'Chakmak', An Ode For The Uprooted

A valuable addition to the literature that documents the lives of the Banjara community, this collection is sharp and it cuts deep. Like poetry should do.

Rich Heritage: Nomads have built the foundation of human civilisation since the beginning of time

The word ‘‘chakmak’’ in Devnagari Hindi refers to the process of glowing. This word is often used to describe the most beautiful and significant things we notice in our surroundings. Ramesh Karthik Nayak’s debut book of English poetry, Chakmak, is all about observing what deserves to be observed. Nayak is the first writer from the Banjara community to share its rich literature, heritage and lifestyle with contemporary readers.

Nomads—painters, writers, architects, poets—have built the foundation of human civilisation since the beginning of time. The notion of a nomad lies in seeing through every journey to its destination. It is becoming easier for regional writers today to journey into the mainstream because of translations and gain a wider readership. Still, society and its obsessive need for classification forces many regional writers to stay in the shadows.


Nayak’s poetry is all about the creation of smaller stories around the larger ones. The charm lies in the different triggers of awakening: some of them growl with grief, some take on the reality that consumes our dreams, the rest mould the images of detrimental and developed situations. When a poet who is celebrated as a master of his language writes a book for a larger circle of readers of the English language, the responsibility is to outshine the yesterday. Chakmak successfully pierces through the expired shards of our silence and finds its own voice.

Chakmak | Ramesh Karthik Nayak | Red River | 67 Pages | Rs. 299 Chakmak | Ramesh Karthik Nayak | Red River | 67 Pages | Rs. 299

The truth of going back to the origin, in folk culture, is considered something holy. But in urban cultures, it becomes a cliché even though it does retain a poetic element. Worshippers of the fragments of the urban and the rural now get buried under the constructs of conspiracies and capitalism. Nayak holds dear those who believe in an ideal world with entities influenced by horizons—of assemblage—where eternity is the result of symbiosis of the fragments of the urban and rural worlds. The marriage of the two have created some of the finest works of art in history.

Nayak writes:

“Horizons appear and disappear,
Creatures fall ill in this polluted world.
Trees change into idols,
are drenched with blood.
Islands and museums of tribes
are bottled in glass jars.
Oh earth, eternal of all
take back everything into your womb.”

When the writer George R.R. Martin mentions ‘‘The Old and The New Gods’’ in his magnum opus, The Song of Ice and Fire, it speaks a great deal about the evolution of the supreme one. Indian tribes understood the idea of godly evolution a long time ago, but most of us have lost track of it on the way to becoming who we are today in the modern world. In the poem ‘Celebration’ Nayak writes about the idea behind peripheral rituals (the everyday ones that exist around us but are largely ignored) and why a major part of them rests on making it a point celebrating their existence. He holds a mirror before a world that manifests joy and celebration while clutching class and caste and staying detached from the community’s reality.

“Goddess of black
weeps through the holes of rats,
thunder bands of frame-drums
create a familiarity
between nature and tribe.”

In ‘A Valley’, the poet shares a dream, yet the wonder lies in how reality is not at all different from his subconscious. He uses the metaphor of a tortoise shell as a hard covering, a convex structure formed over each one of us that protects us, even though as observers we do not seek protection. The pus of the ‘‘planets above the sky’’ magnifies the fantasy element, but equally keeps the rot on display. Here, the dead are more alive than the living, childhood is not an apology, and emptiness demands therapy. The disappearance of this nightly dream brings the ghosts out into the open.

“Everywhere I saw
a throbbing emptiness appear—
penetrating things
on its way into me
crushing bones
and dusting eyeballs.”

Life can never be the purest companion of love since we are bound by many conditions while dealing with our daily circumstances. The quest for the core of love is riddled with troubles and turmoil, but at the end of the day, one finds solace in the union. Yet, somehow, the way we live scrapes the surface of love, and we start bleeding for nothing. The poet highlights loneliness, the emotion that brings people into our lives to warm our souls and earn our gratitude. But he reminds us that the state of being human brings in compromises and complexities which subsequently distorts the purpose of love.

“The human being passed,
a heart full of despair
his appearance scared love.

Finally, it was the turn of death.
It passed, its pale innocent face,
with no clothes.

Love chose death
denounced its loneliness.”

Uprooting the rooted ones who are oppressed by circumstances is one of the many injustices committed by empowered human beings. This is done using the gods as an excuse. Those in power ride over innocence, bread, precious moments, memories and the footprints of time that established the present. One day, out of nowhere, cruelty comes parading like a politician or a godman to force the vulnerable to leave everything they had nurtured till then. Nayak’s poem ‘Who is God?’ places the screams, the stories and the searing pain of the uprooted on our clean platters without flinching.


“Leave the place.
This place is chosen by God.
The government is going to build a temple here.
You people are fortunate that God has chosen your place.

They left the place,
the earth’s dust mingled with petrol dust
fell upon us.”


Chakmak is without a doubt a very important and useful addition to the literature that documents the lives of the Banjara people of India. On the way, unsurprisingly, it speaks for all those who are trying to build a better, sustainable world despite the enormous challenges in their path. The violence perpetrated against them is known to us—the rupture of their rich culture hardly grabs any headlines. At the same time, every so-called “woke” society is celebrating them just to show off their liberal credentials. Nayak’s debut English collection is seeped in the blood of the awakened youth. It is sharp and it cuts deep. Like poetry should do.


Kabir Deb is a writer and poet based in Karimganj, Assam