Book Reviews

Scintillating Urban Poetry by Sanjeev Sethi

This Summer and That Summer | Collection of Poetry  
Sanjeev Sethi | New Delhi: Bloomsbury. 2015
ISBN 978-93-85436-70-3 | Pages xii + 55 | Rs 199

This Summer and That Summer is the third collection of poems by the Mumbai-based poet Sanjeev Sethi, his earlier two being Suddenly for Someone, and Nine Summers Later. A widely acclaimed author with his work featured in many journals and newspapers, he ensconces himself in the hearts of poetry and language lovers.

People throughout India, barring the fortunate few in the hill stations, are dead scared of the ongoing summer, with tongues and land utterly parched, and with water becoming a mirage at many places. Only the very doughty can withstand it; and Sanjeev Sethi blazes among them, having two ‘summers’ in the title of the present book – This Summer and That Summer. One of his earlier collections also has a ‘summer’ infused into its title – Nine Summers Later. The sunny Sanjeev, it seems, has a way and will to bend and mend any summer to his liking.

This book of 51 poems spread out on a mottled urban canvas has been brought out in an elegant and aesthetic getup. Every poem and every line tickles and pricks you to no end. It also serves as a scintillating self-helper to enrich your vocabulary.

Let’s presto jump out into the maze of metro avenues and race down

with our bubbly bard to peer at the diurnal pleasures, and when we feel cloyed – let’s slow down, change the tack and stalk the nocturnal lanes and by-lanes of the city that never sleeps.

Urban poetry being what it is, we are – in sync with the right protocol – welcomed by none other than the urban birds themselves – pigeons. Though putatively paragons of peace, they are by some denizens berated for being a source of annoyance or nuisance. Our poet feels the same when a mother pigeon places her squabs on his sill, and he makes up his mind to get rid of it. See what happens –

Soon I decided – to be kind to myself,
I had to be cruel.
I opted to evict them.
But there are no courts for this.
No legal machinery.
Only feelings.
Feelings have always failed me.
- (Pigeons, p 1)

Thank god, with that both the bard and the bird happily come to terms.

Some of the wise say, don’t step back into the crevices of the past but live in the present, and live full in the present moment. But it is easier said than done when the past is too bitter and naggingly haunts you. You do wish to erase the past, but can you? Seek the poet’s advice, and here you go –

For insects, various repellents
are available.
But is there a pesticide
for the past?
- (Nocturnal Activity, p 3)

The name of a person is, most usually, dearest to himself. But Sanjeev is an exception. He has a different take. He insists –

I want people to call me Nanu.
Nanu. That is the real me.
Sanjeev is the frontal
part of my existence.
When you attach Sethi to it,
you are adding
the burden of many births.
- (Name, p 4)

There could be a big sociological thesis underlying the above lines. All the same, if the family name or surname is taken as a solid genetical foundation, as a wonderful legacy and as a curious aspect of anthropological study, the poet would perhaps have revised his lines as, and maybe that is what he implies –

‘Sanjeev’ is rejuvenating;
It’s so sweet thanks to my parents.
When you bond it with great ‘Sethi’
You own the wealth of many a birth.

The poet doesn’t waffle to lay bare his adolescent escapades of voyeurism. Pitching himself in the dark outside at the gauze-latticed windows of the scattered barracks in the cantonment area, he dared peer through them to have a “lucent” view of the illumined indoors thanks to the “Blaze of lights [that] obscured the exterior” to the couples inside. And don’t get offended but give him a hearty spank when he comes up with a contextually kosher carnal image – “sprawled like the thighs | of a diva on a double spread.” (Garrison Report, p 7)

Everyone talks of the need for a radical socio-politico-economical change at the drop of a hat, but very few are willing to be a part or instrument of the change they preach about. Sanjeev has a caustic dig at such blokes –

Life’s lesson: it is best
to purge one’s own pus.
- (Life Lesson, p 12)

When it comes to “The Market Place” Sanjeev oozes with creative juices –

To seek goodness on the street
is an unfair expectation.
If you’re searching for comfort
you will find it
in coziness of covers
not in the bazaars
where bums and barmen,
shills and smithies
jostle for juice.
- (p 17)

This neat ensemble of poems has its fair share of verbal melody. Here are a few examples of sonorous alliteration dotting the book like a chain of shimmering constellations –

… The tanginess of your tone
Reminiscent of the tamarind tree and my ruing
The raiments we never wore…
- (Holograph, p 13)

Fortitude is this friend’s flag
- (Friendship, p 18)

Now let’s utter the following lines, and we will feel we are on a route-march with our steps making a staccato sound –

After we chose
to cross corridors,
why did you
simmer the stew
of primitive poses?
- (Games, p 20)

The excruciating impossibility of sighting the pleasure of the sky in a tangled metro web of high-rises is captured well –

It is a high-rise here
and a high-rise there.
Quibblers may ask,
“What about the sky?”
How do you tell them?
It aches to look up all the time.
- (Metropolis, p 19)

Obviously, the ache is destined to be fruitless.

The “Capsules” are packed with potent wit. Partake of the bacchanalian spirit of bonhomie –

Drinking in company
is like making love.
One has to feel secure.
- (p 21)

See the tongue-in-cheek comment on the privileges of the slim that are rudely denied to the roly-poly –

I envy the arrogance of those who pee
with their hands on their waist.
Such fortune escapes most fat men.
- (p 21)

Then there is this telling jibe at the dudes that gullibly ape the exotic opulent and consequently get into the habit of having to live beyond their means –

Your bow tie, your shirt with shabby buttons,
conveys less about slender means, more
about the after effects of an alien embrace.
- (p 22)

The cleverness of the poet is reflected in poems like “Fifty Words” where the number of words including the title comes to an exact fifty.

The books sparkles with flashes of modern aphoristic wisdom –

Desire has its own code
like that of brigands.
- (In Situ, Bangkok, p 29)

An uncluttered brain
Is the boulevard of bliss,
One’s porch to peace.
- (Worlds, p 52)

Fake modesty is sometimes flaunted by some of the stinking rich, but only as a naked ploy to accentuate their actual position –

There is some comfort
In speaking negatively
About one’s strength.
The wealthy often say:
“I am broke.”
The good fuckers:
“I can’t get it up, man!”
- (Philosophy, p 41)

Doesn’t the above poem conjure up the image of that swashbuckling and heady billionaire who had with a brazen egotism and narcissism lavished a fortune on his frequent airborne foreign jaunts in the company of nubile belles and feasted his lurid eyes on the cricket matches on the foreign soil, but suddenly declared himself stony broke, and as suddenly sneaked away to the Isles of our erstwhile Imperial rulers, only to roll over there in the ill-gotten cushy and cushioned comforts stashed away in his hideout – leaving his bankers, customers and staff back in the country to their precarious fate?

To recap, This Summer and That Summer by Sanjeev Sethi is a fabulous treat with its clever, smart and witty metro poems, couched in a rich and evocative diction, and coursing along in a crisp and perky style, not shying away to be risqué whenever called for.

Note: Originally published in Tuck Magazine (from Canada) on May 26, 2016


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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