Our society is becoming more and more global, and the Covid-19 era is no different. We may forget our locations and the importance of community in consuming the news and internet media. One city, the domain of Mother Theresa, a holy city, is Kolkata. Three editors condense their poetic resources in The Calcutta Cadence, a new anthology edited by Jagari Mukherjee, Inam Hussain Mullick, and Anindita Bose (Hawakal, 2021). The anthology gathers 25 contemporary poets, and themes range from rain, crime, and religion to more subtle life experiences. Mullick writes in his introduction that “life does not cease to offer us the absurd, personal and political – the poet wins”. The poetry of The Calcutta Cadence tries to shed light on these dimensions of life while celebrating the original voices of the city scene.
Bina Sarkar Ellias writes about Santiniketan’s red earth, “a red road rolls out / amazed – / like Kali’s tongue.” In “Santiniketan II” the city mourns “the death of its renaissance”. These poems undermine the reality of urban living. Santiniketan is a university town that was expanded by the vision of Tagore. These poems suggest the natural world that dwells in the spirit of humanity. The unexpected happens overnight when the rain washes through as a poet’s delirium, suggesting that the primal urges of nature are within the poet’s shaman’s sphere of influence.
In “Haiku” by Naina Dey, reality takes on a different task. “Shards of reality pierce my wish bubbles,” writes Dey. The poet is grieved when she asks a lover for a haiku. The haiku is spoken either for love or for eternity; we do not know. What we can infer from the poem is that reality remains untouched by the poet’s wishes. As the next poem “Das Puppenhaus” suggests, “The dollhouse stayed”. This homage to Ibsen ironically poses a question about reality and art. Art is a subtle reflection of reality and not something that transforms it even when it questions it.
The Calcutta Cadence contains a wealth of poems; As Mullick’s preface says, the city preserves Bengal’s “rich cultural heritage”. Sharmila Ray’s poems reflect the tradition among their contemporaries in the sharpest light. She writes about the past and the present with lines like “from grandma’s time to the present” (“Zimmer”) and “Alphabets march into my heart, but a wind stops them” (“Alphabets”). Literature is as natural in her poems as ferns, armpits and breasts. Poetry is an omniscient force in nature; it is the poet’s wishes that make it accessible.
Poetry is an omniscient force in nature; it is the poet’s wishes that make it accessible.
Another tone is chosen in the poems of Sanjukta Dasgupta. The poems are deeply feminist, but lines like “fear is the silent stalker / who follows me everywhere” express how universal the experience of femininity is by appealing to persistent human emotions (“fear”). Fear is not external, but of the “merciless labyrinth / the eyeless mind”. The poet admits her own inability to stand up, as if to suggest that fear is responsible for human inaction.
Niladri Mahajan writes the most amazing lines in “Cremation”. “Flood of light sperm, swimming / swimming / around me they arise. . . they arise / in increased temperature / develop from within. ”These lines are preceded by the mysterious verse“ I am in the deep ”. “Cremation” expresses a fundamental truth about life and death and how the cycles of nature are historically reflected.
Kiriti Sengupta, the well-respected poet from Calcutta, writes about van Gogh’s sunflowers: “Life would not have become still / there would have been water in the vase” (“Tournesols”). These cryptic idioms from Sengupta never cease to amaze. The context of the poem does not allow any explication of the verse, but Sengupta sensitizes the subject in this way. Here we see an ecphrastic poem that evokes vivid interpretations.
Sufia Khatoon closes the collection with exotic verses like “The Pomegranate Tree”. Here she reflects the unity of nature and the harmony of being. This theme is perfect for putting a collection together. She writes with holy empathy: “The exhaustion of loving a repressed body / only know the swarming dragonflies.” In the adjacent line it says: “Sleep in me if you have not found ‘belonging’.” The poet expresses deep compassion for creation and those whom it recognizes as outcasts within society. Your lines suggest that anyone can find themselves without a sense of belonging, since it is not a permanent state, but a point of reference of being.