Of books and journeys and an atlas that shrinks at the touch

At Tallinn’s Lennart Meri Airport, Estonian bookseller Rahva Raamat has a little nook where you can pick up a book to read as you wait for your flight, take a book with you that you can bring back later from your travels or leave a book for others to read. Browsing their shelves I found a signed copy of ‘In defence of the cherries’ – poems by Peter Sragher and Claus Ankersen. I’d never heard of either of them, but sometimes a book gives you that long look, insisting it has something inside – just for you. A faint tingle of anticipation for the known unknown. A biting of the lip. A narrowing of the eye. There is no resisting that invocation.

So two things happened.

One, I couldn’t just take the book, even with the honest intention of finding a way to send it back to Tallinn at some point. So I left a copy of ‘Water to Water’ on the shelf, hoping my poems would find their own readers and their own journey. After all, that’s how poetry should happen to you – accidentally, without warning, just filling the space between your hands with something so intensely personal that you wouldn’t have even dared to acknowledge you needed.

And then, as I do with poetry books, I settled down and opened a page at random. The poem was titled: Farmer Poem on ‘The Ethos of Place’ and poetic nomadicity*.  My eyes followed the asterisk to the bottom of the page:
* This poem was written in India.
Now, this book is bilingual, published in Romania. I was in Tallinn, after a drive through the Baltics. The arc of poetry was bending towards my physical being in ways I still could not imagine.

So I read the poem, a rather long poem, that talks about “how nomads and poets always yearn/ for a belonging they can not embrace and rarely fathom/” I shivered. Yes. But the next page had more: “Did I tell you that/ one night in Bangalore, after a festival, all left to my own/ whorish worldly dances/ I took an auto to Koshy’s*, had vegetable curry, a paratha,/ fried fish and beer/ and among all the nomads and waiters dressed in white/ I faced my Karma Bhoomi:/ I am a wandering wordsmith/ as fleeing as the wind.” I didn’t need to follow the asterisk this time. I knew the place, the waiters’ uniform, the taste of that food, the trouble with wandering and words. And home. I have been there. Often. Coincidence is a probability. Strange is a constraint of knowledge. Koshy’s is an old restaurant in downtown Bangalore.

everything is connected
sometimes you are the dot, sometimes the space, sometimes the line
even your denial means something in another language

42 thoughts on “Of books and journeys and an atlas that shrinks at the touch

  1. Whether it be new places, new people, new language, new books or even new food one of the delights in travelling is in discovering not only new things but the new person you become by dong so.

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  2. I love everything about this post – and especially enjoyed envisioning the scene in the restaurant. The poem is perfection.

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  3. I adore roadside “liabrarys” and that random book that finds its way into my hands… I adore this sharing and that you will be inspired by it and we will benefit from it!

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  4. A world so large, and yet so small to be linked in whatever language by the power of thought. I enjoyed your book adventure and I hope the fitting person has not only read, but shared your book.

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  5. Bravo! So much to celebrate in this post. These moments of serendipity are my favourite pointers to the connection that runs through everything and everyone. Thank you for sharing this!

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  6. This is so moving! ❤️ I completely agree with “sometimes a book gives you that long look, insisting it has something inside – just for you. A faint tingle of anticipation for the known unknown. A biting of the lip. A narrowing of the eye. There is no resisting that invocation.” 🙂

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  7. What a wonderful connection… and knowing that you were there on the other side of the Baltic Sea… a ferry away finding your home in the book at the airport. I have been thinking of setting up a garden nook for books in my garden just to see how the books might be travelling. Leaving your own book was such a perfect thing to do.

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  8. I loved reading about your experience. Yes, somehow it seems that when one takes time to contemplate that everything IS connected. We are some part of the big picture, some part of the connection. And what a coincidence that the poet had been in a place very familiar to you. Such a small world, this world of poetry. I wonder if you tried to write to this poet..in this time of connections, there must be a way! I wish you all the best with your poetry. You are so very talented.

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    1. Thanks so much, Mary. It would be nice to let the poet know- perhaps, he might find it interesting too!! I’m posting some more thoughts from my recent trip on my blog, do stop by when you get a chance!

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  9. Everything is connected. And even if random it somehow seems destined. I like how “you” becomes not just the meaning but the structure of writing as well. The dot, the space, and the line. And how language can change what is understood and/or implied.

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  10. Welcome back, Rajani, I’m so pleased to see you at the Poetry Pantry! What a wonderful title with the ‘atlas that shrinks at the touch’, and the book nook at the airport – every airport and station should have one. I love the way you describe being drawn to a book with a ‘long look, insisting it has something inside – just for you’ – I’ve experienced that too. And what a good idea to swap the book with a copy of your own – and setting your poems free to be read by other travellers! I also love the magical coincidence of that poem, the dot, the space and the line.

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    1. Thanks so much, Kim. I so agree… every airport and station needs a book nook! Was so pleased to find that book and especially that poem – I’m now carrying around a fresh copy of my book, just in case, but perhaps, that’s not the way these things work!

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  11. This connection thing happens to me too often to be a coincidence. I know it’s not random but I don’t know the purpose of all this interconnectedness and why it happens to me and not to others I know.

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  12. Ah, yes, the magic of adventuring, following our hearts, getting out of our comfort zones. Interesting that the last piece you posted was about “doorways.”

    Wishing you wonderful travels!

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