An Ode to Shimla
Collection of Poetry
Mumbai: Leadstart Publishing. 2016
Pages 149 | Rs 150
An incandescent & luminous collection with hopes for renewal & transcendence
Sanjeev Bansal’s first book of poems An Ode to Shimla is replete with poet’s aesthetic sensibility where he creates a space for a mind ridden with conflict thereby transporting the theme of love and longing to the sublime level.
Sanjeev works for Punjab Energy Development Agency, Chandigarh, and his weekends are mostly spent in Shimla. He was born in Ludhiana, Punjab and studied at the Jaypee University at Solan, located 46 kilometres from Shimla. There he started writing a diary in which he encapsulated his one sided love for a girl, that he names Maya. The love ended painfully after 7 years. He has published two novels, Untimely Dream: Maya (2014) and Queen of Ember & Her Dead Priest (2015).
The poems in his An Ode to Shimla are immensely subjective. This anthology of 54 poems spread across 149 pages is an “ocean of royal verses” as he calls it in the dedication. Hard to believe that he’s an engineer.
The strength of the book lies in its sensibility, distinctive language and personal tone. One cannot miss the Wordsworthian flavour in most of his poems. Look at these lines of the poem “Ode to Blissful Season”:
Ah Yes, the tips are white with snowy mist,
And arctic with shivers that seize and freeze;
The Apples and Peaches grow in the delighted
And floats of fog cast, to and fro like pendulum,
And the big pine trees blossoming in an icy passion;
The hills of Lahaul and Spiti split by the curvy road,
The lure and appealing of the scene engulfs me.
I, as the admiring voyager linger on the hill. (77)
In the poem “A Pleasant Dream,” the European romantic influence is clear enough:
I lost myself down below the depth of hills,
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
And the breeze of old dreams unfolded my soul,
Rid the tremulous flames of quiet sorrows. (41)
The Shelleyan notion of the west wind is another marker of the European romantic influence:
The west winds destroyed him.
Yes, I’ve been destroyed,
(Lost Friend, 80)
The blurb says: “Lyrical and linguistically inventive and yet faithful to poesy of European gloom, Bansal investigates complex personal history, family and romantic love in carefully sculpted lines, thereby making his poetry an odyssey at once metaphorically and emphatically real.” One can say with some confidence that the present collection of poems is extremely rich in poetic diction. Beautiful vocabulary adds to the charm of the poems.
An inventive feature of the book is the use of double punctuations. Let us take the poem, “Love-A Sailing Ship”:
Would love come to me ever??
Would it be so kind to me ever??
Would it come and steal me like a secret thief?? (16)
Bansal is for sure a highly imaginative poet who gives a free rein to his thoughts. On one hand he is faithful to the traditional poetic form; on the other hand, he plays with the language, syntax and punctuations thereby achieving a unique style.
Towards the end there is the “Epilogue” which is addressed to “poetry,” seeking direction. I think it is one of the best poems of the collection. He anticipates criticism from the readers and the critics alike. He is very well aware of his limitations.
O slender Compass (poesy), give direction without me, -
Alas, thy Commander in not permitted to go!
Go, as you’re a banished ship:
. . .
Go then, my poesy,
Don’t be ashamed to annoy the reader.
Don’t think ye’re a traveller of the horde.
Though ye lack a name, they’ll figure out the genre,
It’s clear ye’re mine.If anyone think ye’re worthless to read,
Because it’s written by me, & shoos ye away,Say, “I’m not Love’s Ace,
It has already got what it is entitled to.” (149)
In poems like “Is this an Ending of Togetherness?” and “Shimla Doves” the place and the beloved are indistinguishable. The poems are entrenched in the landscape and personify the place.
Robert Frost says that “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” This applies to Sanjeev Bansal’s poems. It is a slender but exquisite anthology where most of the poems are deeply personal, borne out of pain and turns out to be an odyssey of a lamenting heart. The poems are heavily laden with words and phrases like “wounded heart,” “silent emotions,” and “unlovable.”
Lack of annotations for certain words might be an obstacle for those not familiar with Shimla. Take for instance these lines from the poem “Poet of Crowned Oak Tree”:
I too could hear the amiable chattering of birds of paradise,
Under the swallowed sapphire of blues, crystal clear;
Clearer as echo sounds of Gaiety’s acoustics; (19)
Here it is unclear whether the reference to “Gaiety” means the famous Gaiety Theatre situated on the Mall Road of Shimla or some other personal reference the poet is aiming at. Similarly, in the poem “Shimla Doves” the reference to the ‘Ridge’ and ‘The Mall’ would fail to register on the minds of those not familiar with the famous landmarks of the Queen of Hills.
Sanjeev’s ability to touch the universal even in the face of personal loss makes his book appealing. Take for example the poem “Real Face of Progress” which is a reflection of the contemplative mind of the poet.
World’s drilling in, simulating every second,
In the name of civilization, growth and progress;
While, millions in the universe, still in the need of food and shelter,
And suffer death out of incurable and unnamed diseases,
And still higher officials impressively say,
“We’re entering into an era of development,
We’re an industrialized nation.” (117)
This poem is a clear and formidable swipe at readers who might criticise the book for a lack of contemporaneity. This poem is nothing less than an earth anthem.
The book engages the reader from the very beginning; one will never find it tiring. It is an incandescent and luminous collection. Bansal’s intensely imagined verse successfully captures his love for the hills of Shimla and memories of rejection, pain and loss. With a desire to relive the past and imagine the future, he hopes for renewal and transcendence. An Ode to Shimla is a pleasant read in spite of several typographical errors that should have been taken care of by the proof reader.