Book Reviews

Building Bridges: Poems From Australia & India

Building Bridges: Poems From Australia & India
Author: ed Rob Harle
Binding: Paperback. ISBN: 9788182534599
Publisher:, Allahabad
Pub. Date: 2013

Building Bridges: Poems From Australia & India is a literary kaleidoscope that brilliantly presents a telescopic picture and the socio-cultural and political milieus of contemporary times of both the countries-India and Australia. Four poets from Australia- Christine Strelan, Jonathan Hill, Max Ryan and Vuong Pham- and four poets from India namely Jaydeep Sarangi, K.V. Dominic Mamang Dai and Ranu Uniyal, well presented in the anthology, build up together a poetic bridge to put across their thoughts, ideas, and feelings, cultural ethos to each other, creating spaces for the marginalized voices. Poetry connects people, their heart, their life, nations and the world, paving the way for evolution of their cosmopolitan and universal vision and humanitarian thoughts. Building Bridges, beautifully edited by a prominent writer and academic reviewer Rob Harle, is a sort of poetic junction and an outstanding exploration of 'the literary ties' between India and Australia.
Christine Strelan's symbolical poem "Rat" presents poignant human predicament, sad plight of the marginalized people in contemporary times; they are maligned in     'history's background noises'. She is pained to see the deplorable condition of the neglected people, 'without reverence' in 'nests of rags and shredded papers tunneling around the peripheries of existence'. Rat is a frustration spitted against the so called system. She makes a veiled attack, a piercing satire –

We don't need your love,
give it to all those contemptible

puppies and kittens.
We will never be adorable.’

Her “Freakshow” talks about a 'hyphenated woman' who has strayed from those disturbing dreams where the 'staid rules of the flesh are bent' and whose ' body lives in a twilight of arrested metamorphosis'. It is a sad saga of femininity. Her feminine sensibility is preponderance in “Undressing in the 18th Century”. She very heavy-heartedly cries out with ' her body a trophy of the most comprehensive idleness / the men's money can buy.' She feels socked to see ' she doesn’t even have the wit to despair'. 
Another poet from Australia, Jonathan Hill records, in his poetry,  his deep feelings and experiences, and love for his nation and his long cherished desire to see his country developed on all fronts. He is pained to see his nation shattered and divided. At the same time, his poetry is also a lamentation on the loss of human values. He seeks light to dispel the prevailing darkness, hence seeks ‘a chance to heal/ the pain of our past’ (“take my hand”). He dreams of liberating the soul from the bondage of timidity. Like Tagore, he wants to have a nation ‘united and proud’, full of ‘ideals’. A flame of hope is still there in his heart ‘to emerge from the dark’. Rob Harle has categorically written in Introduction that ‘Hill laments in ‘the middle-east the ‘chains of hatred and fury. He seems to be helpless, as he has no option but to watch ‘the blood of innocent children/ flow forth’. For this sorry state of his countrymen, the ‘leaders/ with their abused power/ and eternal apathy” (“walking on”) that have left his nation in ruins are responsible. His “mystery of the mist” curses the process of colonization. Nevertheless, he proudly proclaims that ‘a river of freedom / still runs wild’ and ‘the shackles of oppression / bind no child.’ In “naidoc assembly”, Hill sings the glory and gallantry of the heroes of his country –
          ‘We reflect on the heroes
          unsung and unadorned
           who carry the fire
          ensuring the justice is born..’.
Hill seems to be an optimistic and nationalistic poet who misses no chance to glorify his people, his country in spite of all ebbs and tides.
Max Ryan is a reflective poet who expresses his personal feelings and experiences and thoughts, borrowed from his personal life. He very artistically blends his simple thoughts and feelings to express to us. His poetry is a kind of memoir that he shares with his readers. He simply tells what he feels. Flow of thoughts has a sway presenting wonderful images of natural beauty. His “The Blind Singer” seems to be soaked in the immense beauty of nature. He feels ‘the first soft shiver of dawn/ stirs ripples across (your) eyelids’. His soul sings the songs of life with full of natural musicality, his inner self which he calls  the beautiful ‘garden’ where he perceives the enlightening lights in darkness of life, thanks to his illuminating insights, the soul. In “Gypsies” he recalls his Dad, Mom and the gypsy kids and ‘the tall flames’ that stirred him, fanning the flame in his heart - the flame of love for one and all, the flame of ethos, sympathy and empathy.  His “The Dancer, Burning Ghat, Varanasi” is a  soul-searching account of his harrowing experience about Death after a face to face  encounter with Yama, Prince Of Death at the burning ghat of Varanasi. To him it may be the result of ‘bhang or grief’s fevered trance’. He presents a very vivid picture of cremation ground where dead bodies are offered to the soaring flames that make him feel shudder inside. He feels-
           ‘My head is rolling
           arms churn the air
           I am lifted above the dust, the earth.

