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”.

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FractalsFractals brings together over 300 new and select earlier poems from Sudeep Sen’s internationally acclaimed oeuvre spanning thirty-five years, 1978 to 2013, as well as some of his translations.

The title has been chosen with care. Earlier collections built around themes such as Rain, Ladakh, Blue Nude, Geographies, Postmarked India, when combined with his latest work reveal elements which recur. Equally, the term fractals defined variously in science and mathematics and general terms, highlights Sen’s own interest in art, science and patterns scattered through nature.