Book Review on Mamta Agarwal’s An Untold Story of a Pebble

Mamta Agarwal’s latest collection of poems titled An Untold Story of a Pebble, her third publication, is a storehouse of deeply touching poetry and charming imagery. Mamta writes from the heart, and that heart is distinctly humane and sensitive.

Her poetry overflows with glimpses of nature. A common enough trait in poetry, one might add. But what sets apart Mamta’s descriptions is that in her writings nature is a cure for pain. It is cathartic to a wounded psyche, it is a balm to bruised senses. Nature is intrinsically woven into moods and emotions of the human self. For Mamta, nature is like an answer to the wretchedness of life.

She observes with ease the whole spectrum of the natural world – from climates and their distinct seasons, to trees, flowers, mountains, a jungle safari, snowflakes, winds and even nature’s most minuscule aspects like a ladybird in the grass.

In a poem titled Poppies – A Crimson Tide, she writes:

But now that am ripe of age

Poppies bring me messages

Of hope, beauty and rest

From the far off lands

And sitting amongst them till sundown

Somehow lifts my spirits after a long and bitter winter.

Their glow and cheerful demeanour

Nourishes, makes me whole

In another poem called Radiant Spring, the lines echo nature’s uncanny secrets:

Sun and buds gave a primeval pact.

It’s kept intact, despite the fog’s stubborn act.

Spring, on tiptoe, gently nudged it away.

At times, all the seasons come in one go;

The poems are sometimes deeply personal – about her granddaughter growing up, about the unforgettable love that her parents showered upon her, a tribute to a friend and about her own journey through life and sometimes they are uncanny observations about life, written with a powerhouse of soulfulness.

The title poem – An Untold Story of a Pebble, is a wide-arc poem about love and compassion for all things – living or non-living. It takes an enlightened heart to press forth words of such sensitivity for a pebble. In the poem, a pebble on a sandy river beach speaks to her in the first person. She writes thus:

Please, I beseech

Let me rest for a while,

Am tired of an arduous

Journey

…..

…I want to share the story

Of my adventure

And how I ended up here.

 

Although my colour, shape

And size gives away.

It entreated like a child

……

Before my eyes

A big gushing wave

 

Carried it away…

In another poem which is an ode of deep love and reverence to her mother called Mothers Forever Stay, she writes –

Mother, your little girl is all grown up now,

Just because you showed her how.

Pray mother,

How did you always know

What to say?

Even today I can feel your presence

For mothers never leave,

They forever stay.

Mamta’s work is deeply stirring, as if pain itself was used as ink in the pen that wrote them. Her choice of titles is so compelling that one cannot but help read the poem further. The striking thing about her poems is that they end on pertinent notes, with a significant message embedded in them. For example, in a poem titled Silk Cotton Tree Marches Into Town, she refers to the recent, deeply distressing Damini rape case and writes,

As women marched in protest,

Against Damini’s unnatural death,

At the hands of rowdy gangs

Who stalk, brazenly at all times,

Looking out for soft targets,

To unleash their mental abrasions

In a frenzy of madness!

The poem moves on to end on a positive, encouraging note, a feeling inspired by the silk cotton tree in regal bloom…symbolic of a protective figure perhaps?

O silk cotton tree,

You make me proud to be a woman

In charge of my life –

Renewal of faith!

Mamta’s work is seldom dark or gloomy. It is about bouncing back in life and taking life’s injustices, squarely on the chin. Even in a poem which describes some nameless deep agony, the title is refreshingly bright. It is called A radiant Poppy and in it she pens:

Although am long past the age,

Today am in labour.

Severe waves of pain

Are far more intense

Than were decades back.

……

Am wading through clutching hope,

For the radiance of a single poppy

With its fluttering frock

Still has hold on my soul!

The anguished hand that wrote the above verse does a 360 in another poem titled One Afternoon in the Month of May. In this poem, the poet gives a witty response to a beautician’s offer to do something about the lines on her face:

Aghast, I replied,

‘No Kitty, not me.

These lines prove

I have lived,

Laughed, cried, sighed

And smiled.

Why would I like to look like a mannequin…?

 

On an impulse,

Extended my arm,

Hey can you do something

 

About these lines etched on my palm’?

Mamta’s poetic style is simple yet moving, her use of words is sparse but adequate and her use of language is as crystal clear as water. Her word imagery is explicit and painstakingly microscopic. Her poems settle straight into the hearts of the readers. One cannot but heave a sigh of relief at her unassuming, wholesome and lucid use of the English language especially in today’s times, when verbosity symbolises literary sophistication and obduracy passes off as artistic license, Mamta’s soft renditions are a blessed change to read!

Mamta’s poetry is a perfect carrier of unique observations, wit and wisdom and a delightful zest for life. The poems are mostly in a rhyming format but many are a combination of the free verse and the rhyme.

All in all, the book is an aching, pulsating homage to the traumas and travails of life on the one hand and the undying positivity that nurtures existence, on the other. You may be down, but you are never, ever out – that is the marvellous message Mamta’s work conveys, summed up well in the last stanza of the last poem in the collection called Life and Art:

These pieces of art remind me to strive for excellence at all

Times;

To die while you are alive is nothing short of cheating on life!

This book is a must read for all admirers of poetry. It is a landmark collection from a Indian woman writer with a distinct style and ability to draw the reader into her heart and soul through the power of her words!