By Ronald Tuhin D’Rozario
Author: Mallika Bhaumik
Publisher: Authorspress, 2017
Echoes, an anthology of poems by the poet and storyteller, Mallika Bhaumik, is much more than a book of verse. Like a crossroad, it connects latent emotions aware or unaware, accepted, neglected or scattered across life.
This book touches the heart at various levels. It speaks about the lone journey that each has to make.
Very often the poet questions the reader. Are we graceful enough to accept all the experiences that life has to offer before death arrives? Do we have the capacity to be content if life isn’t a perfect photo-finish? Are we open enough to the richness of varied flavours, like the different shades of colour during the festival of Holi?
Bhaumik’s craft is such that the reader understands that life is not about the absence of feelings but the presence of soul connecting with the truest being in ourselves, the self that hides deep within the curtained darkness.
The book is fittingly named, Echoes, and speaks about the trapped voices within. Emotion is the protagonist here. The poems are not about any one feeling or one special activity or one particular day but about a wide range of emotions trapped within, which is never a person or gender specific.
Echoes of love and loss abound in this collection. For example, we lose our loved ones to death someday, and we lose an emotion that once existed. We may even end up losing the purity of the flesh, soul, the toys of childhood, our first books, touch, smell, and favourite possessions. The poet suggests that apparently life is all about giving it away with a full heart and accepting the change welcomingly.
And yet the book poses another question: where do such losses go? Could it be that those losses never part with us but turn into a shrine of unspoken grief beneath our skin? A grief that one silently holds between the lips into an arched moon. A grief that the eyelids battle with a stiff jaw suppressing a rock formed inside the larynx. A few poems in this book speak of these homes of grief that lie buried in us.
The warmth of a heartbeat. Hearing the voice of love where it feels the presence of spring during the lonely hours of autumn. The strange cravings for abandoned places and amidst discarded things. Desiring to love and to be loved. The lovelorn thirst, non-reciprocated and condescending love. Coming to terms with the self and the world. The times when the mind obstructs the ways of the heart and we would hold back saying, ‘Why would I?’ and pass an entire life awaiting an answer. Hoping against hope and expecting something which can never come into existence.
Expressing grief as an art in literature or poetry has its own form as there are certain constraints that need to be adhered to. For example, Tagore’s words on grief came to my mind while reading Bhaumik’s collection:
“দুঃখ বলে ‘রইনু চুপে তাঁহার পায়ের চিহ্নরূপে’,
আমি বলে ‘মিলাই আমি আর কিছু না চাই’ ॥ “
This could be translated as:
“Grief holds its tongue for it
finds a sign of the Creator’s presence in life.
I say once I find myself, I seek none.”
Likewise Bhaumik writes about grief in all its forms. In the poem, “Sips of Sorrow”, she interprets grief as ‘sunken tea leaves.’ She implies that we carry this grief within us each day and that it is like a wound that bleeds and spreads because some things are best left unsaid.
“We make our sorrows sink
like sunken tea leaves
lying limp at the bottom of the teapot.
There the blue wound silently bleeds
the pain spreads like a golden sunset.”
These poems describe nostalgia, the old world charm of Calcutta, and the lost presence of many tales around the city yearning for an existence and echoing amidst the busy feet on the dusty streets, the echoes of a revolution behind the red flags in Bengal. With a fine surrealistic line, this book also refers to Tagore’s character Charulata’s strong presence, locked up amidst the neglected mansions. The poet writes:
“The shadow of dusk takes my battle worn feelings through the serpentine lanes of the North a pair of wrinkled eyes look through the shuttered windows
Is it the spirit of Charulata?
speaking in a poetry of yore?” (“Kolkata – My Beloved City”)
Echoes articulates the words hidden in the seasons. It narrates human emotions with the seasons. Be it the wantonness of the monsoons or the cooing of a cuckoo bird in June, it expresses the call of the heart behind the hue of seasons where a thousand cities sleep between the echoes of trapped emotions. Writing of rain, Bhaumik says:
“The wet moments,
like the hushed moss
the drenched leaves,
rejuvenate my loss.
My empty room aches
sprinkled with raindrops” (“Rain”)
And sometimes the poet gives a life, a word to the trapped echoes in objects. Amidst the rush of days, the eyes overlook the fact that objects, that might have an echo trapped in them, send out a cry when hammered. How beautiful and precise this observation of the poet is. For example, when she describes the tip of a blade of grass, drunk in dew, echoing syllables as the rays of the sun fall over it. Or the way a rickshaw sounds on the street and the sound of bangles on a woman’s hand as she counts raindrops.
A cookie crushed between the teeth, flipping of the pages of a book, flapping of a sparrow’s wings. A crack echoing a scar on the favourite piece of a porcelain cup eventually breaking and making the other pair lonely or the jhar lanthan in the household of the Rai Bahadur silently burning away its echo in grief. Each object holds an echo but the poet never explains any further. She leaves it for the reader to discover. She writes of a strange pull in the bricks of abandoned mansions and in their damp smell. She also speaks of woes hidden in discarded things. In one poem she writes:
“A salad bowl’s size,
however, I let my
beaming jasmines float
in it, their heady fragrance
bringing in a bouquet of memories
of the riotous spring,
that has slowly slipped by.” (“Souvenir”)
A strong echo of motherhood resonates and connects like an old friend between two women belonging to two different nations and cultures meeting for the very first time and perhaps for the last time, too. A mother has no religion except the sole identity that she is the creator of life. So all mothers are the same; their touch and warmth are the same. When two mothers meet, it is like the flesh meeting its soul. Bhaumik writes:
“The black and white of the picture
gets smudged in warm hues of life
and I realise,
that our wombs
have woven the same stories
we are one” (“Story of the Womb”)
I found this book powerful and brilliant. A few poems are like a flash flood. The words sweep the heart away. And some poems are like frost, conveying a profound sense of emptiness and void.
Whether one is standing on the terrace watching the clouds over his blue city or secretly yearning for something amidst kitchen chores, these poems have something to offer everyone. The deep observation, easy flow of verse and the structure of the poems deeply connects to the heart of the reader. The book leaves one heartbroken with a sense of loss, a loss like detachment from a best friend. The writing is contemporary and the subject relatable and practical.
While the book is written mostly in free verse, a few poems deploy other genres such as a Haiku, Prose poem, Pantoum, and a Palindrome. A refined mix of layered verses with careful usage of similes and metaphors successfully creates lingering images that stay after the poem has been put aside.
There are several references to Tagore and a host of female characters like Meenu, Mrinal or Bindu from Tagore’s Streer Patra and Charulata. This shows how deeply she respects the Bard as she delves into the richness of Tagore’s work for inspiration. And so when she writes of love, it is intense; when she speaks of grief, it turns out to be intense, too.
Echoes is a beautiful book of verse which marks the mastery of the poet over her craft. There are depths of meaning concealed within each poem and every layered poem is open to interpretation.
Echoes is available on Amazon India.
Ronald Tuhin D’Rozario was born in Calcutta, India. He’s a poet and a storyteller. Many of his poems, book reviews, articles, essays and short stories have been published in various national and international e-mags and paperback anthologies.
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