By Madhura Banerjee
The first thought that strikes you is how elaborately each metaphor has been thought out, yet how simply they have been expressed. In ‘Caterpillar’, the first poem in Manu Dash’s collection ‘A Brief History of Silence’ (Dhauli Books, 2019), he describes how ‘The branches of the drumstick tree/ Turned into a run-down mansion’. As you start getting used to this gentle balance on which his metaphors find their surest footing, his inimitable play of words comes to you once again in ‘Advice to an Osteoporosis Man Who Loves to Run’. In said poem, one of his stanzas express in wonderment:
‘I’ll never know
Whose tender hands made these shoes
That chime and kiss our asphalt road of life.’
This strong yet tender music of imagery blossoms in every page of the book. I will always remember how, in ‘City of Doppelgangers’ in particular, the following stanza bursts forth:
‘Another day in a remote village,
Childhood on a full moon winter night,
A ball of fire approaching close
Before taking another direction
As you wait like a lone-wolf dreamer.’
In Dash’s poems, stark reality and magical fantasy are locked in a dance, like the ebb and flow of sea-water, much like on the shores of Odisha, the central point of Dash’s empire as writer and publisher. The wet earth soil of Odisha is a geographic entity that comes back in the form of words and metaphors in his poetry. We find ourselves smelling the sea-salt air from a bus window, and looking at the Konark temple through the eyes of a nostalgist. We accompany the poet as he traces the ancestries of the rivers of Bhubaneswar, and, with him, wait for the rain in a land where ‘Nature is caught up/ In a mysterious game, / The rise in prices puts at stake/ The new government’s domain’.
This duality in Dash’s writing often takes another form. In many of his poems, it is seen as a reflection of the human psyche in nature, and vice versa. In ‘Super Cyclone’, he builds an image of natural disaster, but describes it as
‘A wound swells up
Somewhere in the dark recess of memory.’
Similarly, in ‘Evening in a Tribal Village’, the time of day reveals (or rather, conceals) itself in the poet’s following words:
‘The sky has changed/ Into a woman’s burkha.’
We are left wondering if he first encounters the colours of the world upon the canvas of people, or if the human condition wills him to behold the world in new and different ways. (Much like the dilemma of creation – does art imitate life, or life imitate art?)
We are left thinking, that silence and moments of solitude are the main components in any conversation between a human being and the world. It is the one thought that seizes me when I read the following lines in ‘A Parable on Cyclone 2019’:
‘Evening, I climbed to the terrace for respite
And gazed at the dazzling stars in the sky.
They were also gazing at me more intently.
Slowly the stars transfigured themselves into paper-cranes
Permeating the missive
That this very severe cyclone was not a cyclone alone
But a biopsy report on our society.’
Dash’s poetry takes us on journeys not only along the shores of the Bay of Bengal, but in other parts of the country as well. And since no outward journey comes without a voyage into the mind, we also find ourselves travelling through the brittle soil of his memories.
We are made witnesses to the hushed histories of the bylanes of Bhopal. We travel to many a ‘paradoxical’ route, from the village of his birth to the places his literary activities and awards have taken him. We stride through different places and different times, the ancient and the modern, carried by the ageless bogeys of words.
In the end, you would want to return, over and over again, to the landscape of poetry and words, as constructed and maintained by the poet himself. He welcomes the reader, as he does his ‘Japanese friend’, into this world. He introduces us to memories of unsung heroes like Dana Majhi, who carried the body of his wife after being denied a hearse ambulance in the Kalahandi district of Odisha. The horizon of Dash’s poetry is laden with shapes of disillusioned temple domes and the grey shades of urbanity. Rain-soaked greenery appears in bouts, almost as rejuvenating as his verses about them. In this world built by the language of solitude, silence is a solid entity, weaving itself to houses, the roots of trees, and people.
Madhura Banerjee is a 23-year-old writer hailing from Kolkata. Writing from a very young age, she has narrated her work on All India Radio multiple times. She also regularly contributes columns on art and science to The Telegraph, as well as children’s fiction to their children’s supplement, ‘Telekids’. She is also a TEDx speaker. Madhura is passionate about travel, and all her writing invariably comes back to images of mountains, seas and jungles. Having a master’s degree in Computer Science from St. Xavier’s College Kolkata, she is currently settled in Bangalore while working as a Technology Consultant. She is author of poetry collection ‘Monsoon Arrives at the Junction Crossing'(Dhauli Books, 2019).