BlueRose Publishers (October 2019)
Soft Cover Rs. 149/- (78 pp)
Wild Hearts, a collection of 47 poems, takes us into the recesses of Somte Ralte’s mind as she explores the multifaceted world of a young girl growing up in Northeast India. Using language that is simple and “near to the real language” used in everyday life, she addresses issues that have bearings on the lives of youths desiring and struggling to add meanings to their lives. This collection is deeply rooted in the poet’s own experiences as she talks about religion, romance, friendship, society, mental health and herself. The first poem in the book, dedicated to the city of “eternal romance”, is a reminder of how places and lived experiences shape people and their worldviews. That Somte Ralte pays affectionate homage to the city that was home to her for almost a decade during her school and college days is no surprise as she compares it to a “fairy godmother” -
I am so much of you
Made by your caresses
Moulded by your touch
Softened by your sights.
It becomes rather apparent, as we turn the pages of this collection, that Somte Ralte feels deeply and is acutely aware of what transpires around her; she finds inspiration in what might be considered trivial and in significant by some. She finds beauty in places where it is least expected, and solace in inconvenient spaces. And yet, where the rest flock to for redemption, she finds faults as is discernable in her poems like “Back, to Back”. For someone born into a community where Christianity is as much a way of life as it is a faith, to suggest that the church and its members may not be doing enough to follow in the footsteps of the “Master” demands courage and conviction. Somte Ralte seems to lack neither as she muses –
But pulpit -thumpings and gospel dances
Have not illuminated nor
Mended hearts that seek merely
acceptance and not judgments.
This poem echoes her fears that the gospel would be used as an instrument for exclusion – of the unlovable, the outcasts, the have-nots and the weary. Though in some of her writings she comes across as optimistic and even playful in her perception of the world, it is evident that she has questions that weigh heavily on her. Her poem “In This Part of Heaven” asks –
We talk unending, of education –
Its illumination and broadening of young minds
But why is it, my love
That they can’t stand an illuminated mind?
She takes no pain to conceal her frustration at the perceived lack of willingness to explore beyond restrictive conventions and traditional ideals. Perhaps it is because she realises how lonesome the world is, for those who find themselves on the periphery of the society, voiceless and unheard, that she tries to reach out to them through her art. Many of her poems are ripe with the intention to uplift and empower as she encourages the silenced to speak up and tell their stories. She promises to listen and stay, for as long as it takes. The poet seems to take on the role of a shoulder to cry on for her readers, as she constantly positions herself among those whose lives had been “broken and torn” but also “mended and repaired”. The importance of self love and self acceptance, and the cruciality of taking care of one’s mental health is a recurring theme in her poems.
Somte Ralte also explores the burdens that come with belonging to a minority community in a country with diverse cultures. In her poem “What’s in a Name Anyway?”, she explains why she chose to be “Somte” as a teenager studying outside her home state –
All you wanted was to fit in among
Peers who were prone to dismiss you.
Your name was prone to misspelling
“Sawmi” as “Swami” –
And each syllable of your name
Pronounced to bear different meanings:
“Laal” for the colour red
“Maal” for an article, but has sexual connotations
“Swami” for addressing the yogi or the husband.
Several of Somte Ralte’s poems are confessional; she bares her heart out and exposes herself as a hopeless romantic. Words, once they are uttered, hold special places in her heart and she cherishes them as much as she values memories of past relationships and encounters with people she keeps close to her heart. For her, perfection is easy to find. All her cares and worries vanish when she is in the company of people she adores, regardless of where they are –
It was perfect, just you and i
With no care in the world
There was that look in your eyes
That something only i could see
But alas, perfect afternoons do not always last! Like the “flighting sunset’, times spent with loved ones come to an end all too soon. But the poet remains hopeful that she will be remembered the same way she remembers –
...brevity does not
Necessarily curtail longevity;
And I hope from now on, in every sunset
You will have me in your heart.
To read Somte Ralte’s poems is to discover her and her idiosyncratic passion for life. Her poems usher us through varied moods and emotions. As her readers, we share her victories and happiness as well as her loss and her pain as she actively engages with us in her colloquial tone. She writes the same way she chooses to live, refusing to be dictated by rules and duties. Her verses and her spirit are free – unabashed, unhindered, unafraid. She creates her own world wherein she resists normative expectations –
But I am a free spirit,
Too large to contain in a casket
Too heavy to carry by a calculative heart
Too light to weigh on a prejudiced scale.