01 January 1970
#WeekendReads

Book Review | Cloud Messenger: The Poetic Journey Of Monsoon

Monsoon, Abhay K’s latest poetry collection, stitches Indian Ocean islands and the Indian subcontinent into a single magic carpet where the splendour of sights and sounds, flora and fauna, cuisine and festivals display a stunning audio-visual in our mindscape.

Book Review | Cloud Messenger: The Poetic Journey Of Monsoon
The poetry of monsoon Shutterstock

Monsoon
By Abhay K
Sahitya Akademi

 

Abhay K’s latest poetry collection, Monsoon, seeks the love and light that travel from this mundane world to the faraway places, perhaps at the end of the imagination. His love poem travels along the path of the southwest monsoon, which starts from Madagascar and sails across the Indian Ocean to reach the Himalayas and then return to Madagascar. And in the process like a cloud messenger, quatrains are delivering the poet’s love message to his lover at Srinagar and carrying the reply back to the poet in Madagascar. The journey, as it unfolds through this poem, is the record notes of seasons, geography, biodiversity, history, culture and people.

With startling freshness and eloquence. Abhay K sets the scene with tangible details and bold rhythmic strokes which opens a secret doorway of a contemplative world, of a lyrical landscape. A dramatic clarity of expression and otherworldly mysticism is the hallmark of his poetry. This long poem stitches Indian Ocean islands and the Indian subcontinent into a single magic carpet where the splendour of sights and sounds, flora and fauna, cuisine and festivals display a stunning audio-visual in our mindscape. 

A poet of great class and style, poet and diplomat, Abhay K is a lyrical portraitist which is evident in his latest book Monsoon. His stanzas start working on simple thoughts that blend intense feelings with luminous words. The poet’s unassuming yet measured approach to writing rhythmic poems is commendable. Even though this monsoon tribute at times verges on the condescending, its heart is always there in the right place.

In Monsoon, the solo poem consists of one hundred fifty stanzas and each stanza contains four lines. In fact, his four-line stanzas appear to be more radiant, emotive and balanced in their simplest forms. And that equilibrium, that redefinition of time, that entry into an atemporal present is one of the key features of this poem. Through a patient and even penetrating precision of detail, something bigger than an emotional state is affirmed and symbolised.

But as is so often the case with Abhay K, it is the element of nature that stays with us till the end, that we are being asked to admire. His pervasive fascination with monsoon undoubtedly has its origin in his earlier translation works of the two books, Kalidasa’s Meghaduta and Ritusamhara.

Abhay K's poetry collection titled 'Monsoon'
Book cover of Abhay K's poetry collection titled 'Monsoon' | Credit: Special Arrangement

I am struck by the sensation that the poem combines ecstatic energy with the eerie calm of acceptance. This poem is truly an evocation and the poet is able to summon the colour, smells, and tastes of the places with the greatest economy of language. What is remarkable of this collection is the way that the poet frames everyday objects in every stanza of this long verse so that they never stand apart from us and we don’t find them incongruous. Furthermore, they carry shared associative, anecdotal details, resonance breaking down the narrowness of private perception.

I wait for the monsoon to be born
To send you sights, sounds and aroma
Of this island, redolent of vanilla, cloves,
Ylang-ylang and herbs of various kinds. (Stanza 5)

What first draws me to read this book is the euphoric voice, which sounds like the poet in a meditation which melts in awakening and later sharing his feeling of exposure to the spiritual elements, his rich experience of life with the readers.

Offer fragrant raindrops to the tooth relic
of Buddha in Kandy, seek his blessings
and take along his message to the devotees
in Bodhgaya, Sarnath and Lumbini (Stanza 43) 

Poetry is actually making a story out of a moment and here is a poet who can empty that moment in many different forms and ways. He has conveyed this with exquisite precision of the locales and excitement thereon. The biodiversity of Sundarbans is vividly portrayed here,

goran, sundari, gewa, keora will bloom on your arrival
bright colours of ora and golpatta will lure you,
tigers, Brahminy kites, vine snakes will leap with joy
both Bonbibi and Dakshinaray will bless you (Stanza 50).

More often than not, the poet identifies himself as a silent observer, seeing a mirror of his emotions in the natural world. The following stanza turns into a celebratory quatrain, a re-connection with nature in an elevated language. Anyone can see that the entire stanza radiates a joyful spirit.

