HomeArts & EntertainmentBooksHT reviewer Suhit Kelkar picks his favourite read of 2021

HT reviewer Suhit Kelkar picks his favourite read of 2021

The latest poetry collection by UK-based Pascale Petit is Tiger Girl. Here is glowing ecopoetry communing with the creative force of the natural world, its human-wreaked wounds. Yet hers is not only a lament but also a salve that opens us up to Nature.

Petit may be saying that our hunting and tormenting weaker beings, human or non-human, is one continuum, as she twines ecological themes with her family’s Indian heritage and harmful relationships. For instance, a few of the poems speak of the father who raped his daughter. Further, the poems unpack the name of the book by telling how a child was sheltered by her grandmother as protective as a tigress: “My grandmother who took me back/ for seven years from age seven, who saved my life,/ praise to the mothering of my tigress!”

The collection moves from and returns to family history, the UK and India. In Her Gypsy Clothes, the first poem, secrets come wafting from the colonial past: “Only at her funeral did the story come out/ her birth in Rajasthan to her father’s maid”. The matter is broached of belonging and of colour. “… how some colours don’t fade/ however deep they’re buried/ …/ and how/ to own the country of her birth/ a woman might have to wear/ a fire”.

Suhit Kelkar (Courtesy the reviewer)

Apart from symbolizing her grandmother who was protective and had “second sight”, the Tiger Girl is also the “endangered predators” Petit came across or heard about in her travels in India.

“I saw another man who led me to a cave/ which he called his vault/ and there was a tigress inside/ giving birth to striped gold./ …/ and he placed coins in my hand/ said it was jungle currency/ and I knew then I was holding/ the eyes of cubs./ I said to the poacher I’m not from here/ I do not judge/ but the eyes mewled in my hands/ so I ran through every coppice/ and every clearing/ and looked at the moon/ whose eye was sewn shut.”

Petit’s compassion comes from her very bones.

And through vivid images and strong rhythm, Petit avows she has fellow feeling with all living beings – whether the lizard whose penis is chopped off and sold, or the pangolin trafficked for the soups of the rich, or the bear maimed by dynamite, or the tiger’s stripes sold for ‘tantrik’ rituals. The theme of climate change is wielded poetically; what a hard thing Petit pulls off without making us feel depressed or helpless, and so beautifully. Her poems empower us to open up to remorse, compassion, hope, and perhaps the Nature that is in us.

Suhit Kelkar is an independent journalist. He lives in Mumbai.

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