ANANYA S GUHA reviews Nabanita Kanungo’s debut collection of poems – A Map of Ruins
Nabanita Kanungo’s debut collection of poems “A Map of Ruins” are a collage of re-constructed memories, sense of up-rootedness and at the same time belonging to her home town Shillong. The worlds of her poetry are two, distinct; one which is Shillong and the other which could have been, her ancestral voice, the plains of what is now Sylhet, with the river Surma cradling her and her broken dreams. Yet being born and brought up among the hills and streams of Shillong and Meghalaya, the poem’s undergo the process of ‘acculturation’ which the poet celebrates “In Shillong – Shillong” she says.
“The bus is a chug – chug gaadi … much is unseen to the right of a divided morning”
or, in “Green”.
“The pines are flying into wooden desires. Some birds like hand written letters, do not arrive … now we go for the sky”.
There is always a transparent sense of longing in her dense verse, and like the poetry of Desmond L. Kharmawphlang and Robin S. Ngangom these morph into hiatus – between what is and what could have been, without any escapism, but controlling the world she lives in, sure of it and even the dominance of living in it – ‘this is mine, mine only’. In “Laitlum” she exclaims.
“The void was so immense in your heart
I fell into that frenzy of scooping blue
With my lashes and in a moment’s pure recognition, you became me …” She explores local milieus in her poems such as “Mylliem Now” and “Nongjri”, locales which are used deftly for extension of natural imagery; the wind, the rain, the pines or the hills which she thrusts into her being as a kind of change agent, the poetic enkindling or even metamorphosis.
But her historical re-construction, the place of her ancestors, her grandparents is also a recurrent image, fractured, a void may be difficult to fill by. These are lines in “Surma”.
“Tonight, once again,
my blood escaped the
streets relentless chase,
and flowed into you
as molten anger …
And I recalled my illegitimate birth
The bastard of my poetry
Pushing out of your womb”
The poem that however drives fantasy, fiction and reality is: “I was Born”. Here she says in a matter – of fact way:
“Somewhere in the mashes of horror,
a seed was split. I was born.
I was inscriber in the maps
that went to the North East Frontier agency …
at the time of the Naga uprising … still later I was born in a hill”.
The roots of fantasy and those of reality are enmeshed in her poems – fractured memories, the surreal, the real, the beautiful villages in Meghalaya and the Surma of her dreams. Nabanita Kanungo’s poems represent an alternate voice, that of the ‘outsider’ as ‘insider’, but in moments of personal and social crisis her voice reaches out ineffably to the place she belongs and loves (even if she has to leave it Shillong).
This beautiful cadenced poetry is mixed with metaphors, aphorisms, nostalgia but yet – the, never say die spirit! One surely will hear of her work much more in the days to come. “A Map of Ruins” is a confluence, where geography is delicately history.
Title: “A Map of Ruins”
Author: Nabanita Kanungo
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2014