 Here he describes the metaphysical aspect of life so realistically.
Vuong Pham is one the four Australian poets employed in building bridges between India and Australia through their powerful poetic stuff. He seems to be a poet of self confidence, self-exploration, inner strength and spiritual pilgrimage. Pham’s “Asian Skin” is a motivation and inspiration for the people faced with racist remarks on the ground of caste, creed and colors. Although he doesn’t possess ‘their whiteness’, nor ‘blue eyes or blonde hair’, he still feels encouraged and consoled to see the people ‘that carry it with dignity’ and ‘celebrate their uniqueness’ that makes him feel proud of his ‘Asian skin’, while in his “Early Years”, he prefers ‘wide-open smiles’ and ‘a universal dialect’ to communicate his messages of a good, honest friendship without standing out ‘as victims for racism.’ He is a poet who loves peace and harmony and universal brotherhood. He seems to be highly influence by Tagore in his “Refugee Prayer” where he prays for ‘a calm place’ where ‘gun doesn’t point at my father’, ‘nor beats my mother’, ‘there is no machine gun rattle’. What he seeks is ‘peace, peace, peace’. Seeking peace and love he calls himself a “Pilgrim” in the journey of life, ‘forgetting wickedness’ and ‘finding holiness’ In his “Home”, he eulogizes his land for all the good things of life it provides from food to a stable democracy, to congenial climate, to open spaces, to ‘a cathedral of refuge’ to ‘meditate and pray’ for a brighter and better future of another age.
Like Australian poets as discussed above, Indian poets have also illustrated vivid hues of life, love and sympathy for the marginalized people of India. Jaydeep Sarangi, a prolific writer and an acclaimed poet, writes about the miseries, pains, and plight of the people. His “My Pride” is an expression of the pride that he takes in everything during his daily acts but he thinks a lot about his land and the people, seeking a viable solution to their problems. In his poem “Saviours of the Land”, he talks about the marginalized people and their utter poverty which forces them to ‘live by the roadside’ with bleak future. His sympathetic approach to them is highly commendable. He also vehemently attacks the process of turning the land and the forest into shopping malls, which are the prime reason for displacement and evacuation of the poor people from their ‘land and rights’. He bemoans that ‘they only exist as human fossils / in history books.’ He feels disheartened that saviors of the land are neglected lots. “I Live For My Daughterreflects his love for the land, strive for the freedom of the people from the shackles of poverty, pangs of loneliness,  pain of the refugees , and his hammer on evil practice in the country, of child labor. Similar themes also echo in his “Caged Bard”, the poem being dedicated to Manoranjan Byapari, a dalit Bangla writer. Sarangi’s poetic generosity and obligation to his society and to Byapari is much more laudable, as he promises to establish the glory of the dalit writer in Kolkata- ‘in streets and lanes / Of this incredible city of joy.’ What makes him an acclaimed poet is his vision and immense intensity of sensibility, the pathos of humanism and a revolting flame in his heart seemingly flaring so steadily. As a matter of fact, he underlines the consoling reality of a  ‘caste-ridden society. He finds -

             'beauty  in  the working class
              cooperation among the have-nots,
             humanism among rebels

            ‘simplicity among outcastes'.

