Book Review: Basudhara Roy’s ‘Stitching a Home’

basudharabook.frontcover

By Gopal Lahiri

Poetry can connect easily with the evolved mind. The feeling of love and constant startling, the disbelief, the anxiety never keep you guessing and wandering. In her captivating second volume of poems, Stitching a Home, Basudhara Roy examines the immediacy of home and the world, its various layers of emotion, the shadowy corner and the connectivity of the place and time. It’s the work of a poet who understands that objectivity and draws the reader in and makes them aware of the inner workings. She has the keenest poetic boundaries and her eye remains tuned to details, turning them over like shining stars. Her skill is evident in every page.

This impressive, slim volume, divided in three segments, contains 53 poems including striking poems on Banaras. In her introduction, Basudhara Roy writes, “Written mainly over the last three years, these are poems that I hope, talk of many things – of moments, people, places, love and loss. What, however, makes them belong for me, is their shared aspiration to emotively configure the contours of home.”

Here is a poet who writes in the intersection between the most personal moment and the undeniably universal one. There is a fierceness, a beauty, a joyful spirit in her work and she creates pieces of resilient joy.

Bashabi Fraser, the noted scholar and critic, has observed, “The collection deftly weaves the private and the public in a seamless continuity that resonates with the comfort and intimacy of the familiar, while embracing wider social concerns of old age, loneliness, illness, day-to-day living or the woman’s position constrained by social expectations.”

It appears that poetry is her engagement with existence and extension of herself at the end. It makes sense of the situation. Her poems are hauntingly rhythmic and charged with emotion, sometimes a hymn to salvation. For its undulating equilibrium, poetry can be able to tell stories, but one of its delights is that it doesn’t need to. All that is necessary is that a few sparks which strike the reader’s imagination. Her voice is soothing and intimately synonymous with real world documentaries.

The poet has carved out something intimate and extraordinary, skilfully chiselling out the details to bring the inner workings to striking life. The poet uses a stream-of-consciousness narrative; her fragmented inner thoughts are interspersed with, and intruded upon, by real world occurrences and interactions. A kind of ethos emerges from the restlessness.

Walled around the heart,
the universe’s infinity
shrivels up, a walnut rotting from without to within. 

Losing God, what else can be won?
I have no answer. I offer my faith to the wind,
Hoping something may be found in its scattering. (“Losing God”)

This bright, engaging, and elegant collection crackles with life. The book weaves a nuanced spectrum of language and ideas. Basudhara’s poems are understated and restrained at times and rarely verge on magical realism There are strong images in abundance, however, and unlike her other poems that establish a vivid location, named or not, the following poem’s setting is tenuous. A kind of tenet emerges from the urban dissonance. Perhaps we all are linked in our disconnection, our solitude, our anguish, our longing, and we all are amalgamated by the city.

Returning to an old city, long left behind,
Is like coming back to children who have
Grown through time and unfurled (“Banaras I”) 

and

I sift the city for anagrams of my past,
For words I left behind
For lovers to find, inhabit, alter. (“Banaras II”)

One cannot but agree with this saying by the eminent academician and essayist, GJV Prasad, “She shows us the room we inhabit, the doors that we shut or leave ajar. She holds the mirror up to our lives to show us screenshots of time and change.”

Perhaps more than most genres, poetry depends for its power on the precision of words and language. Basudhara’s strength and perhaps weakness (at times) is palpable on the word-play she recourses. The work’s only uncomfortable atmosphere, swivelling between compliance and resistance is noticed especially in the assemblage of words in lines after lines in some of her poems: ‘listening to voices, doorbells, footfalls, phone call, /altercations, opinions, deadlines’ (Day’s End) or ‘grated their voices against turtle backs, /undid knots, hems, latches, watches, /splashed, sparked, fumed, blazed’ (“Night”).

