About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My poetry commentary in Kritya

Kritya poetry journal (www.kritya.in) has published my poetry commentary in its current issue. Not meant to be any erudite analysis, the writeup touches on my take on poetry emanating from simple observations. Also, my notes on Tagore and Ryan is purely incidental. There is so much more -- and so many more poets -- I could perhaps come back and talk about on this theme alone... For those who might want to read it right here, the article is pasted below:

Poetry As Observation: From Notes to Lyrical Creation(http://kritya.in/0408/En/name_of_poetry.html)

It is tough writing about poetry. Our understanding about poetry is diverse and always evolving. From ancient theories of Bhartrihari’s “Sabdatattva” to Derrida’s “différance” in spoken and inscribed language, poetry has shown possibilities that we are still exploring. As our observations about the world around us gets stratified, condensed and co-opted, our poetry grows like vines over old or new structures, whether as part of our conscious landscaping or willful neglect.

What can we do in the name of poetry? Very simple things, almost un-esoteric and rather commonplace until it turns into a rhythm guiding us deeper inside our own selves and making us see the external world as a magnanimous companion to our variegated existence. Here’s a list I once made about what we could or I could do in the name of poetry:

Sing a song/Recite a verse/ Chant a mantra/Do a jig/Wield a pen/Raise a slogan/Stretch a hand/Draw a line/Demolish a wall/Ask a question/Name an object …

All this is certainly poetry, because these actions arise out of observations and commentaries on life surrounding us. Happiness, sorrow, protests, challenges and doubts work as incentives. For me they do as strongly as hills and dales and flowers and moonlight.

Not going into any erudite discussion, something elemental comes to my mind as my own experience of poetry as observation. The short poems of Rabindranath Tagore, said to be influenced by the Haiku style during his stay in Japan, are memorable in their recordings of observations and the mystical shapes they took in the poet’s mind:

Stray birds of summer come to my window
to sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autumn,
which have no songs,
flutter and fall there with a sigh.

Tagore’s stray birds and yellow leaves of autumn, the animate and the inanimate, both flutter with a melody of resignation that the season bears. When he says:

I sit at my window this morning
where the world like a passer-by stops for a moment,
nods to me and goes.

He has brought poetry into the realms of his daily occupation. The cosmic scope of these words delights us, literally, with his observation of life and its simple pace.
In the poem below:

The light that plays, like a naked child,
among the green leaves happily knows not
that man can lie.

Here words and objects the verses relate to have played with the external world and turned shapes and meanings to reinvent another life for themselves. The observation about “light” imagined as an animate shape broadens the scope of such imagination in our minds. Linguistically and otherwise, the poet’s observation here has taken a leap towards the metaphysical from being compared to a physical human child. We look at the poem like an object under the focus of a stage light, an observation bright and beauteous.

Anyway, observation leading to poetic creation is perhaps well-known from eras bygone. The Vedic people had created poetry seeking safety for their livestock, strength to counter invaders, more rain and food, and in awe of nature. The essence of the verses have lived on and adapted to changing history and time.

Of late, reading Kay Ryan, the current US poet laureate, was a great insight into a very 'tongue-in-cheek' and angular quality one rarely finds in poems that are also highly lyrical. Her poems – observations about words, categories, objects and nature – open up amazing sounds in their twists and turns, indignantly flavorsome phrases and a fable-like prophetic capability, a condensed recollection of quaintly impressionistic images presented in compact little forms glittering like fine Persian jewelry! Consider:


Among English verbs
to die is oddest in its
eagerness to be dead,
immodest in its
haste to be told --
a verb alchemical
in the head:
one speck of its gold
and a whole life's lead.

For me, Ryan's etching of just one "verb" sums up her prophecy about all other verbs -- "to die is oddest in its/eagerness to be dead" is the unpredictable element and resplendent in poetic beauty. This is a spectrum within which she speaks of all other actionable acts that life may hold. And yes, that verb is alchemical. It literally and physically is in a haste to be dead, to be over with, to be told. At the same time it sums up a life and the material and moral quests that accompany it.


Their green flanks
and swells are not
flesh in any sense
matching ours,
we tell ourselves.
Nor their green
breast nor their
green shoulder nor
the languor of their
rolling over.

The reader can see here how Ryan's topography, is a continuous changing, rolling, engulfing entity quite akin to the anatomical flexing of human or rather, animate forms. Ryan nature, as well as any other topography she considers, is a thoughtful, sometimes erratic, actionable entity that competes with her own declared sense of compactness and prophetic conclusions (fable). In THE LIGHT OF INTERIORS, this relationality comes alive when she writes:

... But, in
any case, the light,
once in, bounces
toward the interior,
glancing off glassy
enamels and polishes,
softened by the scuffed
and often-handled, muffled
in carpet and toweling,
buffeted down hallways,
baffled in equally
by the scatter and order
of love and failure
to an ideal and now
sourceless texture which,
when mixed with silence,
makes of a simple
table with flowers
an island.

I'll not point to the lovely and obvious alliterative craft at work in this part of the poem. What strikes me is the kinetic force of her words embodied by the description of 'light' that lights up her topography almost meandering and running through a clutter of objects, finally to rest upon the final poetic imagery of a "table with flowers/an island", so Vermeer-like, a static image throbbing with calm energy. Such is Ryan’s observation, where notes turn into lyrical creations.


Too much to lose said...

Well ,you have been able to catch hold of the spine of poetry. A poet's mind is a world of its own.Its has its own way of survival. It has its own dreams,imagination and reasons which feed itself. And a symphony is always heard in his garden...which is as light and tender like a new born's hands.

Liked your article a lot.....:)

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fleuve-souterrain said...

thanks my friend! The way you paraphrase your thoughts is awesome. Poetic indeed.

welcome and thanks! Will check that out.

Rhett said...

Quite enjoyed reading this. Especially the Tagore and Ryan bit. Tagore is my fave poet.
I really must say Thank You.

tanuj solanki said...

Very nice Nabs!!(lol new nick)

I recently watched an Orissi performance on the works of Tagore.

'Ekla Chalo' especially, was rendered into an amazing sequence of actions on stage. Oh gosh! it was too good

trés trés magnifique!!