Craft, image, accuracy of detail, the sorcery of unvoiced emotion, the constancy of sweet surprise, all these and more are the gifts that The Transfiguring Places conceals in its folds. Embrasured within personal paradigms—the poems are dedicated to his deceased father—Mehrotra culls from his life emotions cast in incandescent imagery that, at times, moves one to tears. As for instance, the two-stanza poem 'To an Unborn Daughter'. Nothing I could say, clever or concise, can capture the lyrical sweep and depth of feelings of Mehr-otra's words as he quietly intones lines such as these: "If writing a poem could bring you/Into existence, I'd write one now,/Filing the stanza with more/Skin and tissue than a body needs,/Filling the lines with speech./I'd even give you your mother's/Closebitten nails and light brown eyes,/For I think she had them. I saw her/Only once, through a train window,/In a yellow field. She was wearing/A pale-coloured dress. It was cold./I think she wanted to say something."
'Unborn Daughter' connects with earlier poems in precise ways. Autobiographical tracery is evident as one links Mehrotra's earlier selection Middle Earth with The Transfiguring Places. Indeed, the opening poem in The Transfiguring Places, 'Approaching Fifty', movingly twists the threads of memory and physical decay. "Sometimes,/In unwiped bathroom mirrors,/He sees all three faces/Looking at him:/His own, The grey haired man's/Whose life policy has matured,/And the mocking youth's/Who paid the first premium."
Like Coleridge, Keats—poets who embody the witchery of poetry—Mehrotra too turns to myth and folklore to flesh out his poetic vision. Thus while the memory of a beloved, deceased father is the axis of this volume, as a poet Mehrotra's ancestry goes beyond his North Indian roots. Dead fathers and living sons transcend the bondage of race, culture, geography as "Ramapithecus and I" come together.
The Transfiguring Places works precisely because Mehrotra pares away at the heart of personal feeling and establishes the primacy of universal emotions. Less obscure and more human than his earlier poetry, these poems showcase a mellower, gentler self that is coded into poetry that is many and one—crystalline, brilliant, unexpectedly small and ineffably tender. The ironic distancing, the quietness of tone is reminiscent of Western models as diverse as the later Yeats and much of William Carlos Williams. There is thus omnipresent the sense of poetry as sadhana and the poet as one who can see into the life of things.
His poems are like "rooms" that "open/Memory's stitches," and he like the mythical tailorbird who says to his silent auditor "Bring it to me, I'll turn your life." It is a memorable volume because it speaks to that hidden self that dares to dream the impossible dream, a self that can shrug off the burden of a tired actuality and breathe freely, however briefly. It is a book that once bought will be savoured time and time again. After this Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, the poet will be "invisible to none... he's/The man with 6/6 vision."