Book Reviews

Sand Column: A Collection of Topophilic &

Nostalgic Poems from a Powerful Pen

Sand Column | Collection of Poetry | Purabi Bhattacharya
Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 2019 | ISBN 978-93-5045-191-5 | pp 92 | Rs 300

Purabi Bhattacharya is an accomplished writer of prose and poetry originally hailing from Shillong but settled in Gujarat owing to her and her husband’s profession. The book under review Sand Column is her second collection of poetry, the first one being Call Me – also published by Writers Workshop (2015).

With an intense sense of topophilia, Purabi quavers about her impressions of Meghalaya welling up from the memories of her impressionable age and most of them have a threnodic tone. It is where she was born and brought up. Her poems are couched in rich and enviable diction; and the thematic treatment and manner of expression is certainly not “plain” and direct though she claims that her genetics is rooted in the plains. Her reflections are existential, surreal and subliminal in their tonality; hence the reader should not be in a hurry and try to skim the poems. If he shouldn’t miss the cathartic pleasure the poems offer, he should set himself in a serene mood to read, pause, re-read and ponder to get at the logic of the concatenation of the poet’s thoughts and reflections and the heart of the poems. This being the characteristic of Purabi’s poems, it will be worthwhile to listen to what she herself says about her poems, as under –

This that I bring to you is a lump, worded.

The collection is broadly divided into two sections. The former, “Tears, Tissues,” talks about Monday mundanity and goes on gathering the process of mainstreamization, I have been running away from, taking over me. The latter, “Tethering Memories,” pieces together a pain of being away from an “imaginary homeland” and touches upon the not-so-cordial relations between the imagined Them and perceived Us. I love and continue to live a Dkhar, which in Khasi means people from the plains, and has now turned into a pejorative for non-tribals or migrants, especially Bengalis. Non-tribals of our generation born and brought up in Shillong could never escape the sticker; the jibe sticks on.

I hope the lump melts ... some day.

A progeny of her forefathers who had long ago migrated from the plains of Bengal to Meghalaya, Purabi born and brought up in the hilly terrain of Shillong and then settled down in the far western part of the country in the Aravalli hills – loses herself into a meditation of memories, before trying to string them up together –

From the tiding Poshina Hills
each weighting steps
with trunkload of
schooldays shenanigans
to those whiles
to lover’s arms,
measuring moments
warily stay strewn like pebbles, small big
amongst cactuses and goose grasses
all over the dunes.  - (“Those whiles” – p 14)

[Poshina Hills is a town in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat.]

Wistfulness and nostalgia seeping out of a web of indelible memories gnaw at you all the while, some of them “moistened” (35), some “unripened” (41), and some painful and yet to heal – as in the poem “Scheme” where “the lump in the throat” (54) is too big to swallow and too hard to melt which is why it is likened to “the temple elephant.”

Having “always romanced silence” that is “Cordial” and “Agreeable” and conjuring up the memories of “a soft meadow with shades of green smiling, untethered,” and not a “cimmerian” situation where one would like to “think of running out of the bitumen sprawl,” the poet poignantly recalls her father whom she lost to “unspoken times” and who she had little time to speak to. In her “totemic Nongrim rain” with tears flowing out of her, she chokingly says: “I gave him away to the Brahmaputra breeze” (“Maybe” – p 30).

[Nongrim: A locality in Shillong]. The poet has taken care to explain the native terms specific to the Meghalayan background and culture by way of footnotes.

And the above strain trickles into her dream one night, in an amorphous mix which if she doesn’t tether immediately, could go helter-skelter and vanish out of her mind. So she takes care to capture and describe it, well in time –

I was in a hurry to tie all of this with a sailor rope
I do not remember if I could.
My eyelids were wet with tears, my father 
was gone.
My mother in white waits for her term to end
and I, to speak to Father for the last ever time. - (“Last night” – 56)

Life is full of uncertainties with many a mysterious turn and twist lurking around, irrespective of day or night or season. It’s summer and the sun is bright, yet its rays reek of blight, filling the air with necromantic signs. See how the poet captures it –

There was space between the hospital beds
there was waiting
for men to become
and fed to woodpiles. - (“Summersun” – 32)

Don’t be carried away by an impression that the title of the above poem is the two-word ‘Summer sun.’ She has neologised the title by unusually compounding them. There are a few more neologisms of this type – “Dayclose” (16), “desertcomb” (24) and “Crackdawn” (67). Similarly, the compound-word ‘trunkload’ appears in the poem “Those whiles” (14).

The poem “Dayclose” (16) is dedicated to Pratishtha Pandya; and there are two more poems like that dedicated by the poet to her near and dear ones – “A third eye” to Julie (42), and “another dusk” to Barbie (52).

In the poem “From the northwest” (47) the poet describes the current weather and blames it for the seemingly irreconcilable differences between the partners –

I volatile, you vulnerable
you burn, I am frozen, neither
something is in flames, even if
in pyre it is not yet in ashes.

When it comes to the beauties of nature, though not in her long left homeland, but far elsewhere, the poet is at her fanciful and photographic best, as under –

When it steered its way in,
the trees became laburnum, the sky sea
Krishna flute was no longer an offed piece of wood
almost everything | became bougainvillea and gulmohar burst
for days on. An orchard ripened stealthily, steadily,
by the bank of Narmada Canal. - (“Unlike a fairy tale” – 48)

And the same poem is dotted with alliterative, assonant and consonant beauties like “to settle down on the sericeous sands,” “Juggernaut always gifts himself,” and “round coral ammo drowns” (49) as in some other poems.

All of us have our own perceptions, preferences and priorities in life, sometime boasting and gloating and sometimes self-flagellating. Despite all of it, we tend to be philosophical at one moment or the other. And Purabi captures one such moment, and enigmatically so –

One fine night
it lets you see yourself in the dark. And shows
how small you are in the scheme of all
that is and not. - (“Scheme” – 55)

Most of us tend to despise the old people and even call them “selfish” for being “in a spittoon full of memories, quarrels, resentments and anger” and for forgetting “the art of giving” but we should remember, the poet warns, that we too would be no different when our turn comes (“Pain, unsalted” – 60 ).

The nostalgia for a place you had to leave long ago coupled with your roots shifting, willy-nilly, to some other geo-cultural place far away forever, when internalised in you takes you to a heightened intensity of raw hurt, as is felt and observed by the poet, in the poem “amongst your own” (71)

It hurts. It hurts to love a place so much
and become a visitant 
amongst your own.

Once you read through the poems in the collection, you will certainly feel that the chastening and purgatory purpose of recalling and describing painful memories stands fulfilled.

And let’s end on a positive and cheerful note, by joining the poet in a garden of glee free of worries and woes –

I was never alone, never until now. 
You gave me enough, enough to spoil me this life. 
And here I am a pet. Dancing wild in my thoughts from branch to blossoms 
Ferns to thistles, orchids to ivy.  - (“In your garden” – 76)

Originally published in Phenomenal Literature, Vol. 4, No. 2, Year 2020


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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