By Nishi Pulugurtha
Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar is a trilingual poet who writes in Maithili, Hindi and English. He is also short story writer, critic and reviewer. Given the social and linguistic fabric of India, it is not uncommon to have poets and writers who are equally comfortable in multiple languages and use them for their creative pursuits. On the contrary, felicity with multiple languages brings in a lot of finer nuances to their literary output.
Bhaskar dedicates his second volume of poems, Two Indias and Other Poems to “The neglected and marginalized people and the martyrs of India who laid down their lives for the safety of the rest of the people living here.” The poems in this volume are about the people, the ethos, the culture that is India. The volume consisting of 81 poems speaks of the downtrodden, of injustice, of double standards, of politics, and also speaks of festivals and nature too.
“To Indias” mourns the way later generations have turned oblivious to what freedom entails, of how the sacrifices of freedom fighters are forgotten:
The unfettered descendants
Of those who ruled over
Highhandedly with iron rods
Are the Indians, born blind
To their self-sacrifices
To the plight of the poor people
The satire and criticism in the poem is clearly articulated and hard hitting without being bitter or harsh.
“Water Crisis” shows the divide between the rich and the poor, class distinctions and snobbery. The short poem brings the poet’s feelings to the fore forcefully. There are poems that voice the need for gender equality, of the rights of LGBTQ: “… they have same throbs/ Of emotions and feelings.” There is a bluntness in the titles of many of the poems – “Queer Theory,” “Sexual Assaults” – that deal with issues of great national importance, raging issues like the rights of the LGBTQ community, of rapes in the country. The latter poem, “Sexual Assaults”, refers to Nirbhaya and Asifa and voices outrage and anger at the heinous crimes committed. There are poems which speak of leaders like Gandhi and Abdul Kalam, and also of the great strides that the country has been taking.
Jha’s ethnic and linguistic identity is revealed in poems like “Mithila: Land Left in Lurch,” and “Maithil Kavi Kokil Vidyapith”: “O, Bard of Love, philosopher of selfless devotion, metaphysics of life and death/ You do sustain the entire gamut of vibrant cultures, enticing art and right rituals of Mithila…”
Soothing Serenades: Straight from the Heart, the other volume of poems under review, as the very title suggests, consists of love poems. The title reminds one of Shelley’s “The Indian Serenade”. The sixty-two poems in the volume speak of love in its various manifestations. At times using metaphors that are common, the poet speaks of life in its myriad forms. The first poem in the collection, “To Goddess of Love”, describes love as “divine as Christ”, “healing the global wounds/ Of violence and all ailments of hearts.” The poet notes, a bit apologetically, that he writes “on the sands of time/ Though I lack rhythm and rhyme.” “Definition of Love” speaks of love through images and metaphors that shock:
When chocked by the strong odour
Of the rusty, lusty reality
Of the crusty, nasty, stern world,
Crane out your carving tongue.
There are poems that use conventional images and ideas that speak of dreams, visions, pain, loss and desire, of hopes and aspirations, of truth and faith. “Metaphysical Lovers” uses a borrowed idea that brings to mind the love poems of John Donne.
You are no, nor am I
A dweller of this earthly world,
We are invisible beings
Living in the abode of Love
Jha labours hard in the poems to depict the various flavours of beauty, philosophy, tenderness, spirituality while speaking of love. As a poet writing in troubled times, he is well aware of the violence and hatred that is waiting to engulf all. “I Am” voices the intentions of the poet and can be read as the poetic voice explaining why he writes the poems in the volume under consideration.
I am a man of heart
With my head nosed into love;
Life is a beautiful art,
Love leads me unto Him above.
Jha’s reading of and interest in English poetry is evident in his use of metaphors and images that are akin to those used in well-known English love poems. There are references to Eve, to Cupid and Aphrodite. In “Celebration of Love”, Jha speaks of love as a “rudimentary plinth” “Of the four ‘purusharthas’/ Set as the goals of human life”, thereby revealing the way in which Indian ideas are woven into his poetic diction.
“Semantic Fiasco” reveals the failure of words “To create the magic/ As desired and well-intended”. It is interesting to note that the poem “Voice is Heard More in Silence” narrates just the obverse of this. The two poems are put together in the volume revealing an oscillation with thoughts and ideas that seem to contradict one another but work well too. Written in a diction that is simple, but that at times seems to be borrowed, Jha’s poems in this volume reveal an ardour and sensuousness almost keeping in tune with the subject matter of the poems. At times written in a highly figurative language, the poems reveal the poet working his way with ideas, images and metaphors with a view to finding his idiom in his debut collection of poems.
Jha is a young, new voice in Indian poetry in English. While the poems in Two Indias and Other Poems are characterized by a powerful diction and metaphors that at times might seem clichéd, the poems in the volume and the ideas that they present are thought-provoking and boldly expresses the poet’s angst in the modern world, the poems in Soothing Serenades speak of gentler emotions. A reading of the poems in the two volumes reveals the poet working his way through metaphors that reveal his development and growth as a poet handling a myriad of subjects. It would be interesting to read his English poems with the ones that he has written in Maithili and Hindi to trace the trajectory of the multilingual poet, to study the nuances in all and to see how his dexterity with these languages work to influence his poetic output. That is, unfortunately, an area that this critic does not get to explore.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor in the department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College and has taught postgraduate courses at West Bengal State University and Rabindra Bharati University. Her research areas are British Romantic literature, Postcolonial literature, Indian writing in English, literature of the diaspora, film and Shakespeare adaptation in film. She is a creative writer and writes on travel, Alzheimer’s Disease, film, short stories and poetry. Her work has been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the anthology Tranquil Muse and online – Café Dissensus, Coldnoon, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Setu. She has a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019).
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