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The Successors by Koushik Sen

The Successors

by Koushik Sen

Kolkata has its share of genuine poetic talents. The city thrives on nostalgia, academics, spirituality and poetry, writes Koushik Sen*.


There is a thing about the poets based in Kolkata — they are erudite, and being good readers, they imbibe the great works they read and eventually find their own language. They are by no means amateurs (the three poets whose works have been discussed here), since the youngest of them has overstepped the age of twenty-five by two decades — which is the threshold considered for becoming a genuine poet by T.S Eliot. True enough, it’s hard to find a Bengali who hasn’t written a page of poetry before that age. However, the Kolkata people who are seriously working on this genre, all have their own fields of interest, their own POVs of approaching the use of their voice in expressing their personal precincts, but they have one thing in common — their roots. To quote one of Sankha Ghosh’s poems, (taking the liberty of translating into English), they have succeeded in transforming the poison that clogs the roots into beautiful, blazing flowers of poetry. Their readings of Tagore, and unanimous love for him, their love for Calcutta, the small things it has to offer work up secret cahoots to bring them together.

Sanjukta Dasgupta’s book of poems, Dilemma (2002, Anustup), brings across her oceanic knowledge, seconded by her adroit choice of words and imagery. The title poem itself is poignant with the urbane conflict between romanticism and the urbanity that has long become deep rooted. The anthology reads like a sprinkling of her different moods, betraying her feminist standpoints and at places her love poems read like a girl’s quintessentially honest confessions about love; lines that are beautiful like a broken thing- “For you/ I can grow taller than every mountain/ Smaller than a grain of rice,” or “Loneliness/ when I write these lines to no one/ Loneliness when I sip lassi, in a café, on a monsoon afternoon.” These render a unique “private diary” quality to this collection, which makes it all the more irresistible. These are like soft reflections on a soft, rain sodden Calcutta afternoon. Again, lines like “I am the Mother-provider of every root/ Not just a delving earthworm,” makes a tremendous statement which is a superb example of a woman’s rage flowing through the realms of power, that progenitor of goddess Durga who slew the demon Mahishasura, who, at some levels, is a metaphor for male chauvinism. She has always believed in the words of Virginia Woolf that to be a woman, one must kill the “angel” in the house. One must have “a room of one’s own.” One must strip herself bare of the male stereotyping that has over the ages learnt to flow through the mouths of women, perpetrated to that extent by male “preaching.” One must not hail a woman by calling her Laxmi and thus tether her to a house. In one of her lectures, Professor Dasgupta had pointed out that this is a very old practice, and has long been invented and worked out to their advantage by the capitalists during the industrial revolution.

While poems like “Ecstasy” have a set of private, beautiful closing lines that sing of hope, “I now traverse the sunlight beaten track/ light suffused everywhere/ …To the benign sun/ shimmering silver union/ at last,” the poems on the Calcutta book fair of 1997 (inaugurated by Jaques Derrida), on Tagore, on Hemingway, and on Ernesto Che Guevara are informative and form another layer of this collection, like something written on half a page of a diary, praising one’s favorite writer. In all levels, this is a beautiful piece of work that needs to be read and treasured.

Sharmila Ray’s book With Salt and Brine (2013, Yeti Books) has aptly been described by Keki Daruwalla: “Not many poets have the gumption to venture into long poems these days, (mea culpa). That Sharmila Ray has gone about it with such élan is truly a surprise. While on the one hand it looks like a free floating poem, she has yet managed to keep a tight control over it. A fine and enjoyable read.” This book is written in a form that is similar to Tagore’s Sfulinga, four line short pieces that are rapid, but beautiful sketches of life. The poems of the first section (if it might be called so) smell of fragrant new love, but the voice is amazingly mature: “each of us with our primal poems/ each held by moist alphabets.” There is a superb blend of love and revolution, as we look, “with stardust on our eyelids” at the evanescent millennium. We can almost hear the Black Marias grooving their way to the Maidan as we are transcended to the Calcutta of the 70’s. There are vivid mentions of flabby politicians, of delirium, of darkness like black holes sucking in the blood of youth and leaving a shrunken image of love. The verse then tries to transcend, sometimes to the realm of Krishna, but the sniff of the briny seas of Dwarka, the distant lands seem all the more distant. Lines like “With stars in our chest/ we surfed the internet/ we tried to tell each and everyone/ stop gunning down little universes” are poignant. The poet asks with gusto the relevance of Allah and Buddha in a world where “Christs get crucified daily.

