Glory Be Thy Nation: A Review of ‘Dreich Planet India’

Dreich Planet India

By Somudranil Sarkar

If spasms could speak, then no matter whichever corners disheveled words linger, they always find a way over pain. To its people, India is Bharat Mata (Mother India), like a broken union of lands, nevertheless a union. A ragged hag – what the outside world believes but publicly praises as incredible India. However, the struggle that led to this Independence is acknowledged in pomp and glory in charades – inevitably by dint of scribbling. The notion of this nation to contemporary voices in well-knit words should be discerned. It gains paramount importance when another country tries to bring out such voices. I assume Dreich Planet India, edited by Sanjeev Sethi (a handmade chapbook made in Scotland, published by Hybriddreich Limited Dunfermline), emerges as germane to the poetry celebrating Indian Independence.

The past year has witnessed some relevant poetry anthologies celebrating the 75th Indian Independence. Out of which Dreich Planet India, no.1 is certainly one. The rest are The Penguin Book of Indian Poets (ed. Jeet Thayil, Penguin Hamish Hamilton), Converse: Contemporary English Poetry by Indians (ed. Sudeep Sen, Pippa Rann Books), The Well-Earned (ed. Kiriti Sengupta, Hawakal). Sanjeev Sethi has done an exemplary job with this collection, suggestive of his refined sense of judgment and aesthetic sensibilities. Jack Caradoc, the series editor, affirms: “Ideas are the most precious commodity in the world. The idea for Dreich Planet was germinated in the fertile brain of my esteemed friend and acclaimed poet Sanjeev Sethi. Sanjeev had asked if I’d be interested in devoting an edition of Dreich Magazine to poets from India. Which watered my brain into creating a new series of chapbooks.”

Identity welded by a language decides on the tangible existence. Rashida Murphy interjects the glorious pursuit of Independence with her “borrowed” assimilation:

When we couldn’t find a word
In any of our languages
We borrowed
From the language of poets and prophets (“Borrowed,” Rashida Murphy)

The ‘languages’ that Murphy speaks about bring the chaotic semantics, she hunts for a word. The word might be an appropriation of being an Indian amidst the Bakhtinian carnivalesque of phonemes and morphemes. The political connotation of “raise your Hindutva flags” hints towards the surging influence of right-wing hegemony and discards the Libertas perfundet omnia luce (Freedom will flood all things with light). However, the language the ‘poets and prophets’ speak only bears love. It is the crack that makes way for light, Murphy carves betwixt paraphernalia of violence and chaos.

Frames that hold flaccid images release the clarity juxtaposed against the blurriness of reality. However, “A Still Image” that Tabish Nawaz clings to holds the time for a single moment in the middle of hustle and bustle. Nawaz is prolific in planting his subtle but puissant politics:

A still photograph that teemed with life,
appeared different whenever I failed
to trace you. (“A Still Image,” Tabish Nawaz)

Tracing or call it mapping gets difficult when dislocation and disjunction take over. The struggle to trace might hint at the long-lost land that he had once encased in the still photograph that seemed different, which is nothing but a splintered-ravaged image in reality. Time is not linear; instead, the fractured vision has been ever since like a reel of negatives in photographs. The processing allows the fabrication of darker and darkest elements on the negative fade and attains balance. Resulting in the photograph capturing time that looks like the earth that “had begun to look nascent / like a newborn.”

Shamayita Sen’s “On Distance” takes a jab at the technologies that cast a shadow on the knower and the know. The Cartesian gait is an involuntary adjunctive to the known perception of land (that Sen implies).

I trace on the screen of
my phone, now a crumpled
world map, the probable path
your flight takes tonight. (“On Distance,” Shamayita Sen)

The physicality of the “crumpled world map” is now but some dots and lines on the screen. Increasing the phone’s brightness will not condense the distance but will display the surging distance in numbness. Devoid of life, “the probable path” being a notion of her otherness on the screen allows her to seek the trail. However, zooming the world map in and out only convinces us more and more about the intangibility that we fail to follow.

“Consolation” by Amit Shankar Saha unearths the cosmos that brings together lovers. His questioning of the “first lovers to kiss” scuddles through the past to gain an insight into the mushrooming evolution.

