In the Human Heart: Shimanta writes rarely-only when he cannot but write. The poems in this slim volume are written over a decade. One could best describe his poems as cries from deep within. What makes him stand apart from other young poets writing in English, is his economy in using words. Spontaneity is a virtue that shines through almost all these poems. Shimanta's concerns are all around him, live and throbbing-the dark, macabre violence of sectarian or separatist encounters, the utter helplessness of the voiceless, issues that prick the conscience of the nation, the unrelenting fury nature, the balmy recollections of childhood or youth that come up in between as a much needed relief, the pangs of love in unequal situations and such.
Shimanta Bhattacharyya is a poet based in Tangla (Assam) where he teaches at a local college. His poems have been featured in literary journals and anthologies including Chandrabhaga (Cuttack), The Quest (Ranchi), erbacce (U.K), Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi). Dancing Earth (Penguin) and Best of Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi). He has also co-edited (with Joneve McCormick) an international anthology of poetry.
Tongues of Fire and Crests of Breakers: The Poems of Shimanta Bhattacharyya
I remember my friend and mentor, the late Kadammanitta Rmakrishnan, the one-of-a-kind Malayalam poet who revived the public's interest in poetry through his energy-packed diction and primordial rhythms, indignantly burst out once, "Where's poetry without the Romantic element?" when egged on by a budding literary critic who had detected 'heavy doses' of it in the poet's then latest long poem, "She." This happened in the late 1970s when it was anathema to mention the word 'Ramanticism' in Malayalam poetry circles. I am reminded of this incident when I read through Shimanta Bhattacharyya's collection of poems, In the Human Heart. This is not brand his poetry as 'Ramantic', but to tell myself that all poetry springs from a Ramantic layer submerged under the quotidian trivia and the horrors of the present. It is like a tiny spring that, despite its modest existence, forces its way out of the grizzly rocks of accumulated hard experiences, to which the wonder and innocence of childhood have given way. It is basically Romantic, to say the least, to value and respect human individuals and their freedoms, and to weep when these are compromised. Shimanta's poems do precisely that. Look at this purposefully 'anti-Romantic' poem of Shimanta, which illustrates my point:
The Changing Times
Read me a poem
About pretty maidens with sunflowers
In their hair
Can You Paint me a Picasso
Showing the sunset a sea and
Fishermen in tiny boats
Resplendent with sardines and dancing sails?
Shelley is gone
And so are other like him-
The happy songs of skylarks and nightingales
Rattle like coarse gravel
In ears attuned to glib, table talk.
-And we who try imitate them
Are at once ostracized and even put to sword.
Times are changing:
Fishermen return home with battered sails
Having gone for days without fish.
Pretty maidens with flowers pass unnoticed.
It's only the woman sucking her babe
On a dry nipple
That makes me snatch the pen!
Shimanta Bhattacharyya writes rarely-only when he cannot but write. The poems in this slim volume are written over a decade.
One could best describe his poems as cries from deep within. They are genuine attempts at the unutterable. What makes him stand apart from other young poets writing in English, is his economy in using words. By employing the least number of words, he creates poems which stand out like stars in a midnight sky on a New Moon night.
Spontaneity is a virtue that shines through almost all these poems. The words ride the wings of inspiration almost visibly, and yet, the poems are well-reined in, precise expressions. The element of wonder peeps through the lines, even in the most unexpected situations. The organic structure of the poems ensures their entry straight into the heart of the reader.
Shimanta's concerns are all around him, live and throbbing- the dark, macabre violence of sectarian or separatist encounters, the utter helplessness of the voiceless, issues that prick the conscience of the nation, the unrelenting fury of nature, the balmy recollections of childhood or youth that come up in between as a much needed relief, the pangs of love in unequal situations and such. You could call him a 'serious poet' except for a couple of 'exercises' at self- satire he has attempted. To my mind, this poet is not the type that hankers after grabbing attention at poetry reading venues. The very self-effacing trait that comes through these poems, makes him write poems that are bare, in which one can almost see the nerves exposed.
