The Wanderlust Conspiracy
Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2017
Pp 156 | ? 300
A multi-hued travel trajectory
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”
– Saint Augustine
Wanderlust Conspiracy is a collection of sixty-one poetic narratives, woven as homage to the nomadic love for travel. Here is a collection which defies easy labels, here is a writer who does not fear potholes, and here is a path that he makes readers traverse in his ‘maze-in-a-haze’ (19) manner. The book is an exploration of the labyrinths of heart and the Wanderlust which imbues us with all sorts of magic and mania. Written in an unconventional mix of poetic prose and free verse, it becomes poet’s own travel manifesto. This book is next in league after Siddharth Dasgupta’s acclaimed short-story collection The Sacred Sorrow of Sparrows published in 2017. Central to his writing creed is his vagabond-like and unbridled passion for freedom.
Dasgupta admits that this book is not a routine travel guide with suggestions, guidelines, and list of do’s and do not’s. He is no travel connoisseur; the book per se is an outcome of his observations, random snatches of conversation, inchoate emotions brimming with gusto, dream-like sequences and much more. It is a horizon where love and longing, bliss and pain, flash memories and lived moments, confession and reconciliation, chimera and reality, ephemera and eternity seem to meet and dissolve into each other. His musings on fragility of things and relationships are sometimes intriguing and introspective. More often than not, such ruminations seem to make an overriding commentary on life in general, fraught with paradoxes and transience. Many a time, the writer seems to be riddled with paroxysms of love and its corollaries – flirtation, lust, repentances, confessions, anguish and guilt. Dasgupta explores the myriad facets of love in the modern times where talks of eternal, unconditional or unblemished love seem obsolete, where love charts its own non-conformist course, and refuses to be bound by strictures or norms. Nevertheless, love and romance consumed by desires – carnal or spiritual, still set the ball rolling in the panorama of modern life. Love may be a “desperate affair” (13), it may carry weight of lovers’ own “drunken atonements”, but “beneath which lie two bodies, compelled” (14). “L’aMuse” deliberates upon the fickleness of love, albeit in an ingenious way. The beloved is the Muse who chirks up the creation of this particular poem, but she is not the eternal Muse who inspires pages after pages, books after books. The break-up of the affair invites a rather dramatic utterance by the speaker: “Words, as it turns out, are a fraught affair” (32). “A Work of Art” is a “perfectly, portioned, positioned” piece replete with sensuous imagery. The Keatsian pull between art and life is evident in the poem in which the beauty of the real and living beloved outshines the magnum opuses in the fields of art, which he refers to as “immaculate waste” (35).
A self-made loner seeped in contradictions of life, Dasgupta seems to have an unequivocal love for cafés, which become his confidantes and spark the poetic impulse, his raison d'être. The cafés with their décor, enigmatic space, and their songs and books are havens for a wandering soul like Dasgupta. There are a few Café pieces which seamlessly touch the chords of readers' hearts. “Letters from a Café Lost” is particularly redolent with nostalgia and wistfulness – “an ode to all those yesterdays” (47) – permeated with old-world Bohemian charm, quaintness and sepia-tinted vintage memories of once-upon-a-time Elma’s Café located in Hauz Khas Village. The writer reminiscences the sumptuous memory-soaked delicacies of café, his intimacy with its elegant corners and mystic shadows, and his love for the old French records played there. From an ode, this piece takes on an elegiac tone lamenting the closure of Elma’s café as he writes: “Such finality. Such cruelty” (49).
The book is an exemplary tour de force and Dasgupta seems to be a deft conjurer of aural and visual images. The Bastakiya Quarter with its wind tower homes; the never-ending magic of Paris and its heritage bookstore Shakespeare & Co.; the mansion of Pierre-Auguste Renoir in Essoyes, France; Al Diyafah street in Dubai with its “illicit shawarma bliss”, “cramped quarters”, and “immigrant influx of unshakeable dreams” (84-85) throb with life as Dasgupta takes us on a quick tour. The images of narrow cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses and its churches and cathedrals in Troyes, France; the ever-evasive “infinite oceans of shifting sand and perpetually cosmic skies” which hold the power to birth and nurse the wings of imagination in the Hajjar Mountains, Oman; the interplay of Sufi Foxtrot and the blazing dance of Bosphorus in Istanbul; the tranquil under the shade of a Bodhi tree and His Holiness Dalai Lama’s simple words of wisdom in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala; the gypsy lady selling trinkets at the Saturday Night Bazaar and the Portuguese nostalgia of Goa dipped in its beaches, are all dexterously woven into the texture of the book.
Another compelling and interesting thing about the book is the clever choice of some titles like “All the World’s a Page” which is an interesting reworking of Shakespeare's famous line. The title “Sufi Foxtrot” raves with the ecstatic trance like dance performed by a sect of Sufis.
The collection relies on a potent use of alliteration, though it only reinforces the idea Dasgupta dwells upon. Barring a few places, this literary device does not seem super-imposed. The use of consonance as well as assonance definitely lends a certain cadence to the structure of the book. Some ideas, words and motifs have been quintessentially repeated throughout the book. Epiphany sets the course time and again in many poems including “Paradigms Blue”, “Champagne Gothic”, “Hotel Nirvana” and “Small Secret Treasures”. The writer seems swayed by the adjective “brutal” and explores its multiple dimensions. Sometimes, beauty gets tinted with brutality; at times, lust bathes in the ‘brutal blue” (25) of oceans; at a certain place, he mentions night’s brutal kiss or even flirtation which takes on a “brutal” turn. Similarly, the idea of kenopsia and auroras finds repeated mention in many pieces. The book does not chart any chronological travel trajectory. The cities and places he sets his foot on kindle his poetic muse albeit not always as a direct response to the geography and time of the place, rather random and disjointed memories laced with yearning, melancholy and untamed emotions stir the poetic impulse of the writer. The deliberate slapdash structure and wayward musings seem to sanctify the wild, raw and impulsive layout of this experimental book. However, it is highly recommended that a detailed glossary should have been given at the end considering the complex linguistic and cultural nuances of the various geographical places.
For souls burning with thirst for pure wanderlust and life's inconspicuous conspiracies, this wordsmith has a lot in store for you!
Issue 78 (Mar-Apr 2018)