When one hears the name Kanwal Sibal, poet is hardly the first thing that springs to mind unless it is in reference to his brother, former Union Minister Kapil Sibal's attempts at the medium. However, with his debut offering Snowflakes of Time (Bloomsbury), Kanwal Sibal establishes that he is more than adept at poetry.
Kanwal is capable of a variety of poetic styles - from rhyme to experiments with concrete poetry, without seeming forced or clumsy. The title of the book is also an indication of exactly what the book purports to do - place musings about memories and nostalgia in written word.
As much as his style varies from poem to poem, so do his themes. The book itself is divided into 8 parts, ranging from 'Memories' to 'Catharsis' and 'Humour'. While sections like 'Reflections', 'Moscow Musings' and 'Memories' have overlapping themes, the others are markedly different from each other.
While in one section he waxes eloquent about nature, in another he takes potshots at Indian mannerisms, gives glimpses into negotiating the world of diplomats and also indulges in some political ribbing at the expense of his erstwhile political masters, the Gandhis. This last theme is categorised under the 'Humour' section, but Sibal would be forgiven had he placed them under the 'Catharsis' section.
As Sibal makes clear in his preface, he is a big fan of rhyme in poetry. To Sibal, rhyme imposes a discipline on the writer, curbing self-indulgence. That he would gravitate towards a medium of discipline is hardly surprising, considering his long and illustrious career in the foreign service. While affinities and aptitude aren't necessarily one and the same, in Sibal's case, it is. He is certainly at his best when he uses rhymes.
A sizable chunk of the poetry in Snowflakes is rhyme and while an emphasis on the form usually leads to repetitiveness, Sibal slips out of it and into free verse constantly to keep the book from being monotonous. The spectrum of themes and topics also helps this.
Another aspect of the book that greatly enhances its readability is that Sibal hasn't fallen into the trap that most people who occupy or occupied high positions fall into - using heavy language to prove intellect. Sibal steers well clear of this for the most part, instead relying often on imagery to create moods and communicate thoughts.
For a hobby cultivated in the midst of a demanding career, Snowflakes of Time is a solid collection of poems that could stand on its own even without the notable name on the book's spine.