Mangalesh Debral’s compositions are translated by some of the best in the field: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Sudeep Sen, Daniel Wessbort, Vishnu Khare, Asad Zaidi, Giridhar Rathi and Akhil Katyal. The central concerns are the Tehri dam and the tragedy of displacement suffered by the poet’s people. The homeless and the forgotten are a recurrent theme, the persona hopelessly trapped between ‘action and ennui’. The title poem ‘This Number Does not Exist’ is an ironical play on the familiar signature tune, ‘ Ye Number Maujood Nahin Hai ’. Deftly translated with care and sensitivity the way only a poet can, the collection is a reader’s delight.
The spirit of place is a logical transition from Dabral to the anthology of Odia English poetry edited by Manu Dash. H.S. Mahapatra’s introduction raises the seminal question of rootedness to the Odia regional soil in the eight poets in the anthology. What indeed are the contours of regional poetry in English? Jayanta Mahapatra’s ‘Grandfather’ encapsulates a past hopelessly trapped in memories of the grandfather’s diary, dating back to the Great Odisha Famine of 1866. Torn, moth-eaten, it remains a prized possession; bringing history, memory and desire seamlessly together. A scroll of despair, the poem becomes a rite-de-passage. ‘Hunger’ depicts the oscillation between desire and abnegation. The adolescent female body of a fisherman’s daughter becomes a site of lust and appropriation by the dominant male gaze.
Niranjan Mohanty’s ‘The Epic’ is evocative of Odisha’s scriptural past teeming with elephants, cavalries and the memories of the grandmother. The link to this past, however, remains tenuous and fragile. Mohanty’s poetry is redolent of death, darkness and loneliness — underscoring the transcendence and mortality of human life. Like Mohanty, Prabhanjan K. Mishra’s verse is well-crafted and rooted in the native ethos, albeit seen from afar. ‘Konarka by Night’ magically recreates the myth of the fabled temple and invites the companion to an act of ultimate consummation. Diasporic poet Shanta Acharya’s compositions are full of gentle humour and irony. ‘Father’s Diary, 18th June 2000’ captures nostalgically home thoughts from abroad, just as ‘Morning After’ deals with the catastrophe of Odisha’s great cyclone of 1999. ‘On First Reading of Bhagavad Gita’ and ‘Home Coming’ underline the recurrent sense of distance and a longing for home. Rabindra K. Swain’s listed poems are modernist in temper, in terms of allusions and poetic idiom. ‘Anything Human is Proper’ delineates successfully the creative act through fractured images. Similar thoughts are evoked in ‘An Insomniac and the Night of a Dragon Fly’. Manu Das freezes a dramatic moment in ‘Photograph at CST’. A casual act of photography at the CST Railway Station in Mumbai is metamorphosed all at once into the catastrophe of the terror attack of 26/11. On the other hand, ‘Death of a Crane’, ‘Memories of a Super Cyclone’ and ‘Diwali in a Cancer Ward’, employ a conversational tone, capturing the essential truth of life’s irony on the home turf. Hemant Mahapatra’s modernist verse ably explores the meaning of love and relationships seen from near and far.
In Struggles with Imagined Gods , poet Hemant Divate offers a set of 22 poems, translated by award-winning poet Mustansir Dalvi. Divate excels in capturing the cityscape with all its beauty, ugliness, dirt and squalor. The idiom is the rough and tumble of city life embodying, at times, a sepulchral vision with a chatty tone and expressions/expletives known for their shock value. At times, the distinction between prose and poetry gets blurred. But ‘What Happened to Language’ underlines the need to preserve the dialects fast-disappearing from our midst. The same note of language-loss is poignantly seen in the poem ‘Flowers have Turned Brutish’.
Jorasanko: Select English Poems by Bengali Poets showcases some of the best Bengali poets writing in English. The poems themselves are uneven in quality; they straddle different approaches, styles and idioms, typical of what I would call ‘citizen poetry’. Aju Mukhopadhyaya offers a paean to ‘Mother India’ while ‘The Events’ explores the meaning of happenings after a literary festival. Sudeep Sen’s poems like ‘Bideshini Banalata’, ‘Jessore’, ‘Delhi’, and ‘Dhaka’ admirably capture the Lawrentian spirit of the place. The rootedness to Bengali and the adopted tongue English are skilfully harmonised and crafted in poetic terms. Debjani Chatterjee’s ‘Halfie’ is a clever study of the modern identity: terms like half-bread, cross-breed, half-caste/mulatto, mongrel, mixed… leave us in a no-man’s-land. Sanjukta Dasgupta excels in several poems: ‘Shooting’ dramatises the meaning of pleasure and pain through the use of wit and word-play witnessed in A.K. Ramanujan’s poetry. Similarly, ‘Chitrangada’ and ‘Chandalika’ are modern retakes on Tagore’s immortal works. Sharmila Ray’s ‘Losing Color’ is an exploration of a desolate and fractured existence with slender possibility of hope, a refrain found in Sutapa Choudhury’s ‘The Light of the Street Lamps’. Bina Sarkar Ellias’, ‘Shantiniketan 2’ ably captures the abode of Tagore in a storm when ‘ leaves swirled/in a dervish dance ’. Finally, Kiriti Sengupta’s short poems like ‘Celluloid’, ‘First Lip’ and ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ mirror the Japanese Haikus, grasping the mystery and miracle of life in a cryptic idiom.