By: Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee
“I watched the Mannequins from afar” (p 32) – and the poetic flow begins for Vandana Kumar’s Mannequin of Our Times which is a poetic volume of 138 pages published from World Inkers, New York USA this year containing fifty-three wonderful thought-stirring poems. Reading some of her intellectually rich poems one may think Vandana cares little about emotions. Yes, she writes of an Indian woman who dreams of a roti. A Perfect Round is such a poem where Vandana speaks aloud,” Every Indian woman has a story with a roti” She thinks of a virgin’s promise of a round Roti. Even Cyclone has a gender in her poems. In the section, Cyclone Has a Gender, Vandana designingly smells havoc in the air. But Vandana never forgets the primal emotions in humans. Yes, love, the love of home till the last poem and the last line of the book “Life has been never been about the houses humans lived in. Or those in which we did not but about doors/those that opened for us/and those whose thresholds we never could cross.” Vandana speaks of home, a sweet home that love can make possible. Even Vandana writes, “I am a Third World creepy crawly, ‘a Nobody”. Sometimes as in the poem ‘Nothing Happens’ she feels “Nothing happens really in this city” (p 35) because here everything has already transpired. She is a bit frustrated, “the generation that argued/wanted freedom/did not fight enough/suddenly packed bags instead” (p.35). A grave concern indeed. Readers will now understand why she begins the poetic volume with the poem ‘Who shall Inherit the Earth” which concludes with a whimper beginning with a bang “I was happy to have inherited,” and then “Now that someone lit a match/now that its forests are on fire.” (P,23). Her anger is loud in the poem ‘Call Me Not’ where she concludes “Call me not ‘your world/not this world at least/this one that I know/cuts trees and tongues/at will.” (p.24)
Vandana Kumar is a Middle School French teacher in New Delhi. Her versatile nature is manifested in her identity as a film producer, and cinephile besides being a French teacher and poet. She is a bon vivant who loves travelling, working with young minds and exploring possibilities beyond the ordinary. An educator with over two decades of teaching experience she has seen the world closely and her poems which are the fossilized experiences of her own life and the life around her all the time, were shortlisted for many international journals and magazines all over the world. Some were published and Fine Lines, Harbinger Asylum, The Kali Project, Madras Courie and But You Don’t Look Sick, She is also a contributing author in the Short Story anthology Cocoon Stories: Imprints of Childhood. It is a matter of pride for all Vandana admirers that her work was included in the book Post Modern Voices Vol. 4, which is a part of the World Literature India series where along with five other poets from around the world she was interviewed and fifteen of her works were published in the book 21st Century Critical Thought – A Dialogue with Poet Modern Voices Vol 2. She discussed the different genres of poetry and their ever-evolving forms and present-day challenges. She is also making her foray into Hindi poetry and her debut poem in Hindi published in Sahityakunj got huge popularity.
Sunflower is a wonderful floral ecstasy and the Van Gogh brush adds beauty to it. Under the Moonlight moves our inner ribs where emotions lurk secretly “Come, stand here and see/As you wrap those arms around me” What can be more romantic than these lines I don’t know because for Vandana love can melt the stubborn ice sheets. But even in this poem, the conclusion has an anti-climax “but the love of religion. it has been whispered/ Even gods don’t believe in gods” (p.112), languages reaches its last contour of connotation in Vandana Kumar’s poetry and in a poem The Final Rains, she writes,” the songs of rain now leak from a rooftop’. Sheer poetic graphics Readers will be mesmerized to read some of the other poems in the book, such as The Summer of Death, A Still Winter, Wait until Summer, and Summer of More Grief and will feel how the poet uses Nature for portraying human emotions. She is a bold poet and I too cannot but wonder to read ‘Ripped Jeans and country music’. This poem needs a special mention where she braves the traditional concepts of love and music where she feels “the city grows on you like Cancer”. Let Us is a ‘challenge poem’ where lovers can tell. “Let us elope in ways/that would put/a Neruda poem to shame” Being a Neruda admirer I understand what she meant. Bougainvillea is a floral alternative for lovers as she suggests a change in the love concepts” The tropical lovers as we know/was never meant to be seduced/by a prosaic bed of rose.” What I tried to suggest in my best seller Oleander Blooms and the oleander images as an alternative paradigm to roses as early as 2013, Vandana also writes about Bougainvillea after ten years in 2023. Poetic minds think alike. ‘To meet again touches our hearts and the poet believes that one day they will meet in a book, in the space between two love stories/one where we meet/one where we never unite. Vandana imagines sadly about the kiss of death “Let your kiss make me cease to remember/how it all started/or where we stood poet Vandana Kumar firmly believes that ‘Goodbyes are just new beginnings. So, we wait.” Her ability as a wordsmith is unique. Her skill in unearthing human machinations is outstanding. Her love of the French language is excellent. When she translates some of my poems into French, I realized the power of her golden nib where she translated a trans-creation. Candice Louisa Daquine Editor of the poetic Kali Project rightly remarks, “Like an outsider, Vandana was “looking at the universe/with an outsider’s gaze” (p34) Duane Vorhees an eminent author wrote about her “Vandana Kumar seems to turn each day of her life into a song. In each line, there is subtle intelligence.” I never heard earlier of any intelligent song. What might have been suggested is the cerebral forte is the quintessential property of Vandana Kumar’s poems. Poems such as ‘Random Thoughts on a Vagina’ where she talks of power games and the discussion on Vagina Monologues, at the workplace suddenly give a big jolt to a romantic poet like me. But even I too get initiated into a deeper musing. Some poems are truly romantic and it reveals the other hidden self of Vandana as a poet. (The author is an International Visiting Faculty of USA Universities and a trilingual poet. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)