In Harness-A Critique
A year ago, Prof. Tripathy, Retd. Professor, S. C. S. College sent me a critique of my book through a friend of mine who is translating my poems to Oriya. He wanted the same to be published in any of the newspapers, if I could do that. But it was a difficult task for me to approach an editor of a newspaper to publish a critique of my own book. I am also not aware of any quicker way to publicity, if getting a critique published in a local daily can be termed as publicity. No wonder, "In Harness" continues to be one of the least-critiqued work in the literary market.
Now I have a web presence; I have a couple of blog spaces. [My other blog is at this link]This is no less than any publishing forum. I need nobody's permission to post Prof, Tripathy's write-up. By doing this I will live up to his expectation: he who can publish a book of poems can publish a critique.
Read on what he has to say about "In Harness".
A. N. Nanda
The Quest of the Dream Merchant: Reviewing In Harness
She is so indispensable to me now –
I can’t manage without her anyhow,
At lonely hours or in company
During pauses amidst back-breaking drudgery
Or after a sumptuous meal,
Deep in thought or before my nap
Or even after a nightmare,
A kiss on her cute red lipI
s the one for which I go crazy. ‘The Escapade’ In Harness(pp.40-41)
Mr A.N. Nanda’s obsession with the beautiful Muse is evident from the lines taken from his poem ‘The Escapade’. She, the “little slim beauty”, the “darling dream-giver” and “life’s lyric lively” (The Ultimate Chance, P.100) is his passion and craze. Despite his administrative responsibilities, the administrator – Poet carves out for himself a few lonely moments to be with Poetry who is the source of envy for his “lady legal in my life” (‘The Escapade’) i.e., his wife. Poetry, as he declares, is
at the root of my strength
Darling of my heart’s wishes,
She is to me the silent giver
Of my courage, consolation and pleasure …. (‘The Escapade’)
Family responsibilities, economic consideration and professional ‘drudgery’ have never stood in the way of his composing poetry which act he has chosen as a mission to “navigate” “into the mysterious world of poetry” (The preface to In Harness) and explore the multiple complexities of life though, as he humbly confesses, he is “a beginner who is just struggling to push his scripts through the difficult process of publication “(‘The Preface’).
But the fact that In Harness, Mr Nanda’s first poetry collection, has been published by a renowned publishing house like Writers’ Workshop, Calcutta establishes that his work has immense possibilities for the future and for a “beginner” this first publication is certainly an achievement.
The poems such as ‘The Escapade’, ‘The Ultimate Chance’ and “Licence’ show Mr Nanda’s total commitment and devotion to his creative pursuits in spite of heavy engagements and busy work. In the collection Mr Nanda makes sincere endeavour to “harness” his emotions, feelings, ideas, experiences, observations and thoughts and put them in black and white for his readers’ enjoyment and enlightenment. He observes in his preface ‘Let me acknowledge and let me say it in prose …’ that modern poetry “is meant for an exclusive group of intellectually matured pundits” and therefore, most often becomes “arcane and esoteric”. Mr Nanda’s objective is to make his poetry eminently readable and interesting and receive “readers’ applause”.
‘The Ultimate Chance’ is a poem about Mr Nanda’s growth and progress as a poet. He started in “fits and starts” and often “faltered”. But for the last thirty years he has been trying to “harness”
My restless palpitations
In overstretched frontiers
Of my untamed imagination,
In my wild dreams
And my intimate perceptions.
He frankly confesses that though he “Yearned intensely” for poetry’s “touching melody” she “vanished” “like a mirage”Before I could capture a glimpseOf those crucial moments -------
Yet he has not given up. As he says:
I am a dream merchant
In search of a customer affluent
For affording a fair bargain
For these long thirty years Mr Nanda has been writing poetry “with audacity and passion” and his patient creative pursuit has yielded tangible results. His sense of achievement and fulfilment is evident in the following lines:
You have quietly come back
In your gossamer veil and floral braid
To my tranquil domain of imagination
At your own sweet discretion
And your pleasant consideration.
