Review : Blue Vessel (Nabina Das)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Nabina Das's beautiful poems is a daring blend of modern times avant-garde and traditional motives that sets her as a leading voice among today's Indian poetry scene. Named one of the best books of poetry of 2012 in the Sunday section of the New Indian Express. Foreword by the internationally established poet Peg Boyers."

A book of poetry is never just a collection of poems. It is a journey into the world of the poet like no other, taking you through mature thoughts and childish images, nostalgia and practical reality and most of all a perspective of happenings that though intensely personal, connect instantly with its readers. Unlike most Indian authors writing in English who are remarkable only in their 'Indianness' of which they hold a rather romantic view of the slight touch of the country in them, Das' poetry shakes you with its global outlook, diverse themes and living pictures, created by a mind both well read and incredibly discerning. The images formed by her words not only leap off the pages but stay with you as real as a place you had visited not so long ago. Nabina Das' poetry is like walking through a thinking, breathing wall of words, which take on a life of their own, distinct even from their writer's. Each poem is accentuated by its vivid imagery, all closely woven into modern life and living. She expresses the natural beauty of her home Guwahati, with the same ease with which she deals with New York's streets.

The title suggests a container holding something and the colour blue, rather strange for the vessel, draws the attention of the reader. The poem Blue Vessel, follows the norms of an ode only in that it is in praise of the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. The title of the book makes it appropriate as it holds together pieces of work just as a vessel would hold water. The opening lines are reminiscent of the famous poem of Wordsworth , ' My heart leaps up' and just like the famed poet, she too would rather perish than let her art 'rust and free loafing in the surf'.  Any poem from the collection would fit the genre of the island floating free of the mainland yet undeniably connected to the main through water.

Her poems on nature are typified by this intermingling of life with it, so real of today where most nature is
Nabina Das
only what man chooses to preserve. The seasons seem to have a great impact on the poem as she has several poems dealing with this theme. In 'Spring's early grace', the  experience of the  coming of spring through the eyes of one who faces a freezing northern winter, welcoming the animals and insects into your home,  feeding them with the bounty of the season is well expressed. The poem though written in free verse,  plays out the melody of nature with the advent of spring in a cold country like a melody. 'Summer in catskills town' where the daily life of the poet there triggers off a longing for the familiar scent of mogras as is 'Her garden in two hemispheres' where she looks at her garden in the other country and longs to see flowers that grow in her home country, India while 'Sea-aria' personifies summer, comparing it to a beautiful woman. Written in prose-like fashion, it still feels like the rhythmic slapping of waves on the sand at a beach augmented by the colours of sunset. The expressions 'pizza hot sun' and 'dripping like syrup' speak of the intense summer heat. Autumn is expressed through 'Weather wisely at the Window' also touched by nostalgia and a longing for the familiar.

'Music by the river-side' takes a step into the poet's childhood and touches though fleetingly on the simple things which accentuate memories of a long ago. River lines increases its appeal to the senses the stanzas create the  shape of rippling water. The final stanza of the poem captures its essence. The city invades the poet's life through the droplets of rain 'stick sound and light' on the window. A metaphor is drawn between the life in the city and the river into the night and continues irrespective of time. A parallel is drawn between mundane sounds of traffic and city lights and the . The flickering of car lights to the sparkle of sunlight on water in the daytime

 Just a few words such as
 I like talking to you.
 And then we walk out.
                         Sounds and words flow like a river.

Love poems in the collection 'Blue Vessel',  have a transient feel about them where each one expresses only a 'touch and go' relationship either due to circumstances or choice. The lack of permanence is most exemplified by 'I am the second Earth. But'  with its ghost lovers as the beloved 'spits vowels' instead of endearments and 'Jeanne Moreau's song' where lovers still remain friends or even 'Inspite of our Bad days Splits' where 'the sky has gathered its skirt  abruptly, sprinkling pollen powdered in pollen as far, As legs mill. 'Song for the Bihu waisted sister' shows how inexplicably the poet's being is woven into the political sphere of her home where she actively feels the pain of loss of a north eastern girl as she waits for a soldier to return. She waits for love 'like a mauve liquor dripping' on her lap.

