No Waiting like Departure
New Delhi: Authors Press. 2016
Pages 122 | Rs. 295
Lessons Duly Learned: and the Intimacy of Memory
“Like reading how someone leaves
In a mirror
There and yet far away…”
(Colour’s Green: Santhalbari)
This verse reflects the central theme of No Waiting like Departure. Debasish Lahiri creates a world that harbors surreal and highly emotive thought. We are led through the experience of departure, in a certain way, from the mind’s-eye of the traveler. For instance, in “University of Lancaster: Nametag” the poet’s nametag is upside down, and he has trouble reading the English letters. The alienation of visiting a foreign land is accentuated. Everything becomes strange to him, even dialing his mother’s phone number. In “Diaspora Cuts,” he reassures himself that his nervousness is only because of the call and nothing else. Somehow, he cannot convince himself. Certainly this small crisis is symbolic, but Lahiri walks around it to minimize its importance in his mind. In another poem, he sharpens this tendency to include most of the human experience:
A little abstraction
To chase away
The many nightmares
(Shimla: Sight before Sight)
Poetry also has an unusual way of discussing itself and this book is no exception. Lahiri reflects on the creation of poetry and uses the imagery derived from Nature to reveal how powerful the craft is. In “Shantiniketan: Morning,” the poet writes:
Hurrying through the dew’s siege this morning
The body feels like a forgotten poem
In a maze of lost sentences.
The poet’s experience becomes equivalent to the tool he uses to express his forlornness. At the same time, this reflection coalesces with much of the rest of the book. The word “siege” parallels the language of History reflected in later poems of the collection.
Where sun-beaten and dry the salt
of blue waves
Hide the outrage of history
Like a monster.
(Kanyakumuri: The Pier)
Abandoned by the flux of events
In a moist memory…
(Chennai: At Parry’s Corner)
In “Dawn,” we have the lines “…Maddened with their witness/ of the recluse History.” The poet reveals the intimacy of Nature and Memory.
In the Introduction, he writes that “the city also deepens waiting, widening the threshold of departure.” The poems themselves deepen as they begin with concrete events and move toward Romantic reflection. The reader is led from the thoughts and experiences of the poet as an individual into his vision of the primacy and eternity of Nature and the time-strained impressions of History. The reader may ponder if God’s creation is not eternal and permanent while Man’s inventions are ephemeral and dissolute.
In “Vigil: Manchester Airport,” Lahiri gives us a sign of the depth of departure itself.
A land lost through language
That I shared
As a blood-brother
With blood on my hands.
In “Daud Khan,” we are met with a sly touch of irony. Daud Khan has a “fear of all things new,” as a line puts it, and this line is shaped within the larger discussion of regeneration in previous poems. Lahiri’s journey on the train allows him to reflect on the continual rebirth of Nature and the earth, as “red earth dreaming of green” (Animadversion I: Open Country), and “the everlasting autumn of youth” (Nightmare on a Train). Again, we sense the limitations of historical time within the scope of Nature’s beauties.
The collection accomplishes exactly what it intends, and also broadens our view of what is beautiful. A poet has the unique gift of sensing the beauty in raw experience and of teaching the reader how to expand his or her senses of the world. A common train journey becomes reason to reflect on the awe of Nature and the mystery of human endeavors. A plane flight gives moments to reflect on the strangeness of life. No Waiting like Departure endeavors to instruct on two levels: one, as a person experiencing the oddity of being far away from home; and two, as a poet and scholar teaching us to live larger and reflect on the treacheries and bravery that brought us to our own point of departure.