Assamese Posts

Extract from “The Hungryalists: The Poets Who Sparked a Revolution”

The Hungryalists: The Poets Who Sparked a Revolution by Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury is an interesting tribute to a short lived but intense literary movement in West Bengal that has left an lasting impact around the world. Their well documented relationship with the Beats poet is also analysed in The Hungryalists. This book will become one of the go-to reads on The Hungryalists precisely for the very reason that little documentation of the movement exists in English as these poets mostly wrote in Bengali. So to transcend languages and cultures requires a bridging language which is English.

The Hungryalist or the hungry generation movement was a literary movement in Bengali that was launched in 1961, by a group of young Bengali poets. It was spearheaded by the famous Hungryalist quartet — Malay Roychoudhury, Samir Roychoudhury, Shakti Chattopadhyay and Debi Roy. They had coined Hungryalism from the word ‘Hungry’ used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his poetic line “in the sowre hungry tyme”. The central theme of the movement was Oswald Spengler’s idea of History, that an ailing culture feeds on cultural elements brought from outside. These writers felt that Bengali culture had reached its zenith and was now living on alien food. . . . The movement was joined by other young poets like Utpal Kumar Basu, Binoy Majumdar, Sandipan Chattopadhyay, Basudeb Dasgupta, Falguni Roy, Tridib Mitra and many more. Their poetry spoke the displaced people and also contained huge resentment towards the government as well as profanity. … On September 2, 1964, arrest warrants were issued against 11 of the Hungry poets. The charges included obscenity in literature and subversive conspiracy against the state. The court case went on for years, which drew attention worldwide. Poets like Octavio Paz, Ernesto Cardenal and Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg visited Malay Roychoudhury. The Hungryalist movement also influenced Hindi, Marathi, Assamese, Telugu & Urdu literature. ( “The Hungryalist Movement: When People Took Their Fight Against The Government” Md Imtiaz, The Logical Indian, 29 June 2016)

*****

With the permission of the publisher here are two short extracts from the book:

Like everywhere else, the shadow of caste hung over the burning ghats as well. There were different burning sections for different castes. The Indian poets accompanying Ginsberg were usually Brahmins. Being there and smoking up was in itself an act of defiance, which normally nobody but the tantrics indulged in. Sunil, who had brought in his dead father here not too long ago, even joked about the place. Later, Ginsberg would go on to write:

I lay in my Calcutta bed, eye fixed

On the green shutters in the wall, crude

Wood that might have been windows

in your Cottage, with a rusty nail

and a ring iron at the hand

To open on heaven. A whitewashed

Wall, the murmur of sidewalk sleepers,

the burning ghat’s sick rose flaring

like matchsticks miles away, my cough

from flu and too many cigarettes,

prophet Ramakrishna banning

the bowels and desires—

War was on everyone’s mind. Ginsberg spoke extensively on what he called the ‘era of wars’. ‘There are as many different wars as the very nature of these wars,’ he had told his fellow poets. Following the death of Stalin and the Cuban Missile Crisis, an uneven calm seemed to have descended, only to be followed by skirmishes here and there. Issues of sovereignty dominated East and West Germany; the Kurds and Iraq were at loggerheads; closer home, the Tibetans were, of course, still struggling to ward off the Chinese invasion of their lands.

Without much ado, Ginsberg, along with Orlovsky and Fakir, arrived one Sunday at the Coffee House looking for Bengali poets. The cafe was abuzz with writers, editors and journalists. Each group had a different table—some had joined two or more tables and brought together different conversations on one plate. But somehow, everyone seemed to have an inchoate understanding of the business of war and what it spelled out for them in the end.

Ginsberg’s arrival was something of a coincidence, Samir mused. Contrary to what one would think was a far-fetched reality, especially in bourgeois Calcutta, a significant number of young Indian students had around that time begun applying for undergraduate courses in American colleges and universities. Times had fundamentally changed, of course. Where once an aspiring middle-class Bengali academic might have chosen to pursue his studies at either Oxford or Cambridge or some university in the Soviet Union, the new mindset now included American universities as the next lucrative biggie to venture forth into. Typically, one would hear snide remarks and private jokes about it in inner circles—about the disloyalty apparent in such choices and more. But those with aspirational values had learnt to live with it, was Malay’s understanding.