And now he does not want to let this “Ultimate Chance” slip from his creative life. Because without poetry, he feels, his life will end up in utter failure.
Or else I drag on this way
Till my life’s last day;
It would make little sense
If I lived a hundred
A life full of fiasco
Or a life full of regrets.
He, therefore, makes the last emotional appeal to his dearest Muse:
Oh my darling dream giver!Oh my life’s lyric lively!Ride on my shoulderAcross the life’s riverAnd please for my sakeDon’t shy away this time
Thus, Mr Nanda wants to “navigate” “across the life’s river” with the help of poetry like John Keats desiring to go to the land of the nightingale “On the viewless wings of poesy” (Ode to a Nightingale: Keats).
Over the years the poet’s confidence in his own creative ability has grown from strength to strength. This poem ‘Licence’ voices that aggressive confidence and sincerity of purpose:
Yet I don’t give up
It’s for others to relish
My job is to cook n’ serve
He does not bother about how he is “interpreted” or appreciated. He just wants to carry on with his pursuit of poetry wholeheartedly in the midst of daily “drudgery”.
One should keep uttering
I have the poetic licence
to change the rule of the game
In any case the game is scoreless
It’s to be played as such
The lines should not be misunderstood as an expression of creative arrogance. Rather, Mr Nanda nourishes an ambition to be original in his own way and to leave behind his individual poetic foot-prints in the sands of literature. He desires to free himself from the “Ordained Circuit (‘A Ramble’) which, he feels, might destroy his creative originality and individual identity as a poet. His mind is in a state of turmoil.
Now I ponder restlessly.
The robe with its cushion padding
The spongy flooring, and the felt ceiling
Keeping me miles away from me? (‘A Ramble’)
He has the feeling that
Has finally descended on me in that hour soporific
A jasmine of distance, swinging in her grace
Chanting the hymns from the freedom epic. (‘A Ramble’)
I have understood
The sweet whisper of the dreamy woods
Its inviting signals distinct from miles
Stirs me now to rise in revolt (‘A Ramble’)
Finally the poet hopes to take “giant strides” into Muse’s “lawn evergreen” (‘The Ultimate Chance’) and settle there for ever. The poet has the ultimate desire to escape into the romantic and mystical world of poetry which is free from the fever and fret of this ordinary materialistic universe which may squeeze life out of him.
In Harness contains a number of “Portrait” poems depicting the lives, activities and fates of people the poet came across in life. Wordsworth chose as subjects of his poetry “incidents and situations from common life” and “humble and rustic life” because “in that condition the essential passions of the heart find better soil in which they can attain their maturity”. (Wordsworth’s preface to the second Edition of Lyrical Ballads, 1800). Mr Nanda’s portrait poems figure such simple people: his dead father “towering like a guava” (‘Bereavement’); an old widowed mother-in-law whose
Husband lost to heaven
And sons to daughters-in-law
She would live a life of destitute now (‘The Last Piece’)
and who “like an accident victim immobile / She witnessed the marauders looting, / Their qualm killed and compunction crippled” (‘The Last Piece’); an innocent woman after being victimized by society turns into a vengeful prostitute who
…… now pines for taking the revenge
Against everybody, for the past neglects\
Starting with her careless parents
Or the mocking neighbourhood,
Or the avaricious kin
Or all those pretentious souls….. (‘Rebirth’)
an old woman “the unsung heroine” suffering and waiting for death after a life of sacrifice (‘she made one and all / catered, contended, and glad’) (‘Obituary, No hurry’); a village barber whose tribe is almost extinct with the advent of modern city saloons; his village school teacher, a picture of malevolence and cruelty, for whom the poet has a deep-seated hatred (‘It’s Deep-Seated’); a mendicant beggar who is a popular figure in remote villages of Orissa (‘The Visitor’) and finally two romantic portraits of ‘Emily’ and ‘Binnie, My Love’. In the portrayal of these men and women who are drawn from the poet’s personal experience, Mr Nanda is down-to-earth, compassionate, humane, yet at times caustic, bitter and critical. He exposes hypocrisy, cruelty, and inhumanity which have crippling effect on the poor, the lowly and the underprivileged.
