Cover and uncover the soul

Mihir’s poems do not merely exalt in love, they also reconnoitre its darker corners and ring with characteristic inquisitiveness and sparkle,” writes Gopal Lahiri.

Poetry has a way of connecting people and the poems acting as guides, helping us steer and remember, creating an intricate overlay of worlds. But actually, it is the weaving of the words that delves into riddles of life, the opacities and fears, the ecstasies and elegies. Mihir Chitre’s latest collection of poems, ‘School of Age’, is rich with shining thoughts and palpable images, youthful exuberance to high level energy, small misbeliefs of ownership against wider backdrops of loss and time. 

School of Age, collection of poems by Mihir Chitre; Dhauli Books (2019)

In his preface, Mihir Chitre has rightly pointed out, ‘ In my poetry, I stand naked and look myself in the mirror of words. In my truth, I find my words and, in my words, I find my truth. Knowing, however, that truth is probably the greatest falsehood ever believed by man.’ 

His poems trace with compassion the individual’s inward journey and echo our current moment without offering any relief. We can talk about culture, community, ‘shades of haze and happiness’ and ‘uncertainty and conviction’ but the poet’s language gives you a way to really observe those things. Conscientiously evading mawkishness and simplification, he approaches poetry with rare integrity and focussed attention to language. Never does he reduce the complexity of human relations.

Here is a poet who have had a collection of poems published by Sahitya Akademi before he turned thirty and his poems are featured in magazines and journals worldwide at a young age. Now he has produced an engaging book about the frailty of ties held together places and people and unspools their overtness over many pages. 

Poetry, too, has the power to transform. This fascinating collection of 65 poems, explores many things in life that are extensively rephrased. The title itself is a strong suggestion as the poet admits ‘To the school we’ll all graduate from only in death. To the school of age’.

Hidden in words are insights about how we portray our identity in a few lines and there is a new form of communication to emerge. If language is the archive of history, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, Mihir should get its own shelf.

‘9 pm and the sun cannot take no for an answer;
two women laugh their age off.

I smile in French, wide as Russia.’ (Trivenis for Cote d’ Azur)

What is fascinating about this collection is Mihir’s love for talk, the pure impulsiveness of life and the journey taken through realization. He combines delightfully plain wording with a familiar oddness. Many of the poems’ successive lines immediately grab your attention and every detail glows with meaning.

‘Your century-slicing wall clock
Evokes a folklore
With a planchet in the head-
We’re yet to go to bed

The lawn by the gate
The Laal Maas on the plate-
Your gut is stardust, Udaipur
May these absences reiterate’ (Udaipur- August, 2014)

Some may find that the poet is very talky or has grown too comfortable in his demonstrative style and continuing success but in reality, it all sounds at times like craft, like mastery attained on a linear scale even though the images sometimes culminate in nothing. 

‘I reduce you to a zip file in my brain
How proactively you decompressed tonight

Nosy ifs and what-ifs interrogate the day
The Richter scale reads its highest tonight

As you’ve scrubbed us off your palm lines
How will Mihir figure the rest tonight?’ (The Black Ghazal)’.

The following high-octane poem turns the eye toward the contradictions. The feeling of loss and betrayal is palpable. It has a powerful emotional core that is preserved so tellingly. The readers are all the richer for it. A writing voice that is admirably serious and human and is linked to intense feelings. With astonishing maturity, Mihir Chitre weaves together contents, images, and narrative with ease and his finely carved poems invite the reader into the quarter of inwardness.  

when you’re in love,
the rest of you
shows up

like an adopted brother
you thought you threw off the cliff
years ago

to avenge the life
he never lived’ (The Other One)

Some of his poems emerge from places of paradox and are animated by luminous words like ‘The more you cover, the more you uncover’. Elsewhere, in ‘At 2.31 AM Whisper, he expresses ‘A dog is fiddling with a bone of the shape of Italy’ This bone imagery is so inescapable and compelling that the poet is ‘..itching to quote Dante in this line/ but can’t remember a word of what he said’. He is among the most acclaimed poets of the present generation. It’s a book that explores meaningfully the minute details of life especially in this super charged poem,

Your hi and bye are twins
born out of fog
and your river-lamps afloat
man’s finest intricacies. 

You and I will both live on
Varanasi
The less we know,
the better it is (Varanasi-December, 2014)

The radiance arrives like a flower fighting through concrete.  The poet is bold enough to shout ‘Love, like the first word of a language, lacks a definition.’ Expanding poetry’s province, he writes on subjects akin to our racing mind and makes a lot of sense. He has an eye for the vivid image, allowing him to bring distant landscapes into sharp focus and his work has always retained the intimacy and directness. 

‘From another lifetime
Appear at Palolem
Like insects biting you
In the middle of a kiss.
The myth of the candle
Burning in the world
Of rationality has its uses
To you and me.
To you because you are not here;
To me because you are not here.’ (Paperboats)

This is a book full of the turbulence of thought and desire, piloted by a poet who never loses his way and the compass stays steady all through. The poet is often able to find passion and meaning and manages to find images suitable to the task of telling that this is the human life, His words tips into fraught, interesting terrain and record the notions of pain,

‘We sit down and breathe and dream
We chuckle under the sky’s inverted stage
To an audience translating our history
Into a palpable green, brushing
The teeth of this craggy, long trudge
You start one way, end the other
But Chalal doesn’t bother to judge’. (A Walk to Chalal)

His poems often interrogate the difference in life. At times, they are playful, moving and wise, exploring mind and soul in conversion. The following poem validates the poet’s powerful voice, ineffable quality and the fineness of his words. 

Goodbyes glittering in those terminal summers
The last coffees, jam sessions, the jokes nobody understood
But us. The inadequacy of reason
made no difference in my Bombay’ (Alone). 

This is not poetry as we perceive but his empathy, evident in so much of what he writes, wins the day. Mihir’s poems do not merely exalt in love, they also reconnoitre its darker corners and ring with characteristic inquisitiveness and sparkle.

There was fantasy in sitting on the bench
Waiting for seven O’clock to never arrive’. (Melt)

The poet believes ‘Wisdom, in many ways, is the fading of the optimism you once cheered; wisdom is the threshold of youth’. He brings narrative to free verse, but this is not a book about directive about youth: these are poems of discomfiting veracity – in all its orderliness. His themes are eeriness and caring: what it is to feel and proceed. For all its exuberance, there is something serious in tone and texture underneath most of his poems. If the book’s purpose is to irradiate and come of age, task accomplished.

The cover page is striking. The book is a pure delight which stretches heart and mind and must reside on everyone’s shelf.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata-based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 19 books published including three joint books. His work has been published worldwide.


Read more poetry book reviews on Bengaluru Review :

Setting linguistic conventions on fire

Catharsis seeping through words

I continue with alphabets, full stops, and all it takes


 

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