However, he feels saddened to realize that ‘Justice cries in a caged cell’ for the marginalized people. On the other hand, his “Mind’s Notice Board On A Sunday” provides him a break from the usual activities. It is an expression of profound thought in simple words- afternoon nap/ clears away all rust/ All wear and tear of the week’ in midst of hectic schedule of life. He is a conscious poet who is concerned with the miseries of the people outside mainstream, at the same time he is not careless about his mental and physical wellbeing.
K V Dominic is yet another important poet of India, who honors the best, the greatest and the competent, despises the religious fanaticism and condemns the girl child killing, seeks the way to know the self and contemplatively musters courage to take on the fretful world as a realist rather than being an escapist. His “A Tribute to Shakuntala Devi” is an emotional offering to God-gifted Shakuntala Devi, called a ‘Human Computer’. He bemoans her sad demise, crying out ‘her loss is literally irreplaceable’. He perceives God’s revelation in her ‘human brain’. In his poem “Celebration of Girl-Child’s Birth”, he poignantly deals with killing girl child- foeticide and premature abortions, one of the most burning issues of the country quite rampant in every nook and corner. He is pained to see ‘the slaughterhouse world where thousands/ of female fetuses are killed everyday.’ He goes to the extent of making a scathing attack on the male dominated society and this kind of mentality. After describing social evils, he now takes up the theme of communal fanaticism in his poem “Religious Fanaticism” which speaks of the secularism, humanism, harmony and religious tolerance amongst the people. In a tone of global, secular fraternity he reiterates- ‘God never created any religion’ and holds ‘Selfish man’ who ‘made hundreds of religions and gods’ and who ‘inject communal fanatic venom/ in secular laities’ gullible minds’ solely responsible for this sordid state of communalism in the country. He rightly calls this nefarious deed of religious demagogues ‘fraud’. His “Who Am I” is an eye opener for those blinded and mad with pride, power and airing boastful vanity. To him ‘An illiterate farmer is greater’ than a ‘poet, short story writer, critic, editor’. He very honestly accepts the importance of a farmer for the betterment of a nation with ‘service they render to the humanity’. His “Where shall I Flee from This Fretful Land” highlights the glorious past of his bountiful nation- ‘Once God’s own country’ replete with natural beauty and grandeur. At the same time he sneers at her people’s craziness for ‘material pleasures and luxuries’ which has disturbed the ecological balance of Nature. His country, the breeding ground for ‘secular thoughts’ and ‘multicultural harmony’, has now turned into ‘hell of intolerance and religious fundamentalism’. However, his deep love and respect for his country doesn’t seem to have died down.
Of all the four Indian poets, last two are women poets who have expressed their feministic perspectives on various things. Mamang Dai’s “Floating Island” is floating in her through womanhood with vivid dreams, feminine beauty and a great deal of happiness in the company of flowing water, chirping birds, mountains, lilies etc. In her another poem “The sorrow of women”, she raises the issue of miseries of women faced with loss, impending war, displacement, slavery. She pleads for total liberation and full liberty for women. Men are concerned with their own affairs; they highly talk of so many issues but they don’t feel the sorrow of women; rather ‘They are talking about escape / about liberty, men and guns'. She exclaims-
          ‘Ah! The urgency for survival--
           But what will they do,
          not knowing the sorrow of women.’
Her “The river” and “The road” are flooded with thirsts and hungers of women. She talks about ‘river of all our summers/ collecting the salt of our lives’ in the world ‘infected with happiness’ where ‘Hunger is a thought, a vanished dream’. Her ‘ant and the tiger’ are symbolic of woman’s softness, weakness and man’s muscle power respectively. Her “Man and brother –(2)” is full of poignancy and ethos directly oozed out from her heart. She remarks-
          ‘All the fire remaining in our hearts
          will melt like ice and dead bone.
          until a brother cries out again
          seeking a brother’s lost face.’
Lastly, Ranu Uniyal's all the five poems deal with various facets of life, ranging from faith, love, friendship, longings, memories, beauty , freedom, sorrow and suffering and salvation. While her “In Good Faith” proclaims " God is Love' and 'Love is a season of vices' for 'a calyx of comforts' to ' The friend, the lover and the mate',  “Congregation”  is her wondrous musings over God’s compassionate ability and promptness to pay heed to the thousands of prayers, unfolding series of longings of people. In “Ma’s imperfect advice”, she recalls her mother’s teaching- ‘never hold on to people and memories’ to be conscious of their dangerous impact. She achieves the philosophical heights when she remarks -
          ‘………………. Fuggy minds are
          better left alone rotting inside closed bodies. Parched skin
          fails to absorb beauty and clarity that rests within, mottled
           mules have no roads to climb’.
"Call it freedom" expresses her bliss with ‘many petals,/Of memories / Of life’- grief, longings, loss, love etc. Finally, in “Mother and the little that I know about her”, she gives a vivid picture of her mother, her importance, magnitude and multitude of her personality and her momentous role of consolatory advice in ‘the moments of sorrow / suffering and salvation.’ She seems to be a doting daughter poet who ever remembers her mother in life at every step.
Building Bridges is a priceless bouquet of evocative, emotive, reflective, and picturesque poems that bring together the two nations through stronger poetic ties, thanks to all the eight well known and widely published poets, four from India and four from Australia, who, to quote Rob Harle,‘ give as broad a possible insight into the contemporary issues that confront individuals’  in both the countries. Thematically, the anthology in question deals with yearnings and longings for freedom and salvation, racism and alienation, love and loss, sweet-bitter mixed memoire and nostalgia, sorrow and suffering, patriotism, and more importantly, sympathy for the marginalized. In the final analysis, it won’t be an exaggeration to call it a literary endeavor ‘to give a voice to the marginalized in our societies’ to establish their cemented recognition and honor, bringing at with rest of the people of mainstream.

