Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meeting a Poet

Last week, I met the awesome Mona Zote, heir apparent to TS Eliot and all other elite poetic giants that I haven't even heard of yet :) Ever since I'd started my Mizo lit blog slightly over a year ago, I'd been in touch with her over the phone and email but despite living in what she once termed a one hoss town, we'd never met. I'd asked around, heard she was the daughter of a former IAS officer, worked, peculiarly enough, at the Income Tax dept, was a voracious reader and something of a social recluse. From my personal contact with her, I knew she also had a whacky sense of humour.

Last Friday, I finally had the opportunity for a face-off. I had sos-ed her for a new poetic contribution and while she was entirely sympathetic, didn't have anything new to offer just yet. She then suggested it was time we met up over tea someplace and I agreed though I must confess that the idea of meeting a mind as formidable as Ms. Zote's filled me with some trepidation. Perhaps she's clairvoyant as well because she firmly told me, "2 at David's Kitchen tomorrow and no reneging allowed!"

The next day she changed the venue to Silvermoon because they had "nicer momos." I got there a little late after first shopping for off-white curtain linings. As I made it up the steps and into the restaurant, slightly out of breath, I looked around for someone I'd never seen and had no idea how to picture. At one table, there were a couple of girly-looking boys and at another, a lone young woman busy tucking into her food. As I wondered if she'd reneged on me, the young woman raised her head and waved. And the rest, as they say, is history :)

I hadn't been too sure what to expect but Mona definitely isn't some head-in-the-sand or la-di-dah egghead. Yes, she's deeply into highly esoteric stuff, be it in lit or movies or the arts in general, and that ease with the intricate and abstruse explains her complex poetry. But she's also as into everyday stuff as you and me besides being wonderfully polite and well-bred. She loves tea and smokes like a chimney too. Yes, I had sensed that Ernestina, the "woman of the hills" who sat "pulling on one thin cigarillo after another" while lifting "her teacup in friendly greeting to the hills" was her.

Remarkably, there is actually another writer from the Northeast who reminds me a great deal of Mona. Mamang Dai is from Arunachal Pradesh but like Mona, she also writes from a world view, adeptly and skillfully fusing the ethnic, the universal and the personal into a highly individualised whole. While I haven't read much of Dai yet, here are pieces from her poem The Voice of the Mountain,

I am the desert and the rain.
The wild bird that sits in the west.
The past that recreates itself
and particles of life that clutch and cling
For thousands of years –
I know, I know these things
as rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace,
about clouds, and sudden rain;
as I know a cloud is a cloud is a cloud,
A cloud is this uncertain pulse
that sits over my heart....

...I am the breath that opens the mouth of the canyon,
the sunlight on the tips of trees;
There, where the narrow gorge hastens the wind
I am the place where memory escapes
the myth of time,
I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

The best thing about these two deeply complex, highly creative women poets is not just that they're both from the Northeast but that they're personal friends. To Mona and Ms. Dai, may their tribe increase.

P.S. None of the above, the writing or the picture, either in part or in whole, may be reproduced anywhere, either in print or on the web, without my express permission.


  1. Congrats, you managed to corner our own reclusive poet! So proud of her...glad you two hit it off! Betcha next time you'll get to sample her "AA-BAI" it's delicious :P

  2. DDB, it was her treat actually. But it was great getting to meet her at last, and the aa-bai sampling may not be too far away :D

  3. Momos are not my thing.....actually detest the stuff and the stuffings but if she loves tea I am already beginning to like her even though I have not read any of her poems.

    Great stuff here. Lovely poem too. Truly divine! Empyrean sublimity!! Ah.......some people have all the luck meeting great poets and writers over lunch.

    This post reminds me to pour over Du Fu or Li Bai's poetry and forget the daily trials and tribulations. For a moment at least.

    The mist appears
    as if woven with all the woods
    against the cold mountains
    stretching into a belt
    of sorrowful green.
    Dusk enters the tower,
    where one is worrying,
    standing long and still,
    on the marble steps,
    in vain watching
    the bird fly back home.
    Where is the end of the journey?
    Nothing but those pavillions,
    far and near for the traveller.

