Book Reviews

Scaling Heights: A Flight of Fancy

in the Literary Firmament

Scaling Heights: Anthology on Contemporary Indian English Poetry
Edited By: Gopal Lahiri & Kiriti Sengupta, Publisher:  Authorspress India
Pub. Date: 2014

Scaling Heights is a comprehensive compendium of 202 long and short poems, dealing with a variety of themes, by fifty six accomplished talented and emergent poets from different parts of the country. It is a representative anthology of contemporary English poetry enriched, in abundance, by the poetic minds engrossed in poetic writings. Well edited by Gopal Lahiri and Kiriti Sen Gupta, widely known poets and writers of the present time, the anthology has a short but beautiful foreword by Anna Sujata Mathai who underlines that “poetry is the language of intimate soul, the secret language of the heart, the language of relationship” where “the self may discover itself”. Scaling Heights is indeed a literary "platform for young, unheard, promising poets from diverse backgrounds and established poets" showcasing “the kaleidoscopic nature of poems emerged in day to day struggle of living a life and the relentless uncoiling of action that endures torment and uncertainty” with an universal appeal. It is like providing succor to the soul, joyous beauty to mind and heart, deep insights and vision to the people, by scaling down the height of ever elevating poetic skyscraper. It is no exaggeration to say that Scaling Heights is a flight of fancy in the literary firmament.

A veteran poet with wide range of experiences, Aju Mukhopadhyaya provides the stepping stone to climb the literary height. In all his five poems appeared in the beginning of the anthology under discussion he takes up the themes of life, humanity, nature, spirituality including transience of life. He touches upon various facets of life from love, romance, and joy to spirituality. His poem “Sea of Humanity” is a thought provoking and insightful poem, shaped up with deep understanding of human life faced with myriads of problems. He believes that with one’s persistent patience and unflinching faith in oneself ‘the turbulent sea would thaw’ at last. Rather than feeling troubled by the brutal forces, he holds –

The vast water is the helper,
….Waves make the sea of humanity.”

He further boosts up readers with his motivating and encouraging remarks-

If they agree to stand on their own robust feet with confidence
  to rebuff such hegemony of the  brutal force
…harbours them into the realm of  peace, tranquility and progress”.

“The Fallen House” is a nostalgic reminiscence of the poet’s life spent in his native village with a vivid contrasting with the town life. He finds a sea change there. The Events is a beautiful record of events happening in life. The poet broods over the transition of life, its futilely, ennui and boredom. He remarks-

a gulf of silence
island of non-existence
nothing prevails.”


life after life
Events after events
Everything is in a flux
Everything flows into the void
Yet the……………………

His “Pray That You Play Your Part Best” discusses the philosophy of life, significance of nature and metaphysics and evolution of humanity.

Ananaya S. Guha has great feelings for October as it has his “winter of longing” and at the same time, ‘wistful’ ‘nostalgia’. “Me, You” is a beautiful poem with beautiful ideas about ‘memory“. He is the best in her shortest poem Childhood with her striking lines. “We sell our souls/and she sells her childhood” contains a scathing satire and also compassion for penurious children, bereft of happiness of their childhood. Angad Singh Saluja deals with many universal facets of life, evil practices of untouchability and vices polluting human life, subjugation of women being tortured. His portrayal of caste discrimination and rape of virtues is haunting and touching.

The world looks beautiful with variegated nature and immense love for the people. With his inner sense a man realizes the pitfalls of life each moment in ‘action or in thought’ and regains inner succor in deep silence.  Anup Datta’s poems portray such a world very vividly. He is right in saying that “ it’s nothing but a death of a man if wants to live more.”(A Man If Wants to Live More, page 37). Love, human relationships and hope despite all pessimism play a significant role in the poems of Anupam Naskar. His “In Hopes Of” record sustained endeavors with varied moods. He proves it-

Bird flies, flies and flies
Till twilight in the horizon dies…” (page 45)

Anupam Roy’s poems are replete with tender feelings for the one he loves so much, and whose smiles soothe him in his” deepest heart to the brim full. His love for siblings and children is reflective with deep touch. On the other hand, to Aparna Pathak, ‘Longing is beautiful’, ‘leaving trail of love’. The poet has a quest for introspection to quench the thirst of life here and beyond. She is of the view that carrying on the spiritual pursuits is ‘never a waste’. A sense of enthusiasm and human dignity is felt in her poem when she proclaims-“ Even the blind did not lag behind”. (Page 52). She also expresses her bewilderment at the hectic life in the rapid world.