The subtle but essential difference between lust and love is brought out by 'Her Love'. The flush of pubescent love seems carnal, as  readers feel the power of  emotion of a young girl in rural north east India tasting forbidden fruit so to speak in 'All things become islands' and the perception of separateness mingled with that of them staying the same which is a prominent theme in Das' poems. Das compares the first flush of writing to this innocent lust. Das' writes easily about Bollywood love tales and the silence of  true love in contrast excessive sound which surrounds the surreal atmosphere created on screen. Khajurao longings' is the poet's take on homosexuality closeted still so to speak, unable to reach culmination. The similarity of joy and sorrow is symbolized by 'Bouquet', offered equally on both occasions. Permanence is best brought out by 'Eight and half' how all things strange grow into habits as also 'Macadam'. The pun on the word 'daily' is significant in its usage as it brings out the essential difference in a life of convenience and necessity.

The poet's versatility comes to the fore in 'Essence of exhibits' ( which also brings out her love for painting) and 'Love story between composing'  which is a tribute to the poetess, Amrita Pritam while the influence of greats like Paulo Nebula and Tagore, is evident in the theme of islands, which is touched on repeatedly and even explored on occasion, and the manner in which the poet writes about nature. The pun on the word daily-ness in 'Monday' emphasizes the differences in life styles symbolically as does the 'New York woman'. the 'penelope face' shows seeping influences of the surrounding culture. 'Poetry forms' speaks about 'numbing meters and deadly rhymes' from the times of Plato, while 'Macadam' has the rhythm of an interstate.  'Ten-feet-by-Ten feet' imitates the rhythm of the native tongue of the songster. 'Somewhere, circa unknown', though touched by images of the poet's home, comments on the similarity of human emotion and life irrespective of place, touched only by differences of culture. Das dabbles with shapes in poems like 'Cipher', 'River lines' and 'All things..'

The metrical patterns followed by Das has a great effect in adding to the meaning of the poem. Political influences seep into 'Water on Ink', 'Homily at the Baradari fort' and the reference to the Gaza strip. 'Water on Ink' definitely captures the fleetingness of the issues in an Indian scenario. Lyricism is natural to Das as the sounds of her poetry flow into one another, heightening the sensation of the image created every poem like the sound of But even so, the most predominant impression of Das' poetry is the influence of nature on the poet who sees every change through the eyes of creation always touched by femininity and Indian culture while maintaining a global appeal. Barriers seem to have been broken only superficially and sometimes it appears, with an effort towards acceptance or apparent early rejection. However, the seamless integration of erudition is evident in her work and lends it an untouchable quality of perspicacity while remaining grounded in realism. Das' has certainly carved a niche for herself in the annals of English poetry.

By Tulika Mukerjee Saha               

Tulika is a teacher by profession and has been teaching for the last 15 years of which the last five have been in Delhi Public School, Bopal, Ahmedabad . She writes short stories and poems in her spare time.   She has been a trainer for Trinity college of London for 5 years and an ESOL examiner for 2 years.                                             


{ sarita sharma } at: July 13, 2013 at 8:48 PM said...

This review proves Tulika Mukerjee Saha's understanding of the poetry. She has analysed the poems very diligently.

{ Tulika Mukerjee Saha } at: July 13, 2013 at 9:30 PM said...

Thank you Sarita! I really enjoyed reading the poems and appreciate Das' art immensely!

Ernest Albert at: July 14, 2013 at 4:14 AM said...

तूलिका मुखर्जी जी की समीक्षा पढ़ी ....
अच्छी तो है पर भाषा की लज्ज़त नहीं !
सपाट और नीरस !
अलबत्ता हिंदी अनुवाद दिलचस्प है !
शुक्रिया अरुण जी !

Nabina Das at: July 14, 2013 at 4:16 AM said...

Extremely pleased to have a review of BLUE VESSEL on Arun Dev's In Text. Thanks to Tulika Saha who has looked at almost each poem meticulously. Really appreciate everyone's comment here. Your endorsement of my poems in Hindi and about my debut collection will keep me going long. Thank you!

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