By Annapurna Palit
Raja Chakraborty’s oeuvre includes verse collections in both English and Bengali. While he has five Bengali titles to his credit, he has also published four books of English poetry, thereby establishing himself as a modern bilingual poet of significant repute. Broken Lines and Rainbows, published by Hawakal in October 2020, is a continuation of the intense aesthetic journey he began with The Soup Bowl and Other Poems in 2018 and sustained and matured with Whispers in the Wind in 2019. As a poet, his works display a rare ability to crystallise a complex range of emotions and experiences in minimal lines. Chakraborty also likes to pack in a punch or churn out a surprising twist in his poetry that visibly jolts the reader into a space where he confronts a reality perhaps never imagined. This is axiomatic of a writer who is a poet and story teller simultaneously. Chakraborty, in fact, excels as a story teller-poet and this sets him apart from many poets.
A poem like “A Tea Stall Tale” in Broken Lines and Rainbows bears testimony to this. A subtle tale of unfulfilled love artistically captures the crisis of a tongue-tied admirer, through the symphony of teacups, kettles, buses and the unspoken love between the urban and the rustic protagonists:
… He let go two homebound buses
and ordered a third cup,
desperately searching for words.
She watched the bespectacled man
with a flutter in her stomach,
as wolf-stories told by her grandma
Clouded her throbbing heart (11).
At a time when the world is in the throes of disease, death and cruel uncertainties, the book, true to its name, offers the promise and glory of the rainbow. Chakraborty has, in fact, given all the colours of the rainbow through his verses but never for a moment has he permitted the reader to forget that these are the ‘broken lines’ – the entrenched grief, the desolation or the unkind cuts of life that fight their ways out to discover the grandness or freedom associated with the rainbow. A poem like “Children of Destiny” is a matchless pointer to this:
She was a child of mistake
Or so thought the bodies
that made her
and dumped with leftovers
in a roadside bin.
But as luck would have it
she survived the cold night
and thirty years
to be a mother of her own
little children (17).
Stories of grit, battle against loneliness, the triumph of humanity, the stubborn determination to assert the uniqueness of the human soul and of course love are among the thematic concerns of Broken Lines and Rainbows. Poems like “Of Body and Mind”, “Old Age Home Birthdays”, “Tree” and “This Side of the Day” are all odes to life, embodying hope to find a flicker of light in the darkness. Chakraborty is a keen observer of life, his responses are sensitive and he gives us a perceptive recreation of the diaphanous world we inhabit through hard hitting images and often melting words. The Rainbow is a recurrent metaphor in this collection and colour overrides Chakraborty’s poetic vision. Death, violence, loneliness, love and hope are represented by images of colour that glide slickly through the verses. The image of the rainbow has been employed in a nuanced and yet brilliant manner in “Middle Class Love”, where the speaker says,
I never promised her the
rainbow and she never got any (25).
Though the connotation of the rainbow for a world of abundance or happiness may be a time-tested one, its use in the poem to state the unsentimental mind of the speaker is hard hitting in its apparent simplicity. Luckily love remains a constant in “Middle Class Love” and the speaker says, “funnily/ Love remained unscathed.” In the poem, “Rainbow”, the latter represents secret happy memories. Both usages are appealing. This poem also gives the haunting lines
Some roads never meet.
Some journeys never begin (39).
Interestingly, the cover, designed by the talented Bitan Chakraborty, is an irresistible invite to read the book as it serves as a prelude to the explosion of emotions the verses trigger off.
As a city-bred poet, Chakraborty gives stark images of the city that otherwise go unnoticed or escape the collective conscience because of their sheer obviousness. “Fragile balconies shelve potted miseries” (“Flowers in my City”) or “Smiling balloons have become/Old faces like the cringed moon” (“Retrospect”). One is reminded of the stark imagery of “broken blinds and chimney-pots” in Eliot’s Preludes. Chakraborty’s imagery will remain a major draw of Rainbows.
Rainbows is a mature and captivating collection of poems tracing a trajectory of emotions and experiences of the poet which he has crafted with deftness and devotion. His ease at handling different poetic forms is an added attraction. Raja Chakraborty has succeeded in accomplishing what Robert Frost believed to be a purpose of poetry: “to reach the heart of the reader.” An Officer, poet, artist and passionate photographer, Chakraborty wears many hats. In Rainbows, he has struck the right chords and presented an arch of alluring verses that capture the subtle and often elusive nuances of love and life.
Dr. Annapurna Palit is Assistant Professor in English at Deshbandhu College for Girls, Kolkata. She completed her M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a recipient of the Shastri Knowledge Mobilisation Grant and has published articles in reputed journals. She has Chaired Academic Sessions at Seminars and made many presentations at National and International Conferences. Dr. Palit has also taught French language.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetry and the City”, Sayan Aich Bhowmik, University of Calcutta, India.