The poetic world of Atreya Sarma U. is dominated by chains of life like pain, relationships, intimacy, flora and fauna and romanticism. At the same time, paradoxes in human life and the sense of contrasts and paradoxes are also dominant in his poems.  His poems evoke and kindle varied emotions in readers. He expresses his yearning to transcend ‘time and space’. Retaining the beauty and innocence of childhood   but feeling the oldie’s anguish he presents a contrastive statement-

“A child is doted on and rained with kisses,
But, an oldie is slighted and arraigned with hisses.” (Ageing Paradox, page 57)

Chandra Shekhar Dubey’s poems portray the picture of beautiful nature with vivid and excellent imageries; they also have a veiled satire on the political conditions. His poems are also soaked in past memories with realistic portrayal of the society. The world, where ‘ a meal prefixes a deal/ and a deal suffixes a meal’, is in helter skelter, everything being topsy turvy. He longs for making it up with peace that” comes from within’. His political satire is very pinching in Parliament of Owls. He remarks-

“…………. Parliament of owls meets
In the dense, dark groves,
Hooting the mundane politics of the forest
…… jungle raj , justice lost to jugglers
..” where “the meek and the weak” are suppressed and helpless.

Continuous flux of time with its unending problems, its powers, evolution of humanity predicament of human life and various other issues pertaining to contemporary society find an excellent expression in the poems of Chitra Banerjee. Love is also an important theme of her poetry. She finds “the pleasure of union of love”, ‘happiness’, and “bliss of achievements”  and this is all possible due to eternal time. She also laments the loss of “compassion, commitment, cohesion” and sense of “coexistence”, as “corruption, coercion, caucus, cacophony” has taken their place. She emphatically proclaims-“ Let’s be true human beings.”  She is also right in her perspective when she opens our eyes by bringing home the fact that  "A distorted reflection is/ Disastrously dangerous…” Her poems also elucidate upon the human existence with a metaphysical quest to know the genesis of life and the destination of death, with ugly turns of adverse circumstances. The naked truth is reflective in her poetry. The indifference attitude of man to understand the ultimate reality also bothers her.

With the rise of commercialization and materialism gripping the whole world, there is an alarming threat to ecological balance and to humanity that is losing the touch of heart. All the emotional, social, natural values, trust, fellow-feelings and love are receding at a faster pace. The poems of Diwakar Pokhriyal are testimony to this realization. He cries over  “detached humanity”, as “ We eat animals leaving nature stun”  due to “ Prioritizing money over life”. Very heavy-heartedly he accepts – “ From golden emotional heart,/ We write “ Irony of humanity” “. He is all praise for the beauty of his beloved, love that keeps him “away from misunderstanding and lies”. However, his loving heart is pained to see “Selfish love raping trust” and traumatized souls groping for the relief. There pervades a sense of realism, with melancholy, throughout his poems.  Almost the same theme also echoes in the poems of Gayatri  Majumdar who gives a wonderful vent to her random thoughts from the corridors of her consciousness. Desires, aspirations and dreams underlie unfulfilled and shattered. Her poems are soaked in sadness and frustrations. She has nostalgia for her love, now no longer with her but the sudden remembrance of her lost love comes up and that finds a tragic mention in her poems.

Vivid hues of love and life, despite losses, sadness and inevitable setbacks are aglow with profound thoughts and ideas in the poems of Gopal Lahiri.. As a lover of nature, he expresses his anxieties about man-made pollutions resulted from urbanization process , that are emitting toxins  everywhere, that have defiled the true beauty of nature. With reference to the sad portrayal of defiled Prinsep Ghat of Kolkata, he wants to bring home the point the global issue of pollution. Also, he bemoans the loss of good things from our society. Silence speaks louder than his words in his poems with tormented soul. Colors used in his poems paint various pictures of the contemporary world. They evoke emotions in the readers to grasp the dignity of humanity. His poems present “ a rare spectrum” with elusive words” “ in emptiness” flooding his emotions “ on unstable crust of silence.” The vivid description of beauty also finds its due place in his poems. In short, he is a poet full of potentiality and possibilities.

Jacob Issac kalimadom is a poet of beautiful thoughts, who talks about nostalgia, desires, flame, mind, inhumanity, perversion, enigma, ego and of course elevation of soul. With a realistic portrayal of what he observes and experiences, he is a bit satiric on “ Priesthood perversion” that is globally rampant. He is right in saying that even the people are under the perniciousness spell of this evil- “ We are the gloomy lazy behind them”. Emotions and desires evaporate in his poems, wiping the ego and elevation bringing about a “ change of chasity”. He is a very thoughtful and insightful poet-

“ Now my thoughts are thoughts of thoughts
Now my spots are vague and vague”.

At the same time he also states-

“ There we pay the levy of leisure
There we roar and rare the rate.”

