Continuing the Pakistan-Scotland connection, The Terrorist at My Table is a collection of poetry from Imtiaz Dharker, born in Lahore and raised in Glasgow. The illustrations, including the cover art above, are also by Dharker - beautiful ink line drawings, sometimes incorporating strips of provocative newsprint, which are lovely to look at in themselves but don’t often feel relevant to the poetry.
When did a handful of mud
turn to god?
When did sod
turn to promised land?
(from ‘Mine. Yours.’)
While some individual poems seem simplistic, it’s possible when viewing the collection as a whole to perceive the shifting points of view, multiplicity of layers, and complex perspectives that Dharker is apparently aiming to capture. The whole is divided into three parts, and it is particularly in the first part that certain poems, despite the moving and insightful nature of their content, are somehow too straightforward and therefore not satisfying to read. For me at least, her real talent lies in the way she can convey the sheer vitality of a single moment, which could in fact be any number of moments, through a minutely observed detail, such as the appearance of the girl in ‘Red ribbons’.
The latter poems are more rewarding and interesting, especially the sequence at the beginning of the third part, where the last line of each poem is linked to the first line of the next to achieve a relentless drive forward akin to that of the rickshaw, which symbolises the proverbial rollercoaster of life. This reminds me of the time Tanvi and I wanted to make a calendar with a bizarre rickshaw-wallah experience for each month…
Mad rickshaw driver, my life
in his hands, his hands
a gorilla’s steering us through
the markets at Mulund,
Malad and Kandivali, Khar
and Borivali to Bandra Bandstand.
Phut phuting fast forward
in spite of his bulk, floor
bucking, doorless, Bajaj autorickshaw,
on three crazy wheels
tuk tuking along to a dhinchak song,
and the horn, the horn.
(from ‘Rickshaw rider’)
And I totally just claimed ‘007’!!