Even amid the erratic crowd and the loud voices that drowned everything in coffee, Ginsberg commanded attention. Samir had recalled to Malay:

He approached our table, where Sunil, Shakti, Utpal and I sat, with no hesitation whatsoever. There was no awkwardness in talking to people he hadn’t ever met. None of us had seen such sahibs before, with torn clothes, cheap rubber chappals and a jhola. We were quite curious. At that time, we were not aware of how well known a poet he was back in the US. But I remember his eyes—they were kind and curious. He sat there with us, braving the most suspicious of an entire cadre of wary and sceptical Bengalis, shorn of all their niceties—they were the fiercest lot of Bengali poets—but, somehow, he had managed to disarm us all. He made us listen to him and tried to genuinely learn from us whatever it was that he’d wanted to learn, or thought we had to offer. Much later, we came to know that there had been suspicions about him being a CIA agent, an accusation he was able to disprove. In the end, we just warmed up to him, even liked him. He became one of us—a fagging, crazy, city poet with no direction or end in sight.

All around the Coffee House, there were discussions on war. Would the Chinese Army march up to Calcutta? Would the Indian soldiers hold out? During one of these discussions, Ginsberg spoke with conviction: ‘People who want peace must intervene now, before it’s too late. But, no one will, I’m afraid. Let’s have debates if you will, let’s get talking. Let the Nehrus, the Maos and the Kennedys of this world come together, sit across and talk. Who are we without a debate?’

******

Very early on, the Hungryalists had announced, rather brashly, their lack of faith and what they thought of god. To them religion was an utter waste of time, and they made no bones about this. In fact, in one of their bulletins, they had openly denounced god and called organized religion nonsense. Many of the Hungryalists, with their sharp knowledge of Hindu scriptures, had been challenging temple elders on the different rituals and modes of worship. This came as a shock to many, in a country where religion was very much a part of everyday life—a matter of pride and culture even. On the other hand, Ginsberg was evidently quite taken with religion in India and sought out sadhus and holy men wherever he went in the country. While this might have been because he was in search of a guru, he seemed to be fascinated, in equal measure, by the sheer variety that religion opened for him in India—from Kali worship to Buddhism. But like the Beats, the Hungryalists came together in denouncing the politics of war, which merged with their larger world view.

*****

A tribute to the Hungryalist movement was uploaded on YouTube. It is in Bengali. Here is the film. In the comments Malay RoyChoudhury has also replied.

Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury The Hungryalists: The Poets Who Sparked a Revolution Penguin Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House, India, 2018. Hb. pp. 190 Rs 599

Further Reading:

Ankan Kazi “Open Wounds: The contested legacy of the Hungry Generation” Caravan, 1 October 2018

Juliet Reynolds “Art, the Hungryalists, and the Beats” Cafe Dissensus, 16 June 2016

A new book chronicles the radically iconoclastic movement in Bengali poetry in the 1960s” Scroll, 8 Jan 2019

“Alice in Wonderland” continues to inspire readers across the world

( My article on Alice in Wonderland has been published in Hindustan Times popular and widely circulated Sunday 20151018_065049supplement Brunch on 18 October 2015. It is a generous two-page spread in print20151018_065100 with the title “Curiouser And Curiouser”. I am c&p the text from the digital version here. The original url can be viewed at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/alice-in-wonderland-continues-to-inspire-readers-across-the-world/story-NKnM2TiOACiTMXQXtUI51M.html )

Scottish writer George MacDonald persuaded Carroll to self-publish Alice. It had been tested out on the MacDonald children by their mother – and the family loved it. (Above, Carroll with Mrs MacDonald and her children.) (Getty Images/Science Source)

Who’d have thought a self-published story written for the daughters of a friend would become a world classic, eagerly bought, borrowed and downloaded even now, 150 years later?

