Book Review: La Magie de Madagascar| The Magic of Madagascar by Abhay K.

September 07, 2021 12:58 PM

Bilingual edition, Translated into French by Prof. Madhuri Mukherjee and Katia Novet Saint-Lôt, Éditions L’Harmattan, Paris, 2021, Pages. 144

The Magic of MadagascarUsing deceptively simple words, Abhay K. manages to capture the many spiritual essences ("fanahy") of Madagascar, of its fauna and flora.

By Mialy Andriamanjara, 

“Madagascar has made me a haijin”, writes Abhay K. How delighted I am that Abhay K., prolific poet of ten collections of poetry, Pushcart Prize nominee, polyglot, translator and India’s ambassador to my country, Madagascar, chose the haiku form to celebrate the motherland of baobabs, of lemurs, of red fodies, fossas and traveler’s palms. Even though Madagascar and the Japanese haiku might not at first glance seem to be the most natural pairing, as a poetry form that distills words to wonder and connect with nature, raising emotions to the reader in the immediate moment, haiku echoes some of the Malagasy philosophy of yore : our ancestors yearned for coexistence with animals and plants, seasons dictated our pace of life, and our conception of time was such that the future came up from behind us to meet up with us in the present (most other cultures see their future firmly in front of them!), haiku isn’t such an implausible choice, but more of a brilliant one!

Using deceptively simple words, Abhay K. manages to capture the many spiritual essences (“fanahy”) of Madagascar, of its fauna and flora. I was touched by the poet’s empathy with nature and his keen and loving observations of its many actors.

For the nostalgic emigrant that I am, reading each haiku was like opening a bottle of memories and getting myself transported back to a specific Malagasy decor and time, each haiku became a whiff of remembrance. When Abhay K. writes,

“des jacarandas pourpres

partout fleurissent

où es-tu ?”

“purple Jacaranda

blossoming everywhere

where are you?”

it becomes a personal appeal, as words fill me with gratitude, nostalgia and excitement that an Indian poet, with the use of Japanese poetry form, manages to showcase the unique Malagasy atmosphere, with its endangered species, sounds of cicadas, and purple jacarandas taking center stage. As the words elegantly drop, the poet stays true to the brevity of the form, and my imagination feverishly fills in the blank. Jacarandas auspiciously signal the arrival of the rainy season in this Southern island, like brown and red leaves signify autumn’s appearance to Northern American skies. My feet crush jacaranda petals, stubborn cicadas pierce my ears and the smell of the earth invades my nostrils. A riot of purple, of annoying insects’ mating songs, of penetrating petrichor aroma : the colors, sounds and smells of a Malagasy childhood. I keep waiting for the counterpoints, with echoes of the usual condescending foreign voices fresh in my mind when it comes to many problems Madagascar has to contend with. But although the animals might look lonely or sad, either at the zoo or in a decimated forest, the poems resolutely focus on the island’s beauty, its scents, sounds and sights, and the problems never interfere.

The translation into French, Madagascar’s second official language, done by Professor Madhuri Mukherjee, William Patterson University, USA and writer and translator Katia Novet Saint-Lôt, France, successfully manages to keep the delicate touch of Abhay K. alive and appealing to our senses, while transporting and playing the sound of the poems in a different language, and allowing a renewed discovery of the country of my birth from afar.

“les bras étendus

en prière

arbre du voyageur”

“stretching its arms

in prayer

a traveller’s palm”

(The reviewer is a writer and publisher from Madagascar, currently based in Washington D.C. She writes in three languages-Malagasy, French and English. Her short stories have been published by Sable London and Picador Africa. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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