Mother Muse Quintet
Naveen Kishore
Speaking Tiger
INR 399.00/-

Review: Ms. Anjana Basu

Coming almost on the heels of Knotted Grief, Mother Muse Quintet follows a similar path paved with  shards of memory and loss. Naveen Kishore explores the loss of the mother who guided the poet through childhood into the adult word in different ways, even though she was not there for the length of his growth journey. Divided into five – the quintet with its jazz echoes – the poetry moves slowly through the world of reminiscence and tactile sensation.

Short and long lines are carefully balanced in Kishore’s poetry – though there are fewer haiku here than in the previous collection. They are succinct in their conceptualization; two words can and frequently do make a line, yet they nevertheless spin out the problems in the minds of readers. The poems’ images of emptiness are heightened by the page’s white spaces, which contrast the poems’ simple design with their sense of loss and the blanks of memory.

The question is who is this muse? Mother India, Mother Kashmir – Kashmir is mentioned with the child in the mother’s lap – or the poet’s own mother? A mother who left memories behind while forgetting her own, leaving them scattered like crumbs to help her son find his way through a haunted forest. “You gifted me my memory. We did not know then that one day you would lose yours.” The poet’s mother is the symbol of the world mother.

These are emotional shards that pierce the reader’s consciousness because they explore the unsettled areas of the soul. Symbolism projects the poet’s message acquiring greater strength through repetition because the quintet is an exploration through memories and remembrances, a response to his mother’s plea “Build me a self. She pleaded”. 

The poems are the poet’s attempt to give his once vibrant mother form and reshape her as she was through the cosmos of imagination, the pulse beneath the poetry.  Her elusive presence envelops itself in the poet’s nuanced explorations of memory. It floats like the fog that envelops the spectral presences throughout this poem – the Mother Muse embodies herself in a language that is very often cryptic, cresting waves of emotion, rising and falling but never still in the way that the ripples of memory rarely allows the mind to rest. 

The poet explores the different aspects of memory from childhood to growing up each a part of something his mother contributed to. There are tactile memories of her presence, of sitting in her lap, cutting mango pulp with a knife or in the sensory realm, the sound of her voice as she requests him to sing. Or there are the times when she reenacted scenes from her father’s screenplays for her son evoking the physical memory out of the verse and her son invokes her…

“In my mind, the sari she wore is always a pale pink. Almost ivory. And a chiffon. Let us give her a name, shall we? Mother.” Just one memory that evokes the presence of a gentle person draped in grace, though nothing more.

Ironically that once elephantine memory has fled leaving the son’s mind filled with recollections of the fragility of life and relationships that he cannot share with her because they have come to mean nothing to his muse. 

 “…my retelling of the ‘tales’ you told me. ‘Making up’ what had slipped past me. I gave them the happy endings you never had.”

There are references to folk tales and hints of political undercurrents, of other mothers bereft of their children through unfortunate circumstances. At times the effect is eerie heightened by the fog that seems to obfuscate the narrative wrapping it around in a close embrace.  The images cut across time and place since they could belong anywhere. Occasionally one is reminded of Wuthering Heights with the shape of a mother’s shrouded form outside the window cradling new born dreams in her arms asking for entry. 

 Each image adds inspiration to the exploration of memory and gives rise to more. On her birthday he gifted her mirror she never used but it remained to reflect her memory and awaken that of her son – his inheritance from her. The emotion of memory recollected in tranquility amongst the chaos caused by her departure.


Mother Muse Quintet is a memorial work of the imagination. Memory, like a veil that is translucent and yet shaped by an ever-present fog that lifts and settles, travels the path of multiple generations who appear as storytellers, as companions, as mysterious versions of the self and, poignantly, as Mother Muse—both birth mother and mother tongue.

Mother Muse, a vanishing presence, shapes the imagination of her son, like the heart beating or the wind dashing or the wave cresting. Mother Muse becomes the breath, gentle or fierce, of the poet’s own voice. He dreams and in dreaming, he writes and in writing, he finds a language so mysterious that, like the fog shawling the spectral presences throughout this text, it lifts and settles and lifts again in cadences of flux and fragility.

This is a haunting and hypnotic collection in which we feel silence and stillness seep into the crevices of language. The words—which seem to emerge from our own memories, dreams and secret vaults of imagination, as from the author’s—swirl, like time itself, in a slow, timeless vortex of loss and longing, death and life.