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Book Review
Dear Mama: An Immigrant's Secret Cry

Shailja Sharma’s poetry collection entitled ‘Dear Mama: An Immigrant’s Secret Cry’ is a collection that tugs at your heartstrings. Although a sense of loss and dislocation pervades most of the poems, the book does not end on a note of pain and sorrow. It ends on a positive and optimistic note of regeneration, with a belief that ‘I am the morning that takes birth after a night’s labour of pain.’ The Wise Owl Team reviews the book

A Collection that pulls at your heartstrings

Describing an immigrant’s plight, Jhumpa Lahiri in her novel, ‘The Namesake’ says, ‘It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life, only to discover that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding.’ A lot has been said about the immigrant’s predicament in literature, by well-known as well as little known writers and poets.  Shailja Sharma’s poetry collection entitled ‘Dear Mama: An Immigrant’s Secret Cry’ is another addition to this sea of immigrant literature. A reader would be forgiven for putting this collection aside as being an oft-enunciated thread.  And yet this small collection of 18 short, simple and sensitive poems, grabs you by the throat and leaves you tear-drenched.

The first poem of the collection ‘I am a different person Today’ expresses the pain of separation from the homeland and from family. Missing a mother’s love and affection, the poet regrets the fact that she never told her mother how much she missed her.  With a sense of quiet grief she says, ‘I missed telling you how much I missed you.’  This sense of loss and dislocation is also strong in her poem ‘The Rain’ where she says, ‘there used to be a wall, with a hook that anchors my belongings.’ The loss of her grandmother exacerbates her sense of separation and parting with all that was good and nice in her life and her childhood, which was full of the colours of Holi, the paternal harmonium, the pickle jars, the steaming pressure-cooker, the rusted table fan, the fragrance of sandalwood et al. In ‘The Silhouette’ she laments the loss with ‘when you were gone, one corner of my square broke forever.’ The ‘rusted memories’ may not be ‘worth a dime’ but they mean the world to the poet. She revels in the memory of the ‘branchy mango tree’ with ‘its braided hair’ and the street with its ‘gravelled face’ glowing in the ‘sun’s sweet heat.’ TS Eliot’s Prufrock may have talked of having measured his life ‘with coffee spoons’ but the poet’s life is measured ‘in flights between international airports’, as she shuttles between her old and new worlds.

Although a sense of loss and dislocation pervades most of the poems, the book does not end on a note of pain and sorrow. It ends on a positive and optimistic note of regeneration, with a belief that ‘I am the morning that takes birth after a night’s labour of pain.’  There is a sense of acceptance of the past which will stay with her like the memory of her brother’s toy car, and yet there is an embracing of the differences of a new world and the future in a new country. The beginning decries the fact that she is ‘like a fish in a bowl’ and ‘away from its ocean’ but the end accepts that ‘from Ganges to Mississippi my reflection was the same.’ The poetry collection ends with a clarion call of ‘your time has come.’ ‘Hold your Deepak flaunt your sari’ seems to take pride in her Indian roots and the sense of alienation from her roots diminishes and disappears.  Shailja Sharma sets her poetry apart from other works of this genre in that although her collection begins on a note of despondent, dislocated bleakness, common to immigrant literature, it emerges into the sunshine when it dismisses the sense of foreignness and alienation. A collection that tugs at your heartstrings.

 
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About the Author

Shailja Sharma (Ph.D.) USA, is a mental health provider and a multilingual author.  Apart from scholarly publications, her literary writings have been nationally/internationally published. Her upcoming work is 'Sip the Roses.' Her works have been published in various anthologies/projects.  She has received Literary honors for her writings in Hindi/Punjabi.