September 22, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Book Review – Longings by Mukulika Batabyal

5 min read

Uday Khanna reviews Mukulika Batabyal’s poetry collection Longings (Published by Hawakal Publishers, 2022) observing how the poems raise pertinent questions.

It is not uncommon to come across poems, anthologies, or chapbooks, which make you meditate or contemplate on particular experiences that you had managed to unsuccessfully keep aside. What is perhaps rarer is to come across a book that manages to make the living come out of the pages and walk with you to the quaint corners of your memory and confront hurt the loss as a still gently breathing patient holding out for hope.

What Mukulika Batabyal achieves through her poetry is elevating the status of that hurt and negotiating with the immediacy of its effects, while also charting out a path to navigate through the malice towards a more hopeful promised land. The questions her poems raise pertain to the existence of such a promised land and how long one can hold out the hope of reaching it. But for Ms. Batabyal, what becomes more important is the journey and the idea of such a promised land; that the desert hides a well somewhere. 

While Batabyal explores relationships and the modern idea of dating in the space of new media with the proliferation of applications, what persists is the idea of love, romance, and companionship, which has not changed since the days past. What has changed perhaps is the novelty of the mediums and the baggage each of them comes with, introducing newer forms of not only communication but also misconceptions and misperceptions.

Finding love and companionship then slowly turns into a chore that must be routinely dealt with through the muddy waters of these social media applications where hiding behind filters has become the norm. Batabyal’s tender dialect hides a forceful and compelling case for love and togetherness where vulnerability is not frowned upon but seen as a gift layered with petals of thirst and hunger.

The titular significance of the collection really shines through not as the want for a breadcrumb, but as the ardent yearning to exist as a part of something bigger than oneself. This is highlighted not only through the idea of romantic love but also through a craving for closer, more secure, familial ties based on the idea of belonging and finding a home in that heart and heartache.

She thrives when dealing with the domestic space and applying a critical feminist perspective to the design of a house becoming a home, and ordinary, domiciliary objects becoming entrapped in the chess-like battlefield of familial and romantic love, which she aptly puts when she says,

“You left a war brewing inside of me/ are you coming back for more?”

(Batabyal 15)

What shines through for Mukulika is the desire, the longing, to find the assurance of belonging somewhere and to secure a kind of permanence and stability in that somewhere for the muddy waters of love induce in us an uncertainty, the beating of which is the loudest in an unsure mind.  

Mukulika plays primarily with the philosophical idea of love—of any manner—and our existence with or without it, but to reduce her only to one characteristic or theme would be doing her poetry an enormous disservice. She moves, quite subtly, through the discomfort of the emotional and psychological burden of our everyday survival, where hope seems to be a fool’s errand, but one she still locates as Dickinson’s thing with a feather, waiting to take a flight of love, longing, and most importantly, belonging, while also acknowledging the very real possibility of Nietzsche’s torment in hope.

What has changed perhaps is the novelty of the mediums and the baggage each of them comes with, introducing newer forms of not only communication but also misconceptions and misperceptions.

What she produces then is not just plain poetry on summery devotion or wintry yearning; it is the affirmation of our primal desires for continuity and stability and thriving through getting back up each day, looking not only for a home to tend to or a house to build, but finding companions and ties that lend a hand in laying the foundation. 

Note: This book was published in a series of publications by Hawakal Publishers in their Young Poets series, where they gave the platform to poets bellows the age of thirty to publish their first collection with them. A word of praise must go to the publishers, Kirti Sengupta and Bitan Chakraborty, whose wonderful efforts are sure to see the rise of many such young poets in the country, Mukulika Batabyal being one of them.  

Reviewer’s Bio

Uday Khanna is a research scholar who recently finished his MPhil from the University of Delhi, working on Jorge Luis Borges and Virtual reality, and is currently teaching at Amity University, Lucknow as an Assistant Professor. His research interests lie in the fields of postmodernism, media theory, cyber-culture, and 20th-century short-story genre. In his free time, he likes to read poetry, and ghazals, play video games with his friends and take long walks with his cat, Frodo.

About the Author

About the Book

The strength of Mukulika’s writing is its raw and rugged texture. Her poems depict the vulnerability we seek in romantic love and human companionships in a post-Pandemic world. They reach out to millennials struck by the pangs of online dating, all the while fighting the patriarchal gaze. Mukulika’s verses also reflect years of trauma, longing for maternal love, and the touch of the familial. Her ability to turn household objects of regular use into material for poetry is unique and is an essential feminist tool in writing one’s experiences.

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