A review of Homing Pigeons and Sundry Stuff by Dr Naina Dey

Reviewed by Ketaki Datta

Homing Pigeons and Sundry Stuff
by Dr Naina Dey
20 November 2020, 50pages, Rs.295

Homing Pigeons is a collection of twenty-six poems and a number of micro poems by Dr. Naina Dey, a well-known academic, award-winning poet, and translator. The book of poems has been divided into sections: “Homing Pigeons and Sundry Stuff” [14 poems], “Poems on the Pandemic” [1 poem and 11 micro poems], “In Love with Love” [1 poem and 10 micro poems], and “Unholy Thoughts” [10 poems]. All of the poems have a charm of their own and the micro poems, Haiku and Tanka, have a similar instant appeal. We are often reminded of William Blake’s “To see a world in a Grain of Sand/And the heaven in a wildflower/To hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour” (Auguries of Innocence). The poet takes a peek into the lives of women, bird-like angels being born, the barn owl in its hunting spree, or the china doll-faced girl’s mind who has her face misshapen after an acid attack. ‘Feminism’, as a critical construct also finds a nook in her poetry.

In the opening poem of the book, Dey compares the deleterious confinement of the women within four walls to an indomitable wish to fly high, even for a day. The closing stanza of the poem brings out the dudgeon of the poet at such claustrophobic existence. She writes:

I wonder what they do
These pigeons inside their coop
Make omelettes perhaps?
While I wish I had wings that clapped
Even for a day? (“Homing Pigeons”)

Dey looks “before and after and pines for what is not”, yet she is firmly rooted in the present times and dares question all iniquities and oddities. In the poem, “Subaltern” in the same section, the backlash of clichéd queries directed to either the spinster, a divorced woman, or a single parent seems timely and justified. She is not a ‘subaltern’ of the new millennium, hence the pat reply in the form of a string of queries, to the utter bafflement of Goddess Kali, before whom the questioner and the questioned stood. The lines are in simple diction yet powerful:

How many children?
Asked the devotee
Said I
Married? She asked again.
Her eyes wandering over my forehead
The parting of my hair
For the crimson mark
Full time job?
Finally turning to the Goddess I wondered
If I was the subaltern of the new millennium
In anger I roundly confront her
How many children?
Is your job full time?
Kali grinned and stuck out her tongue in reply. (“Subaltern”)

Images like “A house and inmates flushed down the dark hole of time/ Save the plantain and the guava tree”(“The House”), “Then departed/ Leaving behind paper cups and crumpled little tricolours” (“Republic Day”), “I step out with that one face/Lined with a thousand ages” (“Inside the Museum at C.U.”), “One arm inside a pillow of cloud/The other plunging, suicidal/ Behind the sky-rises”(“The Rainbow”) are so vivid that the sentiments or realities, often wounded, doubted, jarred or portrayed, find a veritable home in them. The busy world of a writer is etched in a way as though the clacking away on his typewriter can be heard. The writer, like the mammoth creature, wends through her creations gingerly, scrutinizing:

My idyllic parched printed world
Of letters, symbols, digits,
Myself Jurassic. (“Futility: An Ode”)

“The Pigeons of Trafalgar Square” are imbued with autobiographical overtones and “Hamneth” is unique in its appeal as the playwright and his created characters swap places sometimes.

In the next section “Poems on the Pandemic”, the eleven micro poems win our attention. “ Love during Covid 19” reminds us of the last-minute kiss the lovers’ lips get locked in as the city of Pompeii headed on to its fateful destruction. Life, likewise, lost its hunky-dory abandon as this pathogen turned it topsy-turvy, throwing all of us indoors, isolated, cooped up. All punctuations evaporate just as the life, per se, stood punctuated by stock-still uncertainty. Even the last line hangs loose without a full stop, the usual finale:

In the wilderness of social distancing
Love is for TV in good times
And fake apocalypses. (“Love during Covid 19”)

The micro poems in this section are humorous in tone and universal in appeal:

I wash and scrub
Till my nail polish flakes
The maid waits
For her month’s pay.

Strange that
We all wear masks
Over old ones.

In the following section, “In Love with Love”, again, the micro poems are so eloquent of the subjects they deal with! A few quotes will surely make us get a feel of the matter:

“Define Love” you say
I watch the rotating disco light
Throw glitter on the walls
Myriad-coloured heart shapes
Forming and dissolving.

Inside I long to see you
Outside I pretend not to see.

I am not in love with you
I am in love
With your love. (“Micro Poem”)

The only macro poem in this section, “Old Love” has the following lines
which narrate an incident of being in a garden party or an open-air show:

All I wanted was to taste you with my eyes
To love you with all your faults and your bad hairstyle
Made heady by the vintage of old love made new. (“Old Love”)

In the last section, “Unholy Thoughts”, a few poems are really laudable. Not just weapons can cause assassination in the poem “ Assassination” but even the onlookers look at the victim wincing in pain to hatch another plot of assassination with their ‘tongues’. In “ Acid Love”, the brutal attack on the reluctant beloved by the rejected lover, is narrated. Dedicating it to the victims of acid attack, Dey writes about the pain she undergoes:

I thrash and groan
Feeling your love corrode my face
Forming furrows where no furrows were
My lips curl into a hideous grin
As I cry out in the silent night. (“Acid Love”)

“Scar”, “MMS”, “Feminism”, “Envy” are mighty poems that point out sundry follies and foibles of a woman, which she tries to conceal. “Love Byte from a Wife” and “The Wall Paper Lady” present varying perspectives of the woman and her world. Interestingly enough, the wallpaper lady looks at other women who ‘try to stifle scream after scream’… The decreasing decibel of loud screams from an alarmingly high to a remarkably low pitch has been artistically represented by long-case alphabets to diminutive ones, quite meaningfully.

Many of these poems by Naina Dey have already been published in different journals of repute, in India and abroad, Setu Bilingual Magazine, IPPL, to name a few. This is, no doubt, a collection to be read by poetry lovers in India and beyond.