Book Review: A Tenant of the World by Madhura Banerjee
By Nilesh Mondal
“The world is but a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page”, Augustine Hippo said, thus making travelling and literature two sides of the same coin, one a necessity for the other. Travelling doesn’t just open up new places to us, it also opens our eyes to newer perspectives, enables us to see the same places in a different light. Madhura Banerjee’s debut collection of poetry, A Tenant of the World, published by Power Publishers, aims to do just that by introducing us to familiar places, and helping us look and familiarise ourselves with them through her eyes, an attempt in which she succeeds to a large extent.
Madhura establishes from the beginning of the book itself what her idea of travelling is: the mingling of myriad cultures and taking the stories from one city and spreading it into the corners of another. Poetry for her is akin to the traveller’s spirit, unperturbed by boundaries and borders, spread across a range of geographical dissimilarities. The scope of her poetry stretches from the mountains of Kashmir, Himachal and North Bengal, to the age-old cities of Lucknow and Calcutta and even the illustrious desert of Rajasthan. Her voice is bold and seldom constricted, easily shifting from the dreamy narratives about the majestic Himalayas, to the nostalgic ruminations about changing cityscapes. This versatility of narration is in all probability, the most interesting part about her book.
This becomes apparent when we consider two very different poems, the first one called ‘If Pahalgam Were Love’, where she writes:
“Love is the conical shaft of highway highlights
Caught mid-flicker, against the wicker of fir,
Letting the red molten wax of daybreak
Flow into the valley of flowers mid-bloom”
The serenity in her tone however is swapped for one that depicts a sense of urgency in the poem ‘Bengali Jetties’, where she writes:
“When it rained at an unusual hour
In an unusual time that April,
It filled the trails of your footprints-
A muddy assurance of your departure-
Weighing down the red dust,
Making agony resist the summer wind.”
Another noteworthy aspect of her poetry is the use of vivid imagery and attention to detail. Here, the poet doesn’t falter or make use of images we have all seen in movies or other media about the places being written about. Instead she strives to take us into the heart of each landscape, picking up visuals easily missed by others, and puts them together to give us a new perspective of the geography we think we know enough about already. An example of this is her poem ‘Lost Trails’, which she claims was inspired by a vivid memory of Jaisalmer. She writes:
“Khamma ghani sa,
I write to the waves of sand,
I was looking for a sky that looked just like this,
Fixed like a parachute tent over pegs of fire
And red bandhni waists with mirrors, just like this-
The turbaned man’s voice came from between
handwritten scrolls of jewel fragrant ballads, just like this”
However, it’d be wrong to think this book is without its share of flaws. The most glaring amongst these is probably the lack of context in some of her poems. Her poems suffer from a sense of detachment at times, from the time and circumstances they’ve been written in, most of all. The mention of local people, their struggles, pathos and histories, are almost entirely missing from some of the poems, which end up losing a certain sense of personality as a result. This may have been an attempt on the poet’s side to play it safe when it came to writing this book, deliberately choosing to stay away from controversial topics or stories which could mar the perceived beauty of these places in the eyes of her readers. The poet has also tried different forms of poetry, such as haikus and poems with an iambic parameter, however in some cases, instead of adding to the value of the collection this has given rise to a sense of confusion.
All in all, A Tenant of The World is a brave attempt at travel-inspired poetry, and succeeds in being both enjoyable and thoughtful. With her debut book of poetry this young poet has given us a glimpse of her potential, and proven that she possesses the keen eye of a true traveller.
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.