THE YAK DILEMMA ...
‘your bird/my bird,’
‘Hotel Poem, Fatih, Istanbul,’
‘Room in Edinburgh’
& ‘Poem in which
I am an Interloper
in an Art Gallery’
Supriya KAUR DHALIWAL
In THE YAK DILEMMA, Supriya KAUR DHALIWAL ventures out of the mountain ranges of Palampur and across vast distances of land and sea. From scenes playing out through Dublin windows to ruminating on wearing a Sadri in the West, these innovative mediations are as much about personal identity as they are a testament to the human spirit’s drive to cross territory and forge a ‘map’ of our own. KAUR DHALIWAL’s map, if she has one, is without architecture or foundations; ‘Four walls don’t make a home or a house—it takes some doing’, she writes in Ghazal on Living in a Hotel in Downtown Cairo. She is part of a dynamic new generation of poets pushing the medium into exciting new areas by questioning the notion of ‘place’ and its effect on our bodies—including the human spirit and memory. Uprooted and unsettled, her lyrical voice generously outlines ‘home’ as something other than a physical place. THE YAK DILEMMA is a remarkable poetic journey, its words create new territories by carefully revealing the fragile spaces that fall in between.
Published by Makina Books
Published by Makina Books
order THE YAK DILEMMA
direct from the press here.
your bird/my bird
Counted Punjab’s fewer than five rivers for days—
their banter like a lost love’s show, played for days.
All the sources are worth a footnote in essays,
so is the pain that doesn’t go away for days
or doesn’t go away at all like a fatal migraine.
The skies on our side have been grey for days.
The bulbul on the barbed wire knows nothing
of no man’s land. Her claws splay for days
on the razor-wire fence. The telephone cables stay
entangled between poles of decay for days.
The distance between Jhelum and Satluj is a wound’s width.
The bulbul circles above it, looking for prey for days.
She greets the woman who named her daughter
Naseeb (destined not to have to pray for days)
with her birdsong. Like our human speech,
her birdsong has been finding its way for days—
in a dictionary that almost belongs nowhere.
The bulbul yearns to exist in dismay for days
on your land/my land. Your bird/my bird:
what would be claimed as hearsay for days?
I eat my Turkish breakfast in a plate
that is an imitation of Byzantine mosaics
in the Hagia Sophia. Mehmet, the server, asks me
if home for me is Alhind. When I say yes, it is,
he marvels at the grandeur of the Taj Mahal,
where both of us have not been, yet.
Mehmet tells me about the Blue Masjid’s six minarets
and asks if the azaan here reminds me
of the azaan in the Jama Masjid in Dilli.
I admit that I wish I knew
as I have never been to Jama Masjid either.
However, Dilli is nothing like Istanbul.
It does not rain in Istanbul in July
like the way it does in North India.
Here I wake up to a shining view of the Bosphorus
and I sleep to it, feeling the weightlessness of the sea
taking over every night.
I look at you like I look at a mountain. I never understand the geometry of a mountain—the minute and vast distances between its several folds. If one looks at a mountain long enough, it might appear as something one knows by heart / like I know your face. I have archived each curve of your smile, each flicker of your eye, each line on your forehead for every time your face would not be across mine. God forbid, there shall not be many days like that. Every time one looks at a mountain, a new testimony awaits. Some say that looking at a same mountain twice is equal to looking at two different mountains. The mountain, however, stays in the same place. It could even be immortal. We stay in the exact same place—our own kingdom of mountains. In this kingdom, while we listen to Sinéad O’Connor sing Drink Before the War and let our eggs burn, the seagulls hover over the seven hills of Edinburgh—preying on pigeons in the pewter sky. In this kingdom, we hold hands, we kiss, and everything still is bright even in the season that withers everything away.
Poem in which
I am an Interloper
in an Art Gallery
after An Indian Lady, perhaps ‘Jemdance,’
Bibi of William Hickey;
painted by Thomas Hickey in 1787
While treading on paths that are so foreign, in a city so foreign towards an art gallery so foreign—I least anticipated to stand on the crossroads to meet a woman bedecked in the kind of jewels that were more familiar to me in that foreign room than my own self. I was looking at her and all the paintings in that room and the room adjoining were breathing on me. Even The Temptation of Adam joined in. She (perhaps Jemdanee) was dressed in a pink that was not foreign. It was a pink of crushed peonies and powdered rose. It was the colour of the shadow of cherry blossoms. To not (have to) dress like the women who raised us is considered a revolution in itself by many. It is similar to be willing to talk like the women who did (not) want their daughters to not remain silent. The didactic panel by this painting wanted to reassure me that in order to understand this painting, I must try to know who William Hickey is. While I tried to look for the story of their love, I failed to fill in so many blanks. Like, was this Indian lady sitting cross-legged in front of me really Jemdanee? To have a penchant for other people’s love stories is like dying a death that was not really ours to die. There is a risk involved in assuming that the hearts that were foreign were traded because you know, if you are a citizen of everywhere, you are a citizen of nowhere; or just foreign.
Supriya KAUR DHALIWAL was born in the Himalayan town of Palampur, India. She studied at St. Bede’s College, Shimla; Trinity College, Dublin; and Queen’s University, Belfast. Her poems have been translated into Arabic, German and Italian, and have recently appeared in Ambit, Banshee, Gutter, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Jukebox, Poetry London, The Bombay Literary Magazine, The Irish Times, The Lonely Crowd, The Pickled Body, The Tangerine and elsewhere. In 2018, she was one of the twelve poets selected for Poetry Ireland’s ‘Introductions’ series. She is the 2021 Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent. THE YAK DILEMMA (Makina Books) is her first full-length collection.