    - Li Bai

    Z thanks for this uplifiting post.

  4. So glad you met Mona, though i'd think you two would've met long ago. Mona's not just highly talented, she's a lot of fun to be with. She seems to have a reputation for being reclusive; well, may be it's understandable. And Mamang, i guess, is quite Mona's kind, though i only met her, didn't get to talk as such.

  5. mesjay, so glad to have you back. You've been sorely missed. Yeah I'd heard of Mona way back in the 90s. An old university classmate working at Gangtok College had asked me about her but our paths just didn't mesh, I guess. Yep, I can tell she's a bag of fun. Like when I told her not to kill me but I'd blogged about her she said she was coming for me with a bazooka! Then she settled for a cup of coffee :)

  6. Loch, you can read Mona's poems by following the link on the right of this page which says On The House - Mizo Writing in English. Once you get there, just click on the Poetry link. Or to get to Mona's pièce de résistance What Poetry Means to Ernestina in Peril even more easily, just click on the name Ernestina in my post. I linked the poem there.

    That's a lovely snatch of poetry you reproduced. I'm not very familiar with Oriental poetry. You must tell me more about it sometime.

  7. Thanks for the link. Nice! Very nice indeed. Will go over "What Poetry Means to Ernestina in Peril" a few more times to really imbibe the emotions behind it. Others too of course.

    I do hope you get a chance to check out the East Asian poetry too. They are very beautiful. Specially some of the classical ones. You will like them.

  8. I've never really been into poetry but reading 'What Poetry Means to Ernestina in Peril' really brings out the goose pimples - its like reading one of the great classical poets - meaning one (meaning moi) does not really understand what its all about but one senses that one is reading something great. Real genius at work here. May her tribe increase. Thanks for a great post.

  9. You do that, Loch, but you might want to be forewarned that Mona's poetry like much postmodern poetry isn't so much about emotions per se as about impressions, imagery and the suggestion of ideas rather than the bland statement of them.

    I do occasionally read some Japanese poetry. In fact, just been reading up on Jūkichi Yagi, a sickly 19th century Japanese Christian. Pretty interesting that in itself.

  10. Plats, I'd have thought that since you go to my Mizo lit blog often, you'd have combed through Mona's offerings there long ago! Like I've just told Loch above, contemporary poetry is pretty much about nuances and suggestions than anything else (like abstract art) so if you sense that you're reading great stuff, it usually is. That's one way I read contemporary poetry anyway :D

  11. A nuam awm ve o.Mizo chhuanawm tak te cc hriat hi nuam ka tih zawng tak a ni

  12. Ni e, mahni field a chhuanawm tak tak hi kan lo awm nual reng bawk a

  13. i hope i can post this time round..ever since it got "very" complicated (for me at least) i just read your stuffs and then leave feeling bad cuz i cant leave a comment..:))mona zote...i love her poems.....and i love you zualte for the work you are doing..bringing in works of these talents for us to read..must be a thankless task at know i met a man recently at a party,who served as an SDO in lunglei in 1965 or 66...and he had a lot of stories to tell..i think he is a punjabi?? and his wife too who is a retired IFS officer they were one of the most interesting couple i ever met and they knew mizoram so well and had such fond memories even of the MNF when they were still underground!!!! their kids used to have a mizo iyah and apparently used to cal their mom "vainu"!!! i think they would love to read your story teller and maybe tehy could contribute too...life10 here

  14. huiz i had to open my gmail account solely for this..password ka lo theihnghilh tawh zui took me almost a good one hour to FINALLY post a comment hhehehe

  15. Hey Jes, great to have you back round here. I'm so sorry it's gotten complicated to leave a comment but there's a lot of spammers around and I also hate anonymous comments. I mean it's just so rude, y'know.

    The family you met sound fascinating. Yep, I bet they have lots of good stories to tell. You go tell them about the Mizo stories heritage site. In fact, you should print a card with the site url and hand them out at all those parties you go off to. That would create a lot of interest :D Seriously, great to hear from you again. You stay happy.