A Century Shimmers like a Star-studded Sky

On March 5, 2023 by admin

[Amitabh: Samastipur aur anya Kavitaen. New Delhi:Nibandh, 2023]

Prasanta Chakravarty

The tightrope of real intimacy means trying to cultivate our common capabilities—for life is unembellished, plane and full of unexpected miracles; even in barbarous times: जीवन सपाट सीधा और सरल है | Especially in such times as ours: since all veneer stands exposed. It is the hardest of tasks—to shore easy and unadorned intimacy; walking step by little step with the times, and yet trying to leap across its narrow precincts, with a heart that is too large to accept pettiness, too devastated and restive to remain calm and poised. As the imaginative, mutinous soul brings the full force of intimacy to the reader, it runs the risk of self-exposure. Exposing the self is the obverse of self-indulgent confession. A prophetic minstrel does not skirt time; he confronts it. That is the only way to reveal, and remind, a bewildered humanity of the live and mobile collective forces that throb around us. We refuse to acknowledge, and participate in, acts of common humanity. So the poet hammers home the humble and forgotten origins of life-force again and again in order to shine light on its wondrous interiors. The poet reminds us that only by losing respectability can one rid oneself of the savage desire to remain relevant for the sake of mere convenience.

So, at the very basic level a series of motifs and situations in Amitabh’s maiden anthology concerns not the hypocrisy in our lives, but the apathy that comes from craving good living at any cost. Not apathy, but the frivolity of such an existence. Not frivolity, but a craftiness that is at once cruel and petulant—a devastating cocktail unleashed in public life and personal relationships. With razor sharp irony, he brings forth the smallness of our desires: the kiss turns into a subject of debate (मैंने चुम्बन पर बहस का एक बोल्ड प्रस्ताव दिया), a high-end god with cigarettes on his lips hold-forth in his make-belief paradise(एक देवता का चेहरा याद है मुझे/वे बंगाली थे/ उनकी सिगरेट कभी नहीं बुझती थी), vulture like care-givers wax eloquent over dead workmen (तुम्हारे मृत चहरे में चमक ढूंढ रहे थे), banal celebrations are rife (खुद को ख़तरे से बहार पा रहे सभी खुशनसीब देशवासियों/तुम्हे बहुत बहुत जन्मदिन मुबारक), deep thought is summoned only to call out and cancel others (ख़ारिज करना आसान काम नहीं है/लोगों को ख़ारिज करने से पहले लोग/ गरम समोसे और ठंडी मिठाई मंगवाकर रखते है)|

Indeed, as Amitabh imagines, we are not happy with one big sun that has been apportioned for us; we live by little suns of avarice and envy instead (हर मौके के लायक जेब में एकाध सूरज हम रख कर चलें). This phenomenon has percolated even among those who do value other, simpler modes of happiness (मोटा पैसा फिर भी दिन रात उनका पीछा  करता है). Hence, we make sure that our children are kept away from every trace of violence that besets the world, and we keep them away from poetry. Having been fed some rancid fodder, like pigs we prefer to die every hour: (सूअर पालना असंभव हो गया है /सिर्फ मल खाकर मर रहे हैं सूअर). The shepherds—the wise-ones, have deserted us. How do we now relate to our surroundings? We physically live in our mohallas, but our heart and soul lie elsewhere—in some glossy, superior universe: hence the disjunction with our own world. The guilt of this inner desertion has to be either sublimated or disowned tout court, at once with exuberance and cynicism. We are well aware of the nature of the battle-lines, but we refrain from taking sides, hoping to save our little havens. But living actually does not matter to those who wish to save their own skin. No life is sacrosanct, no death disturbs anymore: इनमे से किसी  की भी जान की/तुम्हारे लिए कोई क़ीमत नहीं है/ तुम यह नहीं कहते/तुम बचे हुए हो क्योंकि ये मर सकते हैं/एक दूसरे को मार सकते हैं/ तुम ये नहीं कहते |

Sediments of Habit

Amitabh is mutinous and ironic, but never a cynic. The poems try to understand the psychology of our times—what beats beneath such apathy? Why such colossal waste? The lynch mob comprises of actual human beings—with sentiments and affections. But do they babble within, unable to communicate or channelize their anger? Do we consider ourselves righteous and beyond smallness? Are we not all vulnerable within: Like the tall palm tree, which stands all powerful and self-contained during day, only to reveal itself as lifeless shadow after dusk? Are long nights necessary from time to time in order to remove distances that separate us? The poet is worried about those who remain for counting the dead, those who die million deaths before dying. Cannibalism breeds in our minds: सारे आदमखोर दिमाग में लड़ते हैं | The metaphor of our times is indoor cricket for the poet—the din is so deafening that the game itself becomes secondary. How has the noise of such communal feelings and homogeneity of hurt identities penetrated our kitchens, classrooms and media desks?

