Gupta, K. Ramesh, Kala Ramesh, Srinivas Rao Sambangi, Srinivas S, Neena Singh and others have excelled in the art of objective experience and intellectual linguistic expression.

 

Angelee Deodhar (1947-2018) is the pathfinder of contemporary English-language haiku presenting the aesthetic beauty and exquisiteness of Indian haiku to the world audience. Her haiku has a visual brilliance, sensitivity and artistic sobriety:

 

in the monastery

rising above the plainchant

a warbler’s half note  (P.39)

 

pail in hand

I trace the muddy path

of childhood mushrooms  (P. 39)

 

Ram Krishna Singh (R K Singh) has explored the poetry of loneliness (sabishii) which is almost elegiac:

 

old diary—

finding phone numbers

of friends still alive  (P.184)

 

on the terrace

facing the sun

an empty chair   (P.185)

 

Paresh Tiwari, with sensory reference, conveys feelings by stretching the melancholic night: “longest night …/ the taste of sea breeze/ and her absence” (P.192).

 

Rohini Gupta attentively captures the vivid images of a falcon’s shadow and the mist over the Dal Lake and transforming them into poetic beauty: 

 

across the page

faster than my pen

a falcon’s shadow  (P.51)

 

dawn over Dal lake

emerging from the mist

the flower boat (P.54)

 

A leading haiku poet and anthologist, Kala Ramesh, transcends the haiku spirit through her evocative writings assimilating the ethics of haiku and language sensitivity:

 

dense fog …

the train evaporates

into a distant horn  (P.149)

 

thunderclap—

the darkening sky splits

into liquid night  (P.151)

 

The art of synesthesia, a fusion of senses, is skillfully crafted by Kala Ramesh in the following monoku :

 

an eagle shadows a wheat field’s yellow whisper (P.148)

 

The anthology is rich with intellectual inputs as the poets hail from different socio-cultural backgrounds.  Poets attempt to transcend nature’s ecstasy through profound language. The following selected examples are the cornerstones of the collection. Usages of subtle metaphorical expression, alliteration, allegory, allusiveness etc have enriched the poetry with visual imagery.

 

paddy field

the wet soil holds

a folk song  (P.23)

 

-Mallika Chari

 

beach vacation

the child digs

her own ocean  (P.92)

 

-Priya Narayanan

 

train journey

the gibbous moon

slips on my pillow  (P.48)

 

-Lakshmi Iyer

 

passing bus—

the dragonfly readjusts

its balance  (P. 85)

 

-Johannes Manjrekar 

 

blue hills

the wind seeds

a forest  (P.97)

 

-Subir Ningthouja

 

crossroads

I wait for the cool wind

to go first  (P.71)

 

-Suhit Kelkar

 

washing my face:

last night’s dream

erased  (P.100)

 

-Rimi Nath

 

thick clouds—

a gap takes me

to the ocean  (P.112)

 

-Pravat Kumar Padhy

 

long day—

the lonely seagull’s

deep arc  (P. 29)

 

-Kanchan Chatterjee 

 

sun rays—

the underside of leaves

still dark

 

-Priti Aisola  (P.8)

 

a twitter brings me

to the window …

full moon  (P.143)

 

-K. Ramesh

sunny morning

I lift the river

in cupped hands  (P.157)

 

-Srinivas Rao Sambangi

 

apple crunch

the summer sun

in every bite  (P.63)

 

-Sushama Kapur 

 

I bite

the crescent moon …

summer melon  (P.125)

 

-Amrutha Prabhu

 

summer dusk …

the old woman gathers

her unsold corn  (P.180)

 

-Neena Singh

 

Anitha Varma poignantly uses a subtle metaphor, ‘windows’ with layered meanings in the following haiku:

 

installation art

I enter a room with

too many windows  (P.198)

 

Srinivas S. uses the literary device ‘onomatopoeia’ in his poem: “riverbank/  between our silences/ a gurgle” (P.153).

 

Haiku and senryu related to social issues, poverty, war, refugees etc in the anthology render the importance of literature for societal concerns.

 

Veterans Day

his hands holding

a ‘HOMELESS’ placard   (P.95)

 

-Indra Neil

 

noon stillness—

the clatter of coins

in the beggar’s bowl  (P.136)

 

-Geethanjali Rajan

 

Teji Sethi grieves for the war-stridden world and her poem touches an emotional chord: “gunshots / I know nothing / of lullabies” (P.168) ; Aparna Pathak touches  the innocence of the refugee girl: “hopscotch / square to square / the refugee girl” (P.115) and Salil Chaturvedi laments for the soldiers as he pens: “border sunset— / soldiers watch/ the migrating birds” (P.33).

