Embodied Memories and Global Visions: A Review of Amlanjyoti Goswami’s River Wedding

Dr SABREEN AHMED

River Wedding by Amlanjyoti Goswami, a Harvard Law School Graduate and a current policy maker at New Delhi, is a reflection on the mundane and ordinariness of everyday life in the metropolis at home in Guwahati, and abroad in cities like London or Manhattan, including his current abode in the national capital, New Delhi. He is not a modern ‘flaneur’, nor a flamboyant sensual observer of sights, sounds and embodied abstracts. His poetry is topical, embodied with references of people and places that have left an indelible impact in his memory like the blind flutist of Panbazar or Mr. Ahuja of New Delhi. The luxuriating references to flights, departures and terminals makes the reader aware of the fact that he is a globetrotter who is constantly drawn by his soothing memories of home and the cocoon of loved ones while being away with a purpose. He is a contemporary realist, focused and consistent with life-force as his verse.

There is a marked restraint and balance of emotions in his rhetoric that reveals a settled notion about life and its surroundings with a remarkable poise and self-composure in terms of revisiting homebound memories, Assamese cuisines and extended relations for the intuitive observation of his daughter Zenzi. His homeland is real, here and now, a living entity to which he is constantly connected, not a figment of his imagination. Though his poetry doesn’t muddle deep in intellectual philosophy, it is not a corollary of bohemian rhapsody either. His poetry dwells in the tranquil space of mind and memory with rhetoric ease.  There is no urgency for reclaiming a past or a lost identity in the poet and his poetry basks in the unstrained comfort in the use of language and metaphors, sometimes recreating figures from mythology like Karna and Abhimannyu, the lesser acclaimed heroes of Mahabharata one being the illegitimate brother of the warrior hero Arjuna and the latter being his son half-bred in the field of breaking the chakraviyu ‘circle of circles’ who died a heroic death in the battlefield for he didn’t know how to find the way out of the circle of archery.

Abhimanyu I stammer,

Born of air

Father, I hear you still,

Whisper,

Deep inside

Mother

How to enter the circle of circles

In war. ( p. 58)

 His poetry also features the seemingly secular humanist yearn for the sacrosanct deity Kamakhya. The poem has no capitalization and the artistic concerns of the poet as a humanist is marked rather than the spiritual adulation of a devotee.

gods rest in twilight

the artist thirsts for colour of sky

a few still queue inside, waiting

she lets it all stream in,

and forgets

what she came to ask ( p.30)

Figures from the world of music and literature like Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen and postcolonial Caribbean writer Derek Walcott are also resurrected in the lilting chords of his poetry. There is a captivating depiction of the cityscape of Guwahati or other cities of his visit through the poems ‘City lights’, ‘City smoke’ and ‘Dighalipukhuri Trilogy’. The vision of his ‘life-world ‘genuine and invigorating, is devoid of a modernist angst or an irresistible ennui, though a personal ancestral lineage is pliantly revisited, nonetheless a postmodern paradigm is perfunctory in his poetic diction. His vocabulary is precise and practical with the hopeful vigour of a continuity of life with a strong foothold with the present in a reaffirmation of a concrete past. His grandmother is fondly remembered in the poem “Abu” as one preceding poem complained the absence of the women’s names in the mantra sung on ancestral lineage. True to his words poems came to him precisely as he says in his verse ‘A line from a poem’, ‘like a legal document’, lyrically matter of fact within the drying bounds of memory which for him is a ‘desert’. Two other poems where a reflection of his vision as a student of law can be marked are ‘Disobedience’ and ‘Going to College’.

In the poem ‘Bethnal Green’ which literally means a dusty suburb in London, he reconnects the poetic strains with a fleeting memory, the dusty Egyptian Pyramids and the lasting Indian Minars are conjoined with the ever-lasting remembrance of the tangy taste of his mother’s fish cuisines. Though he doesn’t seem to be influenced by the tradition of the prophetic bard or the oral balladeer in other poems in the anthology, the oral story telling do resonate his title poem. The connection between the rivers Mississippi and Brahmaputra that reverberate in Paul Robeson’s “Ol’ Man River” and Bhupen Hazarika’s “Bistirna Parore” is unavoidably revived when Goswami brings the figure of Huck Finn, the runaway slave floating down the Mississippi river in his title poem ‘The River Wedding’ by comparing the local village story teller Oruni with Huck. However, underneath Oruni’s narrative there is a subversive idiom of fear and domination that is played by the poet in her retelling of the story of the wedding of river Sampawati. Rivers as repositories of historical annals and personal mysteries of oral tradition is the core of the title poem. His mother’s memory of a childhood trauma encircles the poem. The urban /rural dichotomy of his mother’s life is captured through the motif of the water station at the city that recreates the memory of her childhood fun with rain and thunder and the confluence of the smaller rivers in the mighty Brahmaputra:

All the rivers would come,

Kopili, Bordoisila, Dibang, Disang, Kolong,

All the sisters of Brahmaputra would

Flow through their village!

It would rain and thunder,

So much fun (p.19)

To wind up the review, one cannot just be a critical reader but a passionate lover of poetry to enjoy Amlanjyoti Goswami’s River Wedding. To feel the rhythm of his poetry one has to be in tune to the delicious pleasures of his staccato style as rightly pointed out by eminent critic, translator and academic Pradip Acharya. Goswami’s poems are to be internalized in their precision. The beauty of the collection River Wedding published from Mumbai by established publication house Poetrywala with a cover design and lay out by Nitoo Das, a poet herself gives the anthology a refined corporate polish.  However the poet’s credibility is heightened by an overflowing sense of duty and bonding towards his loved ones in the soil of Assam and beyond.

Dr. Sabreen Ahmed has received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in Feb 2013. Her Thesis is entitled “Muffled Voices: The Zenana in the Fiction of Muslim Women Writers from South Asia” under the guidance of Prof Makarand Paranjape. She has done her post- graduation from the University of Delhi (2005) and graduation from Cotton College, Guwahati (2003). Her area of interest is Gender studies, South Asian English Writing and Contemporary Theory. She has published academic papers in international and national journals and has an anthology of poems entitled Soliloquies to her credit. She also edited a seminar proceeding in book form captioned Indian Fiction in English and the Northeast. Currently she teaches in the Department of English, Nowgong College, Nagaon, (Assam) as Assistant Professor.