Amitabh undercuts constantly the apparently serious business of difference among humans, the superfluity of adult-transactions and arbitrations. We all know that pistols are merely make-belief toys among brothers from childhood—how can they turn against each other? Have we confused toys for real killing machines? Violence lies just on the other side of attachment. Lynching, when the moment comes for one, arrives in the midst of everydayness (जब तुम हमारी जान लेने घर में दाखिल होवोगे /हम तुम्हे खली चौकी पर चिंतामग्न पड़े हुए मिलेंगे) | There is nothing dramatic about dying—it is as unadorned and simple as living because there is no possibility of personal mourning anymore (हालांकि की में जानता हूँ इस क़ातिल समय में/शोक मनाने का ये व्यक्तिगत तरीका कोई तरीका नहीं है). One source of the impasse lies in the fact that all conviction is fractured at this time; there are no clear paths for articulation: मेरे पास कुछ यक़ीन है/वे पक्के नहीं हैं | Consequently, there is a strong ethical element of humanizing half-heartedness as a way of life in the anthology. Sometimes, here and there a few lines teeter on the verge of didacticism, and yet Amitabh is able to steer clear of such a tendency by simply acknowledging the rank heterogeneity of our existence.

Diurnal Dying

What distinguishes this volume from many other committed works of literature being written at this time is the acute sense that most people in our land are already long-forgotten and dead in the popular imagination. How can you kill and maim those who are already no more? We are all slaves of a free country. These landless slaves cannot be transported in ships as indentured labourers to plantation sites anymore. How can such a vast population be accommodated once primitive accumulation has left them voided as free floating migrant labourers, as vagabonds and lumpens? So, the lost and forgotten are already hallucinations for the living. Natural calamity and politics merely obliterate them from common sight: दरअसल वे तीन दिनों की बारिश के पहले ही मर चुके थे/ बारिश का पानी बस उन्हें बहा ले गया |

Amitabh’s poems are peppered with such lost souls, delving deep into the intricacies of their universe, their hopes, dejections, wily ways and their routine life—brought to us with no melodrama. Muffasil samvad-daata, metrovasi, autowala, thelawala, homeguard, safai-karmchari, the anonymous kite-makers—all jostle within his poetic canvas. The terrifying-real that lurks within each such world frees us from our paltry ways. One such poem narrates how lots of migrant kids are buried on the West bank of a river: “विस्थापितों की झोपड़ियों तक ले आया है कुत्ता/ज़मीन से खींचकर किसी बच्चे का हाथ/बच्चे हाथों से/कुत्ते को भगा रहे हैं |  And quite early on, the poet narrator reminds us that his mother used to smoke bidis and in and through that act of defiance, had brought the young ones up. He, in his turn, does the same: “जहाँ तक संभव हुआ /बच्चों को मैंने अपने बच्चे की तरह नहीं पाला |” This nurturing of our common existence marks the poems.

Triumphant Life

And yet, life is simple and unadorned. Samastipur is a mayalok that still lives, though it may seem to be no more. Often life arrives as the smell of food: as dal and idli. Simple food is a fundamental pillar of our living. There is a delightful poem at the beginning of the anthology when the poet encounters a group of elderly Sikhs on a flight from Patna and “वाहे गुरु वाहे गुरु जपता उड़ा विमान/ अचार, पराठे की खुशबू से भर गया आसमान/जब गिरा थोड़ा डर का तापमान|” The threats of majoritarianism on a small flight could be assuaged by absorbing the smell of earthy food. The metaphors for such organic, joyous living are many in the poems: aramkursi, rabbit, flowers and flowerpots. Life must go on. Its flow must never be extinguished. We must prepare to laugh and welcome miracles that keep happening every day.

Love irrigates Amitabh’s world: he sings hosannas of love in ferocious times, for one who does not know articulation, one who has vacated the scene, has known love. No amount of hatred and bad blood can destroy the simple pleasures of life: “मेले का आकर्षण और पान खाने का मज़ा/इन पर आदमी का कोई वश नहीं है.” Beyond the labyrinth of language lies touch and smell and our sense of music: “इतनी भाषाएं काफी हैं हम तीन लोगों के लिए/ इनके अलावा हमारे पास रोना -गाना/और चूमना-चाटना भी तो है|” To love life is to love its relentless flow: “आने-जाने, खाने-पीने-पहनने-बनाने-गलाने वालों के साथ/आया-जाया कीजिए/खाया-पिया कीजिए |” The forgotten souls of our free country must live, and they do live, in spite of such fierceness and polarization: “जिए/जीवित रहे ये बस्ती|”

Flight and Back

There are rare moments in the anthology when Amitabh takes a flight to some different realm. Such flights take us across temporality.  Like this one: “पंखें अभी और सदियों इस्तेमाल होंगे/में बस पंखें देखने आया था धरती पर/उनकी आवाज़ भी सुन ली|” Or such lines: “पहाड़ अपनी सासें नहीं सुनते/अपनी मौत का मातम नहीं मानते|” or “शहनाई की आवाज़ /संसार से भी अनोखी है /कितना अनोखा लगता है /संसार /शहनाई की आवाज़ से|” Indeed, there are rumblings of geological time and lyricality in such utterances—questioning human existence itself. But these moments of flight do not take us away from the material world. By means of drawing contrast, they reaffirm the futility of paltry human affairs. That is the reason why Amitabh is not ready to give butterflies any autonomous aesthetic status outside of the struggles of human affairs. That is the reason why the anthology concludes with a poem that captures a riot of throbbing human beings, and not any juridical idea of religious toleration: “लोग तो हिलमिल कर रहते हैं/ प्यार-मुहब्बत से|”


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