What does it mean to have a book you can hold in your hands?
It can mean having something to read — as simple as that. But, holding a book can also mean having something tactile to love.
As one friend said to me a long time ago, all books should be pampered-looking, even for debutantes. Now, Itisha Giri is no debutante, but her book, An Archive, has definitely been through a lot of pampering before arriving in our hands.
There is something about the cover that might make you pause. A collage of different items appear on the cover — a lone foot, hands, citrus, marigold, waves, fish and shells and snails. And the more mundane, like buses, tyres, crockery, et cetera. Each, however, is an idea. Each is carried over to the pages of the book.
There is something about the book that makes it an object you want to own, hold, carry, keep. Clearly, credit goes to the good design by Dishebh Raj Shrestha, and the minimalist, but striking, illustrations by Sumana Shakya.
From the first pages you stumble upon a series of puzzles, the first being a crossword. And whether or not you are able to work your mind across the little boxes, the series of half-finished, clueless sentences will put you on hold. But one is not meant to solve all the puzzles that exist, you see.
Also, you already know this is not your regular poetry book. You might wonder if the book is meant to be a puzzle in itself, as you traverse its pages, ambling over the list of consonants. What are these consonants, one might ask. To every reader, it lends a different meaning.
One finds that the way to read this book of poems is not just to hold it straight like an ordinary book, but also to turn it around vertically to read from the margins, inviting a meditative process. The list of consonants are on the margins, deliberately — each one of them a riddle, sometimes statements and sometimes heavy half-sentences, leaving the full story dangling: a good gadfly returns to its prey.
With this process, the book earns a kind of intimacy with the reader. Even as an object to be held, it is like an embrace in installments.
While there is that idea of permanence etched in some of the pages, it is actually impermanence that the reader deals with, as the theme of loss and death permeates the poems — many of them written as eulogies, and some as banter with the dead.
There is a sense of replacement in loss-
I saw him again, after my father died.
He had greyed- the man-child.
Because death does find a replacement, in memories, and among the living. How else would life be livable? And so the poet says:
If he refuses, tell them to tell him
this wake is over.
I must go back to the living.