A central metaphor for the immigrant in America, journeying is not merely the physical movement form place to place, temple to temple, but is the act of opening oneself up to what each moment offers. Along the way, the pilgrim becomes the conduit for the voices of other people speaking form the emptiness of displacement or the fullness of having arrived. In recording the intimate and commonplace particulars of people's lives, her images mix and dissolve, recreate and replenish experience, attempting to discard divisions and create newer harmonies. Thirtha, ultimately, is this process.
Thirtha is divided into three parts -- 'In the Haze of Continents', 'Lighter than Water', and 'Thirtha'. The poet sets the reader upon her own journey moving through a time when the sense of physical displacement results in emotional inertia. This is exemplified in the first poem of the collection, The Well. To this reader, it brought the somewhat comforting realization that "journey", the real thirtha, transcends physical place and is as much a journey of the heart and mind as location.
In The Well, the poet begins with an image that is in stark contrast to the literal and figurative warmth of India:
The poem goes on to assure the reader that though there is a moment in which thoughts, words and feelings seem impenetrable, they are there, nonetheless:In the wake of fall's birds I cross Greenwich Mean, clouds and steel holding us above the thin, dotted slicing time. Heaven is cold. Snow fans out, fails to ignite words.
Stories lie in the body's well. I am the thirsty crow dropping stones into it until water rises to my cracked lips, freeing sound.
Ultimately, Thirtha moves the reader by its struggle to know oneself and the world.
For the uninitiated, the collection contains a glossary of Indian terms, but the strength of the poems are such that one will not feel necessarily compelled to consult them. Venkateswaran makes the journey one which almost anyone can relate to, as her images are at once very particular and very universal. The expression of journey lies in wait within each and every one of us, wherever we may find ourselves:
Words rise where waters weave around tip or cape; where lands shreds, where depths let go of trees, only shallows here to wash our feet before entering silence.
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