Wednesday 10 August 2016

Igniting Key: A Collection of Poems by Pramila Khadun, A. V. Koshy and Bina Biswas: a review by Amit Shankar Saha

This volume of poems is one of the significant anthologies to come out of the stable of The Significant League, a poetry group in Favebook administered by Dr. Ampat Koshy. The book primarily comprises of poems by the 2015 Reuel Prize winning poet from Mauritius, Pramila Khadun, but also includes a fair number of poems by the other two contributors Dr. A. V. Koshy and Dr. Bina Biswas. Dr. Santosh Bakaya in the blurb writes that this volume offers “an exciting journey into and sojourn in the world of poetry” and no doubt it does. Reena Prasad in her foreword writes that if “a book can be a poem, it is this one.” We seldom come across such a highly recommended volume of poems in today’s world that can prove worthy of the appreciation showered on it. So this is perhaps one of those rare moments that a reader can indulge in, discover a hidden track and walk the pleasure path seldom travelled. One can pause and pick up a line from Khadun’s oeuvre and brood at “Dead leaves make soil/ And dead loves make stars” (“Call it by any name”) or one can become one with the poet and “feel like writing/ An everlasting poem of love” (The joys of summer”).

Michele Baron in her introduction to the volume writes of Pramila Khadun that she “treats the reader to a potpourri of poetry, ranging from rhapsodic odes to love and the poet’s beloved, to well-phrased railing against the injustices and inequities of the world.” Khadun writes with a vision and her poems have a smooth texture so that one can seamlessly read them one after the other. But this does not mean that one may not pause to ponder. The pondering is a luxury that she offers the readers as a gift. In “Lover returns” she writes “One evening, as she sat by the bubbling brook” and in “Soulmate” she writes “I heard your voice reverberating/ By the bubbling brook.” The recurrence of the same imagery in the two love poems interconnects the two and produces the effect of an organic wholeness. Khadun’s conception of love is unique and she reveals it gradually as we read. In “The beauties of silence” she writes,

In the silence of night
Grew the art of loving
Exchanging the sexual pleasures
So near to Nirvana.
She writes again about love in “Mysterious Love,”
Her love for him
Is neither from favor nor frivolity,
Neither the soft touches nor the hot kisses,
It is not even the sexual pleasures
Close to the nothingness of Nirvana
And then in “Silence” she writes,
There is silence in the smile,
Silence in the act of love-making
And silence in the waiting
And the longing, as well.

This gradual unveiling of her idea of love is like an adventure of discovery that she leads the readers into and her carefully chosen diction makes it all the more pleasing. She can often end a poem dazzlingly with a couple of lines that will last in memory for long – “And eternity is too short/ To love you” (“Doubts and fears”). Reena Prasad rightly says that Pramila Khadun’s poems have the ability to connect with “the tenderest affairs of the heart in a sensitive and refined manner” and she best depicts that ability in a beautiful poem, which has a curious title, “Don’t be silly.”

When she is not engrossed in love, she can take “eagle’s wings” and can feel the essence of her “feminism unfolding gently” or she can become spiritual and envisage “a long Viking boat” on the waters of the Brahmaputra or she can revisit her old home and muse how “When the fruit grows, the petals fall off/ When man grows, memories fade off” or she can “no longer decipher/ The architectural designs/ Of her feelings” and plunges into “a sea of silence” to crumble “into cosmic dust.” Khadun’s imageries are fantastic and her imagination spell-binding. If at all she falters, but very rarely, it is when she becomes didactic and loses some amount of grip on her craft as in “The school within us” or The Scarecrow.” But these poems too have memorable lines. In “Blood and ink” she says, “I simply love leaning on your verses/ O poet!” It almost echoes the reader’s stance on reading Khadun’s poems. The hidden track the reader has discovered and is surreptitiously travelling has stiles and bushes to lean on and ponder with a smile in the mind’s sanctuary and then to continue the journey blissfully. Very soon the journey itself becomes poetry.

When the reader comes out into the clear there are two more little paths to discover paved by the poems of Koshy and Biswas. Ampat Koshy’s poems are different from Pramila Khadun’s poems is to say it mildly. Reena Prasad says that Koshy’s poems “refuse to be cast into any comfortable mould but rise like yeast does within the reader and spill their beauty all over the place.” In the poem “Aria” he writes most memorably: “The cold of winter penetrates my bones,/ while I play Russian roulette with my life.”  Michele Baron mentions about Koshy’s erudite irreverence and wry humor and it is aptly displayed in his poem “Setting the world on fire.” On the other hand Bina Biswas has bewitching nuances in her poems and she, especially in her shorter poems, is rather mystical. Her poems “Canonization” and “Coincidence” are excellent in that department. Both Koshy and Biswas add something extra to this volume that is a bonus for the readers. It makes the experience of reading poetry pleasurably complete, if there is at all an experience of completeness in reading poetry. The triumvirate adds variety and makes reading well worthy. Igniting Key ignites the poetic sensibility and takes the reader to a plane of bliss. There are a few typos and editing errors but they are not jarring enough to intrude on the pleasure of reading poetry. And all the three poets leave their indelible marks in this volume. This book is highly recommended for poetry lovers.

About Amit Shankar Saha- Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is a postdoctoral researcher, a critic, a short story writer and a poet. In a previous avatar he was also a guest professor teaching at the distance education programme of Madras University. His love for literature led him to obtain a PhD in English from Calcutta University. His doctoral dissertation is titled “The Indian Diaspora in Transition: Reading Anita Desai, Bharati Mukherjee Sunetra Gupta and JhumpaLahiri.” His research articles have appeared in journals and anthologies nationally and internationally such as Research and Criticism (BHU, India), Families (Kolkata, India), Pegasus (Kolkata, India), Decoding the Silence (Delhi, India), Comparative Literature and Culture (Purdue University, USA), Cerebration (Drew University, USA), DESI: La Revue (Bordeaux University France), Diasporic Consciousness (Germany), Humanicus (Czech Republic) and others. His essays and reviews have appeared in Desilit Magazine, Muse India Boloji, Rupkatha, Langlit Diplomatist, Asian Signature, etc. His short stories and poems have been published in periodicals and books both in India and abroad such as Estrade Magazine, Muse India, Journal of Bengali Studies, The Four Quarters Magazine, Kritya, Indiaree, Writing Raw, Palki, Learning and Creativity, Hall of Poets, Asia Writes, The Dawn Beyond Waste The Red Balloons, Tell Me a Yarn Blessings and others. He has won prizes at a number of creative writing competitions which includes Wordweavers Award Poiesis Award for Literature, The Leaky Pot - Stranger than Fiction Prize, Asian Cha – Void Poetry Prize, and others. He has also written for the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series books. He is the co-founder and coordinator of Rhythm Divine Poets group. His website is and he blogs at