Badal mahal built in your honour
at Kumbhalgarh will be ecstatic to host you
rest here and admire the cascading hills
singing valiant Maharana Pratap’s glory. (Stanza 110)

 
The poet wants his poem to be infused with the ringing voice of the ecosystem. Its rhythm is amazing, too, and the poet paces his stanzas like a ride dazzling with vigour, hurrying to ecstasy, and always come from deep inside. We find that each stanza is natural but not obvious; delicate, not affected; rich in imagery but not loaded in it.

Giant tortoises of Aldabra, parakeets and saltwater
Crocodiles will greet you in Seychelles, whisper
To the spirits of the species long extinct, may
Your invigorating force bring them back to life! (Stanza 28)

The poet in his Introduction aptly says, ‘Monsoon is a homage to the rich natural world of the Indian Ocean islands and the Indian subcontinent, their vibrant cultures and traditions and to the great Kalidasa who gave us Meghaduta and Ritusamhara.’

Andre Breton says, ‘Poetry is made in a bed like love.’ Such writings have the immediacy of heart and soul. It’s a style that reinforces the poet’s strengths, and the wondrous association of words, sentences and stanzas. And Abhay K’s words are articulated as if through the swirls of love and light, a union of harmony and good sense. Look at the celebrations of Biharis once monsoon arrives,

and offer you various delicacies-shingara,
dalpuri, litti chokha, kadhi bari, piths, ghugni,
pholourie, peda, laai, chhena, tilkut, anarsa, thekua
batasha, shakkarpara and khaja, relish these (Stanza 58)

The faint light touches of the anecdotal details and recoil of the words in the following lines, capture the spirit. He is nearly flawless in his ability to capture the fabric and textures of the milieus. The city of joy is captured in its signature cuisine in the following lines,

You would like to stay here longer
but the city of joy has savoury surprises
awaiting you, relish Jhal Muri, Moog Dal Khichdi
Baigan Bhaja, Ghoti Garam and Hilsa fry (Stanza 51)

As we come to know now, the poet is a keen observer of things which are overlooked or unnoticed. The following stanza is ingrained in mythology, memories entrenched in the elegant canvas of his mindscape.

Elephanta caves will reverberate with your swift winds
Lord Shiva will come alive and play his damaru
Hearing your thunder drums he’ll rush out in the rain
And perform Ananda Tandava with Parvati (Stanza 89)

The voice in Abhay K’s poem inscribes a profound longing and desire.  And the very nature of voice is metaphorical. In the following lines, the aesthetically ingenious wonder within women, not only for the ways it confounds and delights but for the way it sings at the onset of monsoon and the yearning for love in raindrops. We are reminded of Philip Larkin, ‘What will survive of us is love.’

Women will sway on tree-swings singing folk songs
And celebrate Teej to marl goddess Parvati’s union
With Lord Shiva after a hundred years of penance,
Pray for my early reunion with my love (Stanza 115)

Pritish Nandy, an eminent poet, rightly mentions, ‘Abhay K’s Monsoon is simply magical. Loved the sheer beauty of it all. The read transported me to another world. He is truly an amazing poet.’

Every stanza is a scene of language. It is a celebration till the end. And the tone of magic is palpable. If you look at any poetry, no part of a poem effects the functions in separation. Each one works against a backdrop set up not only by the poem itself, but by all the literary and artistic conventions of our culture changing the resonance through time. The deft touches are at times strikingly stylish and charged with proper sensibility amid the sound of voices. 

when you see her, surprise her with all
you have seen, heard, tasted, felt, smelled
and absorbed on the way from Madagascar
to Srinagar before giving her my message (Stanza 148)

Abhay K’s poetic response is a possibility of the mind, a surreal way of inhabiting culture in real terms. Poetry is meant to be read and heard. This book stands out for its sheer promise, clarity and startling originality that lingers with you for a longer period. Thought is the body of these stanzas, enthusiasm the soul and imagery the drapery. We feel a powerful sense of connection in the end.

The cover design by Bhima Mohite exudes imposing charm. I am sure this slim book will go the distance and warrant a wide appeal across poetry lovers.


(Gopal Lahiri is a bilingual poet, writer, editor, critic and translator. His works have been published in Bengali and English)