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Gopal Lahiri
‘Fugitive Words’
Gopal Lahiri

Fugitive Words | Collection of Poetry | Amit Shankar Saha |Hawakal Publishers, Jun 2019 | ISBN: 978-93-87883-69-7 | pp 102 | 300

Way of Words and Images

Poetry thrives in sunshine as well as in darkness but without knitting words or leaps of imagination, we lose the pleasure of promises. ‘Fugitive Words,’ the second collection of poems by Amit Shankar Saha, interweaves words with memory and despair, language and history that reflects and reveals the inner space and refracting reality. This is a collection that achieves resonance between an awareness and a landscape of elusive words. He approaches poetry with humanity and warmth and his poems thoughtfully touch on themes of identity, nostalgia, love, religion and society.

Let me pause to say: Saha has real gifts as a poet and it’s impossible not to hear the meta-textual echo of words in his luminous poems reaching from the precise to general.

Dustin Pickering has rightly pointed out in his introduction, ‘Saha is an expert in economy of words, picking them and sorting them in the most emotive and empowering way. They speak for more than Saha himself. These ‘fugitive words’ are literal fugitives, escaping criminal proceedings brought against them.

Reasonably sheltered but far from prearranged, this collection of poems is poignant and inviting in their familiar ease, broadening from the grounding details of life to manage to be both realistic as well as indefinable.

We know that language is a vehicle of history. Some of his poems put an argument – where does reality end and the dream begin? And if reality is the pit stop constant, have we been dreaming all along? Those poems feel intensely familiar yet disquietingly inexplicable. His poems are informed and sometimes unwelcoming, even though enlivened up by his refreshing way of words. Most of his poems seem to have absorbed the essence of the fugitive mind, the sense of time extending and shrinking and prevailing all at a time.

The opening poem, ‘My Words’, enters in the world shining in the light of dusk and introduces a new territory where the words enjoy freedom in the open space.

my words, those that live in huts by the tracks,
who owns their lives in this light of dusk?

They clamber into my poems
like a broken bridge half-way into a river,
like a broken roof half-way into a house. (My Words)

It can almost be about an aggressive inner self wondering at the ways we cross and hurt one another. There is porousness to lines such as these which float up and away. More common are minute observations, surreal moments and moving uncertainties. This and many other of the poems involve yearning and I love the stillness of the imagery, as intensely quiet.

A slow train at Talit
looks befuddled at fields
of ripe-green memories (The Eyes)

What is all the more remarkable is that he is neither emotive nor tedious nor foreseeable in his poems. The poet introduces a voice that intent on investigating spaces we do not ordinarily occupy and the arresting lines keep the readers on their toes –

My solitude becomes frail
as memories starve in the night

I, a water diviner, search
for a solvent to sustain life (The Water Diviner)

A short and startling poem, ‘Ajar’ possibly tells us more about inner self, exploring the sense that the meaning of things is not to be found in the obvious, in what is explicitly stated even though memory ‘ruptures neurons, punctures brains’. And yes, it is the quieter poems that resonate, that marvel the commoners –

From a slightly parted window
Light comes and settles in
My room at night. Lingers on
one wall for long. Staring
at my sleepless body. Soon
it will be dawn. Memory
too slightly parts my mind (Ajar)

There is melancholy that rings true in his poems at times yet his lyricism ripples with light. The nature is vibrant in his poems but not at the expense of human connection. The poet’s ‘fugitive’ words at times detain the readers. In this collection he shows poetry as a form of literary close work, reimagining as critical appreciation.

Ra Sh has mentioned very rightly, ‘Amit’s poems in their journey with words and memories are not limited to any singular species of memories, but are drawn from many histories and geographies.’

