Nabina Das’ third poetry collection and fifth book is unapologetic in its fiercely lyrical tone. In “Sanskarnama, (i write imprint, Delhi)”, as the name suggests, is a direct look at all that is imposed on individual freedoms these days. Whether it is lynching in the name of cow protection, choice of food and attire, issues in gender and caste, mis-governance and malpractices, or even just the right to live and love, a plethora of problems have been noted in the civil society in these times. Das takes hold of her topics smoothly and executes them with a tongue-in-cheek expertise. Political rants become elegies in her work, and rebellion and resistance flourish like morning flowers.
Das, who stresses she’s a poet first, published her first book which was a novel titled Footprints in the Bajra. Longlisted in the 2011 Vodafone Crossword awards, its chapters held the sparks of lyrical descriptions while speaking of a political backdrop in a coming-of-age story. Her next two books were of poetry — Blue Vessel and Into the Migrant City — and both highly acclaimed. While Blue Vessel literally sailed along the poetry canvas with immense grace and beauty in observing the world around, the latter inspected urbanity, sexuality and identity with the absentminded keenness of a flaneur. Both the poetry books were listed as one of the top reads of 2012 and 2014, respectively. Das’ fourth book, The House of Twining Roses: Stories of the Mapped and the Unmapped, is a delicate offering of short stories that evoke memory, childhood, love and allusions to ethnic tension.
From her first publication to Sanskarnama, Das’ oeuvre has established her ease with themes of love, politics, nature and gender, ranging from lucid prose to various forms in poetry. She also writes incisive essays and commentaries on contemporary poetry and poets focusing on issues of resistance, history and identity. As a trained journalist who has gave up her full-time job in 2005 with The Ithaca Journal, US, as Assistant Metro Editor, Das hasn’t stopped writing occasional news commentaries for journals and zines.
She teaches creative writing in universities and workshops for all ages. Also, she appears to be comfortable with the sharp detours she’s taken in her life — from the desire to attend film school to going for a Masters in Linguistics, from pursuing Linguistics to doing an MFA (Rutgers-Camden) after a gap of several years, from active journalism to becoming a (full-time, uh) poet and writer. “I was always a full-time poet,” she chuckles. For a poet there’s no timeline and Das’ advice to all emerging poets is to recognize their passion at any point in life for “passion needs no timing”.
With this passion, Das has gone on to work with poets and writers across borders when she went to Charles Wallace at Stirling University, Wesleyan Writers Conference, Lesley Writers Conference, Sangam House, Sarai-CSDS residency, Skidmore College Writers Conference, and a few others as a fellowship or grant winning candidate. Currently, she is working on a Sahapedia-UNESCO fellowship project, a feature writing endeavor. Asked about her next book, she said, “obviously another poetry collection!” and added that a novel “in vignettes” is in the works too. Das has translated from Assamese poetry, and would want to “delve in more to sharpen my own understanding of word wizardry”.
When asked about her relationship to writing, Das wittily says she feels like a ginger root, spreading in all directions to connect to “writeability”. Certainly, there’s something about connecting and carrying forth a stingingly sweet flavor that she does with her craft.
Sanskarnama is another offshoot in this rhizomatic journey of Das’ work. The poems are direct, pithy, and spreading their tentacles to re-configure and interpret issues that dog our everyday existence. Anger becomes a song in each poem. It’s a collection to cherish and draw strength from in these times and those to come.