Chintz, Leela Soma
Dreich, 2020 £5.00
What’s in a title — and a title poem?
The title poem ‘Chintz’ in Leela Soma’s pamphlet unpacks a world of meanings:
Chintz, from a Sanskrit word chitra mongrelised
colonised, textiles yearned for, etymologised
This makes for a fitting and deceptively punchy title for this collection.
The way that fifteenth and sixteenth century European traders discovered Indian chintz fabric (made from calico cotton and enhanced with brush strokes from plant dyes), then brought it to Europe at great profit, is a fitting token of the all-too-familiar story of Western cultural appropriation and conquest:
The oppressors gaining an Empire, plundered
riches, an opulent lie in gathering amber storms.
In this sense the title poem acts as a kind of fractal for the themes of the whole pamphlet. Leela Soma, now based in Glasgow, ranges widely over her Indian heritage with the watermark of Empire running through it. In ‘Chintz’ we glimpse her depth of Hindu spiritual awareness, her love for Indian nature and artistry, and the implicit affection she feels for her homeland, earlier amplified in childhood memories such as ‘Home’:
hair plaited with thazambu, washed with soap nuts,
dried with sambrani, an aroma never to be forgotten
the rustle of wearing silks for a wedding
a diamond worker on the verandah
stoking his tiny furnace
In ‘Chintz’ ‘the peace of the Sahasara’ (divine consciousness) is still an active presence, and humankind’s relation to money and its concomitant poverty (movingly evoked in poems such as ‘Slumdog’) links strongly to the world in the opening sequence, which explores the Vedic universe and Maya, the illusion of ego and material progress.
‘Chintz’ is also a fitting title poem because it focuses the anger Soma feels in other poems at humankind’s ignorance and greed, plus the ways in which we in the West have taken over other cultures unthinkingly, with violence.
The deceptively gentle closing lines of ‘Chintz’ hint at these truths, yet locate the attractive fabric in our ordinary, recognisable, time and place. They are all the more effective for this:
the unpolished silver waves
lashed on the Indian shores and chintz
adorned the soft furnishings in genteel England.