Let us plagiarize a chunk of verse
From a Hindu poem and profane it
With the lines of a Muslim poem (A Poem for Dark Times)

While the diversity of content and forms at times dip in lost love and silent grief, cynicism and sarcasm keep the freshness of the wordplay strikingly alive. The love of indifference is everywhere – in a literary sense, too. In particular, he borrows light from the surround and history that quivers between ominous and fresh doggedness to preserve. The locales are the right additive here and one can savour the sublimity of the following lines –

A little ahead of Shyambati,
night sheds lights to reveal

its mysterious shape.
It’s like walking into

Somebody’s confession.
At the bend of Ratan Palli (Convalescent)

I can’t put it down and have kept returning to these poems by their beauty and clarity. The prismatic output of the words is among the most significant, paradoxical, advanced and immense. A tender and succinct poem is as follows –

I never came close enough
to register your fragrance
days become months
and then there is an odour-
putrid, putrescent.
I know it is the stench of memory. (Olfaction)

Sometimes Saha digs deep and words are his reserve accretion. His subtle observation, ‘I make love to the lump/and it transforms/ into a poem’. Holding history and the contemporary in his palm, the poet displays his poetic canvas with an unwavering eye and his poems provoke and surprise with nuanced expression –

Missing you is like winter
Spent hidden under an old quilt
In the dark, without a torch,
Without being spied, without being sought. (Abyss)

This poem reminds us of the words we play with our minds to calm our own edginess. Saha’s wordplay and local narratives take us deeper into environs and familiar places as they shape boundaries between what might be and what really is. Saha writes poems that are loving evocations of surreal moments and memory, waking up the heart and rallying hope. He embraces the grace and virtually paints with words –

You find a dried-up yellow rose
Inside the pages of a broken book.

The story of the broken rose
Obscures the story of the yellow book

One day my books with your words
Will reach some unknown readers. (Windows)

Here is a poet whose voice is so strikingly rich that his wordplay requires no background information to appreciate. Some of his poems carry the shining presence of alliteration and assonance lacing with lyricism yet create the mellow sound of despair.

Staring long at a grey patch of green,
It seems the greys are the greens
And ungreatness a greatness
And all deceiving undeceiving. (The Greatest Love Poem)

What strikes me most in his write, is the weaving of the words and generation of metaphors. Shadowy, unsettling and mindful, these poems linger through rare images and glowing words.

I undo my smoke-leaden
Tresses onto my yellow skin
To hide the marks of Basanta
Left by a migrating spring. (Grey Love)

Some of his poems make real efforts in combining memories and a surreal present in reimagining the familiar to desired effect. His poems are thoughtful but subtly formal, distant but accessible. This poem is full of surprise and wonder and conjures the rainy landscape within soul. Perhaps the rains are like tears without saltiness as the poet envisages elsewhere –

It is raining inside me
but you can’t see
Clouds of words enter me
but you can’t see (Rain Within)

His poems delving deeply into contradictions at times yet agree with its final tally. Nostalgia and grief surface throughout Saha’s writing, intent on uncovering the incongruous beneath the everyday life, even as it remains hushed, detached and blurry. Not to be stuck in a groove, the buoyant mobility and full of unexpected fronts in his poems leave the readers enthralled.

At the waterfall the wind ruffles
the hair of water, shaking off drops
like flakes of dandruff from the head
of a crevice top. How unkempt? (The Waterfall)

There is a joy in encountering a collection that insists with exceptional grace how to craft a painterly line with elusive words moving without pressure and finally leaves an indelible impression. This book has an urgency about being alive and a quieter seriousness in reconnoitring precisely the life, love and memories and raising its voice in the ‘adverse time space’. If his poems are to believed, there is nothing as consoling as ‘word’ in particular. Fugitive Words reflects a significant deviation from ‘Balconies of time’, the debut collection of Saha’s poems. Tender and artful, this book is a gentle celebration of life and beyond, a spiritual exploration of inner soul.

The cover page demonstrates how much can be achieved by not overdoing it with extravagant illustrations. The book is a must for every poetry lover.


Issue 87 (Sep-Oct 2019)

Book Reviews
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Memorable Melody Makers’
  • Betty Oldmeadow: ‘Universal Oneness’
  • Gopal Lahiri: ‘Fugitive Words’
  • Kalyanee Rajan: ‘Melody of a Tear’
  • Kumari Priti: ‘The City and the Sea’
  • Rama Rao V V B: ‘Two Indias and Other Poems’
  • Revathi Raj Iyer: ‘Yoga & Stress Management’
  • Sapna Dogra: ‘Musing Madhawa – Viraha Madhawam’
  • SK Sagir Ali: ‘Floating Towel and a dozen Short Stories’
  • Uma Chattopadhyay: ‘The Hungryalists – The Poets who Sparked a Revolution’