 

Poems related to emotion, loneliness, grief, livelihood, socio-political aspects have been artfully manifested. Haiku with a subtle philosophical touch (though seldom written in haiku) is often seen by oriental poets and writers. Teji Sethi enters into the philosophical domain and metaphorically portrays the creation and transformation of life: “as it goes/ with the wind, this cherry petal/ so shall I”  (P.169).

 

The American poet, H F Noyes states, “When we let go of all our preconditioning, discarding our habitual mental sets, biases and stagnant emotive states, our brush against the small and ordinary connects us with the universal and eternal. The absence of the period at the end of the modern haiku is meant to leave the haiku open-ended for an echoing extension into what Blake termed “eternity's sunrise.”

 

Shloka Shankar aptly crafted in her monoku:

 

migrating geese I leave my poem open-ended  (P.173)

 

Basho wrote his last haiku in 1694 during his illness while travelling in Osaka:

 

tabi ni yande / yume wa kareno o / kakemeguru

 

ill on a journey:

my dreams roam round

over withered fields

 

(Tr. David Landis Barnhill)

 

A few haiku, paraphrasing Basho, have been included in the anthology and one that attracts my attention is the following by Kynpham Singh Nongkynrih.

 

last haiku of Basho

alone

facing a blank page  (P.107)

 

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan’s haiku:  “frog pond / — a new crock/ joins the chorus” (P. 127) is an example of parody of Basho’s the old pond haiku.

 

Woman haikuist demarcated special brilliance in Indian haiku literature enfolding sketches of life with poetic sincerity (fuga no makoto) and textual manifestation. Leading poets like Vandana Parashar, Arvinder Kaur, Shobhana Kumar, G. Akila and others dwell on varied aspects of feminity. They are profound and ineffable. The senryu, ‘courtroom’ by Arvinder Kaur is an example of revelation of reality: “courtroom/ how white the shirt/ of the rapist” (P.67). Further, Kaur talks about issues related to education with pragmatic calm and certitude: “sex education/ grandma begins/ from the forbidden apple” (P.68). Vandana Parashar is one of the leading voices embodying the potency of the feminine soul. She is at her best in the following creative and elegant haiku:

 

ebbing tide

more and more

of me revealed  (P.117)

 

*

how many more

clouds will pass before it rains

– miscarriage  (P.118)

 

The poetic profundity and linguistic brilliance of the following poets manifested in this anthology are indeed memorable.

 

monsoon shower

the night you taught me

how to kiss  (P.81)

 

-Shobhana Kumar

 

sea breeze

the scent of your skin

on my tongue  (P.78)

 

-Neha R. Krishna

 

lip-licked clouds the aftertaste of rain  (P.10)

 

-G. Akila 

 

The editors chose to include haiku about the nightmare of the pandemic the world experienced in the recent past. “Covid ward/ the way/ the last leaf clings” (P.164) by Joe Sebastian; “self-isolation/ moon in the attic window/ watching over me” (P.67) by Arvinder Kaur; “lockdown city/ I almost hear/ the evening dew” (P.14) by Sanjuktaa Asopa recount the challenges people confronted with frustration.

 

Vidya S.Venkatramani and Ravi Kiran reveal the pain and yearning for the native land of migrant workers:

 

migrant worker—

asking the geese

for the way home  (P.201)

 

-Vidya S. Venkatramani

 

finding its way

through the bylanes

a migrant’s song  (P.73)

 

-Ravi Kiran

 

Family life, love, grief and childhood memories etc. have been artfully expressed with emotion. Harold G. Henderson (1889-1974) describes “... haiku is a very short poem... more concerned with human emotions than with human acts, and natural phenomena are used to reflect human emotion.” The following poems elucidate the art of Shasei (sketch from life) with delicacy.

