By Dustin Pickering
Within my initial impressions of Rajorshi Patranabis’ Palette, published by Virasat Art Publication, I discover a world of failed romances and farewells. However, the poetry shapes an original story of the speaker’s travels and yearning which communicate truths about human existence. As the book shapes up, we see that the poet masterfully arches a world of ambiguity within the relationship of the speaker to his beloved. The doubts he carries are the speaker’s own, but one poem seems to speak for her. The poem is “Autobiography.” The reader, presumably the woman since “he” is referenced, is confused by the craft. It opens, “This is a story. No!! A poem, or maybe a mix of both. This has its share of happiness, melancholy, refrain, cadences… This is weird.” As a reader I am intrigued by the masculine third person. While this haibun includes both genders of the game, the woman is centered. “He still dreams this story to have a happy ending,” writes the poet. In “Book” the speaker refers to his own work as “a contemporary love story with primitive nuances.” Clearly, the speaker is aware as he wrestles with his understanding through her of the poetry’s purpose.
This interpretation began to make sense with the poem “Life”. This poem seems like an adolescent fantasy of soulmates or twin flames, but it is actually about a man’s standing with his beloved. In the poem, he reveals his self-centric perspective. From his angle, he is only “metaphoric support” to her but really what is being revealed is a truism of human nature. We see each other only in sparks.
Rilke wrote that a marriage is a guardianship of solitudes. This is perhaps what he means. The speaker in the poems also reveals doubts of his yearnings in “Soulful”. Here the beloved’s thoughts become her “boyfriends.” The ambiguity is subtle. We might assume the woman is not loyal to the relationship based on the direct assumption invited. However, poetry is rarely the direct aspect. This poem artfully reveals the fundamental difference between men and women. Namely, that men are public and women are private emotionally. This poetics is marvelously attuned for the haibun form. This story is one of impressions throughout a long-term relationship, impressions that seem to involve many alternate lovers but in fact are a man and his singular beloved.
The author uses color imagery to sustain his artful approach. Life is an art and Nature is God’s art. Monsoons and rain offer an environment for some of these verses, such as “Conditions” where the rain intones a perplexing mood. The speaker is clearly in love and feeling the joys in spite of what appears as a gloomy environment. Palette is an appropriate title as the collection is riddled with colors defining moods and actions throughout. In “Yellow” the speaker asks if yellow is the color of spring. The response initially made me consider the responder’s infidelity. After saying “Maybe,” she says she has given her kiss to many men. Once the story is understood, the response is actually a natural answer to engage the speaker’s sense of specialness to his wife. The speaker calls her lips “lifeless.” This seems again to indicate the nothingness of the relationship, but it could also contain a spirituality of life. Love is not merely physical to the speaker.
Color is a spiritual energy in these haibun. The story is ambiguous but gradually evolves to become an exceptionally meaningful discussion of human nature and personal relationships. The human world resembles the natural environment as revealed by “Water” where the speaker is born again in this titillating phrase, “She made rules for herself. I was born again. Her water broke.” This parallels the monsoon and rain imagery of many of the other poems. It is with this haibun that I begin to see a solid story emerge, one of birth. In an earlier poem “Beginnings” the speaker says:
puddles attract attention
The paralleling of images serves the purpose of defining life as an art, particularly of divine order. As Nietzsche wrote, “Art is the proper task of life.” The speaker further says in “Life”, “She called it life. I defined love.” The poem appears to be about popping a pimple which the woman does for the man. For her care, the role is defined differently by the two genders. The speaker sees her act as love for its caregiving but she sees it as life, a natural part of her fabric. The poet even says, “Pains tickle pleasure.” How else to define that state known as love melancholy?
The difference between genders is further elaborated in “Truth”. The speaker is told by his beloved that her face “fakes.” This is probably a reference to the wearing of makeup whereas the male’s eyes reveal truth.
What is it a woman hides? Ask yourself this: why is the collection so rife with ambiguity, doubt, mystery, and melancholy? Is the speaker also hiding and not seeing it in his own character? In “Destination” he misses his beloved deeply, “But there were mirages all around.” Both men and women have their misgivings about one another. These misgivings are expressed differently as it seems the man needs the woman more than vice versa. Why is the woman presented as teasingly cheating? Is it more the man’s worries and possessiveness? Do those worries stem from the possessiveness? Here, love’s fire becomes apparent. In “Cliché” the author shows his purpose again. “That, it was love then and that it pinches now is known to both of us.” The couple may be learning what love is together.
A hint at perspectivism is revealed in “Patience”. The poet writes, “memories fade / ominous claims of truth / blindness prevails.” The collection shapes up to become a story of personal doubt. What does the doubt entail? That one’s standing in the world is uncertain and nothing is eternal. The journey becomes a metaphor for uncertainty and flux. Rains also come between the speaker and his beloved. Rains are misty and hazy, representing a lack of clarity. In “Mirror” haziness describes ominous lack of clarity. The poet writes, “past crumbled / haze gave way to clarity / sunrise today” while presenting the speaker as gazing in the mirror.
Even the female in the story has gripes. In “Distance” she says, “Kissing you is like kissing an ashtray…” In spite of all the ambiguity, confusion, and melancholy the male Other narrates the woman’s dream. Symbolically, the work itself is the narration. The dream is life. He becomes centered to her reality, someone dreamy in which she accepts his tedious faults. Poems such as “Change” also reveal that these are two people who understand one another and cannot part ways. In spite of the speaker saying he is at a crossroad, the responder tells him that he cannot change.
There are even intimations that the speaker and his beloved cannot be separated even in death. In some of the collection’s last poems, this sentiment is abundantly clear. In “Survival” the poet writes, “Dimensions couldn’t stop us”; in “Kleptomaniac”, “’I have stolen an old piece of time’”; and in “Ether”, “We start living that incomplete story.” The poetry is intoned with humanistic feeling. Life as we know it is incomplete and things come full circle.
Pantranbus’ beauteous book even answers the timeless meaning of love. In “Oxymoron” he writes, “Time would test itself…” as if to mock death. It is not we who are tested in life; it is time testing itself.
The use of ambiguity fills the work with haze and dreamy recollections. Palette is a work to closely absorb before making any assumptions. Human nature is marvelously unveiled underneath.
Dustin Pickering is founder of Transcendent Zero Press. He has contributed writing to Huffington Post, Café Dissensus Everyday, The Statesman (India), Journal of Liberty and International Affairs, The Colorado Review, World Literature Today, and several other publications. He placed in the top 100 out of 12,500 entries for the erbacce prize in 2021, and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s first short fiction contest. He was longlisted for the Rahim Karim World Prize in 2022 and given the honor of Knight of World Peace by the World Peace Institute that same year. He hosts the popular interview series World Inkers Network on YouTube.
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