Book Review: For the Love of Pork by Goirick Brahmachari
By Neeti Singh
For the Love of Pork, 2016, by Goirick Brahmachari comes through as a collection of brilliant and ambitious verse that is intensely contemporary, thickly layered and imagistic, and reads like beat poetry as it interrogates on one hand the presence and forms of borders in daily life; and celebrates on the other hand the excesses of modern living with its new-found freedoms that thrill in the flouting of social taboos. Brahmachari, who belongs to a younger line of Indian poets writing in English, draws profusely from his readings and understanding of literature, history, cultural theory, culture and politics. His writing explores the matrix of socio-political and existential issues, as it negotiates at the same time, the paradox of acceptance and irreverence in the lives of the middle class. In terms of poetic style and content, Brahmachari’s is a strong and impressive voice, equipped with both the conviction and the courage that a poet needs to explore new pathways in poetic craft, experience, and creative expression.
Goirick Brahmachari, who is an economics research consultant settled in Delhi, hails from Silchar, Assam. This fact is amply reflected in For the Love of Pork, his first book of poems, which is a collection of forty-five poems that map the poet’s years at home, the pain of borders in the hilly terrain of Assam, and that strange sense of being away from home – free, footloose and available to cosmopolitan lifestyle issues far away in dynamic Delhi. As happens with most cities, the Silchar of his growing up years has decayed and is reduced now, to –
of hypocrisy and mediocrity.
Broken roads, of hope once,
of disgust now, ignored
through years of slumber
and laziness, and an age
of rage-less youth.
do not speak. (18)
The cityscape of Gurgaon sparkles in contrast, with affluence which comes to the humble immigrant in the form of “excel sheets”, “cigarettes” and “free chicken on Fridays”. Delhi is “well-lit in affluence, gore and loneliness”. It is “Maggi at the tea joint” to which he must turn for “comfort”, for home is far away. In the rains —
Those fat cars kept spitting
Sewage water over my face all morning
I walked drenched with a taste
Of soil and burnt carbon on my tongue. (46)
No wonder the poet describes Delhi as a place that is lonely and “breeds junk and sex”.
Vasant Vihar has turned into a weird mishmash
For Manipuris and Nagas, Punjais and Jats, Africans and Russians.
The necessity of junk and sex unites us all. (50)
Some features that surface during a reading of Goirick Brahmachari’s book are his ability to suggest ungraspable abstractions through the creation of an atmosphere. His style of writing is dynamic and irreverent, and is etched at the same time with realism and humility. He thickly weaves in detail, painting the lives of ordinary people in the neighbourhood, back alley, market place, malls, food joints, and highways – all of which rise and bubble over, richly spiced up with all sorts of scents, incidents and pleasure-seeking by a humanity pervaded with a vast sense of disenchantment, displacement and loneliness, an existential blueprint that ultimately propels personal and national engagements with the politics of religion, violence, hatred and bigotry. No effort is made to dress it up; his verse offers the reader a plate of nostalgia and potpourri-packed word pictures of a reality that is Indian and global at the same time, rendered in all honesty with the cracks, the breakdowns, the drains and the general static — and yet it is in the unabashed stacking of detail and the manner in which the images flow and fuse that Brahmachari proves his mettle. A striking feature is the poet’s employment of food-smells and taste, the local folk arts and ritual to create moods that are specifically Indian to the extent that so many terms effortlessly find their way into his poems, sizzling and sputtering and livening up the palate – the “palak-paneer”, the famous “Maggi”, the “Aloo pitika”, the pace of a “Thumri”, the dancing qalandars of Auliya, the “Masor tenga” dish and the “nimbu-pani”.
The themes that Brahmachari explores in his first book of poems are grim, existential, subaltern and anti-romantic. These are not poems of silence and reflection, rather the poems celebrate the mundane and the ordinary, they question, parody and provoke the reader to confront the gaps in living, and at the same time they also suggest an undercurrent of despair, helplessness and anger. In Auliya’s dargah —
There is ganja, there is peace
there are ghosts and free Biryani if you please.
However, that peace too is misconstrued, and a sham. The poem confesses that although one loves Auliya, the love and devotion do not guarantee protection from the spiritual and existential angst of life that appears quite meaningless.
My friend jumped off the roof
His face tortured by many years of loneliness and rage
For he has loved Auliya
One who has none, has Auliya. (48)
The narrator’s voice engages with the problems of displaced, young, educated immigrants, who must face the angst of a diseased loveless life ridden meaningless and lonely. In terms of style the poems are urban, colloquially penned, very down-to-earth and contemporary; they draw from the symbolic, imagistic and beat in poetry.
While the poems hold promise and impress with their intense, postmodern treatment of the Indian rural and urban semiotic, there is plenty of scope here for further chiselling and pruning. Most poems in the anthology are flawlessly structured while some fall short on the promise. This however is not a major lack and can be repaired with careful attention and craftsmanship. As a first book, For the Love of Pork carries impressive attitude, perception and scope. It is poetry that draws immensely from the contemporary context and is therefore more urgent, more relevant and engaging. Interestingly, and very cleverly so, Brahmachari has titled his first book of poems around love and the pork/meat symbol which neatly –indirectly and yet so strategically – alludes to and interrogates, the famous beef ban controversy, the love/hate equations and wars around god, and finally it folds in on a plate as it were, the poet’s burning rage and irreverence towards it all. In a final debunking, a final poem in the whole lot goes like this:
Drunk be the Muslim
The cow that he worships but never eats
The gospel he bleeds
Drunk be the vessels lot
Drunk, drunk, drunk, drunk, yes drunk be the heavens and the brothels
The holy and the ugly and the unholy Lucifers of this world.
Drunk be the fascists, the nationalists, the fake communists
And the traditionalists, and the postmodernists. Drunk be the
Hedonists and the common man.
Drunk be forever this poem
Drunk be us. (59/60)
Brahmachari’s Pork poems have incidentally coincided with his winning the Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize for this year.
The reviewer is a faculty of Arts (Department of English) at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara.