Image of book cover for title Dreams That Spell The Light
Shoestring Press, UK; 2006
ISBN Number
978-1-904886-23-5 / 1-904886-23-X

The poems in Shringara deal with death and loss, with an awareness and acceptance of life’s grand design. The poet’s emphasis is on how to live more fully, how to live a better life. The book begins with, “Highgate Cemetery,” where she reminds us: “It is easier I confess to alter myself than the world.” It ends with the title poem, “Shringara” where she writes: “A participant in life’s carnival, I prepare for illusion.” The book deals with the death of her father, grandfather, friends and moves on to embrace the deaths of others unknown to her; in the process reminding us of John Donne’s lines, “I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Shringara in classical Indian painting and sculpture is typically represented by a woman, though it could be a man in the modern world,” says Shanta Acharya, “getting ready, putting on make-up, in front of a mirror, facing her self, her world. Preparing for life, her lover, whatever... The image evokes the erotic rasa called Shringar. That image reminds me of Shakespeare’s ‘ripeness is all.’ We all prepare, put on special clothes etc, to go to work, meet our friends, go shopping; even when we die we are ‘made up’. When we go to war, we put on special armour, though that image has not been used here. Shringara refers to all kinds of preparation we need in our lives for Life itself. Our families, friends, lovers and experiences (both the ones we have and the ones we don’t) – all shape us and make us who we are…”          

Select Poems

Farewell Ghazal
When I lie bereft, broken and dejected,
crossed by life, by the wide world rejected,

I rejoice you no longer have to face humiliation –
such is the fate of the human condition.

When darkness descends upon me, thick as fog
obliterating my view, turning my mind into bog,

I rejoice you no longer have to endure perdition –
such is the fate of the human condition.

When the slings and arrows of fortune pin me down,
leaving me to lick my wounds, blood trickling from my crown,

I rejoice you no longer have to wrestle with salvation –
such is the fate of the human condition.

When family and friends misunderstand me and each other,
grief makes children of us all, we cry and fight together,

I rejoice you no longer have to witness alienation –
such is the fate of the human condition.

When death can come in the stillness of the night,
take someone you love and you cannot even put up a fight,

I rejoice you no longer are defined by our limitation –
such is the fate of the human condition.
All through the dark, desolate night
memories of childhood kept me company,
with you steady as the flame
keeping vigil over our family.

Grief-stricken, we lay stunned
explosions of pain shattering our epicentre
like the earthquake in Gujarat devouring families.

Silently we contemplate the unfolding of our lives,
its quiet purpose in bringing us together –
father, mother, brother, sister,
the relationships knitting us through the ages.

Where do our deepest thoughts come from?
Who brings us these tidings of love?
Are we like the earth yielding to the insatiable ocean,
being moulded into something new over centuries?

As we keep vigil through the night
trusting the clay lamp to burn bright,
not flicker leaving you in confusion;
soaking its wick in ghee,
reading messages scratched on planets,
hoping all this will hasten
the ascent of your soul,
in its journey to worlds unknown –

I half-dream, though half-awake,
of you in exquisite colours,
rich hues of maroon, golden, purple,
memories quivering like fanned tails of peacocks.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes -
            Emily Dickinson

The more I try to forget the more I remember.

From now on I will accept ceremoniously
whatever thoughts come unbidden to me even in my sleep,
feelings that burst through the mists of my nervous forgetting,
memories of you that moisten my startled eyes as life’s gifts.

When I listen to your CDs of Mozart, I will let the music
fill the infinite between our two souls. I will not try to measure
the extent of my loss in human terms. What good is there
in speculating about what-might-have-been?

I will not build a Pyramid or a Taj Mahal to our friendship
nor will I let the echoes of your words trapped in my limbs
haunt me like ghosts entombed in more formal relationships.
I will let the winds of change scatter my pain like ashes.

I will not change the locks to my heart, body or soul,
nor will I wait for your letter or phone-call.
I will be patient like a stone and let Time be my counsellor.
Perhaps, the less I try to forget the less I will remember.
Remembering Gandhi
Turning the other cheek, you got the upper hand;
with Swadeshi and Satyagraha, coined your brand.

Ace architect of freedom, the deconstruction of a nation
transformed you into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.

You marched all over India to touch the Untouchable,
called them the Children of God, and declared Home Rule.

Your fasts unto death plunged your peers into confusion,
transformed you into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.

You trusted women, included them in your entourage;
your charisma, half-naked fakir, upset the Raj.

Your experiment with truth, sex and religion,
transformed you into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.

The Viceregal Palace was haunted by your steel-rimmed spectacles,
your bald head, loin-cloth, wiry body, walking stick and chappals.

Man of vision, you rose above Nehru, Jinnah and Mountbatten,
transformed into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.

What price, in perpetuity, we pay for the partition of our homeland,
the splintering of a subcontinent, giving birth to a wasteland?

Nobody understood you Bapu, Mahatma of the nation,
transformed into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.

In the end, it was a Hindu fanatic reaching for your feet,
lodged a bullet in your heart as you breathed your last.

Your life, a journey of self-discovery overcoming illusion,
transformed you into a saint, to some a shrewd politician.
Bori Notesz
(For Miklós Radnóti*)

If I placed my faith in miracles
    thinking there was an angel walking beside me,
do not judge me for my thoughts were only of you –
I cannot die and cannot live without you.

I saw the blue of your eyes in the sky
shining like the angel’s sword protecting me
as I fell, a ghost in the glow of dawn.
But I was lifted by invisible wings
and marched on ignoring the ditch’s embrace.

As long as I knew my way back to you,
I was prepared to walk on live coals,
bear witness to the barbarism of human beings
for man is the lowest of all animals –
setting houses, fields and factories on fire,
streets overrun with people burning; men twisted,
springing up like snapped elastic, dead,
twitching like broken twig in the ditch.

Women screamed as children were dashed
    against walls: What is the purpose of this, Lord?
I asked. I survived, fixing my thoughts on you.
You were the constant in this churning, smoking mess.

I can only leave you my anger, my powerlessness
    at finding my world in ruins, left with neither
faith nor hope, compassion nor redemption;
for I know nothing can save me now...

If I placed my faith in miracles
thinking there was an angel walking beside me,
judge me only by my thoughts of you in a world rebuilt
where my song will live and be heard…
I cannot die and cannot live without this thought.

* In November 1944, near the Hungarian town of Abda, Radnóti was shot, along with twenty-one other crippled and emaciated captives, while being forced-marched towards Germany during the liberation of the Balkans. His body was exhumed from a ditch after the war, and identified from the notebook (Bori Notesz) of poems in his raincoat pocket. I am indebted to various translations of Camp Notebook in the writing of this poem, in capturing Radnóti ‘voice’ as reflected in the Notebook.


Her clear vision has purged her writing of extraneous sentiment… She cuts to the heart of things when, in one poem, she advises her readers to “discover in loneliness the continents of yourself.”

Peter Porter

Shringara is a sheaf of grief, an elegiac volume about the loss of loved ones through which the rawness of the pain still throbbed … the poems do not leave us with any feeling of bleakness or bitterness. She knows that “Life is here, now”, that we must fulfil ourselves, “taking flight like the smile of a camel.”

Ketaki Kusari Dyson, The Book Review (India)

Asserting the personal voice and developing a coherent personal vision that lets us be our own masters is radical, as radical as the rediscovery of the classical heritage would be with its emphasis on the individual as the measure and his fullness as the goal of living. Shringara drove me to this high estimate of Shanta Acharya’s power as a poet: it is a powerful book, the poems of loss possessing a depth of feeling and mastery that compels complete attention, while the entire work adds up to a book exemplifying and forwarding the modern poetic project.

Lance Lee, Envoi

There aren’t any trivial subjects in Acharya’s work. What I like about her writing is the unpretentiousness, the integrity, the direct struggle with language to make it speak truly about real concerns

R. V. Bailey, Edinburgh Review

Shanta plays on the many meanings of Shringara – bodily adornment, beauty, art – but also love, decorum and harmony.  She uses ideas which belong to India but have entered that universal cultural common ground in which the poet Kathleen Raine had faith. An ironic control over the magic of images like life’s carnival or mirrors and illusion makes for a detachment reflected in her style which is unusual in its unselfconscious mix of melody with a down to earth quality. These poems of commemoration and reconciliation mirror a world where “Our only hope is embracing the Other/inviting the unknown into our hearts and homes….,” a variation on the truth of Auden’s – “We must love one another or die.”

Anita Money, Acumen

Shringara’s essence is captured most accurately in the seemingly binary concept of the world: life and death, here and there, losing and finding as well as in the philosophical idea that “when our friends start to leave, it is time/ to take stock of our coming and going” (“Highgate Cemetery”). Life goes on (and ends) and moves in sometimes mysterious ways which we are not able to predict, an image that the front cover photograph (by Sanjay Acharya), which shows a tree in full red bloom, underlines.

Prof Cecile Sandten, Kavya Bharati


  1. Acumen (UK), Number 60, January 2008. “Inviting the Unknown; Shringara by Shanta Acharya.” By Anita Money.
  2. Dream Catcher (UK), Number 19, 2007. By Nicole Kime.
  3. The Book Review (India), June 2007. By Ketaki Kushari Dyson.
  4. Envoi (UK), Number 146, 2007. “A Unique Voice: Shanta Acharya, Shringara; Shoestring Press.” By Lance Lee.
  5. Tears in the Fence (UK), Issue 46, 2007. By Ketaki Kushari Dyson.
  6. Journal of Literature & Aesthetics (India), Vol 5, Nos 1-2, Jan-Dec 2005. “A Unique Voice Has Come Among Us: Shringara by Shanta Acharya.” Lance Lee.
  7. Edinburgh Review (UK), Number 119, 2007. Shringara. By R.V. Bailey.
  8. Samyukta (India), Vol. VI. No. 2, 2006. “Poetic Sculptures of Condensed Grief.” By P. Radhika.
  9. Kavya Bharati (India), Number 18, 2006. “A Participant in Life’s Carnival.” By Cecile Sandten.
  10. Confluence (UK), Vol 5, No 6, September-October 2006. “Shringara reflects the contemporary cosmopolitan poet, moving from one culture to another with ease.” By Usha Kishore.
  11. The Little Magazine (India), Vol 4, Issue 4-5, 2006. By Keki Daruwalla.
  12. Indian Literature (India), Issue 234 July-August 2006. “Shringara by Shanta Acharya.” By Jaydeep Sarangi.
  13. Ambit 186, 2006 (UK). “Shringara by Shanta Acharya.” By Jim Burns.