Chitra Govindraj’s poetry collection, Essence, is a tribute to the universality of the human condition. We are all different, yet in some ways, we are all the same. All of us are searching for meaning, happiness and purpose. Voltaire once said that God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. No matter how joyful, sad, conflicted, or questioning we individually are, collectively we are all part of Voltaire’s audience.
That is why Chitra’s poems – alternatively contemplative, wise, whimsical, and hopeful – will speak to each of us. Because we are all on this adventure called Life together. It is not many people who will give you an all-access pass to their innermost fears and convictions. But deep calls to deep. Some of the most charming poems in the collection are the ones where we get glimpses of her vulnerability. In the poem ‘Honesty’, for example, she writes, “Do we all have our own truths and different versions? How do we know which is the right one for certain?” In ‘Social Media and Me’, she writes about the deceptiveness of social media, and the way it weaves a “web of lies”. But the clincher for me was the last line: “I need to find out if I am who I am.” The depth of that sentiment goes beyond the boundaries of social media. We are selling so many versions of ourselves to the world that we are in danger of mixing up our real self from the counterfeits.
The poems address an array of other contemporary issues as well, from addiction, overparenting and binge-eating to domestic abuse and depression. Life does not always come with a ‘how to’ manual, and too often, we are left to make sense of it alone. So, it was refreshing to navigate these issues through another person’s perspective. It helped that they were in the form of poetry, with a measured rhyme and cadence that gave them levity, even as the subjects they addressed had a core of seriousness.
Essence was written during the pandemic, when an uncle would share his collection of poetry on Chitra’s family WhatsApp group. It inspired her to write one and post it on the group as well. It was well received and encouraged her to write more. Chitra says the poems “intuitively moved towards the human values” that she was taught during the Bal Vikas classes she attended between the ages of eight and 15. It was in these classes that she was taught that the universe is a manifestation of the five elements – earth, water, air, ether and fire. These five elements are present in a person in the form of five life principles or values – prema (love), shanti (peace), dharma (right conduct), satya (truth), and ahimsa (non-violence). To give the collection a “purpose and direction”, Chitra has divided the poems into these five values.
Some of the poems are in the form of stories. For example, ‘My Love’ is about a soldier who returns home to his lover, who now has a child. ‘Forgiven’ is about friendship between two boys and how the friend forgives the narrator even though he punched him. “I punched him in the eye, but I’m hurting bad,” writes the narrator. In some of the other poems, like ‘Unbeaten’, it is unclear whether Chitra is writing about herself or another. But it does not really matter. The poems touched a chord, no matter who they were referring to. Good poems show us something of the poet. Great poems show us something of ourselves.
By Chitra Govindraj
Published by Authorspress
Price Rs295; pages 161