Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tika by Saradha Koirala

Goodbye takes the form of a blessing.
My family press tika on our foreheads
rupees into my palm.

Mountain-high through time and air
the red paint dries, the rice grains fall
leaving a trail that could surely lead us home.

But sometimes you can't tell what you've seen
until you close your eyes
and the imprint reveals

an inverted world of darkened brights
and a pale sky
a halo around the ones I'll miss.

Tika stayed with us for each part of the journey
and at last we were hurrying
to our final connection.

Back home I find red smudges on my notebook
like gilt edges of a Bible
indelible tika

staining my most sacred things.

Editor: Harvey Molloy

'Tika' is the final poem from Saradha Koirala's magnificent second book of poems Tear Water TeaIn India and Nepal a tika is a blessing received at the end of a puja ('worship'); the person performing the puja places their forefinger into the dye and makes a single red vertical mark on the recipient’s forehead.  During the puja, offerings are made of light, scent, flowers, rice, and sweets.

I have lived in an Indian family for over twenty-five years and know that to assume that puja is just about 'religion', 'belief', 'worship' -- all very conceptual, very intellectual, and quite slippery, especially in Hinduism and Buddhism  -- is  to miss the event of Tika; Tika marks a passage or transition.  Something is about to change, to journey to become something else and  'Goodbye takes the form of a blessing.' That wonderful line also resonates with me because I share with Saradha, and my wife Latika, and with many others, the 'Goodbye' at the heart of the immigrant experience.  Our families are elsewhere, to visit them is to arrive finally at goodbye as we return to our homes elsewhere.

Saradha's poems often include the experience of a complication.  The visitors leave, the tika drying on their foreheads, but the possibility of remaining lost, even abandoned, without any chance of return comes  through in that ambiguous could surely, with all its German märchen hints of Hansel and Gretel left in the woods. It's not would  nor will.  There's an uncertainty after leave-taking as loved ones pass into memory and it's only in this memory that a recognition can take place: 'But sometimes you can't tell what you've seen.'  'Tell' necessitates the work of poetry -- all of Tear Water Tea remains committed to a sustained reflection on experience. 

How does one measure courage in poetry?  It's a difficult question.  One sign of courage is to remain true, though not unyielding to reflection, to the sense, perhaps even the hunch, of an experience and its value or significance.  This courage means not by necessity or habit adopting a mask (although it’s all a mask in the same way that drama is all characters) or to remove the intensity of the significance through ironic distance (unless irony is integral to the sense or hunch).  

Writing this I am struck by the many words I have at my disposal to name literary tropes and rhetorical figures and the less specific words I find for the special, the unique, the marvellous, the miraculous, the fortuitous, the valued, the spiritual, the 'souled', the sacred: the experience of unique moments that confer value and which are somehow part of a vastness.  The experience of tika lingers and stains the present through memory and this staining is now a hallmark of the 'sacred things.'  The image of the gilded pages of the Bible is both courageous and perfect: the stain is on the edge or margin of sacred things and is bound in some mysterious way with writing and belief. I don’t belong to any religion but I have a hunch that one of the great taboos for many poets of today is faith. 

Zen aficionados might urge us to just live in the moment but Saradha’s poetry suggests that an appreciation of our own experience is not immediately apparent but rather requires memory, reflection, perhaps even the act of writing, to make sense.  Saradha’s work is both personal and thoughtful—there’s much to discover with each reading.

The Poet

Saradha Koirala lives, writes and works in Wellington, New Zealand, and is of Nepali and Pākehā descent. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters and her poetry has been published in The Listener, broadsheet nz, Hue & Cry, Turbine, Sport and Lumiere Reader. She is also a Tuesday Poet who blogs here and her book is available here. 

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a writer and teacher who lives in Wellington. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008.  He is the current poetry editor of Jaam magazine.

When you've read and enjoyed Tika - do check out the other Tuesday Poems in the sidebar. 


Unknown said...
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Mary McCallum said...

Beautiful. Each word carries its own weight and together they fall like rice grains on the page. I think of Saradha's work as that combination of light and strong. There is a holy quality to her poems too - a feeling of being blessed. I especially love this:

sometimes you can't tell what you've seen
until you close your eyes
and the imprint reveals

an inverted world of darkened brights
and a pale sky
a halo around the ones I'll miss

Perfect. And your write-up, Harvey, gives so much to this poem and this poet. Thank you both.

Helen Lowe said...

Wonderful delicate poem; wonderful insightful commentary--thank you, Saradha and Harvey

Michelle Elvy said...

Really love this, and I like your personal commentary, too, Harvey.

"The experience of tika lingers and stains the present through memory and this staining is now a hallmark of the 'sacred things.'"

Saradha's words linger too... lovely Tuesday Poem!

Elizabeth said...

I can feel the meditative, cyclic quality to this poem - the almost fused arrival and goodbye that you both talk about. Beautiful. I particularly love the use of the word 'staining' in this poem, Saradha. I keep coming back to it and drawing more out. Thank you Harvey & Saradha!

Janis said...


Cattyrox said...

Resonated with my recent travelling experiences. Thank you Saradha Kiorala and Harvey.

Penelope said...

I like the linking of different beliefs through the image of the red stains on the Bible. Lovely, subtle and suggestive poetry.

Thanks to poet and editor.

Penelope said...

Sorry, I meant to say the image of the red stains being compared with the gilt edge of a Bible.

T. said...

This is a poem I've returned to numerous times this week. The power it carries is delicate and elegant, and those two attributes only add to its strength both as a poem and as a statement of faith.

Absolutely lovely!

Also enjoyed Harvey's commentary!


mitch123 said...

I love your poems they are fantastic