New Login   

'Nonsense' Verses

Shalini Srinivasan

By Sampurna Chatterji
Scholastic India, 2009, pp. 104, Rs. 112.00


I was simultaneously intrigued and irritated by the title of Sampurna Chattarji’s book—if it were actually funny and freaky and feisty, I suspected, it wouldn’t need to say so on the cover, and the pedant in me insisted that foodie wasn’t an adjective. But it is a beautifully brought out compilation of six separate collections, and the cover has a magnificent cast of peculiar humans, animals and food.   Inside, I found that Chattarji’s titles were still slightly loud—adjectives like ‘capricious’ and ‘intelligent’ and ‘weird’ are thrown around liberally, as if telling the reader exactly how to read the poems. Which is a pity because Chattarji’s nonsense verse, when successful, is flamboyantly so. ‘Loco’ is written from the point of view of a child. It is a long list of insane adults the child knows, ending with ‘Aunty Pi who eloped with the neighbour’s son,/a wicker basket, a cocker spaniel and a Kalashnikov gun.’ My other favourite (it’s that kind of book, the kind one takes very personally) goes like this:   fear and denial are two orange cats held together by a golden rope. their eyes are blue. and you?   The words are framed by the two cats looking ambiguously at each other across the rope. Priya Kurian’s illustrations are delightful—her people and animals are simultaneously bizarre and instantly relatable. Their ridiculousness makes it very clear that we are not to take the poetic voice very seriously, rescuing and lightening the more belaboured images (idlis as fermented white rabbits), and rendering them silly and likeable. Sometimes, the verse and pictures come together quite beautifully as in ‘Grand Dad’: ‘“You have big ears,” she told her Grand Dad, “ears like the handles of a jug.”/“Indeed I do,” he said, and pretended to pour.’ The writing is at its best when describing animals—piranhas, crocodiles and a kitten called Flash. Chattarji brings them physically alive, writing of fur and smells and sounds. With the piranhas, for instance, she uses tearing imagery that sounds ferocious and fast-moving. ‘Epiphany’ has a lovely image of frogs flying off the pages of a book, ‘larger than clouds or lily-pads, lighter than feathers.’   Chattarji’s poems are less attractive when she forgoes her dreamy story-telling voice and picks a more critical one. This problem is mostly in the first set of poems ‘Logically graphically comically ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.