A Brief History of Silence: A Delicate Relationship between Risk and Beauty
A Brief History of Silence (by Manu Dash) was an enjoyable read on my silent rooftop spanning a silent week. But as I sat on the silent table for a review, I sat amazed and brooding. The poet must have had a frightful toil, and it's not easy to write a poem on his silence by shifting, correcting, combining, constructing, expurgating, expunging and tasting words, phrases, images as well as the empty spaces between them to pen his dreams and intellect. And I wonder what is left for me to write more on it!
It is enough when one finds every single poem in this anthology is a vortex one has to pass through and return to it always; it is enough that poems are presented rather than described; enough that they appeal directly to the senses, more particularly to the sense of sight with the use of concrete visual images.
A poem by poem, though a few of them, citation is what it all needed here.
In his poem "Words," where "Words/Flap their wings/Before nesting/On her lips"; where 'The beauty of words revealed less and concealed more "like the breast of a lady"; where "Words come and leave/Sleep and dance/Hurry on her lips./She is my aphasic daughter." Exquisitely sad, the poem crafted with magical intimacy of words and silences. One wonders if the poet presents here the dance of "Words" or the dance of "Silences." Another very delicately crafted poem is "Diwali in a Cancer Ward," where a father waits haplessly "For the biopsy report/To arrive from Mumbai,/As an innocent victim craves/The verdict of the apex court." Elsewhere, the much publicised, legendary Dana Majhi is presented as "the cheerleader of grief," who has spread hunger into the world like "arabesque scroll"; and whose "tall daughter/Walking through the Tyburn scaffold." We may look at the poem, "Walking with a Corpse" as well. Quite a common scene in Odisha' village roads, where "He trudges mile after mile/Like King Vikramadtya,/Betal heavy on his shoulders," on "The camouflaged road ahead/Appears stubborn and cruel." Sad and introspective, yet without scruple, the poet "makes" poems straight out of a post mortem report. A splendid attempt to free oneself from the despair of time, that offers a clear vindication for life on Earth, a la in Odisha.
As we go further to "Folklore" we find childhood was free from demons and ghost when a "Grand mother died of diarrhea/Before father's marriage" and "Nights have turned into asylums." Dreams and nightmares, tinged with surrealism, defy interpretation many a time in Dash' poems. In "Alphabet of Silence" the silence is clearly heard in contemporary literary meets, where "The number of speakers/Was half that of the listeners"; and where "The speakers clapped./The listeners sat/In stony silence." And still another, "For an ISO-Certified Poet' who has taken 'all the air, colour and space," would someday be questioned by posterity, "Why were these (his) books/Devoured by white ants?" We meet with bitter sarcasm when the poet's cousin, "a born liar," got "Sahitya Academi Puraskar/ For an acclaimed travelogue/ On places he has never visited." Or in "Postcard," a rare commodity now, "Words are faded bell-bottom/Peeping through/An old wardrobe."
Some artistically motivated deviation in putting words and phrases as "foreground" to a poem are seen in ample. See, the poet asking his beloved to meet him at the terrace garden for black coffee, with no moon overhead, only to see her as an absolute "assassin." So also some deflective use of words at places adds surplus beauty to his poems. For example: "Like the arrival of the first monsoon/Or menstruation/Banks have opened to the clients/After demonetization." Or, for that matter, cyclone is "an unclaimed industry" in Odisha, that "breeds swarms of stories." The parallel use of "selling a kiss for a price" in "Kiss" has a foregrounding effect as synonymical or antonymical relation of meaning between the expressions. Such phonological features one may bump at many a time in the anthology.
When a poet publishes his maiden venture at a later age, he is bound to be responsible and discreet. The range of subjects he could write with richness of details and with refined medium. The poet's perception of the pastness of the past and the presentness of the past could form a new combination out of variegated diverse experiences. His impersonality in art is visibly seen, when he writes on the silent suffering and solitude of the oppressed, with sarcasm and empathy. Surrendering personal emotion to the emotion of art he writes passionately, where the poetic mind transmutes poems into a new artistic whole.
Barring some inconsequential adjectives and adverbials, and too many "Likes" (35 of them), many rich images and metaphors are at their splendorous perfection, synthesized and assimilated in this anthology. A rousing collection of poems for our young poets and for posterity. Each poem bears the indelible thumb impression mark of the poet quite impressively, and to put in the words of poet K S Nongkynrih, "The world he sees may be best described as 'a caterpillar' emerging as 'a butterfly' only to find life 'risky/But beautiful.' "
As you quote Pablo Neruda, "Let me speak to you as well with your syllables of silence," you need not, dear poet, look askance, for posterity have all the trust in your "unquiet dreams."
A word of absolute praise for Arpana Caur for the beautiful cover page art that depicts a sculpture like "Yogini of Peace" along with some folk materials.
A recipient of prestigious Sarala Purashar, Manoj Kumar Panda was an acclaimed short story writer in Odia.