Nostalgia and longing in Jim Kasom’s poetry

Cradling Memories of My Land, 80 pp, INR 299, Red River.

‘Cradling Memories of My Land’ is the volume of 79 poems by Jim Wungramyao Kasom published by Red River. Jim and his brother Themreichan are beautifully creative. Themreichan’s artistic work can be found on Instagram and some of them appear in Jim’s book. What an enviable combination. Jim is a sensitive photographer and samples of his pictures are on social media. I would say Jim takes very poetic pictures. Many of his photos are about capturing a certain mood; they are not so much about the picture postcard category. And now to the poems.

‘I am always leaving, even in my arrival.
I am a believer in second homes;
Yet nativity always being the first love.’
(Temporary Leaving for a Final Arrival)

The longing for home when away from home, and a homesickness that doesn’t leave even when he has arrived – Jim voices this feeling succinctly in the first poem. It will reappear in the poems that follow. It is a refrain that many others will concur with: 

‘Dying anywhere but home is
The loneliest of thoughts.’
(Temporary Leaving for a Final Arrival)

It is the angst that those who leave home carry like a shared secret. From that beginning, the book offers bittersweet poems that celebrate the homely, earthy beauty of home, the wisdom that is found only in the hearths of home and all the rituals that are components of what we know as home. Name giving is one such ritual and these lines of Jim will be immortalised as more and more readers come to relate with it:

‘My name is a jigsaw piece
In my family’s unwritten history,
Along with my parents and siblings, each
Like a chapter in a book,
Some ancient, some recent.’
‘A Bus ride to Freedom’ hints at the ever-present military oppression in the hills. 
‘We had to drop every conversation
When there was an announcement
Over the megaphone,
Waiting, wishing it was not news big enough
To turn our lives upside down.’ 

This also is home, a life lived with caution and compliance to sudden curfews, and things that follow curfews, the unnamed things. Yet so much is packed into that poem to convey the guilt of those who leave home, be it for a worthy purpose, to study, to work, to survive.

But he does not linger in that space for long. The book lifts up and gives us unforgettable lines like these:

I’m a hunter
I’m a listener.
When I hear a mountain deer bark
I stop sharpening my spear
And keep it for another day.
I can smell bad omen like rotten eggs.
I’ve learned to live with the land,
Not from the land, and sometimes
The mountain sings back to me.
(Philosophy of a mountain man)

The poems don’t need explanation and analysis. There is such a sense of home in their expressions that mountain people can get it, linger over it, return to it from a faraway home and feel bonded.

The next section of the book is called ‘ Longing.’ Tender poems of love, of parting, of longing.

‘In a different universe, I think of you
Sitting across the table and telling me stories
Of another small town in Japan.’
(Letter from a Small Town by the Sea)
‘You asked me what I loved,
I said the river, books, and faith.
You asked what made me cry
And I said movies, you laughed.
You said you didn’t cry about anything.
I should have known, I was the gambler
And you the pragmatic one.’
(Lost and Found in Transit)

The more I read Jim’s poetry, the more reluctant I grow to define it, to use a scalpel on it. I know poetry is the domain of a very few. How much are you missing out if you do not read Jim Kasom’s poems. I once said that those who do not read Jim’s poetry are impoverished. I still stand by that opinion. Treat yourself. On a rainy day, huddle under an old quilt, stay in bed, have a hot cup of tea nearby, and read Jim. It will be a lovely, lovely gift to yourself.

The sky lost its shades and innocence
Held to ransom by the rain and light as if it had a grudge;
The clouds hung low, and darkness descended.
I ran home in my Sunday school dress, thinking of God
And rapture, worried about being left behind.
When I dream of the world ending
I am always on my own, searching for familiar faces.
(On the Day the World was Ending).