From my experience of editing poetry for nearly a couple of decades now, I can say with a degree of certitude that I haven't come across poetry of this kind very often. This is the reason why r have written and spoken about Shimanta's poetry over some time now. I find in this poet a rare urge to speak the truth, come what may. And to speak the truth through poetry, one need a kind of soul that does not compromise, that does not accept anything but what one's own conscience clears. I wish there were more poets like him; and more poetry that is not weighed down by intellectual arguments, hollow rhetoric or gaudy ornaments; poetry that is not confounded by bizarre, induced hallucinations; poetry that doesn't resort to the sensationalism of a poseur; poetry that is not shattered by the deafening noise of slogans. But what do we get in the name of poetry in English nowadays? Mostly heavy, undigested, acquired philosophy in the guise of verse; neatly arranged platitudes meant to please a kind of readers, and looking left and right for approbation. Lines that cry out, "why don't you give me your awards!" Verse that is celebrated in 'circles' and 'cafes' and is lost in the merciless glare of the midday sun of a sahrudaya's discriminating gaze.
Therefore, when I began to read Shimanta's poetry about a decade ago, it was like a breath of fresh air in a shade at noontime, or like a drink of cool water from an earthen pot. From the time we published him in Indian Literature years ago, I have been wondering why he didn't put together his poems in a volume. Then I learned that he has indeed done so, with The Diviner. I am really happy that he has come out with In the Human Heart now.
Shimanta's description of the process of poetic creation is not like the usual, blandly harmonious and platitudinous phrasing that many engage in. The power with which a woman in labour pushes the baby out of her womb, spurred on by the birthing-pangs is a handy comparison; look at the picture that comes vividly alive in the following lines of the poem "Words":
A tempest of violent syllables
A deluge of throttled sounds
Sweeping through a limitless demesne Of births deaths resurrections
Rummaging through a heap of rubble
Among the guttural ruins
Among the chaos of pulverized language
In the doom-vowelled silence
A bloodied phrase.
Close on the heels of this poem is "Certain Things," which is its thematic first-cousin. It describes how certain things that we experience or sense, get registered in our minds and resurface as perfect artefacts, in the process of creation:
Yes, certain things-
By quirk of Nature
Or the Lords guiding hand
In the oyster of the brain
Like the grain of sand
Pass into the sublime.
Further into the collection, we come upon another poem on the creative process, "To the Muse," which vocalizes a lover's quarrel with the muse, which ends in pleadings and pledges of eternal fidelity.
The opening poem of the collection, "VlPs," typify many more of Shimanta's poems that appear like the mocking surf at the crest of a breaker-the tumultuous internal violence capped with a laugh. It good-humouredly pokes at the sides of the beings living in a 'special' world symbolized by their air-conditioned, bullet-proof limousines, avoiding the world of everyday realities around them, like a man ducking a possible bullet aimed at his head.
On a sudden impulse-
Behind opaque, bullet-proof windows
Their itchy pelts
From a prying, sun-blazed world.
"At the Nightclub" is another one of the 'black-humour' poems; it describes the contradictions inherent in structured merrymaking in the postmodern, materialist world, where even the poet has a rising libido which he has to suppress in order to objectively write a poem about the situation!
|Introduction by A.J. Thomas||ix|
|In the Dark||8|
|To the Muse||9|
|To My Mother||11|
|And in the Human Heart||12|
|The Nowhere Man||14|
|A Bunch of Flowers||15|
|The Unfinished Man||16|
|A Lament for Their Eyes||18|
|Between Bomb Blasts||21|
|Stray Thoughts on His Birthday||24|
|The Poet in Exile||27|
|This Meat that Decks the Bread||30|
|The Changing Times||31|
|The Little Man||34|
|At the Nightclub||35|
|At the Altar||42|
Item Code: NAL497 Author: Shimanta Bhattacharyya Cover: Paperback Edition: 2016 Publisher: Sahitya Akademi ISBN: 9788126049905 Language: English Size: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch Pages: 60 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 100 gms