The Altar of the Only World is Sharanya Manivannan’s second book of poems. This is a collection that you would want to own, for its exquisite imagery, for the raw passion, and most of all for the deep emotions it will evoke in you. Don’t expect frills and flowers but you will certainly experience a shift in the axis of your thoughts. The poet does not offer her ruminations on a plate to be devoured, but each thought is carefully wrapped in layers of imagery, which reveals a new facet each time it’s read. I’m not an expert at decoding the nuances of poetry, but these poems called out to me. I couldn’t help returning multiple times to my favourite lines. Sharanya has drawn deeply from mythology, from the stories of Sita from the Ramayana, Lucifer the fallen angel, and Inanna the Sumerian goddess. Each poem is a lament, a love song, or a dirge. I found it very interesting that Sharanya’s points of reference are all from Nature, elemental beings like the universe, sea, sun and fire. They are capricious, unpredictable and masters of their own destiny.
The poems in The Altar of the Only World reflect the deep loneliness of exile. There are deeply running striations of belonging and loss, intermingling closely, yet staying apart.
“A haemorrhage of borders,
based on happenstance.
What I’d give to be inside- even
if – a country contains nothing”
In these poems I also glimpsed the anguished cries of a million women. “That night I could believe it – that all the anguish that had transpired had happened only to my shadow.”
“…… but they will neither look away nor venture closer. All of you can burn and still none will surge towards you. At the distance of the arsonist’s arrow, in the shadow-smoke of ambuscade, they wait for you to turn to ash. For the blazing heart of you to raze itself out, so that they can say that you had wanted to turn to cinder, that you had always smouldered too brightly to save.”
This is also a lover’s lament, screaming out her pain to the world; grappling with the enormity of loss, not only of a loved one but also of a love that was all-encompassing. She feels hollow, unsubstantiated, merely a being of light and shadow, bereft of the love that formed her essence.
“You promised no fire could touch me
the burning ghat of my heart.”
The Altar of the Only World is a slim book that belies the intensity of emotions it’s capable of evoking. I have read Sharanya Manivannan’s earlier book The High Priestess Never Marries and fallen in love with it. While I found Sharanya’s prose intoxicating, her poetry is like a salve, which finds the wounds deep within the mind and soothes it. I will leave you with the lines in the book, which I have appropriated and consider my own, something which calms me no matter how turbulent my mind is.
“I dreamt myself a sanctuary
Wild were my powers”