 Alice in Wonderland was written in 1865 by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a mathematics professor at Oxford, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. He wrote it for Lorina, Alice and Edith, the three daughters of his friend, Reverend Henry Liddell.

Start of many things

Alice in Wonderland is about a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole in pursuit of the White Rabbit and discovers a nonsensically delightful world with colourful characters like the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the March Hare. More writers, artists and creators all over the world have credited Alice as an inspiration than any other book, thanks to its imaginative world filled with fantastic linguistic acrobatics in rhyme and prose.

That the book should have emerged in the staid Victorian era of verbose and righteous prose says much for the power of creativity. Carroll was persuaded to publish Alice with his own illustrations, by Scottish author and poet, George MacDonald.

The story had been tested out on the MacDonald children by their mother. The family thoroughly enjoyed the tale, and Carroll self-published it. Then, it was edited and published by Alexander Macmillan.

Alice, coverLewis Carroll requested the well-known artist of Punch, Sir John Tenniel to create the illustrations, many of which were ultimately based on the original drawings made by the author. To commemorate the 150th year of its publication, Macmillan, the original publisher, has produced a scrumptious edition of The Complete Alice, with the original Tenniel illustrations in full colour. It is unusual for a publisher to be celebrating 150 years of a text, but Alice in Wonderland is perceived to be “a world text”.

Alice in Wonderland is about a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole in pursuit of the White Rabbit. On the left is an illustration of the character by Carroll himself, and next to it (right) by Tenniel. (Photos: Stapleton Collection/Corbis, The Print Collector/Corbis)

“It’s one of those texts that IS, like Shakespeare,” says graphic novelist Samit Basu. “Its constant reinterpretations in everything, from zombie comics to action-fantasy novels, have kept the original text alive, and that’s the greatest thing that can happen to any book.”

This is evident by the text’s vast influence across creative platforms and genres – storytelling, play on words, visual arts, filmmakers, still photography and translations.

According to filmmaker and author Devashish Makhija, a lot of motifs from Alice have been uncannily replicated across the world. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee seem to have inspired Herge’s Thompson and Thomson in Tintin,” he says. “Batman’s Joker seems to have shades of the Mad Hatter, at least in his inexplicable (but profound) reliance on creating some sort of chaos in anything he communicates.”

And there’s more. When Alice fell down a rabbit hole to discover a topsy-turvy world, Makhija argues, she opened a clear story-telling device for creators of the future. “The ‘hole’ – although in existence before this book – was used pointedly for the first time as a portal connecting two dimensions through which a character ‘travels’.

It has since been used in versions in almost ALL of fantasy writing: the wardrobe in CS Lewis’s Narnia series, the square drawn with chalk in Pan’s Labyrinth, platform 93/4 inHarry Potter, the bridge of Terabithia, HG Wells’s time machine and even the bathtub in Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking.”

Follow that rabbit

“Every reader will leave with a different reading,” says Anil Menon, author of speculative fiction. “Fortunately, Alice in Wonderland has remained what it was intended to be: an invitation to play.”

Let loose in the imaginative world of Alice’s Wonderland, children often find their own wonderlands when they become adults, says photographer and musician Ed Valfre. “Several years ago, I wrote two children’s books about a boy in the backseat of a car who creates stories from all that he sees on the road. As Alice decides to go down the rabbit hole to discover the fantastical world of Wonderland, my hero goes down a similar path but it is inside his own head. The rabbit I follow is some ordinary thing we see every day. The rabbit hole is our imagination and we simply have to pay attention to discover it.”

Jeff VanderMeer, who won the Nebula 2014 for his novel, Annihilation, says that Alice “was such an influence. I Jeff Vandermeer, Southern Reach Trilogy, Rabbit Totem, illustrated by Jeremy Zerfossstarted a far-future novel when I was 13 in which a human-sized bio-engineered white rabbit is found murdered at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. What appealed to me was the surreal aspect of Carroll’s book, even more so than the kind of mathematical logic and the humour. I couldn’t escape Alice even if I tried. It’s one of those constants, or compass points, that for some odd reason draws out originality despite being riffed off again and again.”

