Dharma Rasa


108 pages
ISBN 0-88971-170-4
DDC C811'.54






Reviewed by Beryl Baigent

Beryl Baigent is a poet; her published collections include Absorbing the
Dark, Hiraeth: In Search of Celtic Origins, Triptych: Virgins, Victims,
Votives, and Mystic Animals.


Kuldip Gill, a Punjabi Sikh poet, explains that “rasa theory, part of
Indian genre theory and Sanskritic poetics, describes an elaborate
typology of nine basic emotions, each of which can be identified as the
reigning tone of a work.” Gill has successfully employed the rasas as
an organizational device in her first book of poems. Nine sections are
gathered under the headings Eros, Sorrow, Wonder, Fury, The gruesome,
The heroic, The timorous, Serenity, and The comic. Part II contains a
group of five poems in the tradition of the Persian/Urdu ghazal.

Gill’s poems are both personal and national. She writes about
particular incidents but also about the customs and life style of the
Punjabi people in India and Canada. “Love Letters, Canada to India,
1930s” charts her father’s love and longing for her mother, while he
is “Chained to pulling green lumber all night” and she waits
“across / the kala pani” (black ocean) that traditionally Indians
are enjoined “not to cross.” Linking the countries in “Eros,”
Gill combines the mudras and symbolic gestures of the Kathakali
classical dancer with the “sweeping turn” of a native killdeer in
her British Columbia home.

The poems are essentially narrative, and Gill frequently uses a lyrical
device that lists descriptive phrases, thus enhancing the image
threefold. For example, speaking about her father’s letters, she asks:
“do they still a heart, / hug a body, / wrap themselves around you?”
In giving the impression she hopes to leave upon her death, she
suggests: “She lived within and outside, never complete, /a work

Gripping eastern images pervade the poems. During a month’s
quarantine in Hong Kong, as an immigrating child, she “watched two
men, twins, joined at the chest / roll along the ground, each pushing /
over the other with the momentum of arms.” Gill relishes the revelry
that the “Kerela rains” bring, and expresses her fury at the teacher
in “Queensborough 1940” who sent home the Sikh boy because his hair
was greased with “attar of roses and almonds.”

In “The gruesome,” the reader learns about the “midwife’s
neglected charge” when the first child is only a girl; about the
four-year-old Kashmiri carpet weaver’s son who follows his father’s
code to “pick up string, knot, cut / a thousand strings a day”; and
about the young village girl with “skin like the moon” whose
“grizzled, hoary” husband “drowned her one night, / in the
Fraser,” because she took away his izzat (code of family honor and
moral standing) by looking at a gubhr (a fine young man).

This book will doubtlessly gain maximum readership among the Sikh
community. Additionally, it contains history, customs, and traditions of
Asian immigrants, and specifically of immigrant women, with which many
non-Indians will also identify. As the text contains numerous Punjabi
words it would have been more conductive to continuous reading if the
translations were listed as footnotes rather than as an end glossary.
Dr. Gill’s desire to record the experiences of her family and ethnic
group is admirable, and her stories needed to be told.



Gill, Kuldip., “Dharma Rasa,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8457.