BOOK REVIEW: SANSKARNAMA by Nabina Das
(SANSKARNAMA by Nabina Das, New Delhi, Red River, 2017, 74 Pages, Rs 300.)
Poetry lives here in every second we breathe, in our moments that shape our world views, identities and a future we dream together.
Nabina Das’s book, Sanskarnama, is a voice of a child of parents lived in the time of the partition generation, carrying a heritage of trauma in the free verse form of protest, love, folklore and myth poetry drawn from oral stories by her family elders. Nabina Das combines these stories with the historical archives to commemorate and remember the partition and the pain associated with political violence and colonization:
On the tracks. Mona Anwara tells you they put him down with wooden sticks with metal hooks. The face becomes something else, madam. You don’t want to know. Go pray to your Santoshi Mata: majhdhar mein akti naiyya paar karo ma. Salaam namaste and good morning… Don’t you report me. Don’t you write about me in your newspapers. Don’t try your upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana di moong di daal of di Pakistan and Hindustan of di durr phitey mun. I’m another Toba Tek Singh.
She portrays images of a woman’s body that becomes the site of measurements in our times, the poem plays in the poet’s head like a song, a song that can be an agent of change by eliminating despondency and desolation, a song that talks about the love of flesh and how we will live beyond it:
So wear this body
Like your innerwear
Linen and lint unscrubbed
My body for you until love leaves
Until the future generations see through
My bodily lies and yet crave the truths
Nabina’s free verses shaped a diction that is genuine and unabridged, weaved with appropriate names and the names of the things in precedence to the avowed poetic language, which was more abstract, generic and slightly symbolic. The poet uses immediate local and global contexts to demonstrate that patriots are the vendors of dictats throughout the earth_ whether in Indian sub-continent, Middle East or North America:
The patriots have hands of hell
Each a sword, smeared, sharp
They rip the sky, stab the earth
Each rake up filth and gore, each
Given to sordid gods they guard
The poet believes “language is a site of civilizational shifts”, Mixing language becomes a necessary act of protest and resistance through persona in a time when language is knowingly, often destructively, misused and retouched to render service to those in power. Nabina Das’s poetry offers insights into how multilingual resources such as language mixing in poetry can be used to address power relations. Through a mixed language in poetry, as a woman who encounters hindrances, fences and borders, history becomes a exigency and urgency for Nabina, so she can shape it, rethink it, re-tell it and stop it from annihilating or at least suspend it. Sanskarnama and individual poems uses a feminist humanistic voice attempts for that:
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
The sound of iron wheels and mint smell mixing with air
Spice and spit touching the moss of ancient stones
Then salt on the tongue, sweat on molar teeth seeping slow slow
Right inside the heart. Then all stops. Just a cracking crush.
And all of us are looking at Junaid.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
Nabina Das screams Gauri Lankesh’s recent murder as an abashment on Indian democracy in a time when a huge number of journalists are silenced and Gauri Lankesh’s death goes unheard and silenced. Nabina’s poem appears as a beauteous song of resistance dedicated to Gauri and her courageous character. Through her poetry, she attempts to unite voices to fight for their feminine voices, stolen and suffocated by fascist authoritarian regimes:
The lovers of cow-mothers will chew the cud of hatred
Some will chant for more deaths. Some will call names:
Gauri, you are the Shurpanakha they love to dismember!
But Gauri you are the righteous Lankesh who’ll fight.
As the poet writes another tribute through the night
can you see the sleeping line moving? It’s stirring
with all might. The cow-worshipping criminals gasp;
swear words forgotten, their emperor looking for cover.
The woman down is also a woman straightening up.
If death is a lighthouse, Gauri was the light. She still is.
Sanskarnama is a consequence of poet’s efforts and concerns for social justice. These poems are an authentication of Nabina’s belief in all matters comprehended and realized as inconceivable and hereupon, well-favored, and in categories that overlap our normative perception, entangle us in its substrates and therefore, make humans hope.
Reviewed by Nasim Basiri