There are no white rabbits in filmmaker Paromita Vohra’s work, Unlimited Girls, but Vohra says it is deeply influenced by Alice in Wonderland. In the film, a young woman is drawn into an Internet chat room – kind of like a rabbit hole – and then proceeds on a journey through the world of feminism where she meets all kinds of characters and undergoes all kinds of transformations.

“I think Alice is (like a good Bollywood film, almost) one of those works that gives you permission to make a work out of what you see, what you feel as one,” says Vohra.

In many ways, Alice is a nonsense book. Not in the sense that it is the product of a muddled mind, but because of its willingness to see more in the world than a single outward façade. That’s the aspect that influenced children’s author, known especially for nonsense writing, Anushka Ravishankar the most.

“I remember reading Alice as a child and being fascinated, but also really disturbed because of the strange creatures and the weird, unworldly goings-on,” she says. “It was only much later that I began to appreciate the other elements – the nonsense, the logical games and the clever theories which the nonsense hid. I studied mathematics, so I do believe that Carroll’s mathematical mind came up with things that seem nonsensical but are actually possible given a different mathematical frame.”

It is extraordinary that a story spun to entertain a six-year-old girl on a boating trip has continued to brighten the lives of generations spanning more than a century.

And so just like the way it began in the beginning, Alice in Wonderland remains what it is – a story to delight children.

“My greatest joy,” says Samit Basu, “was the completely context-free sizzle that went through my brain when I first read it as a child, and there’s nothing that can either truly explain or analyse that.”

**

Looking back through translations

On 4 October, 1866, Lewis Carroll wrote to his publisher Macmillan, stating, “Friends here [in Oxford] seem to think that the book is untranslatable.” But his friends were wrong as the editors of Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, would tell Carroll if they could.

Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece documents the classic’s translations in 174 languages and over 9,000 editions and reprints. (Pictured in it is Alice Liddell, the little girl the book was written for)

This book, edited by Jon A Lindseth and Alan Tannenbaum, documents translations in 174 languages and over 9,000 editions and reprints of Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

“There are nine translations of Alice into Tamil, plus an unpublished draft, a short story, a serialised story, and a graphic version,” says Dr Rajamanickam Azhagarasan, contributor to the book. “It was popular among those involved in the movement for children’s literature from the ’40s through the ’70s. Each translation was unique, depending on which aspect the translators wished to highlight.”

Alice has been translated in Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Nepali and Sinhala. Here (left to right) are translations in Malayalam (2000), Urdu (1981) and Oriya (2002).

Much like the way storytellers have always found new stories to weave out of the Indian epics, Alice’s translators in India have created different Wonderlands – for instance, by weaving mythological elements into the story.

“The Telugu translation of Alice was available as early as the mid-1950s,” says Suresh Kosaraju, trustee, Manchi Pustakam, Secunderabad.

Editor Sushama Sonak says, “Mugdhachi Rangit Goshta (The Many Coloured World of Mugdha) written in Marathi by short story writer GA Kulkarni was heavily influenced by Alice.”

In Malayalam, the first translation was published by Balan Publications. Lewis Carroll certainly influenced the well-known children’s nonsense writer in Bengali, Sukumar Ray, as well as Hemendra Kumar Roy, who wrote wonderful detective stories in Bangla and translated Alice in Wonderland: it is called Ajab Deshe Amala.

Even Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, translated Alice into Russian. According to translator Sergei Task, “By and large, [Nabokov] translated the text as is, except for Russifying the names (Alice/Anya, Mabel/Asya, and the Rabbit got a last name – Trusikov) and introducing pre-revolutionary forms of address such as barin (master) and vashe blagorodiye (your honour). Of course, with the playful verses, he had to take liberties – again, trying to adapt them for Russian readers.”

