Book Review: Jhilam Chattaraj’s ‘Noise Cancellation’


By B. Gopal Rao

Jhilam Chattaraj’s Noise Cancellation is a voyage into Post-Modern aesthetics; the poems break down established canons, categories, distinctions and conventional poetic boundaries. Each poem delves into the fluidity and “free play” of meaning, revealing the stark and perpetually transforming realities of human existence. Most of the poems shock the literary sensibilities of conventional readers, thereby justifying the significance of counter-traditional experiments of Modernist poetry. She is one of the most promising poets of the “Young Brigade” who has dared all that men have dared to depict: uninhibited venture into the naked realities of life.

The poem ‘Noise Cancellation’ is one of the best poems in the collection:

Ears pour nude noise
on palms that swell and spill.

Bones bloom on strange beds,
they don’t fear this storm.

Sea of rage sick with a slab of glass,
phones turn the key;

click, click, click —
the birth of a sound.

Ah! the whip of time
lost on a map of lies.

Birds feed the blind sun,
our eyes buzz like bees.

I     Let      Go     / I    Let   Go. (p.21)

The poem exposes the system of cacophony and noise pollution we are constantly subjected to amidst the bustle and dim of chaotic city life. “Under the Peepal Tree,” “I Ran the Marathon without Shoes” and “Canine” are ironic and satirical in tone, mood and texture:

I ran the marathon without shoes —
wrestled with a slumbering machine,

surrendered words to weary webinars.
Twice quarantined between the hollow

of walls and the expanse of electric air,
I became the sum of pixels and spreadsheets.

But this is a claim without the joy of a blackboard,
the gentle watch over the ones doodling a poet,

or secretly messaging a lover in class.
Oh, this compulsion! This creation

without a heart, warm and beating! (p.15-16)

Her poems are terse and jargon free. She has competently absorbed, and made her own modes of approaching by talking candidly about some of the challenges and difficulties one faces in negotiating the untrodden corridors of life. She demonstrates in her discussion of poems, how inseparable and impeccable are the key titles she has chosen for her poems. They blend artistically into coherent thematic structures by aptly designing the compositions with meticulous ease. Some poems like “Sari” “Lipstick,” “I Will Fall Sick if You Photograph Me” read like personalized narratives. They appear like inner introspection but with excellent blending of reality and fantasy:

Then came the sentinels of culture
to write on the stunned tongues

of technology, ‘the tribes are alive.’
A triumphant answer to ‘man’s search for man.’

But to the lust of their lenses,
said the finite forest child,

‘I will fall sick if you photograph me.’
He did not wish to become a shadow

in the wind or the last wave
in the ‘age of rising seas,’ (p.32)

Her poems rely on love and strife, encompassed with grim ordeals of consciousness; they reveal profundity of thought, economy of compact expression, original imagery, blending of celebration, imagination and warmth of delicate feeling. The free verse is not arbitrary carving out into varying line-lengths, but reflects on the “fluctuations of feeling and periodicity of thought.” This justifies the artistic arrangement of lines revealing intrinsic symmetry:

Six yards of soft wetness
soak the forenoon sun.

Cotton expanse in powder blue,
filigreed edges in faux gold,

puff like sails in sea wind;
a voyage into endurance.

My mother’s sari is a scripture,
a flag carrying countries of household truths:

she, in bed with children,
she, scrubbing the mossy bathroom walls,

she, in kitchen, smashing
a cockroach to its end. (p.11)

It is difficult to place Jhilam in any specific poetic tradition. Her technique and style is versatile. However, her main concern has been to evolve a literary idiom which is identifiable with her own cultural background. Reading Jhilam’s poetry is an aesthetically satisfying experience since it is the product of a highly imaginative mind and sensitive soul:

Cleansing has begun;

on the night, the moon
turned stones into stars

and hyacinth-headed elves,
invoked the blessed gazelle,

you whispered, ‘melt like the snow,
wash yourself of yourself.’ (p.55)

B. Gopal Rao, Retired Professor, Department of English, Osmania University, Hyderabad. Email:


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