To everything there is a season

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiNov 05, 2014 | 18:46

To everything there is a season

There were unseasonal rains brought on by some freak weather system and suddenly my city was like a hill station, with low-hanging clouds, an intermittent drizzle and a delicious coolness to the air. We hastily brought out the razais we thought we wouldn't need for at least another couple of months and soups in the evening seemed an attractive dinner choice.


I was going to do something entirely different for this month's prompt but after those clouds dispersed and left behind them the memory of cold mornings and when the dusk fell swiftly each evening, it became clear that the seasons had turned and demanded our attention.

This is a season I love more than any other: when the overpowering scent of the alstonia flowers mingles with the dusty evenings, when both the nip of the early morning and the warmth of the rising sun are felt on the skin and when it almost becomes possible to taste the coldness of metal. Every sense becomes more acute and alive and summer's lethargy and stupor seem like a distant, fading nightmare.

Seasons are a catalogue of sensory detail and delight. The subcontinent's six seasons are subtle in their variations, each dominant having its minor variant - the harsh summer and the more gentle second summer - and no poet captures the sensuality of the year's variations better than  Kalidasa in Ritusamharam. The entire poem is available to read here.

Anyone who has ever experienced the first days of the monsoon knows the tumultuous romance of the rains. This is A.K. Ramanujan's translation of Cenbullapeiyaneerar's famous poem:

  • What He Said (Kuruntokai 40)
  • What could my mother be
  • to yours? What kin is my father
  • to yours anyway? And how
  • did you and I meet ever?
  •                  But in love
  • our hearts have mingled
  • like red earth and pouring rain.

In Arunava Sinha's translation of Mandakranta Sen's poem 'This July', the rains are less dramatic and more all-pervading:

  • In the mountain were you distracted
  • Your hair soaked in rain? Did young clouds
  • Garland your body with vaporised sweat
  • Falling to earth at your faintest touch?

Those of us who live in cities, with more tenuous links to the natural cycles of the seasons, have developed different methods by which we calibrate the air around us: the softening tar of high summer, the drone of generators in marketplaces and the hot pipes of air around our ankles as we skip over them; the smell of sweat and metal in the local train; the ripeness of an overflowing garbage bin; the multiplied harshness of the noonday sun reflected in glass and chrome office buildings.

In Tishani Doshi's poem 'Summer in Madras', the sense of heat is evoked not just by the brilliance of gulmohur but also by the muffled hum of the air conditioning and the humorous but stark exaggeration of the opening line:

  • Everyone in the house is dying.
  • Mother in an air-conditioned room
  • cannot hear as rivers break their dams
  • against her nerves. Father stalks verandas,
  • offering pieces of  his skin to the rows of lurid
  • gulmohars.

The seasons bring us back to our senses. We must experience them by smell and touch, by sight and sound and taste. Their expression is always in particulars and not in generalities, and each person's experience of a season is unique. If spring, for Shakespeare is joyfully boisterous - 'Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May' - for Eliot it is a much more painful thing - 'April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ memory and desire, stirring/dull roots with spring rain.'         


For this month's prompt, I'd like you to pick a season. List all the things that you like and hate about it, in individual words and phrases. Write four or five ways in which the season affects each of your five sense: things you see in that season and no other; the smells or fruits or flowers or festivals or clothes you associate with it.

(If you're a student and your seasons have more to do with your academic calendar, use those elements in your poem - a sense of a dimly lit room late at night in the weeks before the final exams is as evocative of a season as the scent of mango or neem flowers.)

Once you've made your list, add details to it; embroider the stray sensation. Find abstract nouns that go with these words. Make a list of those. Write the first draft of your poem.

Re-read the poems linked or quoted in this column and examine them for how they mesh detail with emotion or an idea. Compare them with your draft poem. Were you specific? Did you draw on your own experience and not something heard or read or watched? Did you describe a detail in the best possible words? How could you say the same thing differently?

Rework your poem until you are satisfied with it. Please keep your work under 20 lines. Send your finished poems to thesidewaysdoor@gmail.com by November 20. (Please note that I will only look at poems that are written to the prompt.)

Last updated: November 05, 2014 | 18:46
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