As I hold Utpal Chakraborty’s slender volume of verse, titled Kirigami, published by Hawakal, I am aptly reminded of the delicate art associated with its name. Bitan Chakraborty designs the attractive rich blue and gold cover and a glance through the book's pages is sufficient to permit me to realize what an exquisite collection of poetry the covers hold together – quite in keeping with the book’s title. Chakraborty is a poet who has drunk “deep... the Pierian Spring”1 and this is evident in his writings. History, philosophy, literature, mythology, and music mingle effortlessly with love, nostalgia, grief, desire and a plethora of emotions to create a grand fusion.
I try to find a string of connections through the 74 odd poems in the collection and realize that Chakraborty has sewn together his verses with his observations and personal experiences to create a whole. New Normal, an early poem in the book is a reflection of contemporary times where the poet attempts to escape to an exotic world through the homely metaphor of holes in a biscuit. The entrapment perceived by the poet and the paradoxical release he imagines at the same time creates a new site where the reader is tempted to discover his escape while being homebound.
Some delicate pores of a Britannia
biscuit steal me.
Through its eyes
I slip into a different galaxy,
see a new sky, a new sun,
shadowless me inside.
All ears to the beatings
of the sinking stars,
a new normal unfolds,
I realise confinement binds (New Normal)
Another poem, Emancipation, is an emotive invite to observe the healing of the self and the world through the ravages of time. Again, in the poem called House, the poet gives us a deeply personal response about owning a room of his own and the surreal feel of witnessing its ruin before his eyes. The haunting blend of the real and imagined creates a moment of wonder.
Robert Frost said we have poetry –“when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words” Reading a poem like House or Spotlight or The Advertiser I felt the acuteness of this as I imagined I could grapple the vastness of experience that Chakraborty had tried to capture and how he had succeeded in giving voice to a varied arch of experiences which had moved him sufficiently to shape his thoughts into poetry. What I found to my delight was a space created by Chakraborty to reflect his thoughts and allow the reader to form his own through the powerful openness in the structuring of his poetry. Consider the poem Beacon.
Despite the lighthouse, some sinking
ships still break the compass.
Dust from sandstorm smears the sky.
Shaking off the boiling syndrome
we get ejected from one ism to the other.
Walls betray the sin of preparing the wicks.
Here the reader can identify the ‘ships’, ‘signals’, ‘sandstorms’ and ‘boiling syndromes’ in his/her own life.
Chakraborty's erudition and profound understanding of mythology are evident in poems like Stratosphere, Train, Equal Music or Lockdown. As a modern Indian poet, his generous sprinkling of Indian words glides in seamlessly into his verses, helping to re-establish once more how the local can connect to the global. ‘Sarod’, ‘Pakhoaj’ (Gandhar) ‘Amaltas’ and ‘Hasnuhana’ (Seeds) coexist comfortably with ‘ikebana’ or ‘Rubab’s strings’ (Tora). However, words like‘Sarod’and ‘Pakhoaj’ (Gandhar) are written in italics, words like ‘Amaltas’ and ‘Hasnuhana’ (Seeds) are not. I look forward to a time when the ready use of Indian words without apostrophes or italics in Indian writing in English would become normative. After all, India has given the world some of the finest writings in the English language. Chakraborty’s progress in this direction is worthy of appreciation.
In the introduction to the collection which he calls, ‘My Pilgrimage’, Chakraborty stakes a claim to clarity. About poets, he says, “They don’t indulge in complicated rhythms and tans but express their feelings in a graceful yet lucid manner.” This is true of Chakraborty too. His style is lucid and his images and metaphors skilfully simple yet complex that remains rooted in the reader’s mind. The poem The Flautist, which is one of my favourite poems in the collection artfully expresses this.
Close your eyes and ears,
you would see the mellifluous.
You could see the exploding stars,
Frequencies of the prowled innocence,
burgeoning grasses, and their deflowering.
Can you see they lead but to the same tangent,
The bricolage of the master piper?
The poet’s deliberate juxtaposition of ‘seeing’ both the ‘mellifluous’ as well as ‘the exploding stars’ creates tangible and auditory images that shake the reader visibly, climaxing as it does with a brilliant stroke in the 'master piper'! Undoubtedly, Utpal Chakraborty’s forte lies in creating masterful images. In addition, what quite shakes the reader is the paradoxical call given by the poet to the reader to shut his/her senses to perceive a deeper world.
A close reading of the book also throws up delightful surprises of the stylistic and technical experimentations made by the poet – run-on lines, verse libre, and so on. Here is a careful artisan, a poet who has taken his art seriously and given expression to crowding thoughts in an organised manner keeping content in sync with form without upsetting or sacrificing the spontaneity of his thoughts. Utpal Chakraborty is a prolific writer. He has written non-fiction and essays but his very first collection of verses, Kirigami is his inner journey as a poet in response to his readings, experiences, interactions and observations of the world around him. It is a rich and enlightening journey where he leads his readers to discover many aspects of their selves. The sheer variety of his thematic and imagistic engagements is laudable. His is a sensitive soul whose writings illuminate recesses of the earthly experience which may quietly go unobserved to the layman. Like the mythical piper, he too leads the reader on but this time on a beautiful journey of self-realization and understanding. Like Kirigami, his too is a delicate art whose impact is powerful.
Pope, Alexander. An Essay on Criticism
Dr. Annapurna Palit is Assistant Professor in English at Deshbandhu College for Girls, Kolkata. She completed her M.Phil and Ph.D from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a recipient of the Shastri Knowledge Mobilisation Grant and has published articles in reputed journals. She has Chaired Academic Sessions at Seminars and made many presentations at National and International Conferences. Dr. Palit has also taught French language and reads poetry at public events.