The Poetry of Pertinence
Pertinence is perhaps what Keki N. Daruwalla means when he writes in his opening blurb: “This is trigger-tense poetry at its best.” The germaneness of Sanjukta Dasgupta’s poems is never in doubt. She has been writing for a long time and this collection of new and selected poems range from 1996 to 2021. Edited and critically introduced by Jaydeep Sarangi and Sanghita Sanyal this is a collector’s book because it encompasses the career of a poet through her journey over six published books of poems as well as adding some new uncollected ones in this volume. Be it a researcher or an avid reader of poetry, both will want to possess this precious item of bound sheets of paper. But the poetry inside the covers is not bound. Unbound, as the title suggests, releases the poems from various collections of Sanjukta Dasgupta’s poems viz. Snapshots (1996), Dilemma (2002), First Language (2005), More Light (2008), Lakshmi Unbound (2017), Sita’s Sisters (2019) and collects the very apposite ones in a promethean effort.
One can see the growth of the poet from Snapshots to Sita’s Sisters to the hour of the pandemic but the relatedness was and is never missing. In “Snapshots” she writes:
As the years fly, Sellotaped snapshots
Overcrowd the wall behind my writing table.
Often tranquilised or traumatised
The germ of the poem is nostalgia and it comes out so aptly in her words. Memory becomes a “Curious collage of bromide” in an era when Kodak and Fuji Films were the conservators. In “Sita’s Sister” she writes:
Sita’s sister was a good woman
She belonged to just one man
The incessant unbearable cries of Sita’s sad sisters
Had turned their Mother Earth to senseless stone!
The journey of a good woman to become a sad woman has never been so poignantly depicted. Women’s journey from being devoted wives to being “programmed parrots” to “pathetic puppets” to “remote controlled robots” is stated with a brazenness that is rare. Once again Sanjukta Dasgupta has been as relevant as she possibly could be. There is no subterfuge in her poems – her hands are always on the trigger to fire the words.
She takes up a personal theme and a social theme with equal aplomb. Her approach to poetry is more holistic and she does not restrict herself to a type. One of her new poems “The Tree out of My Head” is a very personal poem of loss. The beautiful metaphor of the “umbrella tree” creates a moving image of human relationships as well as the natural world as if the two blend into one. But when she moves from the personal theme to a more social theme in a poem like “Coffin Factory” speaking about the deaths resulting from the pandemic and the horrors of it, she is equally potent. The poem starts with the stark line: “Death has been insatiable this year” and goes on to say “Death is a greedy capitalist this year”. There is sharpness in these lines and an insight that makes them strike the readers with the force of breaking sleep. But this is not new to those who have read Sanjukta Dasgupta’s poetry.
There is a poem titled “Shame” from her old collection of poems Dilemma, where she starts the poem by narrating about the gift of a silk saree that she receives from her mother on her seventeenth birthday and how she enjoyed wrapping her legs in the saree folds until “years later I suddenly saw/ My legs were lost alas/ Shrouded in five meters of graceful cloth”. The poem ends with the lines:
Saree shackled woman
Crippled but with limbs intact –
Waits and waits and waits
For that midnight hour
Of metamorphosis –
I am now stark dark Kali
With flying tresses
It is a poem of self-realization and yet it is also a poem of mythological dimension. The reference to goddess Kali is not lost and also her unboundedness. She refers to Kali as the “Woman Terminator” and this phrase recurs in her poem “Kali” from the volume More Light. Here Kali is also “Black beauty” and “An awesome Mother” who “walks on as the world rotates and revolves”. This taking of the personal to the mythological dimension is what makes the particular, the specific, universally acknowledged and understood. Unbinding one’s own experiences to allow access to the world becomes the hallmark of her poetry. Sanjukta Dasgupta uses mythology extensively but even in a volume titled Lakshmi Unbound there can be found poems where the poet is absorbed in words and language and the art of writing poetry. In “Poem Within” she writes “Yet like a speck of sparkling diamond/ The inviolate poem will linger somewhere/ As long as words survive…”.
But this preoccupation with language too is not new for Sanjukta Dasgupta. In her earlier volume First Language she has grappled with the need to justify herself for choosing English language for her poetic expressions. And here too she has not avoided being pertinent. In her poem “Mother Tongue/ First Language” she presents the dichotomy:
As I split my mother open to be born
A regal Caesarean arrival
The first language
Was the language of touch
She goes on to write her encounter with her mother tongue Bangla and her other tongue English and how “Other words flowed out of me/ Like a river or a mountain stream” because “By years of nurturing/ This foster mother/ And the one/ I ripped open to be here/ Like Krishna’s two loving mothers/ Joyously merged and mingled.” This is as candid an admission of how poetry choses its own language because of its unboundedness. It is highly commendable and both the editors need to be applauded for bringing this definite volume to the readers. Perhaps this too is as pertinent as the poems are.
Issue 101 (Jan-Feb 2022)