Millennium Post

Eavesdropping on love and death

Poetry is a bit of dying. A poet dies many times writing a line that enriches life, bathes it with new-found meaning, gives it love and memory to turn to, to die for. Poetry becomes the bridge, a long and thin connection between all that is and all that could be, between this world and that we recall or conjure or dream of. Manash Bhattacharjee’s Ghalib’s Tomb, too, is a sinewy conduit to that world, guided by the old, frail hand of the ghost of Ballimaran.

That I have known Bhattacharjee for under a decade now has perhaps something to do with the way I have come to read his poetry. I have seen his ‘Rilkean soul ripen’ over the years, ‘growing in sadness.’ For someone creating epiphanies over northeast Indian delicacies (Bhattacharjee is a Bengali from Assam, though that description would fall unpardonably short of encompassing his expansive mind and soul), poetry wasn’t rhyme, rhythm or canon. For Bhattacharjee, frail and pale, poetry has been, for the longest time, about trying to forge a conversation with love, death and buried poets.

Hence, Mirza Ghalib. Hence, Aga Shahid Ali. Hence, Rainer Maria Rilke, Yannis Ritsos, Octavio Paz, Mahmoud Darwish, W G Sebald. They are not a pantheon of literary gods (if that were the case, Bhattacharjee would have indulged in theophagy, and he almost does that). They are his friends at the tavern of time thick with other times and what they drink and smoke there is poetry. Inter-mixing, inter-flowing, inter-texting.

Look how death forges / New ties and / Throws old ones asunder. / Asadullah lies a few yards / From Khuusrau / While Bahadur Shah sleeps / In another country. – Ghalib’s Tomb I.

For what is more beautiful than resurrecting an entombment? Ghalib’s Tomb, the title of this ‘debut collection’ – a careful and delicate bunch of 30 poems, selected by Steven O’Brien of The London Magazine – and of two poems in the set, is therefore a name the poet has given to an older poet’s burial ground which is also a garden, a monument which was also decrepit, ever so neglected until the younger poet rekindles it with kindness and/in poetry. Till we met the father who hid / Grapes in his mouth and wore a face / Older than his tongue. – Wedding in Muvattupuzha.

By sheer dint of poetry and its mystic haze, soft radiance, the tomb sees a garden, of course of forking paths, grow around it. The garden both holds and guards the tomb, welcoming trespassers who want to soak in the beautiful sadness. Bhattacharjee guards and guides Ghalib’s memory, but then warns:
The poet is born / From terrified memories / Of the fox’s wedding... The poet listens to himself / For the words he is about to utter / And pauses between two selves
– Dissonances.

But the conversation goes back and forth in time, as the present becomes a backdrop to the past, a prop seamlessly merging into the grey abandon. No longer that alleyway / of unending pastimes,/ no longer that couplet / stalling a game of dice, / no longer that foot’s pause / driving a thought home, / no longer that inspiration / turning words into kites. ­– A Visit to Ballimaran.

And as Manash Bhattacharjee holds Mirza Ghalib, the dyad holds a Mahmoud Darwish becoming a triad, and that triad houses and hides a Yannis Ritsos, or a Rainer Maria Rilke, or a Sappho. They are in this together, as each not pearls in a string, but the wind that gently stirs it. Together, they bestow the lyrical intensity, endow the babel with bounty, impregnate the poet with moods and moments not snatched but borrowed from history’s whisper. It’s not just diction and imagery, metaphor and simile, detailing courage and cowardice, quivering in love and death.

It’s the riverine basin of literature and books and words sinking into each other’s bosom, surfacing again at each other’s voracious mouths, in a strange and eternal pantomime, a ventriloquism of voicing each other’s lines and frothing feverish endurances, political and personal.

Consider this: The station was a page / From a storybook. / People were stationed like heavy / Luggage waiting to be lifted. – The First Train. History, however, isn’t just luggage or baggage embodied by tired people; history is also the train and the station, it’s motion and commotion. You have to see it. But:
An atheist has a / Poor eye / For invisible things. And at times: World, take a backseat. / Do not disturb. / I am reading Sebald. / Hush. / … Sebald slows me down. / I am a caterpillar. / I crawl in green fear / Towards the blade’s edge.
(Reading Sebald). It’s not always a confident utterance, it’s not all the time an oracular outpouring, although there’s something palpably prophetic in Bhattacharjee’s commune of poets and poetry. There’s also the glint of effort, the sheen of endeavour, the sparkle of craft. As poetry is not only in the mind and the mouth.

It’s also on the page. It’s black on white, it’s script on a screen. That tangible in the intangible is the trace of a poetic sweat, of a thought chiseled until it shines with a bathing, often piercing light. There’s turmoil, toil and submission to poetry’s rage and sagacity, its sorrow and plenitude. And there is gratitude.
I learnt from your poems / How to wait upon death / And how waiting is a game / As treacherous as death.
– In Memory of Mahmoud Darwish.

Yet not all is about showing or seeing. Poetry veils as much as it reveals, and in that hiding, lies the puzzle of the poet’s heart. The clues become snaky, serpentine memories of madness, of meetings with Medusas, of killing a terrifying mirror image a thousand times. I don’t know if you met / The poet / He hid the moment / I saw you / But I welcomed you / With my confused tongue / Full of bees / … I took you to the terrace / Not to show you the sky but to share / My darkness. – The Meeting

Ghalib’s Tomb, Bhattacharjee’s first foray into the world of published poetry, is but a lamplight that would illuminate the long winding road ahead, of poetry, of madness, of beauty, ‘birds of expectations’, of childhood, homeless Sufi voices, memories of wines and how they taste when mixed with tears and pauses.

Your fragments are more than poems / They are a broken architecture of time / Wherever lines go missing we pause / At the cliffs of your silences.
– To Sappho.
Next Story
Share it