I think that this is the first time that I am officially reviewing a piece of writing on this blog. Note – I am no authority on Hindi literature, I have read very little of it; yet, I will try my best to do justice to this anthology. I will be going into a bit of a background first, so please bear with me.
The person – Ankit is a friend of mine from TISS. I actually met him only a few days before he published the book, say about ten days before. He was already ‘famous’ in the campus, for want of a better word and half my class is part of a theatre troupe with him, so we end up meeting. We end up talking about larger than life things each time we meet – life, philosophy, equality, whether literature is elitist, and things like that. Each chat with him stirs a lot of thought in my head, and so did his book, but more on that later. From this narrative, you might think he would be some steely-faced, philosopher type. Not at all true. His presence is very humble and unassuming. I think this shows through the poetry as well.
The process – Ankit tells me that 4 months ago, he did not even write a word. His friend Tanya then encouraged him to write down his thoughts, and suddenly, 41 poems were staring at him. It feels magical and movie-like, but I understand this. Sometimes, the right channel is all that is needed to get oneself flowing. He was in the process of getting appropriate cover art, and going to and fro the publisher and other nitty-gritties of publishing. He has not gone through an agent, but done it himself, with the help of a few friends and it really is commendable. Finally, came the night of the book launch. That too, was a snug, comfortable affair. The moving classical music added a celestial touch to the evening, while Ankit blushing and stammering at even the hint of praise added a comical one.
The poetry – The book consists of 41 poems, divided into two themes. The first theme is society, and this section is called ‘tamache’ with 28 poems under it. These are daily observations that anyone would have made on their way to and fro work, or they could be hidden facts of our society that we think of as ugly truths and ignore. From the subtle discrimination to clear maltreatment (of certain individuals in the society) are slowly portrayed as you turn the pages. What I like is that most of the poems are more questions or narrations than opinions. This leaves enough space for the reader to explore their views on the topic. If it were a stern opinion that was expressed, the confrontation would make sure that the possibility of any dialogue with oneself and one’s beliefs goes flying out the window. On the flipside, certain poems were slightly longer than they should be, in my opinion, so that the reader stays with the idea, rather than his or her mind starting to flee because of the length of the poem.
The second theme is exclusively on women. It is called ‘gehno ke peeche’ and has 13 poems under it. The various themes captured under it range from widowhood practices in India, to maternal instinct, the profession of prostitution and how women are generally perceived. The author’s distaste for all of the mistreatment and discrimination is very clear in all the poems, and the view has been articulately expressed. These are everyday stories that we might have nodded sympathetically to and stored away somewhere in our head. To bring this to the fore means facing the uncomfortable truth with regards to what a hostile world it is for women. What I found lacking however, was the narratives of women who do not perhaps think of themselves in terms of mainstream notions of women, or do not want things like beauty, freedom to study or other mainstream struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society – but say themes like exploration of alternate sexuality and so on. Therefore, I found this section lacking, as compared to the first one. Still, it’s a good attempt.
Aesthetically speaking, you might find tune lacking in some poems. Ankit says that this book is not a book of poems expressing ideas, but a book of ideas expressing poems. Therefore, putting ideas forth takes priority over melody. But the words used are pretty common place, so you need not worry about not knowing Hindi too well. Also, Ankit mentioned trying to translate the poems into English sometime in the future, so hopefully, a wider public can read it. In the quality of poetry, I found a resonance with the works of Arun Kolatkar, the observational and narrative style, with subtle undertones, and often a crudeness which comes from more originality and less refining and polishing of words.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the book. Behind the poetry, I sense an angry mind. Angry, yet not pessimistic. I personally think that a pessimist is an angry person who has lost all hope. So, if a person is only angry yet, he still has hope. And although some of the poems may sound pessimistic, I somewhere sense a desperate attempt in them to make people uncomfortable and move them towards change. In fact, the whole idea of putting forth a book of such thoughts is to bring about some little change possible. This change might be just in the way people perceive such small social instances, but any revolution starts in the mind before it is out on the streets, and maybe this book will provide its own little impetus to that.