18 October 2015 

Storyweaver, Pratham Books

final-logo-pratham-booksWelcome to StoryWeaver from Pratham Books : http://www.storyweaver.org.inbanner-2-fc6332eba5193186348e9c5190fee65b

A whole new world of children’s stories. It is a platform that hosts stories in languages across India and beyond. So that every child can have an endless stream of stories in her mother tongue to read and enjoy. StoryWeaver is an open platform designed to be innovative and interactive. It invites both, the weaver of stories and the reader to connect and share the fascinating world of words and illustrations. This then, marks a new chapter in children’s literature and publishing. Come discover the magic of stories and the joy of reading – a cornucopia that will delight endlessly.

Medianama has a wonderful article on Pratham Books and Storyweaver. It is available at: http://www.medianama.com/2015/09/223-pratham-books-open-source/ But I am also copy-pasting the text in case it is not easily available sometimes.

Non profit trust Pratham Books has launched StoryWeaver, an open source digital platform, which features 800 stories in 24 languages (14 Indian and 12 international languages), with an image repository of over 2,000 images. These will be openly licensed and free of cost; content creators and other users will be able to read, download, translate, version-ise and print through the platform. Users will also be able to create and publish new stories, using the Creative Commons licensed content on the site.

The stories are available in Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi and Odiya, along with English translations to all these languages (and Tamil and Telugu, excepting Assamese and Malayalam). It lists publishers like itself, African StoryBook Initiative and World Konkani Centre. The stories can be filtered by reading levels as well. The platform provides DIY videos for creating and translating stories. ( https://storyweaver.org.in/tutorials )

Anyone can translate stories by clicking on the ‘translate’ option under the selected story, which redirects you to login via Pratham Books, Facebook or Google+ and provides a host of Indian and African languages, along with French, German and Spanish to translate to. It displays the original text for reference and once done translating it lets users put in a new title, creator details and publish. Pratham Books says that it has generated more work opportunities for illustrators through their CC work. It also states that its primary users are teachers, librarians, writers and parents.

The trust hopes that this move will not only encourage more content creation but also address the scarcity of multilingual story resources in India and multiply it. With the launch of the platform, the trust has also created a “Weave a story” campaign where it has roped in children’s books writers Anushka Ravishankar, Soumya Rajendran, Rohini Nilekani and Rukmini Banerjee to write a special story for children. StoryWeaver will invite users to translate these stories and the trust expects that 100 new versions will spawn out of the 3 original stories. The first story to be launched on the platform is Ravishankar’s “Its All the Cat’s Fault”, which is expected to get 5 derivative versions today.

Google Impact Challenge shortlist
In August 2013, Google had shortlisted 10 non-profit organisations in India as finalists for its Google Impact Challenge intended to support a technology based social project with an award of Rs 3 crores. Among these was Pratham Books which intended to develop an open source platform to create and translate 20,000 e-books in minimum 25 languages to enable 20 million book reads by 2015.

Launch of books crowdsourcing platform
In June, Pratham Books launched a crowdsourcing platform called DonateABook which let nonprofits and schools raise funding for books in order to provide them to Indian children. It connected book seekers with people who wanted to give books away. Then, there were 30 campaigns on the website, looking to raise between Rs 3,500- Rs 110,000 for multiple cities and towns in India.

The projects have been assigned for underprivileged kids, kids from government schools in villages, immigrant construction workers’ children and more, and sought books across Indian and English languages. Individuals as well as organisations who wanted to get books for the children they work with could also start campaigns on the platform. The platform sought to get 50,000 books for children by this Children’s Day, which falls on 14 November every year.

The Bangalore-based trust publishes cost effective books across Indian languages. It publishes books across genres like fiction, science, history, maths and nature among others. It claims to have published over 300 original titles in 18 languages, totalling up to 2,000 books across genres of fiction, nonfiction, and story books on science, history, mathematics and nature

 

8 Sept 2015

Guest post: Nabina Das on poetry in 2014

Nabina Das( I asked a few friends to write about the books they had read and wished to recommend. Here is the first post. It is by Nabina Das, a poet and a writer. Nabina Das, a 2012 Charles Wallace Fellow, University of Stirling, UK, and a 2012 Sangam House Fiction Fellow, has a recent poetry collection Into the Migrant City and a short fiction collection The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped. Her debut poetry collection Blue Vessel was listed as one of best of 2012 and her first novel Footprints in the Bajra, was long-listed in the 2011 Vodafone-Crossword prize. A 2011 Rutgers University MFA, a 2007 Joan Jakobson (Wesleyan University) and a Julio Lobo fiction scholar (Lesley University), and a mediaperson for about 10 years, Nabina teaches Creative Writing in classrooms and workshops.

