An Afternoon in My Mind by Sonnet Mondal
Reviewed by Neha R. Krishna
An Afternoon in My Mind by Sonnet Mondal is a haunting feast for the mind. In his poems, Mondal effortlessly endures the remnants of the past, and his poems are seams of memories. The book is a fine curation of the sense of solitude, solace, and longing. While deeply rooted in his personal experiences, Mondal has let each word breathe on the page. Each poem is as sensitive as the relationships he shares with his people, culture, home, and belongings.
For readers, the poems in this book, An Afternoon in My Mind, are a timeless reflection of the things that life throws at them. Mondal has the art of capturing and juxtaposing intricate images. It is striking how effortlessly his contemporary style and the transparent pool of memories engage the readers.
The earthy scent of the book hooks the readers with its pages. There are narrow-curving-road, postcards, banyan roots, streets with disappearing ends, folk songs, clay toys, Sundarbans, a mother’s village, a minor ice-cream seller and buyer, and a cafeteria fenced by old walls—to discover in this book. For the readers, Mondal has unlocked the door of his world.
The poet also sensitively narrates the old man’s death, which used to sit in a grocery shop, the Delhi riots, lockdown, and the Hathras rape incident-and overwhelms the readers with the weight of emotions, precisely guilt.
When a poet talks about death, it is a contemplative thought saturated with the virtues of society. When Mondal says, “How we die before we actually die” or “wish I could fix my grave”—it makes the reader ponder the surreal myths and virtues of life and death, indeed!
The poem “An Afternoon in My Mind” is also this book’s title. It seems like a memory dear to the poet, like a cathartic and purging experience. As a treat to your senses, that helps you gather memories in the secret boxes of your subconscious mind. We let many layers of time settle on these memories. Mondal has brushed the dust of days gone by from such memories. How elegantly he lets us peek into the details of his yesterdays like the muddy paths of the village that have trailed behind him all these years.
One of his poems that shudders me is “Timeworn”—when I pause in time and touch the words scattered in this poem. There is a sense of suffocation and urgency to come out alive from the rubble. Maybe they want one more chance to live or be with their loved ones. The way a torn piece of newspaper still flutters with the headline printed on it, it’s like asking for another life to make out of all odds.
tossed yesterday’s waste
into the waste pit.
a paper flew out.
of last month’s
like people buried
under the rubble.
The book “An Afternoon in My Mind” is a curation of memories and longings. It reveals the ability to time travel. It compels the readers to relive many childhood memories.
The poem “After My Friend’s Death” is a pool of anguish. The poetry emphasises the moments of loss and grief, but it starts with a hint of superstition.
‘The pond beside the boys’ hostel
has taken two lives in two years.’
The first two lines of this poem illustrate the superstitious thoughts that compel us to blame one thing or that one act for any of the following losses. It may or may not have set the scene for the loss, but it condemned it. Though the hostel boy dies in a road accident, the notion of a pond is tossed with perplexity. We draw connections and knot them together with the thread of our thoughts.
‘Last month, another student
who was seen sitting beside that pond
died in a road accident.
A few of us visited his parents.
The floor looked ploughed for sorrow
and the glass of water offered
was like a request to sip despair.’
Mondal’s transparent words of grief are like a glass of water; it may not weigh too much, but if you keep holding it for too long, you may feel the ache. The soreness of losing or living memory, again and again, is enigmatic.
‘I saw a few heads trying to swim up
like bubbles towards sunlight.’
These last couple of lines haunt you like there is a necessity to save them, but you are so unskilled, unequipped, and helpless to jump into the water. Later, you’re left with one thought-I should have at least tried once to save.
‘They craved to look above
the way ratites look at flying birds,
their thoughts swarming like fire-ants
over a broken nest.’
What can the arch of thoughts do when they swarm like fire ants? All you will witness is your day and night being eaten by them, and their venom seeps deep under your skin, freezing your senses with pangs.
Through his compelling poetics, Mondal artfully exposes moments of insecure grief, which is very much personal. The juxtaposed images demonstrate the comprehensive layers of feelings. Perhaps his multi-layered patterns through which memories echo are exciting and engaging.
In his poem “The Day When,” Mondal daintily crafts a melancholy muse in his poem. It’s about losing a loved one. It is about grieving with a sense of loss. He influences the reader with his reflections on many of the stories he has lived.
‘Her eyes had no tears. She just spoke
through a deep breath’
It’s raw and earthy to not be able to display the culture of grief the way the world expects. He empowers his muse with the space and freedom to be herself.
‘a breath that took me on a walk
through paddy field embankments
and old broken village lanes
to my mother’s house’
With an unusual shift in his narration, he makes our stroll through the conventional village life he has ever lived. We all carry memories of our grandmothers’ houses. He has the ability to recreate the world of the past and interweave memories.
Mondal illustrates the inclusiveness when he says, “Where I was shaped by the lady who breathed into me the will to keep breathing.” Recognizing the metaphor that influences his being, he describes, “A river carrying stories of remembrances was waiting to obscure my vision.”
Mondal leads the reader and inspires them to live intimately and look back in time more passionately.
‘some unfinished work
some unshaped plans
and some space that takes
the house back to its days’