Simplicity has great attraction in our life. With it come a large number of good things that bring great joy and pleasure for us. Jagdish Keshav is all praise for its importance in our life. However, with the change of time and trends, true values of simplicity are being eroded and this erosion has saddened the poet. The poet calls simplicity his ‘friend’ and “companion”. He believes “A morsel of grain on their platter that could make a child smile/ A child’s smile can say a thousand words of love and simplicity”. He also laments “  “When you existed, people were simple.” His poetry shows his sympathy for the destitute. He expresses his dissatisfaction with the present life styles followed in cities. For this chaotic situation he holds the people responsible- “But that came from men and not the beasts of the jungle.” Exploration in to the unexplored aspects of life, into the beautiful aspects of the unseen and the hidden is yet another theme of his poetry.

Love, life, existential concerns, the plight of the underprivileged and dalits, naxalism, human predicament form the basic core of the poems of Dr Jaydeep Sarangi. Different patterns of thoughts with musical echo beautify his poetic style and impressive creativity. Living in “Lonely corridors” of the metro he is concerned with “threat to my (his) native links.”  To him a city life is too disturbing as he metaphorically remarks- “Like any metro tunnel/ where life heads for a blind end.” Further, very honestly he accepts that “ Love is rather a skinny matter/ I collect somebody’s leftover.” In his poetry his silence speaks loudly, realizing “ full circle of things”. To him time is all that matters. As a strong voice of the marginalized, he is consciously concerned with the sad plight of the downtrodden being subjected to atrocities and tortures not only by  highhanded police but also by their own leaders  who” cut down your (their) throat/ they take your(their) land and bow.” For betterment of their life, he is hopeful “Indian Maxim Gorky can save a race.” His poetry is a realistic depiction of “our Alice-moments in dramatic life.”

In his poems Jubin Ghosh confesses his Platonic love and deep longing for Deblina. His poetry is like “ a note written with sand on a snail’s tail.” His personal thoughts and feelings run through his poems, “ with ease and personal purity.” He believes in permanency of love, hence despite sea-changes in “villages and the towns” his love for her is unchanging. He is so much love-struck that he wonderfully croons-

I will nibble out a piece of arrow
Which floats smoothly along the bank of Teesta river.”

Jyothsna Phanija’s poetry presents the Golden Twilight in the extended night of life with dreams, hope and happiness. She also takes up the theme of superstitions prevalent in our society and in ignorant people. Childhood days still tempt her to their glorious phases of delight “like lambent moonlight”. To her a child is the prince or the princess of “enkindling light” in the “river of happiness, mountainous innocence”.  She yearns for returning “ to the shells of memories childhood seashore site”. There is a pervading sense of loneliness and nostalgia in her poems. Intensity of love with sensuousness is reflective of hers as well. Moreover, like a true poet of women, she takes their side. Through the poignant portrayal of miseries of Sayori, she brings home the point even today we find the Sayory in many other women of the nation. Conditions of women are realistically depicted in her poems.

Kiriti Sengupta's poems advocate “spiritual pursuits” and quests in life. His poetic endeavor lies in unclouding our souls to “Reach the void, and see the cage”. In his poetry we find the ways to unravel the mysteries of the unexplored facet of human life. However, he holds the view that “defining soul is difficult.” His thoughts on metaphysical aspects of life veer around the “Nucleus” of mysticism and spirituality- “Whatever you wish, darling; remember, the limit is half of a thousand.” As a spiritual insightful poet, he perceives the invisible presence of the Invisible. He preaches-

In all works imperishable I listen to the unheard;
Bundles of joy, drops of eyes keep the ‘I’ fastened.”

The poetic world of Madhumita Ghosh is replete with love and romance, in addition to the beauty of nature all around. Symbolical interpretation of the subtle meaning of Goddess Kali is testimonial to her firm faith in the feministic principle of creation, destroying the evil “ racing across the universe/ to usher in the good.” The most striking feature of her poetry is her bold expression of revolts against the age-old stereotyped social norms. With her feministic sensibility she challenges social taboo and the restrictions imposed on women desirous of tasting the ‘forbidden fruit’. “ a sense of forbidden love” reveals her innermost feelings when she “ emerged as a naked babe/ unafraid, and hungry/unfurling my rust wings/ I flew, soared and floated / to the blossoming apple tree.”

The poetic garden of Mary Annie A.V. is dotted with beautiful portrayal of variegated nature with butterflies of thoughts, humming around smiling flowers, whistling winds, vast sea while singing songs of life, realizing the power of destiny, making compromise with predicament in life. She emerges the best with her striking expressions like “Wheels that move on/ birth life and death./ Moments of peace/ sandwiching.” There are several beautiful images that depict life with its ebbs and tides. Pessimistic elements found in her poems show her positive side of her poetic writings. She remarks- “ I am ripped open / left to bleed.”