But then the verse takes a somewhat stoic approach, and tries to embellish coteries with heirloom- “Acid softens deep spots and knots/ we had inherited this precious heirloom, we tried to find ways and means/ to pour this on blood colored thoughts.” Towards the end, the lines are more childlike, but it is the childlikeness of an old soul which tries to fill up the void by making sandcastles. This volume of poems is beautiful in its own right, showing us the changing seasons in a way that is quite rare in contemporary Indian poetry.

Kiriti Sengupta’s newest poetry collection, The Earthen Flute (2016, Hawakal Publishers), has a language that it has found for itself, so delicate that it will crumble at every ostensible reading. The delightful part is that the poet himself is clearly aware of that; he knows his tradition, he knows he belongs to the era where you cannot denote silence simply by writing “silence,” that you need four blank pages to denote that profundity. The illustrations in charcoal form an innate part of this selection and themselves define the poems subtly — the effacing by the eraser of a small part in the sketches illumining the path to a new realm that this volume discovers. Besides, his poems would be so much more exciting if you are a resident of Kolkata, because you would actually find the opening poem “Keep an Eye” palpable among the Kumortuli lanes, you would find your corporeal eyes incapable, you’d feel the meta-presence among the sound of the morning trams and so on. Poems like “Womb” would make you treasure this book; you’d bask in the darkness, you’d be pleasantly confused in the maze, in the humanism lent to Mother Earth: “Only the Mother understands her rupture pain.”

The poet has drawn upon his tradition; he would remind you of Sukanta Bhattacharya, and yes, the famous line in which the moon becomes a toasted bread, in which the poet understands the vileness of “romantic” poetry in the age of hunger. Then come poems like “Kajal Deeghi,” where the water in the lake “house” and “reflect” your nostalgia. Your eyes are not left in tears, but they slobber in expectation of more and more of his poetry to seek refuge in. “Experience Personified” reminds us that sights, in their minuscule amounts accumulate into our experience. We are driven towards despair when he prophesies that “Like an inevitable death/ An enormous God steps in.” Variety steps in when we read prose poems like “Clean Gene,” and “Time and Tide,” where you would be left amazed at the mastery of the poet over the use of understatements to invoke your emotions.

The next section of this slim collection endeavors to justify its title. And this section offers prizes of a different kind. When you read “Clues to Name,” you dig into the poet’s knowledge of spiritual mythology for the first time; you know that “Mantra bears lust… petty you, you blame the luster,” you learn that giving away is surrender, you learn that lust is inevitable and a pathway to surrender. You know that you are expected to lust, as the “lion keeps awake with his eyes closed.” What an intermixing with the Christian “rough beast” of The Second Coming! Finally in “Cryptic Idioms” we find “the earthen flute” to be our subconscious spinal cord (Sushumna) that is essentially divine (drawing upon Patanjal’s Yoga Sutra). “(Un)Timely Grant” is somewhat morbid, but justly prepares us for the concluding poem “Struggle for Silence” where the poet speaks of the silence of the flute as the desired level of harmony with the frequency of the God-waves.

Thus, The Earthen Flute is, as aptly described by Lorna Dee Cervantes: “brief as a firefly’s single pulse from the darkness, some, brightly lit as the long bridge between cultures.” It is like a Constable or a Turner painting of a beautiful edifice on a sunny day — washes of watercolor, and the subtle details which are delightfully delicate.


*Koushik Sen is studying (M.A.) English Literature in the University of Calcutta. He is an avid reader and is passionate about creative writing.     

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Reader Comments (4)

Great work.

June 22, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersubhojoy Ghosh

Great job Koushik. Congo Kiriti(da) Sengupta.

June 22, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHawakal Publishers

Thanks :)

June 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKoushik Sen

Oh, this is a wonderful review of three important Bengali poets who writes in English brilliantly.Thanks to the young student of English literature Koushik Sen for this sensitive article.

June 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBoudhayan Mukherjee

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