 

ma’s wedding bangle

now on my wrist …

circle of love  (P.43)

 

-Baisali Chatterjee Dutt

 

autumn dusk …

I cling to the warmth

of your fingers  (P.56)

 

-Surashree Joshi

 

not letting go

of mum’s palm

the coriander leaves  (P.90)

 

-Daipayan Nair

 

sterile corridors

footsteps follow

mother’s baby talk

 

-Geetashree Chatterjee  (P.26)

 

my mother’s

knitted sweaters

I unravel knots  (P.177)

 

-Kashiana Singh

 

wedding anniversary—

daughter gifts me

a nodding doll  (P.17)

 

-R. Suresh Babu

 

the same moon

when we first met

and now, as we part  (P.20)

 

-Ram Chandran 

 

evening news

only the birds

arrive home  (P. 120)

 

-Shalini Pattabiraman

 

half a rainbow

our marriage

loses its way  (P.75)

 

-Anju Kishore

 

grandma’s tombstone

the black granite stone

reflects my face ( P.161)

 

-Minal Sarosh

 

framed between

frangipani and a hedge

the photographer  (P.41)

 

-Kanjini Devi

 

a lone tree

shares a barren field—

childhood home  (P.132)

 

-Geethanjali Rajan

 

childhood memories …

I open and close

the wrought-iron gate  (P.180)

 

-Neena Singh

 

Kinshuk Gupta juxtaposes marriage life with the serrated edge of postal stamps in the following senryu and it reminds me of the phrase coined by Lee Gurga ‘primary techniques of juxtaposition of images and disjunction of language.’

 

postal stamps …

the zigzag edges

of our marriage  (P.45)

 

Some haiku exhibit newness and drifting mood (nioi) in expression. The following haiku in the anthology portray ‘a different’ or an elliptical style in their exhibition.

 

new actors—

Gandhi is shot

again  (P.188)

 

-A.Thiagarajan

 

on a weighing scale—

the lightness of joy

the heaviness of sorrow  (P.35)

 

-Anannya Dasgupta

 

chewing gum—

the way you stretch

an ar-gu-men-t

 

Brijesh Raj  (P.129)

 

Abhay K, a diplomat acquainted with different places worldwide, writes the following haiku emphasising the reference to the place (utamakura ) ‘Mara Masai’, a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya.

 

admiring

its own location—

a heron at Mara Masai  (P.59)

 

With all shades of colours of the art of haiku writing, the editors take care to explore haiku with humorous anecdotes, otherwise seldom seen, in the following poem by Milan Rajkumar:

 

hot noon

the sweet seller and flies

nap together  (P.138)

 

The anthology comprises both earlier published and unpublished haiku. The citation credits of the poems published earlier could have been included in the present anthology and a few minor typos may be corrected in the future edition. The anthology could have mentioned the initial contributions by the Indian poets such as K. S. Venkatramani (1891-1952), Radhey Shiam (1922-2015), A. Sethuramiah (S. Abburi), Urmila Kaul, Mohammed Fakhruddin, Vishnu P Kapoor, among others.  

 

The editors’ endeavor to present the tradition of haiku literature ushered in by the Indian Poets to the international audience is praiseworthy. It goes beyond doubt that the prized contents of the anthology with its delightful cover page will be referred to as a treatise of the haiku genre in modern Indian literature. 

About the Editors of Anthology

Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih and Rimi Nath

Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih is the author of The Yearning of Seeds (Harper Collins), Time's Barter: Haiku & Senryu (Harper Collins), Around the Hearth: Khasi Legends (Penguin) & Funeral Nights (Westland). His haiku has been published in Wales Haiku Journal, Frogpond, Modern Haiku Review, Cattails, Presence, Asahi Haikuist, and others..

 

Rima Nath is the author of Kushiara & Other Poems (Dhauli Books). Her poems and scholarly articles have appeared in several national and international publications. Her haiku have been published in Wales Haiku Journal, frogpond,  Modern Haiku Review, Haiku Canada Review and others. 

Image by Nick Morrison
PK_Padhy_.jpg

Pravat Kumar Padhy, a scientist, poet and essayist, is based in Bhubaneswar, India. He holds a Master of Science and Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, ISM Dhanbad. His literary work cited 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 are widely published and anthologized. His haiku own The Kloštar Ivanić International Haiku Award, Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival Invitational Award, IAFOR Vladimir Devidé Haiku Award, Setouchi Matsuyama Photo Haiku Award, Katherine Mansfield International Haiku Award, and others. A short collage of video featuring his haiku has been included in the school curriculum, The Trier High School, Northfield, Illinois, USA. Pravat’s haiku are featured at Mann Library, Cornell University, “Haiku Wall”, Historic Liberty Theatre Gallery in Bend, Oregon and tanka appeared in “Kudo Resource Guide”, University of California, Berkeley. His tanka is put on rendition in the Musical Drama Performance, ‘Coming Home’, The International Opera through Art Songs, Toronto, Canada. 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’ and listening to classical music and songs.

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