Heights of Life: A collection of Poems by Tanmoy Bhattacharjee.
Kolkata: Hawakaal, 2015, pp 64, ISBN: 978-93-83200-91-7. Rs. 200
Here are the opening lines of the first verse in the collection of poems that makes a young poet from West Bengal different from the usual crowd of wordsmiths active on social media for self-expression, most preferably in blank form, in Indian English, for its novelty of poetic approach:
I voice up the words
Lined up on my tongue
This statement functions as the chosen template/ mode and manifesto of Tanmoy. Poetry for him is an experience, non-verbal, musical in nature, registering liveliness of the universe: “Actually a poem has no language, it is a rhythm of liveliness that has all the vibrations of the universe. I also think that one cannot learn to write poems, its as natural as music. I write my way, somebody writes his way…I find a poet’s job is to let others experience the unseen and the unknown. His is the view of an Everyman. I feel that I envision the nuances of daily life that slowly passes. My duty, therefore, is of a diarist, to note the changes, see the upcoming, and put all these down in my record, to serve mankind ages after. My poems are wide open to multiple interpretations. It is the readers only who will determine the fate and face of Heights of Life.” (Introduction)
This collection of 34 short poems that documents the existential condition of a small-town poet struggling with the complexities and peculiarities of the language of the Raj, of the colonizers with their own project of proselytizing the mind to their thinking, and, now eagerly embraced by an independent nation and its aspirational middle class for securing better jobs and social advancement. But the pain was worth it, as Tanmoy finds redemption in the English poetry rather than a vibrant Bengali poetry, as he sees and practices the former: “But to express all I feel, a good vocabulary and a supreme command over language is a must. Surprisingly enough, despite having a poor knowledge of English it came naturally, though haltingly, as a language of my soul. As if a child is craving to get unmasked from a womb. From then on my journey began, to fight against the impediments of learning English.” (Introduction)
Impediments of learning English.
This is crucial for a learner of English as a second language due to its grammar and syntax that cause confusion among children and adults both. Tanmoy is honest to admit his problems and that frank admission separates him from public-school breed of upper-middle-class snobs that sneeze in English only. The Heights of Life happily delivers on this confession and merrily uses English the way Tanmoy wants it to be, often leading to a sense of utter flamboyance and gaudiness of expression. Words that are not meant to convey a given shade of meaning are mobilized and thus estranged from their regular usage- context, thus creating a new poetic idiom and thereby, liberating the language from the tyranny of the borrowed set of rules. The roller-coaster ride can be dangerous for a professional communicator but for the poet, it hardly matters. The full poem “Heights of Life” to illustrate this reading:
I voice the words
Lined up on my tongue
I try the views I have inherited.
To weather each my storm
My efforts are wheeling above
Hardly did I have any win
Tears well up ... sometimes I am not used to.
My appeals are worded enough.
It’s been whiled away, although
My smiles are tutored now,
And wishes stationed. (p. 15)
Or, this one, “Droplets” to buttress the point of the style that indulges in the sumptuousness of words:
A glass of cold water
sense of my skin
touch my palmy lines,
The nerves inside
to give cognizance
she caught me red-handed
yes, drops on my lifeline… (p.17)
Sheer exuberance; verbal weightiness; mixing of ideas and images in a pattern free of demands of classical poetry and its metre, a big chunk of English poetry globally is flourishing---to register and record our daily experiences in a rapidly-changing world, multi-lingual and multi-cultural. Tanmoy breaks free from many received notions of the canon and criticism. He quotes Bengali, Indian English and British poets as influences on his career and thinking, apart from usual family tributes to parents.
This book, for the reviewer, is fascinating in the fact that it comes to approximate an English as being spoken in the hinterland---the suburban and small- town India. The speech of middle class struggling with its arbitrary structures and rules, and, producing its own variety and register to catch the essence of living---the free-flowing and radical lexicon that questions the legacy and re-invents its idiosyncratic idiom in different cultural locations within India.
Unknown to Tanmoy perhaps---bewitched and bewildered by English as he is, like the majority---the bilingual poet has done what Marlon James is being admired for doing these days, post-Booker prize---breaking the hegemony of a linguistic legacy and re-vitalizing its everyday non-native usage, and, refreshing our academic/purist ways of looking at English as a vehicle for conveying a sense of experiencing that reality. This book captures the voices in the work place or market and marks the beginning of a new sensibility.
Enjoy it for its quaintness and breeziness.