Book Review: An Ode to Shimla by Sanjeev Bansal

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By Nilesh Mondal

ode to shimlaTitle: An Ode to Shimla

Author: Sanjeev Bansal

Publisher: Frog Books

Pages: 150

Price: Rs 172

To buy

When Ernest Hemingway was famously quoted as saying “there is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”, you can well assume he was either being sarcastic, or making an understatement of epic proportions. Writing poetry, especially, is a task both arduous and more often than not, unrewarding. It boils down to the understanding of one’s own perspectives, expertise in the observation of occurrences both mundane and trivial, and with the deftness of an artist, the ability to weave them into happenings at once exaggerated but magical.

Sanjeev Bansal, in his debut collection of poetry attempts to do the same with places and people he has long formed a sturdy emotional attachment with. However, despite his efforts, his poetry doesn’t dazzle but leaves a strong sense of unfulfilled expectations at the end of his book.

The title of the book, An Ode to Shimla, is aptly chosen since almost all of the poems in this collection speak of Shimla, which is also the place the poet spends his weekends at and has a strong connection to. His poems sound almost like little love letters written to the place, heavy with metaphors that speak of Shimla’s beauty, appeal and the surprises it hides in itself and offers only to those who seek them. Although his sentiments for Shimla are commendable, what makes it really hard for readers to relate and connect to his intended emotions, is how he chooses to write his poems. Sanjeev’s poems lack the translucency that is the essential mark of passionate writing. They are cryptic and hard to decipher, and reading through the poems is like peeking into his secret diary — an act that feels more uncomfortable than exciting. The poem “Poet of Crowned Oak Tree”, for example:

“In the scented perfume, magnifying when night desires of melancholic hunger,
But my mind’s beautiful Chimera fades,
And time’s epoch returns me to boisterous towns again,
Where the color of Serene comes in spots among moldings of an Entablature”

There were two recurring problems with the narrative that however remain unresolved. First is Sanjeev’s use of archaic words (mostly pronouns) like thine, thee, ye, etc., in the midst of poems clearly contemporary in nature. While it adds no added value to the narrative itself, the use of these words are distracting as well for the readers. Secondly, he chooses to use words that are long and complicated (mostly adjectives) and don’t advance the narrative or add beauty to the imageries itself, but instead sound cluttered and out of place while reading through the poems. An example of this is the poem “Change my Origin Oh Mother”:

“Change my circle O daystar, towards Mother Karma,
Downpour the showers from the archaic thick forest,
Rebound me to the redolence in the form of perished blade
Into the divine cloistered field of peace and silent rock,
Where perspiration from the bank of margin rivers,
Scented the wave of deciduous leaves, lives in heart again,
That beats among the throng of prodigious Scots pine”

This collection also suffers from other errors, probably missed while proofreading or in the printing process, such as words with capitalised first letters occurring in the middle of lines without any explanation, sudden change in spacing between lines in the same poem, and wrong punctuation on multiple occasions. Shimla through Sanjeev’s eyes might sound like a tourist’s paradise, with all the scenic beauty and romanticism for the mountains, but it lacks the depth of character and this becomes apparent since he doesn’t speak about much else throughout. There are some good poems in the second half though, like “A triumph struggles” and “Ode to blissful seasons”, which attempt to be the saving grace to this otherwise uninspiring collection.

Over all, this collection needed a lot more eye for detail, a compassionate and inspiring element and most importantly, a portrayal of Shimla as the place it really is, and not what it dreams of becoming. This is what the poet must bear in mind while working on his next collection.

The reviewer is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Power Engineering. When he’s not overwhelmed by the intricacies of engineering, he lets himself sink in a quagmire of unfinished stories and unwritten poetry.  

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