Mr Nanda’s keen sense of observation and a knack for details are demonstrated in some finely-drawn descriptive poems such as ‘The Emerald Island’, ‘At Night, on a Platform’, ‘Mini Ganga’, ‘Winter Anarchy’ etc.
‘Down to Earth’, ‘Down hill’, ‘A Distant Nightmare’ and ‘Scaling the Saddle Peak’ are poems that narrate some horrifying experiences of the poet. Materials for his poetry have been drawn from experiences and observations related to day-to-day life in society. At times very ordinary things or objects appear extraordinary. ‘From the Tomb of a Hawai Chappal’ is such an extraordinary poem in the sense that an ordinary hawai chappal has been elevated to the status of a higher being. The discarded hawai chappal who had served his master with “a selfless sequence of tireless chores” and who was “his strength, a willing friend” was thrown into the ocean where now he has buried, happy and contented:
Now I have no regrets
Rest of my days will pass this way
Beneath the starlit sky, amidst the mermaidsand
I’ll chant the psalm of a meaningful existence
Into the depth of cosmos, unto the sublime vacuum.
There was agony of neglect in his life; yet the last days are spent in ecstacy and fulfillment with the sea mermaids. Man is a mean betrayer; but his hawai chappal is worthy of being called truly trustworthy and large-hearted and so his last days are spent in the happy company of the mermaids.
Mr Nanda’s deep concern for some social ills finds expression in some poems like ‘The Brahmin forgets his Hymn’. The poem is a bitter criticism of the prevailing caste system (a post-Mandal phenomenon) that has victimized the higher caste Hindus especially Brahmins who are fast sliding into the minority status.
The last poem of the collection titled ‘Fog’ voices the poet’s concern for a decaying and dehumanized society where
Confused passers-by flounder for direction
Even the nearest ones sadly appear marauders
Believer turns sceptic under the weighty dampness
We bump into each other, ignore, and disappear
Yet the poet has not lost his faith. Rather he prays for a better future:
We all pray in silence for the Sun to reappear
And fight for our right and restore them to us
The God incarnates when world is inundated
By the deluge of white lie and its embankment swept
A better future may be a dream, may be a reality. But the poet is very practical. Though he is a “dream merchant” he is equally conscious of where mere dreams may land man. So he says
We have to limit our dreams
In dream even we can’t go to dizzy heights
We fear – a fall is a finish
We need to live under a concrete ceiling. (‘The Canopy’)
Though In Harness carries lots of promises, some poems in the collection are prosaic in diction and uninteresting. They lack in that quality of lyric beauty; there is excessive use of inversions and other figures of speech as poetic devices which appear artificial. There are images which are not very powerful to convey the feelings for which they have been used. For instance, the image of the poet’s father “Towering like a guava in backyard” (‘Bereavement’) and the image of the lady who “lived a life / shorter than the utensils” (‘Obituary, No Hurry’) are not very appropriate and forceful images. They fail to evoke the required feeling or reaction. Of course, Mr Nanda has categorically said in his Preface that he has made every effort at revision of some poems “to inject some poetic seriousness (Poetic profundity?) into them” and demand for poetic diction in them still remains unmet”. Mr Nanda’s intention is very clear. In future he may “inject” more “poetic seriousness” to his poetic writing so that he will create beautiful poetry and achieve that “Poetic Profundity” which is his ultimate dream as an emerging poet.
Subas Chandra Tripathy
Retd., Reader in EnglishSCS College, Puri
Badagada BRIT Colony
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