By Ashley Tellis
Goirick Brahmachari’s first collection of poems For the love of pork sets up the ‘Northeast’ as an anthropological curiosity. While one might expect this from an outsider, Brahmachari is not. He is an outsider from inside, from Silchar which might well be Sylhet/Bangladesh and which has histories continuous and discontinuous with the region we call the ‘Northeast’. While he might have explored these, he instead offers us names, places, tribes, languages, only as words, words to reassure his poetic voice of his belonging and unbelonging, words, it appears, spoken to a mainland reader, a form of boasting almost.
Brahmachari has an empathetic imagination for the outsider, the disreputable, the marginalised, a feel for food (‘we learned they sold Shingaras without any spice,/ served hot with a yellow Chutney on a plate of dry leaves’) and the occasional lines might arrest you in a moment of acute love (‘he says his dad crossed seven borders on a Tata truck/to meet his mom, nine years ago./Only to find her again, when he stopped by/at this Kwai shop on his trip to Aizawl,/in the wilderness of Ratachora’). But mostly, these too, are observed from outside. It is as though Brahmachari is arrested by the ocular and does not dare to go inside his persona’s voice.
Divided into two sections, Home and Away, half the collection is based in Delhi and this inability remains, rendered, more unfortunately, by recourse to the tiredest clichés: the mall as an ‘inexpensive prostitute’ (factually incorrect, among other things), loneliness, freeriders. Delhi is also observed anthropologically and from the outside, there is no intrusion of the poetic persona’s or any other subjectivity: ‘Delhi is a jungle of concrete hearts/and colourless flyovers.’
There is no sense of form, of poetic line in these poems. Line breaks are not thought out clearly and the lack of engagement with the tradition of Indian poetry in English (something that marks most young Indian poets who write in English) let alone the tradition of English poetry is unpardonable. The English has errors and poor constructions. A poet has a few words and he must hone them well.
Clichéd ironies of capitalist jobs and life in Delhi abound. Pious class observations are made which are no less clichéd for being heartfelt. Brahmachari’s politics are correct but take only the form of cliché. The collection ends on a second-hand Allen Ginsberg meets Bob Dylan poem, which makes one scurry back to the Meghalaya or Silchar poems.
Brahmachari’s second collection, joining the dots, is a development over the first. The images are more precise and let the reader do half the work by showing rather than telling (‘trees stand up like goosebumps’). The line is tighter, the poems shorter. Clichés about whores return, indeed gender clichés abound, as in ‘175105’:
night apes a woman
keeps hills in the dark
from her desires
Brahmachari is a promising voice but needs to let his voice marinate, grow, access depth. He needs to eschew cliché and outside observation and let us enter his empathetic and sensitive mind for once.
joining the dots is available here.
Ashley Tellis is a poet, professor of English Literature, and an LGBT rights activist. His first collection of poems, A Turn of Breath, will be published later this year.