Gayatri Majumdar’s poetry takes us on a metaphorical voyage; Gopal Lahiri Reviews

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Gayatri Majumdar’s poetry takes us on a metaphorical voyage; Gopal Lahiri Reviews

Gopal Lahiri reviews Gayatri Majumdar’s collection of poems ‘I Know You Are Here’.

People often turn to poetry at crucial times, whether in times of personal sorrow or in joy. Allen Ginsberg once remarked, ‘Poetry is the one place where people can speak their original human mind. It is the outlet for people to say in public what is known in private.’

In her captivating new book, ‘I Know You Are Here’ (Red River press), Gayatri Majumdar examines the mixed brew of memory, spirituality, exile, nature, travel, contrasts and conflicts that build a life. It’s only a poet who understands that objectively. Her eye remains tuned to details, turning them over like shining geodes.

After a hiatus of nearly 18 years, Majumdar has published her second volume of poems ‘I Know You Are Here’. In between, she has edited ‘Brown Critique’ journal with zeal and passion. This slim volume contains 26 poems including striking poems on Aurangabad and Pondicherry Series.

In his foreword, Murali Sivaramakrishnan has rightly pointed out, ‘Poetry, for Gayatri, appears as a process of clarification-as much for herself as for the other.’ He has also mentioned, ‘We need to recognise the geography of Gayatri’s imagination that is grounded in the contexts of her place of domicile- Pondicherry, hallowed by the spiritual light of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother-true guiding lights in times of dark’.

In Gayatri Majumdar’s writing, nothing is a superficial show, and everything comes from the bottom of her heart. But the poetic speech has not only progressively purified itself, with rigor and firmness, but also has moved towards an emblematic limit. Her clean lines and everyday images are realistic without promoting an ideological agenda. Like skilled painters, she is experimenting with inner workings, emphasizing individuality, scrutiny, and remoteness from the busy world.

For a true poet, as Gayatri is, the quest goes beyond simple philosophical questioning. It is remarkably a mature poetic voice, in its search for meaning, making an effort to construct bridges of denotation that might at any time prove illusory. She has the keenest poetic boundaries.

Every tree is sacred here-
Every gust of wind;
So are desires, lamentations and prayers.
They explode rising skyward

Or fall
With great resistance
To un-death and time or just thud to the bare ground. (Kalarigram, Auroville)

Her alluring collection travels light, irradiated yet never chained by scholarship, and investigates the way life does revise itself. It is as though she is holding this Polish proverb up to the light: “Everything changes and nothing changes.” She writes freshly about everything, including sameness. She is a sensual conjurer of atmospheres. Poetry is for her a practice of daily salvation; a form of ritual, of taking root in life.

Her light lost behind lights
Of other beliefs
I’m on my way (Two/Pondicherry Series)

The poet focuses on the working of the images, memory and history, zero in on key episodes of life. She writes with candour and seriousness; a sense of resolve braces every line. Menka Shivdasani, the noted poet, has observed, ‘These poems are deceptively simple, and linger in the mind long after you have closed the book.’

‘The light
May not fall
On you anymore;

We then will
Never know
What brought you
So much
Joy and tearlessness.’ (I know you are here)

There is intimacy in this collection. What is remarkable about this collection is the emptying of images and ideas. Along with this succinctness, even terseness, Gayatri’s poetry is also marked by compelling and expansive potentialities. Many of the poems in ‘Pondicherry Series’ reveal the deft touches that radiate the insistent allure.

‘A Brahminy
kites effortless
over my-seabody
Her sharp eyes
catching the glint
of a lost silver fish (Three/Pondicherry Series)

Like a geometrical problem, her book challenges us to back away from our assumptions, allows us to move forward with a free mind and reach the destination. The very forms of her poems reflect the self as the brief, delicate, fragmentary specter that it is. She occasionally develops metaphors of this mysterious disruption that is our emergence into being. This poem is a stand out:

‘I photograph large goddesses
Guarding themselves and the rear chamber
With weapons
And their bejewelled nakedness.’ (Three/Aurangabad, February 2017)’.

Some of her poems are sharp and succinct, dipping into archives of the topical issues. Like many good poets, her love for language is evident in many of her poems and one can recognize her voice right away: affable, ephemeral, delectable but with signature wistfulness and crucial pause.

‘No one watched over you
When you stalked my soul-
Love radiating in the still point of your pain
All that remains now
Needs no pruning, controlling or owning.’ (Continent of our soul)

Her poetry at times opens onto cosmic and spiritual perspectives, encompassing the archaic and the contemporary, the origin that is within the present moment, highlighting the deeper meanings underlying life’s myriad quirks and unvarnished beauty.

‘With every step conquered,
we will discard our robes;
and as we transcend to the god’s realm,
we will need nothing; have nothing.’ (Thirubuvanam)

One cannot but agree with Arundhathi Subramaniam, the eminent poet, when she says, ‘..we have Majumdar’s second book of verse, still capable of surprising us with throwaway lines of casual adeptness..’.

Someone calls out loud
From the neem tree outside my window,
Conversing animatedly as she cuckoos
How she has found
A perfect fruit
At this final hour of the sun. (Faithless)

She brings form to free verse and her poems of integrity show in all its splendour. Her themes are devoutness and familiarity: what it is to feel close and intimate. someone we do not know; how it is to feel distant. Poets like to express themselves in a way they never could before. It allows them to say what they want while still leaving the true meaning up to understanding, beyond metrics and rhyme.

But what makes this collection truly revelatory is its fullness, its bold envisioning of the surreal space and, beyond that, a world – in which identities and idiosyncrasies are fluid and not immobile. It works wondrously highlighting the deeper meanings she believes underlie life’s immeasurable crossing. For the poet, ‘with hunger and love satiated,’ journey is that which counts and leaves us with longing.

‘My heart is the inside
Of an empty blue fridge;
Cold, white and with
A low steady hum… (Light Shift)

It’s true that the splendour of language is as much a matter of sound as of meaning. She is never sentimental and often her wordplay gives the poems seamlessness and fluidity that conjures the sense of an animated, moving portrayal, without becoming dizzy or winded. The Inside and the Outside interpenetrate often in her poetry, and the landscape is a psychic one on which inner movements and events are reflected.

Should there comes a night
When love, hate, joy,
Pain, and all foreign policies fail,
Admit a poem in (A Poem)

The poet is ingenuous and wise and there is no way of knowing where she is going before she gets there, ‘We come the longest way to tomorrow;’ with a ‘few cheap metaphors in our pocket’. She wonders about the world:

‘We listen to rain
As we eat through the light
On our ceiling;
Fatten our sex,
Make time in here.
Meanwhile the bridge
To a neighbourhood constellation
Is crumbling.. (Murmurs)

The poet is someone seeking … a sort of non-existence, the quest for which can lead, paradoxically, to the discovery of the self, set free from the perplexity of context, lightly touching the strings of consciousness and joy.

‘Several storms brew inside me
Lashing streets, bazars and stories,
But he will remain unmoved;
A gentle giant playing the flute
And tugging at the strings of my consciousness.’ (Antenna).

Her poems often exhibit the whispering scrape on the sand mound, the sharp revelations about the ups and downs of life. In her poems for all its exuberance, the sea unfolds in a reflective manner, and this languor is laden with meaning,

And some unnamed islands
Hidden in the large intestine of water (Versova Beach)

Gayatri Majumdar’s ‘I Know You Are here’ is no doubt one of the most important releases in recent times, one to applaud for its beautiful craft, its display of skill and its light form of yearning.

The cover page is inventive. The book is a pure joy to read and reread and definitely worth buying.


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.

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