Book Review: Ananya S. Guha’s ‘I am not a Silent Poet’
By Arzuman Ara
“I ask, why are so many people
dying in India and the World,
aren’t we all human?” – Ananya S. Guha, “See How They Weep”
We have several means and ways to protest against injustice. A poet’s way is through poetry. The sensitiveness of the poets’ personal and social psyche is reflected through the poems as they voice the issues of death/killing, discrimination, injustice and a loss of humanity. The poets “silently” script their experience, pain and protest. Thus, the word “silent” in the title is very significant in Ananya Guha’s I am not a Silent Poet – a collection of 85 poems. The concept of “silence/silent” is important in the fields of literary studies, linguistics, psychology, Trauma Studies, and Culture Studies. Silence gives clues to various meaning and interpretations. Adding a vyanjana to the title of the book, the poet acclaims, “I protest in silence/the wind and the hills echo my/silence protest” (“My Silence”, p.35). Here the “silence” itself is symbolic of the protest as silence is not an acceptance of what is happening around; rather, it is a resistance. One may remember that, “silence” is a “noise” in the Communication Studies. Silence is “polyphonic” in a Bakhtinian paradigm of meaning and signification. In this book, Guha’s “polyphonic silence” is not marking a gap or omission; it is filling the gaps in the human consciousness and conscience. The poet’s “silence” is vocal of the collective conscience of the present day. Guha claims, “I am not a silent poet/when on wings predator/searches victims on wings” (p.54) that perturbs the peace of the nation. As Guha knows, “But my poem will suddenly arrive in the rustling wind/bird pecking at sorrows/ beasts predatory, on skeletal words” (“Your Poem, My Poem”, p.72).
The themes of the poems range over the various issues that rock the discourse and debates on politics and society all around, such as human rights, citizen’s right, status of the constitutional provisions of India, Partition, outrage in the Indian states of Kashmir and Manipur. Death, killing and bloodshed are the recurrent themes in this book. The poet also connects with the global issues of similar concern. The very first poem of the book, “Poem for Asifa” makes us ponder over children’s rights as the poet questions: “where will all the children go?/ shrieking in terror?” (p.9). The crime on Asifa is unforgivable according to the poet, and he invokes Lord Shiva to punish. Death becomes a recurrent motif in “God’s Forgiveness” where the death of nine children in Bihar makes the poet assert that even the compensation for such death can just “bring lives/back to masked faces” (p.13). A similar concern is voiced in “Brokering Peace” where the poet brings out the issue of immense suffering of the children and women in war-torn Syria, and the poet questions again, “whose conscience/whose voice speaks in those/sabre rattles, in those booms/ of artillery, who now will meditate/or broker peace/among mangled eyes, nose, face, ears?” (p.11). The poet also critiques the contemporary political development that leads to vandalisation of Lenin’s statue in Tripura, changing the names of institutions, roads, buildings, love-jihad, and forces us to rethink about the 70 years of freedom from the British Raj. Seventy years is a slow time for the poet where he lived for sixty years and “now I swallow all symbols/of oppression, forget them/ to be caught in the cross fire/ of a nation’s freedom” (“Seventy Years of Freedom”, p.16).
The new generation rhetoric and a critique of social media activism form the core theme of “Spreading the Word” where people’s accountability and social responsibility are reduced only in forwarding the messages through their electronic gadgets. Similarly, common people’s oblivion about the powerful resistance is reflected in “Fidel Castro” that focuses on our collective selective amnesia of history. The poet writes, “In 2016, I read that he was dead/I actually forgot that he was alive/Now I will forget that/he is dead” (p.51). As we, the “thick-skinned people,” see death only in numbers makes the poet point out our indifference to the social issues in poems like “Who Martyrs Who”, “Travelling in Ambulance”, etc.
A tone of sarcasm is very prominent in poems like “Travelling to the Moon,” and “Women Harassed on a University Campus”. A public institution like a university is shown to be authoritative, bureaucratic and deeply patriarchal where the fight for equal rights for women becomes a useless fight as “in this fight/we men, after all/are right” (p.19). The poet sees the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh as a part of the same power-structure and asks, “In India we mime rape/we love women in closets/then lust/now Gauri my dear/why didn’t anyone rescue you?/because you are (were) not a cow?” (“Your Only Death”, p.20). Beef-killing as a theme invokes pathos in “Hush” where the country mourns the “death of its ‘beef eaters’/lower castes and those/whose shanty rooms/are never in sun’s eyes” (p.25). Another criticism of killing is found in “Tainted with Love” where the poet does not find any difference between the terrorists and soldiers as both carry guns to kill, creating a situation where, “At crack of dawn/a son is born/father murdered/mother prepares/three coffins/for father, son and/mother”(p.23). A life of love, peace and harmony appears impossible when surrounded by the destructive forces around. The poet is susceptible to even love as “Your New Love” is divided to become “Hindu, Christian or Muslim” and “…your bruised hands/your new love” has resulted in “Falling in love has become/so changed now, we love/a growl, a bark, a shot in/the air” (p.17). The politics of otherisation eliminates the division of love in the death of both “Because blood is not/ Them and us” (“Them and Us”, p.26). Cross-border and international relations of the country resulting in war and killing does not escape the poet’s attention. The poet utters a caution that enmity and unrest in the political arena has made “cold war/has become hot”, “please don’t throw the bomb./ Big brothers are waiting” (p.18).
The poet notices that in this world of blood and killing, even the children’s play has become “games of shooting” (“Playing Games”, p.59) and “the whole world is stoic” (“A Poem for Hadiya”, p.62). This is a world where “The newspapers/ will hide truths in mock heroic anger (“And the Morning…, p.80”), and the poet fears, “what will tomorrow be like, the day after/and day after?/ will the ghoulish dog still howl?/will I wet my bed?/will friends die?/or those ghosts reappear? (“Today”, p.83). In such a world of death, the poet’s plea is that every drop of blood should grow flowers that will bloom (“Blooming”, p. 40) and the poet expresses that “man hunt will surely/be over” (“Man Hunt”, p.97).
Guha’s poems are marked with a placeness of the city of Shillong which is not evaded in this book as well. The Epilogue of the book is a reflection on the nature which is deviated from the core themes of the book. The place and its nature are, perhaps, an escape for the poet from the world of death that he ponders upon in most of the poems in this book. The ending of the book shows him as “no longer questioning/accepting me as I am/what I was” (Five Hill Poems, p.104).
Guha’s poems in this book require a lot of reflection. They can easily be placed in the genre of “Protest Poetry”. The style of writing does not follow the standard grammatical and structural patterns. Perhaps, the language and the style are reflective of the disturbance in the poet’s sensitive mind though it hinders the flow of reading. A little more careful editing of the poems in punctuation and formatting would add to stumble-free reading.
Poetry is a criticism of life, said Mathew Arnold, “under the conditions fixed by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty.” These words of Arnold may resonate in the mind of the readers when they turn the pages of Ananya Guha’s I am not a Silent Poet, a strong criticism of the politics of otherisation, of insensitiveness, of hatred with a plea for love and peace. The poems create a depressing pathos and force us to rethink about us as “HUMAN”. The “silent poet,” thus, voices what we as humans want to scream every moment in the current situation.
Arzuman Ara, Assistant Professor, Dept. of ELT, EFL University, Shillong, Meghalaya, India.
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