By Neeti Singh

sudeep sen fractualsFractals by Sudeep Sen, an internationally acclaimed, Delhi-based poet, photographer and documentary film maker, is a comprehensive volume, a bouquet of pure art and poetry, new and old, running into 380 odd pages. About 250 poems are from Sen’s recent poems in English; besides that, there are selections from his earlier published poems, and lastly, a selection of Sudeep Sen’s English translation of poems from Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Chinese, Hebrew, Polish and Spanish. Sudeep Sen’s classical orientation to poetic craft, his erudition and expansive engagement with global traditions in languages, visual arts, poetics and translation, is, to say the least, impressive and stunning.

For an essay that aspires to encapsulate in about 1500 words, an eclectic talent and legend such as he, it is a daunting uphill task. An anthology of over 350 poems, Fractals is designed with intelligent and passionate deliberation, and consists of a range of poetic forms from poem songs, cameos, erotica, prose poems, haikus to translations layered with inter/intra-textual signification and discourse across poetry, culture and other art media. With all regard to Sudeep Sen, I must say, very well done! You do us, Mr Sen, much service as world poet and Indian, by writing in English, a culturally cadenced poetic subtext that celebrates at par with other world art/cultures, the Indian – classical and folk traditions. The ethnography of the Hindu/Mughal nation with its indigenous heritage, topography and rasa-pradhaan poetic contexts – all weave their way subtly into the English idiom, as they take position alongside western/global poetics and blend in, refashion and enrich with intelligent skill, their overtly English matrix.

The range of Sen’s poems in Fractals is vast and this brief essay can strive to examine but a few aspects. I shall therefore contain myself to a reading of few poems that engage with Indian themes, lifestyle, cities and contexts. The India that emerges through Sen’s poems is classical, nonchalant, subtly layered and beautifully calibrated. At the same time, the people that occupy these cameos and word-pictures, are competent, unselfconscious and well embedded in the larger global framework. Poems like “Rural Mappings”, and “Four Watercolours” – Bombay, Delhi, Udaipur, London – are examples. His poems on Indian dance forms, “Mohiniyattam”, “Bharatanatyam Dancer”, “Oddisi”, refashion and infuse an experience, an aesthetic, that is quintessentially Indian, into a language/cultural texture that is essentially western and mainstream. In the poem “Odissi”, for instance, the dancing form of the dancer recalls on the one hand, the glory of the Indian goddesses – Kali, Madhavi, Parvati – and on the other hand it melts into figurines of sculpted stone on the ancient temple walls. “And yet she is human.” To quote from the prose poem,

I adore Kali, I adore Parvati, I adore Madhavi, I adore the trance-like temple postures – so pure that stone-art of the ancient Oriya temples melts to human form, exquisitely carved, yet breathing, breathing with the passion only reserved for the Gods. And yet she is human, and touchable. (126) 

“Architectural love and body love are one” for the poet who easily traverses from one medium to another as though the whole world were his subject matter. In a Facebook post I recall him saying once that there is poetry all around us, all we need is the eyes to see and feel it.

Sudeep Sen’s poems are quite Baudelairean in their employment of Synaesthesia and in their engagement with the sensual and erotic. A controlled raw sensuality marks the love poems in the section titled “Erotext: Sixteen movements on Erotica.”

“Clumps of wet-smoke simmer in the pan, and slowly | lift to caress the outline of your breasts” (103) in the poem, “Indian Dessert” is a favourite example that evocatively interlaces the simmering of gajar-ka-halwa in a pan with the beloved’s body, as she cooks to create finally, “a creamed mouthful of untampered delicacy”.

Tasveer-e Urdu and the Centre for Indian Languages (SLLCS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), plan to hold a two-day conference on the popular culture of Urdu language on 8-9 September 2017 in New Delhi. The organisers seek proposals of presentations that can lead to engaging discussions on the theme, outlined in the concept note shared below.

For submissions, a short abstract (not more than one page) should be sent in Urdu or English, with a short bio of the presenter’s past work, latest by 10 April 2017 to conference@tasveereurdu.in.

Once the submitted abstract/concept is selected for participation, the selected submissions will have to send the full paper (5000 to 8000 words, in Urdu or English) by August 10, 2017.

For more details visit: www.tasveereurdu.in

Concept Note:

While Urdu is typically celebrated as a language of romance and classical poetry by Ghalib, Mir, and Faiz etc., its lesser-acknowledged popular culture of movie songs, detective fiction, ghazal gayeki, poetry inscribed behind vehicles, mushairas, and qawwalis, has probably kept the language alive and kicking among the masses even as its more virtuous practitioners lament that Urdu is dying in India. So what are these popular forms that continue to thrive in the underbelly of classical Urdu and how different they are from its elite cultural life? More importantly, where does one draw a line between popular and classical in Urdu? Although some examples mentioned above are part of what we call ‘popular culture’, these were never really disconnected from what can be called ‘classical’. Urdu is not a monolithic entity in time and space – it has been changing over centuries in its vocabulary, usage, demographics and poetics. There have been multiple dilutions within Urdu that have redefined the notions of ‘Classical’ and ‘Popular’, not to mention the local or regional differences in Urdu’s use.