Lines Written on the Anvil of Melancholy

JYOTIRMOY PRODHANI

Noted critic and translator, Pradip Acharya, in his Keynote speech in the National Poets Meet of Eastern Languages of Sahitya Akademi in Shillong (19 March, 2016), had particularly mentioned the name of Pratim Baruah as one of the most promising young poets from Assam.While speaking about the second collection of his poems, Aru Nirobota (And silence, 2014), for which he had received Munin Borkotoky Award in 2014, Prof. Acharya said, “Pratim’s poems are inscribed with the intimate resonances of silence”.  His next collection of poems, Xodha he nohol tuk o Bokul, (You were never asked O bokul, 2016) received the Yuva Puraskar of Sahitya Akademi in 2017. The collection begins with a small foreword with a reference to one of Orhan Pamuk’s statements where he had said, “A poet is one with whom God converses.” Pamuk then writes that when he had felt that God was no longer in speaking terms with him, he had left writing poems.

Pratim Baruah then explains why he does write poems. You tend to wonder what he actually meant to say? Why does he write poems then? That God speaks to him? One would find this rather arrogant. He, however, would confide, despite having taken Pamuk’s view as true, that he was clueless as to why he did keep writing poems, suggesting that divine encounter was yet to occur. However, by his own admittance, he is daunted by an endless sense of disquiet and pain and when it comes to his own poems, he has his deepest desolation. Despite the relentless turmoil around him, he remains ever indebted only to his loneliness and silences. Poetry for him, as he writes, is a ritual for an intense interface with his disquieting unease and perpetual dismay.

His collection, Sodhahé nōhol tuk o bokul (You were never asked O bokul) unveils an inner world of intense solitude and reverberating silences.For a young poet, his poetic landscape is rather deeply unsettling and intimately personal. Born in 1983 and grew as well as lives in the small town of Bongaigaon in lower Assam, Pratim has been a witness to the aftermath of momentous histories of the land, therefore, more than the pathos of a romantic, his poems are distinctly characterised by the predicaments of an insane time and the deranged logic of violence where he, by default, finds himself as an unceremonious victim, a desolate spectator. The only way for him to recover from this overwhelming time is to write, the only therapeutic act he can afford.   His poem, “Swadhinata (“Independence”) resonates this exigency with disimpassioned intensity:

          I gorged out my two eyes

          Cut my blue veins to drench me in red.

          I encountered thousand wars,

          Inside me.

          Handed down to all of them

          The pennons of mutiny

          And like an insane soul,

          Kept searching for sovereignty.

The predicament of Frarooq is equally tense, who had left his native soil to evade the armed forces after being branded a terrorist for having hosted the militants for a night. He came back home once again crossing seven shores to bid the final adieu to his beloved on the day of her wedding.

          That night Farooq came

          …

          Who was brought back again by his love               

          To face death once more. (“Farooq”)

Pratim as a poet does not necessarily nurse any inhibition if the flight of his imaginations finds inspiration from the great bards who are a part of a formidable legacy, the likes of Navakanta Barua, Ajit Barua and other legends. Therefore, without trepidation he can confide that he too tried to be one of the custodians of their landscapes:

          At night I opened my door

          Navakanta entered in

          And asked me

          “Was there a river here?”  (“Events”)

What makes his poetic oeuvre admiringly varied and multi layered is his equal proficiency and intensity to try his hands with narrative poetry as well.  “On Schizophrenia”is one such poem. The tells a story of a neurologist, Dr. Saikia, who is embroiled in the clumsy negotiation with his own sense of persona split into two, where the poet finds himself unwittingly linked in an aporiac double bind:

The burning cigarette butt slips off my hand.

I am slowly throttled by this complex chemistry of crisis

It turns grim the exuberant hours of all my evenings

And I pick up a pen to write a poem-

My dear reader

Tell me what should I do now?

Being a young poet his nostalgia is not expected to be that deep, yet his personal history evokes a serene sense of melancholy as he recounts how the ideal hero that was personified by the image of his father slowly blurs into a slough of despond:

          When I was young

          My father was the hero

          Of my imagination and my dreams

          As I reached my youth

          Those dreams crumbled into pieces. (“When I was young”)

The poems in the collection are divided in three sections. The second and the third sections largely comprise his short poems. The second section is a mix of his metaphorical and pastoral compositions. The first group of poems, “Parampita” (“The Divine Father”), are a deep longing seeking spiritual refinements. The poems have the intense lines like:

                   I let thirty three red ants

                   Bite my chest

                   For twelve thousand and forty five days

On end

                   Despite having leaned forward

                   I was not finished

                   Despite having become empty, I became full

                   Despite having become full, I became empty.

In the second group of short poems, Hemanta, (“The Late Autumn”) the season recurs as a time of pastoral intimacy and also as a reference to make him aware of his urban anxiety:

The wall clock is

Ticking by

 All around

This is exuberant silence

The autumn whiff of wind

 Keeps asking

Who is lonely

The clock or me?

 The third section comprises some of his finest short poems written with the sharply chiselled lines which have been his abiding hallmark as young poet. One such poignant composition is:

In your shadow

I build my house

The shadow

You left behind

So many years ago.   (“Your shadow”)

Pratim Baruah as a young poet is rather deceptive, for he writes with an amazingly seasoned hand and refreshing maturity. What makes him stand out among other young voices is his startling words placed with measured reticence. He would not fancy a word extra if he could manage to say it with the bare minimum, and this is where he sounds  exceptionally seasoned, beyond the boyish urge to show off with which most youngsters begin their career as a poet. His profound emotional pain in relation to his mother almost finds a thick physical tangibility when he writes with confessional resignation:

I got stuck, O my mother,

No matter how much I write

Pouring blood from my heart,

All seem so inadequate. (“For mother”)

Pratim Baruah: Sodhahé nōhol tuk o bokul

Published by Aank Baank, Guwahati. 2016.

Price Rs.  100/- ISBN 978-93-85934-33-9

Jyotirmoy Prodhani teaches English literature at NEHU, Shillong. He has translated the Assamese short stories of Sheelabhradra into English, Modhupur Bohudoor (Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2016). He is also the author of the book, Creativity and Conflict in the Plays of Sam Shepard (2012) and has co-edited, Culture, Ethnicity and Identity: A Reader, (2014). His forthcoming book is a collection of translations of Rajbanshi poems, This Land, This People.