Poetry listing 2014—NABINA DAS

If writing poetry is a compulsion then reading the same becomes an obsession. And there’s almost no day or night I don’t read a poetry book or at least a single poem or even the fragment of a poem. At times, I read one or two lines and shut the poem or the magazine or the online site just to ponder what I read. Now that the year 2014 is rushing past like a busy moth, its silk turning to wintry woolen weaves, busy against the bright light of events and incidents and festivals that loom in our hearts and fates, I’ve been reading poetry each day and night to keep myself alive on a very metaphysical level. Below is a glimpse of my endeavor. Not all of this poetry is published in 2014. I tend to live by old and new, poetry found and retraced, given and sent away.

Reading Keki N Daruwalla is retracing poetry in Indian English writing. His work is an arc of the beginning and what is now shaping up. Reading lines like

Does the world need maps, where sign and symbol,
standing as proxies, get worked into scrolls? (Map-Maker)

I know the world still remains stratified in layers of time and space, and we grapple with its manifold schemes. Daruwalla’s prayer-like voice rings true for me as I read:

Though there were no words,
fear had a voice with many echoes.
Worship was quieter, adoration
spoke only through the eyes or knees. (Before the Word)

For those that have not yet read Keki N Daruwalla, do pick up his Collected Poems (1970-2005) for a wholesome treat.

Uddipana Goswami’s book Green Tin Trunk (Authorspress, 2014) was a good read this year. The poems crackle like coal fire on winter nights. I could relate to several, being from Assam. There’re a few others I’m still mulling over. Lines such as these bring my Guwahati back to me:

did not know I had to love you then, Guwahati,
When I lived, walked, danced, played, breathed/
In your streets. (Guwahati)

The crisis of identity is mine too, but we know in Goswami’s verse how the poet deals with it:

On the other shore
I am shorn of my identity
I stand half naked
‘You eat human flesh don’t you?’
Nowadays I do not protest
Quietly I pay the price of being
What they are not. (Exile I)
Vijay Sheshadri made news as his 3 Sections: Poems (2013) won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Sheshadri even earlier. Although I hunted for this book in India and couldn’t find it right after he became much celebrated in India too, I recently found this Indian edition of 3 Sections: Poems (http://www.amazon.in/Sections-Pulitzer-Letters-Poetry-Winner/dp/155597662X) folks might like to buy. Having ordered it, I went back to reading this below. Mainly because the poet whose book eluded me this long, Sheshadri represented himself in these lines:

I’ve been excited about him as an individual.

I’ve met him as a person, emerging from his own shadow.

Indeed it is remarkable. (Life of a Savage)

 

And of course, his translation of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s No, I wasn’t meant to love and be loved (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/185277) had captured my attention because of my love for Ghalib in the Devnagri script; Ghalib, a poet I thought I saw close to my poetics.

Famous poets, prize winning poets, and commended poets abound easily. What does not abound easily is a lucid poet’s gift of her own book that comes as a promise of freshness in voice and tenor. Daya Bhat of Bangalore, in her A Maiden of 29 (Writers Workshop, 2009), effortlessly mixes the high voice of sarcasm with the low intensity cheekiness of an observer of a folly:

I no more care for I am no more me,
Call me by any name; it hardly matters.
It’s your call; it’s your fantasy! (Custom-made)

Bhat’s style is a good application of the vocative case I barely get to see in Indian English writing. It makes her poetry an apt purveyor of both satire and depth.

