Kesar Lall has spent most of his writing life documenting the lives of others and collecting their folk tales. Many of his admirers have hoped for some time that he would turn inwards, and address his own background and experiences. These poetic Reflections, released by the prolific Vajra Publications, are a partial window into his thoughts. And what modest and honest thoughts they are. This collection of 127 of Lall's poems, with an appealing introduction by Don Messerschmidt and a candid cover photo by Kumar Ale, is as much a pleasure to read as it appears to have been a pleasure for Kesar Lall to write.
At 81, Lall appears more unstoppable than ever. At a recent meeting, he showed me collections of folders with drafts of his ongoing projects: prose, poetry, translations, and more. What's more, he writes for himself, for his own happiness, not to please others.
The simple profundity of Lall's words and his unpretentious sentiments are inspiring, and serve as a reminder that not all good writers have to be tortured or miserable. "An open mind without pride and prejudice is a blessing," Kesar Lall writes in his preface, and he himself has been blessed with both. The sentiments he captures, particularly regarding changing seasons, convey the joy and wonder of a child:
Summer is a season I've sorely missed
In my reckoning until once in June
I looked out and found it at my doorstep.
A summer's growth holds my home
In close embrace, denying me
A view of the neighbourhood.
Lall frequently returns to his mortality and self-worth, taking stock of life's experiences and challenges:
But I would love to leave my little place
Lovelier than when I had found it
When I leave forever.
Once I lent my hands
To my little child
To walk across the street.
Now he has paid me back.
He gave me his hand
To go from room to room.
The sensuality of nature and of women are recurring themes, sometimes overlapping, as in:
One night, through a half open window,
I caught the moon
At a women on her bed, dreaming.
Although ostensibly apolitical, some of Lall's poems exhibit shrewdness about the temporal nature of power:
A man who longs to be remembered
Long after his death
Is oft forgotten before he is gone.
But enough abstraction and analysis, let his poems speak for themselves. Two of my particular favourites are:
Precious little moments
Give a garland of memories to wear
To him who dares to dream...
A piece of charcoal
Is all I can think of
To compare myself with
At this late hour.
Yet it might still be used
If one has the skill
To draw a picture of my life.
Mark Turin, PhD, is a linguistic anthropologist and director of the Digital Himalaya Project (www.digitalhimalaya.com).