Who were the first lovers to kiss?
How did they feel and how did it spread?
Or was it a part of some evolution –
a mutation in the Altamira Caves? (“Consolation,” Amit Shankar Saha)

While humankind is ever evolving and growing, from a barbaric stage to a more progressive kind, his usage of the ancient Altamira Caves is just foliage of life. However, the intrinsic question that he leaves a blueprint of is the difference between being barbaric and civilized. While progress should inevitably happen, the variables reverse from civilized to barbaric. While lovers are burnt in the open, yet a kiss, a touch, and the ‘shared sorrow’ doesn’t get evanesce into thin air.

For a palate to induce life, a greyscale set of colors provides for it. In Ankit Raj Ojha’s “Palate,” the poet talks about the Iranian ‘dates’ that his grandpa was fond of.

I told my grandpa
I’d send him Kimia dates—
the ones they don’t have
in our hometown (“Palate,” Ankit Raj Ojha)

Food (read life) from a different land doesn’t get the tag of being an immigrant but is referred to as food and nothing else. Ojha deftly weaves the words recounting the image of the promise he made his grandpa and the former’s failure to keep that. Though the sense of belongingness is devoid of culture, land, and language, the differences and disloyalty to a promise leave a void for a lifetime.

Sudeep Sen, a master visualizer, puts forth brilliant images in his haiku triptych “Rabindranath Tagore.” The three titles “Erasure,” “Self-Portrait,” and “Song” unfold a picture like a moonlight carving its way through the clouds.

line of poems,
scratched out, erased to ink in—
new shapes — art revealed (“Erasure,” Sudeep Sen)

The artistic sensibilities emerging out of new shapes signifies the mutation that Tagore believed in. The “Erasure” might insinuate the fading and come into being of mankind. For Tagore, the importance of mankind was above everything else. Sen ideates the evolution in “Self-Portrait” and hides his intricate message – of taking a lifelong journey to gain an understanding of Tagore (and the artistry in evolutionary practice) – adeptly in between the lines when he says “an outline of the psyche” which is nothing but a “subtle peek into soul’s eye.”

Oftentimes intoxicated thoughts find a way to project honest confessions. There is a certain stillness that any and every object evinces. Even they have life. This life is sculpted adroitly by Kiriti Sengupta in “A Place Like Home.”

Lights turned off,
three glasses retire
as the bar closes.
The first stands upright,
the other upside down,
another lies horizontal. (“A Place Like Home,” Kiriti Sengupta)

The glasses that hold life momentarily to the people who swing by at the bar retires as soon as the ‘light’ is turned off. The imagery he uses while describing the glasses can hint at the evolutionary stage from neanderthal to human. The Darwinian concept is frothed with glass and draws a brilliant contrast. Glass is a vulnerable thing and can break quite easily. It can be viewed as the distorted psyche (resultant condition of the cracked/broken glasses) that has taken rationality, progressiveness, and liberal outlook to the backseat. For a few hours before the pub reopens, the three glasses get to rest, to compose themselves with courage before they fall prey to the barbaric revelry. Bereft of the lovelorn touch, which the glasses might have sought for ages.

The belonging resulting out of warmth can be subscribed to the poem “While you’ve been away” by Barnali Ray Shukla.

Cities here live on
a warmth of recipes that go well with pickles 

of time
and noise that rises like prayer. (“While you’ve been away,” Barnali Ray Shukla)

Dreams that do not reach a crescendo and fade out just get thronged with traffic unevenly dreadful. A city that never sleeps, doesn’t let its residents rest as well. This barrier boxes up emotions that are vulnerable and ultimately lets them go ashtray. However, Shukla adds the idea of holding our time in boxes as preservatives and compares it with pickles. As pickles could be a companion to anything, our time can be spent anywhere if the breathing space is inhabited amidst the chaos and “noises that rises like prayer.” Only then, a tranquil warmth can be found – even in boxes.

Somudranil Sarkar
, a theatre artiste for over twenty-one years, is a postgraduate in English language and literature. He published C/O Bonolata Sen, a collection of short stories, in 2019. His work has appeared in Strange Horizons, The Critical Flame, World Literature Today, and elsewhere. In addition, Sarkar often curates workshops on theater and pantomime. As a performer, he meddles between the esoteric and the unexplored itinerary.


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