By RK Biswas
Title: For the Love of Pork
Author: Goirick Brahmachari
Publisher: Les Éditions du Zaporogu, January 31, 2016
Single poems may be comfortably absorbed online, even a dozen at a time, perhaps. But a poetry collection? No PDF floating down a cold digital screen can do justice to a poetry book. For every element of the volume adds to the ultimate experience of it – the way the poems are placed in a page, the colour of the pages and cover, the font, the texture of paper, the smell, and the shape of the book. As a matter of fact, a book of poems is also a poem in itself, a poetic sum total of all its components.What’s more, it needs to be touched in order to be properly consumed. Especially when they are visually rich and politically charged. As are Goirick Brahmachari’s poems in his debut collection, For the Love of Pork.
The book is divided into two sections – Home and Away. The sections represent the opposites, yet connected, and the poems seem to dip and swing, flow in and out like rivers that refuse to be separated. Water is a recurring presence, coursing through, in both its frozen form and liquid, and flowing through land or falling from sky. One gets a visual sense of being covered in a mist as one steers through, with a range of emotions from angst, longing, rootlessness and nostalgia to anger, revulsion and political outrage calling from beyond like sirens. Through these tropes, Brahmachari draws his reader in to his landscape.
In his very first poem, “Borders We Live With”, Brahmachari throws up seemingly innocuous questions like, “How does it feel to travel on the border of two states?” Leading on to the crux of it, “then, where is my home?”
“Home”, with its disjointed rhythm, is a prose poem about hunger for home wherein Brahmachari flits like a caged butterfly from one city to another, sweeps his moisture-deprived eyes like a lighthouse across continents. Meanwhile, “a carnivorous darkness falls over the mountains.”
“Insiders, Outsiders” is a searing political poem. No other poem in this collection speaks so eloquently about the Bengali’s situation in the North East. It is indeed one thousand tongues planted in soil, when you are born in a land and grow up there, where generations live, your sense of belonging is “from womb to soil/raw roots with blood spread nerves in soil…” But thanks to the “borders we draw in faces”, we build walls with one billion bones, destroy free speech, create distrust and hate. And often in Brahmachari’s poems, the mystic becomes political, as he demonstrates yet again in “The Secret Knowledge of the Hills.”
Many of the poems in For the Love of Pork require some knowledge of the North East region, for a richer enjoyment – its history, diverse cultures, past and present political situations. He names places – Silchar, Karmganj, Latachora, Lad Rymbai, Mahimaloy, Silcoorie. And they fall like unknown fruits on (our) tongues. Yet he manages to make the flavours familiar, even to the reader, who may not have prior information. And like the town’s scholars who gather “to converse with each other…wait for their evenings to turn into nights…remember stories of lives, and the poetry of lives they did not live” (“Mahimaloy”), these poems bring together the many faces and places, the lives and spirits that strive to remind “all is not lost, all is not lost” (“Of Rivers and River Islands”).
Brahmachari’s almost water-colour like visualisations, as well as the way he juxtaposes the political issues with the region’s hypnotic natural beauty and colourful slice-of-life sketches, provide a feast of large helpings. One can taste the diverse waters that flow through Brahmachari’s rivers, as in the poem, “Luba”, one of the most powerful in this collection. The Luba is a dangerous river, tempestuous like the Goddess Kali, and cruel in her treatment of humans. But even a river cannot create greater dissonance and disharmony than men. As Brahmachari’s poignant poem, “Of Rain and Illegality”, tells us: “water is water after all/ And it has to flow/ Rivers change their course/borders wither/Hate has no surname.”
Then abruptly the tempo changes. It’s as if Brahmachari has turned the boat sharply around, and veered his by now lulled readers into another direction, towards an entirely different terrain. A garish picture of what appears to be a Delhi street, where a Nigerian sips nimbu -pani near a mall that “poses like an inexpensive prostitute.” And he tumbles his readers forward through the lanes and by-lanes, the “damp basement wall,” CR Park fish markets, the speeding cars, giant black grandfather umbrellas, the medley of foods from the length and breadth of the country and beyond, rolling and roiling in the Janus-headed capital city, our Delhi that “steals subsidised coupons”, “over eats…launders office stationery” and “other times taunts Dili/and calls her a free rider.” But several poems later, “Dilli mocks and flaunts her middle finger…/Dogs wag their tails.”
This is from the second section in For the Love of Pork, and Brahmachari has captioned it Away. Here he conjures up an acute sense of displacement, thrusting it into his readers’ faces like the pulled-up soil encrusted roots of a tree. His visions of displacement are unnerving, and he doesn’t let go. In poem after poem the haunting continues, and when he says – “I spit the night out of me…walk slowly towards my sleep./Dogs weep a good morning” (“2009”) – it doesn’t ease the burden of his angst on his readers. Not even when he brings us to the titular poem in this collection – “For the Love of Pork”, a short tight poem in which he follows his friend on a “midnight drunk trail” where there is “ beer for free and pork mandarin…and a whole night to puke away.”
Yet there is nostalgia here as well. In these poems, Brahmachari seems to be looking back at what is past, a place and time he has left well behind. Each poem is like a postcard sent to his reader from every visited time and place. At one point he says, “I wish I could run back through the years of sloth and procrastination at work, only to replace them with mindless wandering” (“An anti-job poem for no one”). And then, as if to shake himself out of it, “I wish I could run back through the years of sloth and procrastination at work, and get some work done/Sometimes I don’t/I don’t need to.”
As in the first half, there are vivid descriptions, like stilled scenes from a movie. This is not the North East, but Delhi, where dreams are placed “onto the edges of rotten walls.” A city that “breeds junk and sex.” In places the cameos and the tropes begin to feel repetitive. The political commentary at times sounds a tad hackneyed, as in the poem “Just Another 26th January”. Nevertheless, Brahmachari’s assertions are bold. Even if at times drunk:
“Drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, yes drunk be the heavens and the brothels
the holy and the ugly and the unholy Lucifers of this world.
Drunk be the fascists, the nationalists, the fake communists and the traditionalists, and the
postmodernists. Drunk be the hedonists and the common man.
Drunk be forever this poem/Drunk be us.” (“Nausea”).
If creating disquiet was Brahmachari’s intent, he certainly has succeeded, boldly sifting through the detritus of dislocated lives, blithely stepping into a mine-riddled terrain, when he refers to the Bengali point of view in the North East. Such is his will, he then carries forward that sense of dislocation to the city of Delhi that beckons all, but spares few and embraces even less. He grasps the city’s characteristics by abandoning the natural beauty of the North East that he had evoked in the first half of the book. The texture of his poems seems to change. For Brahmachari is not hesitant about experimenting with form and shape, and rhythm and structure in his poems. Overall one gets the sense of a fearless poet, a relentless observer of the minutiae against the broader canvas. A poetic voice of promise and longevity.
For the Love of Pork is available online here.
RK Biswas lives and writes on Earth. Her poetry and fiction have been widely published. Her two published books are Culling Mynahs and Crows (Lifi Publications, India) and Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women (Authorspress, India). Her third book, Immoderate Men (Speaking Tiger Books) is forthcoming in mid-2016. She blogs at: http://biswasrk.wordpress.com.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘The Beat and the Hungry generation: When losing became hip’, edited by Goirick Brahmachari, poet & Abhimanyu Kumar, poet/journalist, New Delhi, India.