Yet she writes with candour and gravity; a sense of resolve always braces every line. The crisper the narrative, the better the essence and sharper the flavours of the content.

to turn words into salt-shakers
in the concrete hope of sprinkling
salvation. Some texts are best
swallowed uncritiqued. (“Uncritiqued”)

In some poems set in an emotional whirlpool, the mood uplifts in a kind of incantatory language, offering a chance to bask in a new-found grace. ‘The royal/ retinue of tail lights painting/ at her curves, a compliment/tonight to her new-found grace.’ There is closeness in this collection. unpack that moment in many different forms and ways.

The poet takes unhurriedness further and further, picking up different feelings and ideas on the way and expresses in an outwardly manner. Her authentic, reined-in passions are stirring and the poem here spans a journey to her dream, while being persuasive and satisfying.

In my dreams,
your eight-year-old skin is purple,
the colour of blackberries
lacerating on our courtyard floor
under the impetus rains. (“Belated”) 

Her work is inspired and creative, much of it exploiting the ingenious potential of language to capture the minutiae of daily life, the home and the world, love and grief. If it is often innovative, it is also deeply personal. Her language is high-spirited and focused.

The poet loves to form a space for the readers, ‘in new autumns under new roof, / in new lands under the same sun’ and perhaps it is so much more than that. Home is perhaps an elusive possession, but the desire for it is constant and always particular. She pieces together the intricacies of home as if she is mending a hem with words, keeping the story from unravelling further.  

A home is a signified.
It is an aporia. 

A home is concrete –
Name, place, animal, thing 

It is only abstract –
Enjambment, fiction, an apostrophe’s wet-dream.’ (“Home Truths”)

The poems channel various tributaries, a testament of watchfulness. One cannot but agree with the eminent poet, Keki N. Daruwalla, when he says, ‘Stitching a Home is a volume to be read by the fireside in winter.’ The poet has carved out something intimate and endearing, skilfully chiselling out the details to bring the essence to striking life.

Let’s suppose,
a winter evening came to us
by the fireside
like a new book by a beloved poet
waiting to be read. (“Winter Evening”) 

There is a dynamic unfolding of the ideas and the poet is inquisitive of notions of composition, of love and grief, of personal and collective identities, of memories and myths. But what makes this collection truly remarkable is its fullness, its search of a timeless place, a surreal plot of land, a home, where we can gather across generations to breathe and feel the presence, deeply and safely. Beyond that, a world – in which identities and idiosyncrasies run like a meandering river that keeps breaking its own paths without any run-off of her personal feelings.

Besides his weary, blind bowl
And a misshapen gunny bag they call home
I learn from them that home is not arrival 

Not a place, not even hope or dream.
It is the union of time and mind,
Of inhabiting the present with what you are. (“Stitching a Home”) 

Sometimes the poet is immersed in smells of cities, but its focus is the current ripples that run out from invasion, lies, dirt and protest, through lives and trickle down to generations, reworking the irresistible echoes and cries whose myths are worthy of retelling.

‘Some cities smell of peanuts,
Some of lust, some of blood, 

Soot, puke, tot.
Some of wood shavings, charred desires,
Of drifting apart. (Overlooking Cities from a Railway Couch) 

In fine-grained words, Basudhara channels indelible images that opens the door to new ideas and thoughts. It’s true that the splendour of language is as much a matter of sound as of meaning. It’s hypnotically compelling as the following poem captures the ways in which time expands or shrinks according to differently charged faith and perception.

Don’t build faith unless
You can keep it, you say. 

You keep faith
Like the flush of tangy orange                                                                                   

In the tropical sun- stunning,
Complimentary-a perfect (“Keeping Faith”)

Basudhara Roy’s Stitching a Home is no doubt an important collection of poems, one to applaud for its beautiful craft, its display of skill and its light formed of longing. Intimate and searching, the poems in this lively collection probe the life’s identity. The book is all understory, spirited, luminous words and nifty lines. 

The cover page is inventive. This handsomely produced book is a pure joy to read and reread and definitely a worth look.

Bio:
Gopal Lahiri
is an India based bilingual poet, editor, critic and translator and has published in Bengali and English language. He has 23 books to his credit. His poetry is also published across various anthologies and eminent journals in India and abroad. His poems are translated in 14 languages. He is also an experienced book reviewer and is currently on the panel of reviewers of various journals of India and abroad.

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