Literary Review

Nowhere people

For the love of Pork; Goirick Brahmachari, Les Éditions du Zaporogue, Denmark, $3.60.  

How does it feel to travel on the border of

two states?

A road that does not connect, but separates.

Meghalaya to my right

Assam, on my left

Meghalaya where I cannot make a home

Assam, where I am told, I am not from

Then, where is home?

The opening lines of Goirick Brahmachari’s volume of poetry, For the Love of Pork, brings people — long ignored by history — to the centrestage. A race of people who belong nowhere, who are unwanted wherever they go, a reality we want to ignore.

“Where is home?” the poet cries. Yet this denial of the right to roots, this denial of the right to identity and belonging has created something else in its place: the poet becomes a citizen of the world (because there is no possibility of being accepted in the place of his choice) or at least a citizen of urban spaces that he navigates with ease. It is poetry haunted by what Robin Ngangom calls “a dogged fear of home and homelessness”.

Like most people from his region, Brahmachari’s grandparents too migrated from East Bengal and were among the waves of migrants who sought to make a new life in the Barak Valley and around the Northeast. It is that loss that the poet hints upon in the poem ‘Karimganj’, where the river brings, the river sings, tales of a clay land where my roots lie.

This is an entirely different experience for me. It is strange poetry moving on landscapes that in a conventional sense may mostly be seen as unpoetic. I have read uncountable poems on the hills, the pinescapes and the cloudscapes of Meghalaya. But Brahmachari writes poems about the foothills, and I can smell a mixture of grease and petrol uniting with fish curry and human desperation. There is a quiet despair about these poems that casually describe a Khasi man on the run with his Bangladeshi wife, the shadow of ethnic cleansing at their heels.

Brahmachari’s poetry is peopled with faces that pass each other in the night, maybe on a night bus, migrant workers, people without papers, drifting from state to state, wherever jobs are to be had. In a matter of days, hours, minutes, their lives can be upturned, and death can come in a gunshot or a knifing. How can you make poetry out of that? That is the thing that surprises me. I recoil from his images. I can almost see empty-eyed men, women and children marching in long lines away from hunger, joblessness and landlessness. They come to live in towns lit by kerosene lamps that we drive past on a night bus and forget as soon as we have crossed them. A man makes the ritual phone call home when he is halfway to his destination. Beneath that almost casually delivered line, Ma I have reached Latumbai, is the unexpressed fear of the people from Barak Valley who travel to the rest of India braving the many dangers that this road poses: accidents, landslides, dacoity and ethnic killings.

The poems begin as surreal landscapes where rejection and legal paperlessness is the reality, or as Brahmachari puts it, “hallucinations of illegitimacy”. Lad Rymbai, Ratachora, Sonapur — he reels off names of places that have no sense of destination about them because they are the places we cross on the way to our destination. Now, we will at least remember them for the poems he has written on them.

The poem on Silchar is so laden with loss that he concludes,

We left you to never return again

We live now in hatred in dry cities

With a hope to come back to you someday.

Every now and then when we look

At you, there is nothing that there was.

There is no longer anything that is you.

Where do we go then

When we are tired?

Where do we then return?

It is not about loss of a beloved place when the familiar landmarks are gone. It is about feeling further alienated from a place that persists in remaining being hypocritical and tasteless and begin begins a downward spiral like all small towns that attempt “a false modernity”.

The poet starts his journey in the first section of the volume called ‘Home’ , from the point of rootlessness and unwantedness. He establishes the homelessness, which is part of his partition-torn migrant’s grandson experience. He questions early in life the notions of words like ‘home’ and ‘identity’, ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’.

In the second section of the book, ‘Away’,he establishes the bitter truths of urban alienation and angst. The poems in this section embrace morbidity, hallucinations, even addictions and physical homelessness. He writes poems on the villages of Delhi, the sarais like Humayunpur, Shahpur Jat, and Khirki, where migrants from the Northeast live with people from all over the world. While in the Northeast, the poor had more space, now they are confined in claustrophobic urban villages. In this section, his poems focus on the underclass and the frictions that are created by poverty, urban counter culture counterculture and orthodox landlords in these dingy, ignored neighbourhoods of Delhi.

Though he denies himself a place that feels like home, reading the poems on Delhi, one initially gets the sense that the capital city is that love-hate place for Brahmachari. It is with an easy familiarity that he takes us through Delhi’s localities, — Vasant Vihar, Hauz Khas, Select City Walk, the Indian Coffee House, Palika Bazar — places created for the rich or middle class. But there is a thinly-veiled contempt in the poem for the mainstream image of Delhi that most people imagine it to be. The contempt becomes so apparent in the poem, ‘Free Rider’. The slums and villages, where migrants live, are the places he chooses to romanticise, finding genuineness and a sense of home there.

Delhi is not really home, it is a place where he plunges into the urban madness, trying to lose himself and possibly forget the painful thought that there is no place called home to go back to. It is reduced to this: Delhi is a jungle of concrete hearts and colourless flyovers.

Delhi is loneliness, it breeds junk and sex. Still the poet tries to search for a home in Delhi where Yogender cooks Assamese meals at lunch or when the poet writes about the ‘Riddles of a Naga Thali’ in Safdarjung Enclave.

It is in the urban wilderness of Delhi, where he creates great lines like, I spit the night out of me, and Dogs weep a good morning in a typical young man’s genius discovered momentarily when hung over. Brahmachari strikes the reader as a poet who will always be an in-between; someone who cannot help feeling nostalgic and longing for what he remembers as home or homes, yet whose search is destined to end in disillusion.

Read the poems slowly. The multiplicity of images requires that. Expect a different literary experience. It is the here and now, like fragments of an old newspaper that the grocer wraps vegetables in — that is the quality of realness the poet captures. I wish the collection had ended with the poem ‘For Ishita, wherever I may find her’. The images are so tender, the snow smelt different there, like a spring evening at Nizamuddin. It’s also an acceptance of the impossibility of ever retrieving the past. And that, for many of us as well as for the poet, is our reality.

But instead, he chooses to end the book with a Beat Generation tribute poem with the word ‘drunk’ hammered into our consciousness. It is an acceptable escapism, for a couple of times, but beyond that, continued nausea and drunkenness would end in self-destruction. It almost smacks of raw, unpoetic anger, delivered with a pounding fist.

But a part of the poet’s reality is the geographical spaces space, the names that he speaks with a caress in his voice. The tone in his voice makes me ask, is there poetry to be found in those places? At least in the images of them? I need to get rid of the stereotypes in my mind to understand the vast variety there, the people he writes about, and the places he writes from.

The spaces that are postulated as ideas of home for Brahmachari are populated by people who are so removed from the mainstream that I feel disloyal to talk about these two concepts in the same line. Could this be the paradox of an outsider’s existence that Brahmachari has inadvertently captured in autobiographical experiences?

It is a question that will find only subjective and individual answers. But, so be it. Enjoy the poems, let them make your soul weep and your eyes see brute metaphors in gravel.

For the Love of Pork - Poems; Goirick Brahmachari, Les Editions du Zaporogue.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 5:38:43 PM |

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