Mohini Gurav’s fascination with theme of love is remarkable in her poems. Through the ‘Magic of Love” she wishes to establish an amicable empire of peace and harmony in the world ripped off by the commercial onslaughts. Nostalgia is an important tool that racks up the romance and love in her.  As a poet of love and romance she believes that the romantic smiles have the capability of uplifting soul to a blissful height. In her poems she talks about the beautiful relations and formation of strong bonds. She puts more emphasis to live a life of love and joy, as the “Time flies’, “ Leaving the memories behind.” She gives a very beautiful message-“Do spare some time/ As life is short lived./And like our magic of love/Time too cannot be tamed.” However, she is aware of the hard reality of life and hence suggests that love alone can resolve the problems of life-  “ Language is misused to/ Create misunderstandings,/ Quarrels and rivalries many/Which can be solved with love/ Care and concern only.”  She expresses her anguish over killing girl child. With true motherly pathos she pleads-“Save female foeticides./I wish to see them bloom/ Like the way I do.” She is also kind to animals and requests through her poems not to resort to animal butchering. As a lover of peace, she reiterates to establish harmony in the world. Her poetry is really a brilliant expression of her thoughts on various universal things of life.

Moinak Dutta’s all the poems are his poetic outbursts. He opines that true poetry is born in the loving heart of a tormented mind, bringing smiles on his/ her face, and it provides peace to their soul. A poem deals with outer world and the innermost. It has an eternal promise. It is a thoughtful reflection of beauty of nature. A brilliant and apt use of elegant similes and metaphors, and personifications to convey his message is another beauty of his poetic technique.

In her poems Monika Pant deals with several themes from life, world, desires and lusts, joy and pleasures, pain, dreams, illusion, transition, nature, beauty, philosophical quest, juxtaposing of ethereal and earthly, and most importantly the renunciation and emancipation. Her poetry is “A kaleidoscope of dreams/ emotions distilled in a cup of poison” on “a painted picture” of life, in the “perfect world/ like an elusive dream.” She muses over the futility and transitory of dreams and world, and desires. She believes that the emotions pursuits are obviously painful. With a very beautiful commentary on the Indian landscape made during her train journey, she describes the beauty of pied nature and then she questions philosophically- “What  is this journey, if at all?/ Who goes where? And who stands still? “. Further, she reveals her assumption- “Am I the viewer and you the viewed ?/ Or is it you who is watching over me still? “ Attachment and detachment are one of the real concerns of the poet.  She has firm faith in dignity of man. “A born heretic, an enlightened man,/ A man nevertheless”. She makes eye-opening remarks- “Lust for gold, or for the flesh,/ The deep dark desires within,/ Who knows how to dislodge a vice?” She sarcastically underlines- “Steeped in worldly pleasures-/They are no worse than/ His Holiness desecrated.” And this summarizes her thoughts at one place.

Nitin Soni seems to be a poet of realism, who has heart of gold for the poorer sections of society. His faith in human values is reflective in his poems to a larger extent. Like “Trees are lamenting the separation of leaves”, he is saddened to see that miseries and sorrow of the world mocks “at the state of happiness”. However, there prevails “ Naked Silence, naked reality” everywhere. His is poetry of protests and revolts against the social systems,  a  pinching satire on the coldness of the people.  As a poet of the underprivileged sections of society, he is sympathetic to their plight with all his generosity and compassionate heart. He says- ” The silence of road being more dangerous than the silence of war”. Absurdity of human life, and all our so-called charitable acts is another theme that his poetry deals with a great sense of realism, for “We are tormented creatures of  a ‘Silent-burdened-clock’,/ Frustrated by the cycle of life.


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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Views: 3523      Comments: 4

Comment Thanks Bhaskar Jha sir for an excellent review . Engaging read and thorough review !! Keep it up sir ! Thanks for reviewing my poems from the wonderful anthology "Scaling Heights. I am feeling very Happy , Proud and Honoured ! A sincere thanks to you ! Thanks To Gopal Lahiri sir and Kiriti Sengupta ji for honouring me by including my poems in this anthology . Thanks Regards ! Best wishes.

Mohini Gurav
14-Sep-2014 09:11 AM

Here is a comprehensive discussion of modern Indian English poetry by a feeling of empathy towards the poets.

Aju Mukhopadhyay
08-Sep-2014 12:58 PM

Comment An exhaustive, engaging and perceptive review.

U Atreya Sarma
08-Sep-2014 08:09 AM

Comment Thank you Sir, for such comprehensive review. It's amazing to see such a thorough review :-)

07-Sep-2014 14:41 PM

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