Note: My special thanks to Dr Jaydeep Sarangi for the complimentary copy of the book with " For your kind review' prominently superscribed in his poetic ink.


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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Views: 3434      Comments: 11

Comment I am really amazed at the wonderful insight you have provided to the pieces of poetic compositions seeking to bridge the gap between two diverse cultures.

Your critical acumen really makes the readers enjoy a poem in a more rewarding way as compared to a situation when he had approached such pieces without using your sensibility.

Thus your critique justifies the belief that critics are not parasites dependent on creative writings but happen to be creative in their own way.

04-May-2015 03:51 AM

Comment Bahutttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt ras Badhai apne sir ji

Ashok jha ' Bholi'
03-Sep-2014 12:34 PM

Comment Thank you! Copies of "Building Bridges".are available with:

You may e mail me:

best wishes

01-Sep-2014 21:52 PM

Prof. Bhaskaranand Jha, hearty congratulations on your excellent critique and review of the book, "Building Bridges". You have taken great pains in selecting some of the poetry, to represent the depth and the truth of emotions of the authors. I, a lover of poetry feel privileged to have read your review. My best wishes to you on your future projects.

I am 81, residing in USA. How can I order a copy of the book?

With regards and thanks. Khalida Khan

Khalida Khan
01-Sep-2014 08:47 AM

Comment A wonderful review !
29-Apr-2014 12:34 PM

Comment Good review sir..

28-Apr-2014 08:13 AM

Comment well done. perceptive review.

28-Apr-2014 01:19 AM

Comment Bhaskar Jha has presented a wonderful review and scenario of the contemporary societies of both India and Astralia based on these eight poems. He is a genius in writing poems and also criticism.Writing criticism is a tough task but he accomplished it very intelligently and beautifully. Being older than him I wish his continuous success both in literary as well as personal life.

Dayanand Jha
28-Apr-2014 00:14 AM

Comment Thank you for a wonderful and perceptive review of this important volume of poems.

Rob Harle
27-Apr-2014 19:16 PM

Comment Congratulations Bhaskar Jha sir for sharing this wonderful review . Culmination of masterpiece . Best wishes to you for your future endeavours .

27-Apr-2014 15:23 PM

Comment My hearty Congrats dear Prof. Bhaskaranand Jha for the excellent detailed review of the book. Only a great critic can go so deep into the poems and make the readers feel the beauty of the poems as well as allure them to buy a copy of the book. Hats off to you. My deep gratitude to you for the superb criticism and to the editor Mr. Rob Harle as well as to the publisher for the wonderful book!

Prof. K. V. Dominic
27-Apr-2014 11:48 AM

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