Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly poem commentary feature on some of the finest haiku ever written in English. This week’s poem was
peeling layers of childhood green mango chutney — Neena Singh, Heliosparrow Poetry Journal (2020)
Radhamani Sarma views different perspectives:
Neena Singh’s one line micro poem is a veritable choice for comment for this week. Experiencing winter passing through chill with expectations of mango buds in summer, our tastebuds set for mango is one delectable matter. Another equally wholesome item is the image of green mango in the hands of poetry lovers and artists all over the world, whether in the east or west.
Now, as one line, “peeling layers of childhood green mango chutney” can be viewed from different perspectives. Treading in different layers, we have the following segments, within which the poetic image or extension of image permeates with extensive perception:
/peeling layers of childhood/
/ peeling layers of childhood green/
/green mango chutney/
Birth and growth evolve, through various stages, like those of infancy, childhood, youth, middle age, and decrepit old age that the persona or poet sees, undergoes; or perhaps he endures untold sufferings, hardships and tribulations. After all, life is not a bed of roses all of the time. Childhood is one such stage during which indelible marks of hardship are inflicted, be they hunger, slavery or incidents of ill treatment by a stepmother and stepfather, the drudgery of pulling a rickshaw for sustenance, or day labor, counting wages for a pittance. These sour childhood memories are wounds, one after another that have impinging effects upon the tender minds of children. Some children even run away from home to eke out a better living. Hence, they are “peeling layers of childhood.” If we apply our heart and soul to “peeling layers of childhood,” we gain deeper knowledge of the kernel of this coinage.
Now, in the second interpretation, “peeling layers of childhood green,” the day-to-day torments or vexations of childhood are green, vivid, in the persona’s mind. They are so green in the mind that they cannot be erased. Green, as a color, symbolizes here freshness, ever-growing, not too ripe, not too stale.
In “peeling layers of childhood green mango chutney,” “green mango” also typifies a sour taste as it is sensed in chutney. Not merely as a contrast with ripe yellow mango, green mango stands for sour taste to be swallowed. Sordid experiences are so sour that they are pulverized in green mango chutney. (Chutney is typically an Indian dish or side dish in which ingredients like coriander and green chilies are added). Taken in totality, both childhood and peeling layers, as depicted in descriptive terms, have so much inlaid in them; thus, the image of green mango chutney is born.
Pravat Kumar Padhy contemplates many layers:
It has been a moment of delight reading this monoku by Neena Singh. I take it as a prized occasion when I introduced the art of monoku to her and encouraged her to send it to Heliosparrow Poetry Journal.
The monoku “peeling layers of childhood green mango chutney” indeed unfolds the ephemeral beauty and gentle nuances of poetic expression with lyrical utterance. It is a combination of 12 syllables. Structurally, the use of a gerund (peeling) in a monoku has been nicely crafted. Technically, it is embedded with the basic aesthetic elements of seasonal reference, poetic sincerity (fuga no makoto), and the honesty of haiku writing. There is an element of subtle juxtaposition (syntactic pivot) here in this monoku. The monoku is a classic style of one-breath expression characterized by its own fragment and phrase. It has the ingredients of lightness (karumi), creativeness (zoko), and elegance (fuga). There is a subtle pause or silence between “peeling layers of childhood” and “green mango chutney.” The silence (ma) in between portrays the magical shift of images and creates a literary vibration amongst the readers to ponder the philosophical inkling with the word-phrase (peeling layers of childhood) followed by a spurt of humor in “mango chutney.” I feel there is unexpectedness (atarashimi) and drifting mood (nioi) in the expression that render a magical touch to this monoku. It explores the enlightened (satori) nature of childhood in its manifestation of simplicity (iki).
The concise crafting of the poem embodies a sense of activity, such as the visualization of childhood followed by the depiction of colour and taste. In the end, it makes the reader go back to re-read and rekindle their ecstatic memories.
Mango is regarded as an auspicious fruit in India. Popularly, it is known as the “king of fruits.” It symbolizes prosperity, happiness, love, and fertility. Neena tries to image a sense of happiness through the image of “mango.” The references of mango fruit and mango leaves have been cited in ancient Hindu scriptures. There have been references to sacredness about the mango tree in Buddhism and Jainism. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore often symbolized the king of fruits in his poems.
Peeling of the raw mango summer season is widely seen in everyone’s kitchen across India. It is a moment of joy to be holding a mango, peeling its skin with smiles pouring over its fragrance, and sparkling eyes absorbing the aromatic taste of it. Sitting at the corner, surrounded by grandchildren, the grandma peels green mangoes for chutney and pickles — a soothing image that lingers on for ages together in rural villages. Mango chutney is a favorite item in Indian cuisine. The infusion of Indian-ness has been explored by the use of the word “chutney,” derived from the Hindi language. Neena is apt enough to catch that moment, and her spontaneity avidly sketches a quintessential and succinct image in the form of the monoku.
There is also an element of the psychoanalytic angle in the interpretation of this monoku. There lies an interesting philosophical and psychological symbiosis with peerless childhood. The readers start analyzing the beautiful childhood days and imbibe to remain in the realm of exultancy. Indeed, childhood is beyond the boundary of space and time, though we define it in terms of biological age. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, and his connection between aion (time), pais (child), and basileia (kingdom) demonstrate the philosophy of childhood urge, enthusiasm, and vigorousness. The fragment “peeling the layers of childhood” unifies the reader’s soul with an abyssal sense of love, affection, and divinity. The poem tries to unfold the zen-feeling of the early sunlit waves that one experiences during childhood. In this monoku, the childhood images the cognitive impression of the smile of a tender flower, the softness of snow, tenderness of a feather, and the rainbow of joy. Rightly so, John Betjeman says, “Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.”
Interestingly, the use of “green mango” refers to the tenderness of the timespan, much before ripening, and broadly it juxtaposes the childhood age. The flavor of green chutney correlates with the joyfulness of childhood days. Neena artfully uses mango chutney as a subtle poetic metaphor portraying the essence of haiku of the touchingness of things (mono no aware) and touchningness of life (yo no aware). The art of juxtaposition in this haiku is an exploration of reasoning and a poetic logic that resides in one’s imagism and in T. S. Eliot’s term, expressed as the “objective correlative.”
I wish to quote Jacob Salzer: “I find that haiku reminds us to use caution with our words, and also helps us realize the value of a single word. In terms of ‘economy of language,’ one-line haiku makes full use of very few words, even more so than three-line haiku. The depth and layers of a single word often really comes alive in one-line haiku, as it’s presented in a refined format, making familiar words both fresh and insightful…”
Unquestionably, Neena has gifted the essence of poetry to the readers through her beautiful creation.
As this week’s winner, Pravat gets to choose next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. We will select out-takes from the best of these. And the very best will be reproduced in its entirety and take its place as part of the THF Archives. Best of all, the winning commentator gets to choose the next poem for commentary.
Anyone can participate. A new poem will appear each Friday morning. Simply put your commentary in the Contact box by the following Tuesday midnight (Eastern US Time Zone). Please use the subject header “re:Virals” so we know what we’re looking at. We look forward to seeing some of your favorite poems — and finding out why!
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new year morning — knee deep in the snow left by last year — Arvinder Kaur, The Mainichi Daily (2021)