Elaine Terranova has been my mentor at Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, from 2010-2011. Usually, one reads one’s teacher sparingly. At least I did in high school and college. Much of the student-ness was about smirking and thinking – oh she’s telling me to write the way she does. But I have to confess, Terranova’s poetry and teaching were two different ballgames for me. They overlap as well as go right past themselves. In her Damages (Copper Canyon Press, 1995), a book she gave me as I left for home, I revisited her concern about the body, childhood experiences, and the turmoil of the ‘interior’ – things I thought were unavoidable especially when I saw my daughter growing up to a toddler:

 

I pass easily where he
is not allowed. Like her, I’m chilled
in my thin gown. There is
a fineness, a definiteness
to her face. This beauty
is her own decision. A TV screen
plays a loop of film, women circling
their breasts with their fingertips,
women staring into a mirror. (Self-examination)

Nilim Kumar is an Assamese poet who has been translated into English by various people, ace poets themselves or novices. The first time I came across his poetry was in The Dhauli Review. Kumar charts a territory in language that is hard reality. Not harsh, rather, lyrical and down to earth:

Whoever has prepared lunch washing and rubbing the blood smeared hands this midday
That meal would’ve been the just match with the dirtiest hunger in the earth
But
The irony is
Hunger is on someone’s stomach (A Poem, tr. Bibekanand Chaudhury)

But the fragrance of a soil and light that his work conveyed to me – not because again, he is from Assam – fascinated me with their juxtaposition with the romantic and the political, particularly, in Five Poems:

Her heart
A tall hill
I caress her
in the form of clouds.
Sometimes
I collide
on her stony bosom
And come down
drenching the trees, foliages,
fields and houses
People say
it is raining (Rain)

I hope to grab a copy of his original collection/s soon.

Having myself been published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta, in 2014, I’m aware how I share space with veteran poets. My own publication prompted me to pick up a 2010 WW volume by Hoshang Merchant, my mentor poet from Hyderabad. Titled Hyderabad Quartet, this is a special volume of Merchant’s collected works. Also special because, this volume acknowledges the demise of P Lal, the main intellectual driver of WW, in 2010. Merchant is fierce and coy both, a quality not very well known in modern Indian English poetry:

Walking down the street of banglesellers
Pleases the woman in me (Holi in Hyderabad)

Reading Merchant is a fresh-mint feeling on the tongue, although I’m not sure he’d approve of the analogy. His urbane chagrin made me wonder why I don’t get to read more lines like this:

Each one has his own dream over coffee
The chef dreams America
The waiter dreams custom
I dream about the waiter (Coffee 6/8/91)

In 2014, one of the loveliest events that happened is that I was privy to a book launch of and poetry reading in honor of Wang Ping, creative writing professor at Macalester, in Hyderabad. Ping’s latest book in its Indian edition was brought to us poets by young Linda Ashok of Raedleafpoetry India. Ten Thousand Waves felt good in my hands. Although as a principle I read new poetry books only after the launch and hype passes away, I took a look inside and didn’t seem to give up reading. Ping’s poetry made me comfortable as someone who mixes registers and images. China or America, hovering spirits or the living, water or its dream, identity or its duct-taping and re-duct-taping – all of that seemed close to what I’ve been doing so far.

And here we are, in the waist-deep sludge
A sac of mud – a tail of greed
Leaching in our stove. (A Hakka Man Farms Rare Earth in South China)

Her metaphors cling to dirt and dust, the imagery dances like coal fire, and the themes of the book read to me like prayers for rice and potato and all that sustains. In prose, dialogues, chorus and verse, this book stunned me at every page:

We know the tolls: twenty-three—Rockaway, NY, fifty-
eight—Dover, England, eighteen—Shenzhen, twenty-
five—South Korea and many more

We know we may end up in the same boat (Lin Zhi Fang, Yu Hui: Ten Thousand Waves)

