Content warning: brief references to sexual assault
The Barging Buddhi and Other Poems takes us on a journey from human expectations that are created within a set culture, to more cosmic climbs, from which we are brought back to earth with the fragility of life, to then be connected to a wider sense of nature. Sunita Thind’s poetry is rich, sensual and visual. Although her numerous questions throughout the collection hint at self-doubt and uncertainty, she shows a strong sense of voice that is not easily contained, like the ‘pyrotechnical parrots’ she describes, how humans ‘clip their wings to capture the fury of their rainbow constellations / humans devouring them like black holes / sequestered in monster iron cages.’ The collection is strongest when assertive, using imperatives: ‘delete the tears’, ‘stain me’, maroon me.’
Thind is a Punjabi, South Indian, British woman, and her title poem opens the collection with an exploration of her culture and heritage through the role of her grandmother, repeatedly referred to as ‘this barging Buddhi’ in the piece. This woman becomes a symbol of strength, as well as a way to present her upbringing. With references to ‘dhaal kaani’ and ‘salwar kameez’, the English in brackets disrupts the flow of the poems at times, so might have been better left out or placed at the end of the poem, or even the end of the book. Similarly, the running of lines could be broken to better get into the flow of the work.
Her words are strongest when celebratory, as can be seen in various poems taking place at a wedding. She refers to her ‘guara’ (white) husband’s ‘gloriously silly gyrations to the Bhangra beats’ and refers to bridal henna as ‘Eastern, secret maps indelible on the skin.’ We get a sense of sisterhood and the significance of family as women ‘jostle and jingle around a stick / stuck with bells, gesticulate and writhe to the music of old wedding Punjabi folk songs.’ Food is also an important cultural element that is celebrated throughout, yet at a funeral, there is universality in the image of her ‘stuffing my mouth with roti—to stifle my cries, / I gulp down the Parshad—it is gloomy and sickly sweet.’
However, cultural messages are also critiqued, such as in ‘Dusky Daughters’, where colourism is explored, the judgement that ‘too rusty brown or too onyx black, / against the processed paleness of the sequined skeletons in glam mags.’ At times, cultural appropriation seems to be referenced, such as in the idea of being ‘Imperial white and Sanskrit dark’, and the reference to ‘this regressive art form’ as the woman described ‘lip syncs’ and ‘grinds’.
She explores the merge of cultures through teenage rebellion, ‘staggering in a spirited haze / gin french kiss, vodka fondling’. Thind asserts herself as a feminist in her introduction, and this poem seems to speak of a patriarchy that is rooted in colonialism and white supremacy, as she states, ‘they want us to be milky and mute, / a spectral ghost’. In ‘Mumbling Mamaji’, she also touches on marital rape, with the saris described as ‘scarlet and heavy’, and the ‘delicate tracery of necklaces’ hinting at a kind of metaphorical subtle strangulation.
She draws links between humanity, nature and the universe like mapping star constellations
There are many poems in this collection that are celestial, with repeated references to glittering stars and shining moons. She is able to use these elements in a variety of ways, creating a sense of connection rather than repetition, with ‘a sun unscathed rewires the sky with glittered beam,’ ‘a nebula wet glittered’, and ‘frost in its edgy glitter’. Yet, we are brought back down to earth with a ‘glittering menace’.
Thind is currently battling ovarian cancer again, having previously recovered. In this collection, she deals with her experience of the illness and the treatment process: ‘drugs and dusk light, cloud colours’. She describes ‘nodes inscribed on the bones of my ancestors’ as ‘moonlight soaks up my longevity’, linking with the historic feminine association with the moon. This connection with nature is then cemented in Thind’s final poem, wherein she longs to be a sea creature. She describes the neon colours of bio-luminescent jellyfish as ‘craters of watery moonbeams, / fermenting sea soaked elementals, water gods disfiguring their oceans.’ She draws links between humanity, nature and the universe like mapping star constellations:
‘Embryonic and heavenly, these fish bones,
these dreamy textures and mermaids meandering, prismatic light in the howling water.’
By the end of the collection, we have been on a long journey, yet we have been carried through it so naturally, that this end point offers a sense of peace, acceptance and reflection.
Featured image credit: Sunita Thind / Black Pear Press
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.