Book Review: Wet Radio and other poems by Goirick Brahmachari
By Bhaswati Ghosh
Title: Wet Radio and other poems
Author: Goirick Brahmachari
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 18, 2017)
If rain is the central motif seeping through Goirick B’s Wet Radio, the poems live up to their task of carrying wetness and drenching the reader with soaking endurance. Like his poems, the poet carries a lot, too – the weight of nostalgia and nonconformity, strains of relationships and a disquiet that refuses to be quelled. In all the different themes Wet Radio explores, the poet’s visceral engagement keeps one hooked to his words.
This very act – of carrying impressions from location to location, both physical and psychical – makes Goirick almost a modern-day itinerant poet/songwriter. His sense of place, especially of Northeast India, is acute; at the same time, his is a poetic spirit that defies the idea of rooting in any one place. This impulse to move, even run, lends his poetry both breadth and passage.
There is gasping pain and seething anger, life-saving love and cynical disillusionment in the poems. The poet often travels back in memory to the Northeast, and in doing so confronts the impossibility of defining identity on the basis of the usual markers of region, religion and language. Consider these lines from ‘Rumour’: “The cave is like any other/only sometimes a Naga would enter/and come out as a Manipuri/Sometimes a Khasi would turn into/a Mizo or, a Bengali, a Bodo,/usually, after every 32 tunnels.”
Goirick plays with the question of identity even more adventurously in ‘Worshipping the Blue Mad Man’, a poem on Charak Puja held in eastern India to worship Shiva. In the poem, he employs a bi-lingual structure, which for those who read both English and Bengali, create a unique sensory and rhythmic experience. The Bengali words occur where they are evidently impossible to render in translation except as approximations, which is how they are presented in the final stanza.
Pain and its many contours has been a favoured subject for poets. Goirick touches the slippery pulse of pain, both physical and invisible, in a number of his poems. He speaks of sadness that’s “not of this earth but born out of the void above,” alluding to a hollowness that could be hard to frame within the conventional context of sanity. In ‘Ache’ he maps the journey of pain and the way it afflicts the mind as “it travels through the body earth./From the head onto the shoulders/From maps to borders/Down to the viscera,/nails Flowing like a stream.”
Wet Radio straddles the continuum of relationships – to places, time and people – that calibrate the human experience. More than one poem is about or dedicated to personal acquaintances of the poet; what strikes one the most about these poems is their raw vulnerability. This opportunity to see the exposed wounds of the one penning the poems creates for the reader pathways to enter the poet’s inner territory beyond mere words. ‘Leftovers’ is like a cinematic treatment of the dampness of unfinished business in relationships:
Liquid newspapers, tea stalls that smelt like charcoal,
Kerosene, lazy College Street walks – wet tickets of that sticky mini bus.
Working as salesmen,
Selling Jazz at Elgin road,
Buying blues from free school street.
The wrapped Love in the time of Cholera.
I say cinematic because these lines sketch a familiar city frame by frame through innovative imagery like liquid newspapers and a sticky mini bus. In ‘On death of a father’, Goirick presents the undefinable quotient of certain relationships. It is a simple but poignant poem about two men brought together by a girl sharing affection as a father and son would and yet left without a tag to label their association.
There is urban desolation in Wet Radio and there is vexation over the shrinking space for dissent; there is desperate seeking and there is admission of failure. Yet, despite the overarching stamp of wetness they bear, the poems also bristle with fire. There is a burning intensity, especially in the poems of dissent that’s hard not to be stung by.
Not enough can be said about the musicality of Wet Radio. As someone who relies on music as if it were a life-saving drug, I felt ecstatic to find a comrade in Goirick. Music doesn’t merely inform his worldview; it is the very alphabet he uses to decipher the world. As with the rest of his journey, his musical explorations are borderless and fluid. Simply for the sheer number of ‘music’ poems it has, this collection will remain close to my heart. However, even the poems that don’t directly relate to the subject betray a cadence that comes from being steeped in euphonic ambrosia. the kind of steeping that produces lines like these:
Nothing like a sitar floating into your ears for
hours, falling over your head and then leaking
onto your veins, cooling you from within, like
a chilly Shillong morning, like years of
solitude in rain”
(‘A trip through Indian classical’).
‘Gamaka’, the curving of notes while rendering classical ragas, becomes a metaphor for everything from love and heartache to the stupor of an ancient city.
A night dies between two notes
measures its distances through a Gamaka
The morning is drunk
The workers are out
Sleep has come to the old city in Gamaka.
What makes Goirick’s music poems outstanding is the balance with which he scales them. Even as he articulates something as abstract as the sensory experience of listening to music, he melds that experience with the mundane business of everyday living. The fusion creates an amazing jugalbandi for the reader. For him,
Mornings are more than Coffee as Waking up to the morning riyaz with Ma playing Tanpura, singing a
Kheyal in Ahir Bhairav smelt different. Or maybe, a
drenched Bilawal in Sarod, which melted with the
Buddhist chants from the monastery, we woke up to
at Mcleodganj. Who cares if it is not a morning raga?”
(‘Imagining a distant morning through the nights that only notes can bring’).
For me, this intense love of music and the endearing expression are reminiscent of Shakti Chattopadhyay’s poems. Shakti had internalized Rabindrasangeet to such an extent that they burst into his poems, likely unbidden and yet completely seamless, countless times.
Wet Radio is a sum of the parts of its title and then some.
Breathe in the radio through its sound box.
Everything’s burning. Wet it with tears. Listen to
mushy pop love songs
sweaty, summer, power cut nights
insects and table lamps…
Bhaswati Ghosh writes and translates fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Her website is bhaswatighosh.com.