Almost throughout the second part of 2014, I’ve been reading new writing by Seb Doubinsky, professor in Aarhus University, Denmark. But guess where I read most of his new work: it was on Facebook! My reading happened surreptitiously, as though I didn’t want to let anyone know I was reading these little verses – a series – on the social media. Not a bias, just a curious registering of the fact that Doubinsky’s new work was blooming with feedback and quips from his acquaintances on Facebook, an exercise not many poets would undertake and face the rigor of. Consider these:

this poem doesn’t believe
in poetry anymore
it thinks it is vain
pointless and limited
this poem, like Rimbaud in Aden,
wants to stop being written
***

this poem is 100% artificial
absolutely no natural images,
sugar or color added
***

(for Matthew Lippman)

this poem thinks it’s Jewish
but isn’t sure – it might be
Muslim, gypsy or gay
it might even be a woman or
a nine year old working in a textile factory
this poem could be anything
with a sad story to tell
but it sure has a big nose

The good news I got just now is that Doubinsky’s “this poem” bunch would be published by Leaky boot Press in early 2015. I guess from my side, that’s a big “like”!

Even before I‘d met Kazim Ali, who teaches in Oberlin University, at Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012 (HLF), I’ve been reading his poetry here and there. The same continued in 2014. Especially in the light of several  global crises – change of governments, such as the deeply rightwing power sweep in India, fundamentalist religious forces like the IS wreaking havoc in the Middle East, women’s and gay issues continuing to receive bashing at home and abroad – Ali’s poetry lifted me up to a zone of light this year. I read from his old and new.  Far Mosque (Alice James Books, 2005) and The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions, 2008). Reading Ramadan made my atheist self genuflect again to the cardinal values in human. Compassion for and reflection on life wasn’t ever more meaningful to me:

If the ground-water is too scarce one can stretch nets

into the air and harvest the fog.

 

Hunger opens you to illiteracy,

thirst makes clear the starving pattern,

 

the thick night is so quiet, the spinning spider pauses,

the angel stops whispering for a moment—

Kazim Ali will be publishing his new collection All One’s Blue: New and Selected Poems in India soon.

Another poet friend I’d met for the first time in HLF 2012 and shared the stage with, is Robert Bohm. I was familiar with his name but had never read his work earlier. While at the fest we exchanged notes and ideas and I brought back a couple of chapbooks by Bohm – especially, the much acclaimed Uz Um War Moan Ode – in 2014 I merely kept contemplating reading him but never thoroughly did barring a glimpse now and then. All this while, I kept writing to him and his wonderful wife Suman asking about their health and another possible India visit. He even contributed a blurb for my latest poetry collection. It’s only when recently Bohm sent me his latest book Closing the Hotel Kitchen (West End Press, 2011) that I found myself going through this scintillating collection. Bohm said in his Afterword that the poems here had grown out of his experiences with a complex smorgasbord of life: Beat life, army service, Indian connection by marriage, US hypocrisy in war and conflict mongering, Buddhism, brush with life in rural India, death and the façade of divinity.

Don’t ask me the color of the peach blossoms here.
when they fall, they flutter, pale and weightless
like thoughts in a sedated man’s mind,
toward whatever’s below. (Dear Mommy in your Grave at Nassau Knolls)

I’m glad I read Bohm finally – closely, intimately – to feel in my guts the words he had uttered at HLF 2012, during our meeting. The tragic in his voice is stridently upright, seeking a justice in this world:

“Where the fuck is my Bayonet?”
Brown once asked somewhere else.
Can’t think about that now.
Yesterday morning the Guptas saw me in the bus station.
“Are you wanting a place to rest for the night?” the husband asked.
She looked away. (Hospitality)

I’m a frugal and slow reader by disposition. In between all this, in 2014, I also re-read Sudeep Sen’s translation Aria and Billy Collins’ 180 More. Not to forget the timeless modern classic Madhushala. There’s so much to read. The list would get even longer and especially in poetry, one word leads to another, one metaphor leads to a new revelation, and that one poem will only prod me to think for days how language and realization come together to form a brilliant combination we all can cherish and share. Hope you had your own great poetry time in 2014!

(C) Nabina Das

29 December 2014

 

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