By Ananya S Guha
Title: One Hundred Poems of Harekrishna Deka
Author: Harekrishna Deka
(Translated by Sadiqul Islam)
Publisher: Papyrus, Guwahati, 2017
Harekrishna Deka’s poems in his collection, One Hundred Poems of Harekrishna Deka, translated into English from the Assamese by Sadiqul Islam, are poignant for their swift movements, racy style, and neat inversions. The motifs of nature like the rain, the wind, and the fields recur, sometimes atrophying into almost sullen questions or observations. Deka is at his best when he uses paradoxes to establish certainties or uncertainties. He responds to violence around him, but conceals the images in images such as anger or betrayal. Blood is common usage, almost as an integral continuity to life, not discontinuity. The poet is silent witness to change, or an anticipation of it. The poems take the form of a monologue or address. The monologues become powerful in the way they spiral into nothingness, making cerebral moments absurd. In fact the theory of absurdity plays through his poems like an upside down frame or picture.
He writes in one of his poems:
“Do not ask me to write a poem today.
My words are stinking like a corpse”’ (“Do Not Ask Me To Write A Poem Today”, page 91)
Such suddenness typifies many a poem in this collection. There is a halt to movement and a metabolism, bordering on the absurd. The image of a stinking corpse suddenly allies thoughts to our stinking surroundings.
Harekrishna Deka is the poet of metaphor, but in using them he does not stare at an abstruse reality. His reality comes out of moments:
“The road will be widened…
said he spitting out juice of betel nut” (“Compensation”, page 90)
But again and again the poet rivets to a world of violence:
“Whose hands are those
In the body of the storm?” (“Storm”, page 50)
Echoes of the wind and storm occur in terrains of the mind with an abrupt casualness, that one tends even to ignore. But after reading the poems through, one gathers the inner turmoil in Harekrishna Deka’s sensuous and lyrical poetry. From fear to dreams, to recordings in a diary, to perceptions of blood and impending death, Harekrishna Deka’s poetry is one of a man speaking to his comrades. The rusticity of life is a beloved poise in his poems, tinctured with images of the Luit, the Bohag, and things that rustic life can offer. Truly here is a poet not playing to the gallery, not protesting but meditating on love, nature, and the imponderables. But there are mainly huge question marks at the end. Paradoxes are not meant to be resolved.
The translations are quite impeccable and evoke the spirit, the ethereal liquid surroundings of the poems. These are deeply evocative poems and eminently readable. But there are also, layers within layers. This is the piquancy of his deft handling of language, metaphor, and dreams. The translator has done an extremely commendable job in bringing out such poetic ramifications or extensions in the poetry of one of the foremost contemporary Assamese poets.
The poet’s professional life as a Police Officer in 20th century turbulent Assam is a backdrop against the unveiling of his poetry but there is no cause-effect mention. If he talks about blood, he presents the universal picture of man, trapped by history or anthropology. These are lovely poems, meant to be read silently, as well as aloud, because in them you perceive the murmur of life in almost everything one is witness to.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
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