Poetry Books

Musings on the mirage city: Review of ‘The Kolkata Cadence’

Poetry about Kolkata quite often veers into the lachrymose, nostalgia’s cousin. A collection of poetry titled The Kolkata Cadence might thus make the reader apprehensive but, fortunately, the poems mostly escape that trap. There isthe standard romanticisation of Kolkata’s old red houses, dingy lanes and its particular brand of rain, but it is to be found only in certain poems that falter.

Kushal Poddar’s poems stand out for offering something more than the hackneyed Kolkata of tram, rickshaw and river; ‘Our Bodies of Water’ and ‘Straightjacket’ are layered with a surreal quality. Linda Ashok’s ‘Gift’ and ‘You Ask If This Is Love’ offer novelty of thought.

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Sufia Khatoon’s ‘The Pomegranate Tree’, which concludes the collection, paints some intriguing and affective pictures. Some poems by Amit Shankar Saha and Joie Bose are original and unflinching.

When talking of Kolkata, people tend to get nostalgic, which leads to a misplaced glorification of this relic of a city. There are poems in this vein here — all loss and mourning that do not make for much originality. Take, for example, Bina Sarkar Ellias’ poem, ‘Calcutta’, that lumps together “asphalt, cement and a cacophony of Bollywood songs”. Is this a mourning for nature that has given way to the capitalistic urban or an expression of the conviction that the anterior is necessarily superior?

Also, nobility of intention alone cannot make for great art. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s feminist poem, ‘Sita’s Sisters’, may have worked as a spoken-word piece, but leaves something to be desired by way of craft on the page. Then there’s Arnab Chatterjee’s interpretation of eunuchs in his poem: “They who can never deliver/ come to deliver joy.” This is reductive at best and tone-deaf at worst.

The best poems are really not about the city at all — they are the more abstract and personal ones. Yet, they too are about Kolkata in the sense that they eulogise the mirage city of the mind. While some might say nostalgia is a grave failing, it is also a wonderfully romantic one. For that reason, this collection may be worth a read.

The Kolkata Cadence: Contemporary Kolkata Poets; Edited by Jagari Mukherjee, Inam Hussain Mullick and Anindita Bose, Hawakal Publishers, ₹500

The reviewer is a freelance journalist.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 6:57:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/musings-on-the-mirage-city-review-of-the-kolkata-cadence/article33996159.ece

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