Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Flesh of Life, Here and Now

Jiban Narah

The Buddha and Other Poems

Translated from the Assamese by Pradip Acharya, Krishna Dulal Barua and Niren Thakuria

Published by Monsoon Editions, Calicut, Keralam, 82 pages, Rs 150

The Flesh of Life, Here and Now

c s venkiteswaran

Return to the village – they advise

We aren’t far from the countryside not to be able to return

you don’t see the ebony flowers

you see the flesh of trees.

(Flesh of Trees)

Here is a world pullulating with life where trees have flesh and blood, all organisms can speak, feel pain and pleasure, their shrills and cries have distinct colours, that too for men and women among them, where ‘moon’s hair grows longer like the notes of Chaurasia’s flute’ and even canoes and yarn have stories to spin. It is a world where time is a great continuum, where the other-worlds and netherworld merge to create this world which we only seem to inhabit. Jiban Narah’s poems wakes one up into that world that is painfully immediate and hauntingly sensuous. It is not a faraway world but one of here and now, where a dog’s answer can send a ladder into a faint and topple a tale; a place where ‘errant plump swine’ swarm the streets where the poet takes his morning walk, and a glow-worm can murmur to us like this:

With the spiraling smoke

a glow-worm came from the rain

and said:

Do you hear the drenched note of the flute

I’d gone looking for the unknown player

When the wind brought me here

Don’t tell anyone that I’ve come

the wind will keep it a secret

if the sky knows it will tell the stars

I’ll spend this night with you

the colour of the gourd-blossom is on my body

Blow out the lamp

We flower at night

(The gourd blossom)

What animates Jiban Narah’s imageries is their keen sense of place and roots. They are not mere words trying to evoke the lyrical and the transcendental in you, but are extremely sensual and visceral, immediate and palpable. One can see the presence (of life and also death which is part of it as if in a moebius strip) pulsating in them, and always reaching out to you. For instance, this is how death figures here:

The slow tremors of the feet

scatter on the bell

Dust grows

through the toes

earthen lamps burn

in the courtyard

don’t look back

the knell is close behind.

(The Death)

Here, time is not a transcendental and abstract experience, but something ever-present, of body and soil, all too tangible yet heart-wrenchingly elusive:

Whether you rediscover or not

please return home

though the colour of your parents’ faces mingles with the grass

you can feel the times with your touch

(The lesson/2)

While reading Jiban Narah’s poems, what strikes one immediately is their startling freshness and minimalism. They seem to germinate and grow in certain oneiric continents of our lives that we, with a start, immediately begin to recognize and rediscover. These poems open themselves out to us in such a direct and overwhelming manner that we feel we are in the presence of something elemental, direct and profound, intricate yet involving. His is a poetry that draws its strengths from the world and so, its nuances and inflexions are never from the abstractions of it, from culture or literature, but from one’s self and whatever engulfs and engrosses it. Though you come across Kundera here, for the poet, he is ‘just like my father’.

Exactly why doors and rooms that separate and enclose do not make any sense to the poet:

A sound amid the quietude

the afternoon spring decomposes in the darkness

never could think – we are

there could be after us…

Alright tell me – why do people have doors in houses

rooms within rooms

tussles for space

tuggings in the count of opportune hours

(Count of Opportune Hours)

His is a poetry that is woven out of the surroundings – landscapes and climates, fragrances and stench, the intimate and the repulsive, everything freely jostle here. This teeming presence has a certain engrossing inescapability that charges and charms. Here personal memories and agonies waft into the atmosphere mingling and spiraling onto that of the moonlight, the umpteen animals and birds, places and memorials. And the poet embraces them all, living through/in them. That is how his poems effortlessly break away from shallow lyricism and ‘folkishness’. The all-too real river, the paddy fields, the bamboo shoots, the trees, plants, insects and animals and the humans here and now, all meld together to create this tragic celebration of life. And it is this overwhelming presence of the all-too-real elements that makes ‘reality’ very pithy but layered illusion:

Brothers brothers then what’s the boat


Brothers brothers then what’s the river


Brothers brothers then should we go about groping for illusions

Never never

‘You shouldn’t stretch your stride over a shroud’

(Layered Illusion)

For an urban, uprooted reader, inundated with global images and narratives, Jiban Narah’s poems work against such fragmentation of experience; their energy is simultaneously centripetal and centrifugal. While it churns up its restless energy from the local (the life and lore of the Mishings tribe to which Jiban belongs) which irrepressibly spills over, it also makes the outside world its fuel, drawing energy from it and placing itself confidently and spontaneously ‘against’ its apparent all-pervasiveness and self-erosive ennui. Thus what makes these poems contemporary and universal is this unremitting tension between in and out, the near and the faraway, the personal and the tribal, the familial and the social, the mythic and the contemporary..

(Jiban Narah (born in 1970) is author of several collections which include O Mur Dhooniya Kopou Phool and Toomi Pakka Dhaanor Dore Gandhauissa. His poems have been translated into various Indian languages. He is a lecturer by profession.)

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