Book Review: joining the dots by Goirick Brahmachari
By Kanwar Dinesh Singh
Recipient of the Muse India-Satish Verma Young Writer Award (2016) and Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry Prize (2016), Goirick Brahmachari is worth mentioning in the new tribe of Indian poets writing in English. He brought out his maiden collection of poems, For the Love of Pork (2016), from Les Editions du Zaporogue. Rich in content and craft, this slim collection of forty-five poems in the Neo-Beat parlance was received well by the critics and lovers of poetry. These poems have propelled him as a writer having maturity and solemn engagement with current social issues and humanity at large.
Goirick Brahmachari’s second chapbook of travel notes and experimental poems, joining the dots, published by Nivasini Publishers, is a significant addition to the genre of travel writing. His poetic eye captures the mystifying curves of the ascending mountains from Bilaspur to Kullu-Manali in Himachal Pradesh during an overnight journey by bus. In a transit from the plains of Punjab and Haryana to the mountain pass of Rohtang, these short poems, one after the other, bring about a newer mis en scène of people and places. Goirick writes in a fairly anti-romantic mode, artfully confronting the idealistic and panegyric outlook of the romantics: “clouds tear the moon apart” (p. 13), “moon melts / over the snow…” (p. 17), “those fat trucks make love to the / lonesome roads” (p. 30) and so on and so forth. His diction, imagery and style mostly verge on the anti-poetic: breaking away from the normal conventions of traditional poetry, carrying deliberate solecisms and omissions of syntax, punctuation and rhyme, besides incorporating anti-sentimental feelings and reactions in poetry. Goirick’s poems are experimental, down-to-earth, hard-headed and now and then purposely pessimistic and sceptical, and they have sufficient material to incense a stern grammarian. All the same they have their own significance and appeal to the contemporary audience.
All the poems along with the title of the book are in the lowercase. Using the lowercase throughout is not altogether new, as many poets have been writing in this mode―following in the tread of the American poet, E. E. Cummings. Even though scholars find this experimentation at odds with the standard orthography of English language and/or merely as a writer’s pretension to create a trademark, many critics have viewed the rebellious use of all-lowercase as an aesthetic conception under poetic license. In the present chapbook, the use of small letters seems to be either the traveller-poet’s need for typing out the poems on a laptop without interrupting the flow of typing by searching for the ‘Shift’ on the keyboard time and again. Or implicitly it may represent the smallness of a journeyer/sojourner in the mighty expanse of the universe, as manifest in the traveller-poet’s tedium of the mountains and “inertia / of hours of travel / on parabolic roads in an ordinary bus” (p. 23).
In joining the dots, there are two sections: “dots” and “letters”. The captions assigned to “dots” are the geographical coordinates, probably to impart precise geographical identity to the places the poet traverses. In this way, the places remain well-defined in memory as well. The “letters” bear the postcodes as titles, probably with a view to recollecting the trail of travels undertaken by the poet in the past. The “dots” present not just idyllic descriptions of nature, but depicture the difficult and demanding life in the hills too:
hills can drain you
and leave you hungry
only to show up
with some ice and a big
white moon for free
Here is a poignant exposé of the winters making human life unpleasantly cold, sluggish and unpredictable in the hills:
snow has painted everything white…
the cold has sketched wrinkles
over our weary, blue faces…
fire takes its own time to burn here
people talk in smoke
The poetic expedition of joining the dots starts off with a prose-poem spread over the entire page. The justified paragraph alignment on the opening page probably represents the vast, crowded, hectic and high-speed life of the plains in contrast with the scattered, striving, slow-moving and serene life across the hills as illustrated in the subsequent thirty-five pages. Interestingly, it shows a sudden ascent from the prosy life of the plains to the poetic elevations of the mountains. The shift from the long prose-poem to shorter poems also corresponds with the slowing down of the pace while climbing the hills. One can notice the contrast through varying images: from “shady motels of karnal”, “paddy fields of punjab” and “varied smells of industrial waste” to the serene hilly terrain where “cities morph into small towns which / fade away into distant lamp lit villages / forests whisper the language of the winds” and “the dust fades into an eerie / chill” and “moon shows up past midnight / it smiles for the horizon smells of hills again.” (p. 11) Another contrast between the plains and the hills is perceptible in these lines: “a mercedes benz showroom standing with / pride over barren lands” (p. 11) and “cars float across the white roads / roads disappear in mist and rain” (p. 17) or “…people glide through the rope / to each other, over the river that separates them” (p. 16)
The poem entitled “32.266767° n, 77.187858° e” explicitly mentions the poet’s sense of aversion to both the mountains and the cities:
i talk to the night
she tells me of her miseries
and of her love for hills
that remains unreturned
i tell her about the cities
and how they make us dry
With his razor-sharp observation, the traveller-poet provides an apt commentary of the visual experience of the hills through the window of a bus: “2:30 am and the bus suddenly turns into an opera / snores harmonize in various scales / only to spoil a cold, cold night” (p. 13) At places, the imagery turns somewhat erotic: “at bilaspur, the bus wears the night / it licks the curves on the hills / gorges open their mouth / to a sky full of stars below us” (p. 12) The following lines appositely present his perspective of the mountains: “they stand here matter-of-factly / hooting at a river that battles mood swings” (p. 21)
The second section of the book bears the title “letters”. There are eight letters in all―without bearing any address/ee, but only postal index numbers as captions. The poem entitled “793005” stirs the emotions of the poet when aroused by a startling incursion of memory: “mornings, like short wave radio stations / bring tears from a distant hill that / rain has forgotten many years ago / then, the night escaped her / as mist cloud the sky in our eyes / perhaps the wind will cradle these hollow pines / to sleep” (p. 32)
On the whole, Goirick Brahmachari’s poems are refreshing with novelty of ideas and imagination. Although his vision is mostly non-aesthetic: “barren lands”, “varied smells”, “landfills…rotten and liquid like our lives”, “aging moon”, “angry river”, “cold breeze”, “the sun…drugged and lazy”, “memory…a whore”, “a gypsy town”, “memory longs for murder” etc., these poems carry a few striking lines fraught with feeling such as “winds prick holes in silence” (p. 25), “the moon plays holi” (p. 35) and “night has grown old in you / she spies on you when you sleep” (p. 36), “night wears burqa by the hills” (p. 33) His similes, metaphors, allusions and adjectival formations are especially worthy of note. His style and standpoint are distinctive. This chapbook comprising twenty-four short poems has ample stuff to stimulate the reader’s mind.
The reviewer lives in Shimla, where he teaches English language and literature at a college. Winner of Himachal Pradesh Sahitya Adademi Award (2002), he has several volumes of poetry and short fiction in English and Hindi, besides books in literary criticism, to his credit. He is editor of Hyphen (ISSN 0975 2897). Recently, he edited “The Poetry of Walt Whitman: New Critical Perspectives (Atlantic)” and “Hues of Life: An Anthology of Short Stories (Oxford)”.