Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Saris and a Single Malt

I'll  admit right away that I cannot be objective.  Sweta Srivastava Vikram is one of my favorite contemporary authors.  I cherish her work.  Over the past several years, I've had the privilege and pleasure of reading and reviewing a lot of her work--mostly poetry--and I've also interviewed her.  This past weekend, I was thrilled to learn that her article, Sweet Somethings, was published in the New York Times Magazine section (it's just a matter of time until one of her books is listed as a NY Times bestseller, I think).  This prolific writer is also the CEO and Founder of NimmiLife, which helps people reach their goals by increasing their creativity, productivity, and health.  Her newest poetry collection, Saris and a Single Malt, published by Modern History Press in 2016, is her most personal to date. It is fittingly dedicated to her beloved mother, who died unexpectedly in India in 2014. The poet's mother, the subject of this book, affectionately called Mummy and Mumma, is richly brought to life in these poems.

"For Mummy--wherever you are, I am sure the place has good whiskey and a beautiful collection of saris."

The book takes place in "real time", over the course of a harrowing thirty-six hours.  The poems in this collection are an autobiographical account of the poet's thoughts and emotions as events unfold during an extremely difficult time.  On May 30, 2014, Sweta and her husband, Anudit, caught a flight to New Delhi because her mother fell ill suddenly, and was rushed to the ICU at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon.  "Poetry, pain, and prayers" accompany Sweta on this arduous and uncertain journey.  In Saris and a Single Malt, we are invited into the very core of this intimate experience, and we feel the poet's great pain and loss.  But although she is disconsolate and distraught after her mother dies, the poet still manages to describe her mother's beauty, with grace and eloquence:
 

"Motherless: I embraced poetry and Bhaiya.
Peaceful and beautiful: Mumma looked
like a poem wrapped in a lavender sheet."
 ~ May 31, 2014, Poetry, pain, and prayers, Sweta Srivastava Vikram 


As always, Sweta puts everything into her work.  Saris and a Single Malt is intensely personal, passionate, and profound.  In the poem "I Write", Sweta states that she must write in order to survive this ordeal.  She articulates her pain and agony throughout the book, beginning with the flight on May 30, 2014, and describes many parts of the experience, such as being at JFK Airport and on the plane, arriving at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, learning that her mother is gone, and some of the Hindu rituals that follow, in these poems.  I've been granted special permission to include one of my favorite poems from the book in this post.  This poem especially resonated with me.


 Forever Courage, Beta

I wear the butterfly pendant you gave me, Mumma.  I pull at it,
hoping the wings will set me free.  I want to get away from
everybody.  I want to know how to reach you.  I don't want to live in
the absence of your voice.  I wonder what you would say if I read
my plea.  Suddenly, I hear you whisper in the summer breeze. Never 
lose courage, Beta.  You've always been strong.  I swallow my angst.
Words, I tell you, they stay with me forever.


This sincere and courageous account touched me deeply.  I think that adults who have lost a loved one, especially a parent, will be able to relate to this honest and powerful work.  In the span of just over a year, in 2011 and in 2012, I lost both of my parents, first my mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and then my father.  Although my story is different than Sweta's, there are some similarities.  In 2011, I spent a long Memorial Day weekend worrying about my mother's health, waiting to hear news of her condition.  Soon afterward, like Sweta, I was in flight, traveling on a red eye from CA to NY while my mother was in the hospital, hoping to make it there in time.  Sadly, my mother passed away shortly before I arrived in NY.  While on the plane in the hazy, wee hours of the morning, I either dreamed or imagined or heard my mother say in her distinct voice something like "I am alright, Susan--please don't worry", and to this day I wonder if this was truly her message to me in her final moments. 

Although this book conveys Sweta's loss and sorrow, the poet also shares the joy of her close relationship with her mother.  She describes her mother's beautiful saris as "carrying the scent of sweet cardamom"  and smelling of  "cloves and single malt", her delicious cooking, and many other essential details. Saris and a Single Malt is a beautiful, heartfelt collection that is also a loving, poetic tribute to her mother.  In the Afterword of the book, Sweta talks about how she was able to better cope with her grief and find some peace after the loss of her mother.  It is a hopeful and helpful ending.

Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour and for providing a copy of this book.  For more reviews and features, please visit the other stops on the tour for Saris and a Single Malt.  I've linked my review to Serena's 2016 Poetry Challenge.

Thank you for reading.  Comments from my readers are welcomed and appreciated.




(PUBLISHING DISCLAIMER: “Forever Courage, Beta” excerpted with permission from the book Saris and a Single Malt, published by Modern History Press.  Copyright (c) 2016 Sweta Srivastava Vikram.  All Rights Reserved.)

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