New homes, new poems

A couple of years back when I had recently arrived in Delhi, I started being invited to read my poems at cafés and pubs. The person organising most of these events was Madhu, who had founded an organisation called Poetry Couture. There were several other such organisations such as Bring Back the Poets (founded by Aditi Angiras) and Moonweavers (founded by Rati Agnihotri).

The scene in the national capital was vibrant, and it seemed all of us were writing and reading or editing magazines. Of course, such an environment is not rare in a megapolis such as Delhi, and it nourished most of us who went on to publish our first books over the past few years.

Now, Madhu has published his second book, the one under review. Quite justifiably, its publisher is Red River, founded by our fellow poet and friend Dibyajyoti Sarma. (Full disclosure: He published my debut book, Visceral Metropolis, as well.) Since the days of our heady youth, Madhu has shifted base from Delhi to the Northeast, gotten married and become a father.

The author photograph in this book shows him with his son. It is a marked contrast from the author photograph of his first book, Make Me Some Love to Eat, which showed Madhu as a maverick young poet. All these developments figure prominently in this book.

Stick No Bills; Author: Madhu Raghavendra; Publisher: Red River; Pages: 64; Price: Rs 250
In “Nest”, he writes: “Once, I could leave homes silently, / change cities like clouds that leave without rain — / now, I dress up, but go nowhere; / or maybe dress to stand by the window.” At the end of the poem he asks: “Am I a koel trying to make nest, / who has found a home in Liyi?” Indeed he has — Liyi is the name of his wife.

The image of a bird returning to its nest at dusk — reminiscent of Jibananda Das’ “Banalata Sen” — appears in other poems as well. “An Evening in Agartala” ends: “The evening crows have returned / To the silhouette of the litchi trees.”

Another poem is titled “Homes are Chauraha”; it begins: “We are different people. You live / in your home. I live in mine. / ...We average everything out, but we / aren’t average. We are extraordinary.” A chauraha is an intersection of four roads going in four directions. This poem seems to suggest that homes are not permanent as many of us imagine but places we are merely passing through. “Homes are chaurahas / with the sun and / the breeze to talk to,” he writes, “a poem to reside in / a stanza to walk through.”

Madhu dedicates his poem “Refuge” to Tenzin Tsundue, an India-born Tibetan poet who has also been a vocal activist for the freedom of the land of his ancestors. Referring to the red bandana which Tsundue usually sports, Madhu writes: “he sits on the carpet and pours us some tea, / ...He looks like someone who would know / the pain of displaced things, dreams, and people.” And, one titled “Home” goes: “This home. I’m not sure / The one I want or the one I need.” Does one ever know where the home is? “They say, ‘Home is where the heart is.’ / Where exactly is the heart?”

The poet embraces his nomadic self in other poems. His book is populated with people from different indigenous communities — Galo, Khasi, Bhopa, Gond — facing increasing pressures on their homes, as the nation expands into their homes. His compassion is a political statement; it is Madhu throwing in his lot with them. But there is a curious calmness in his book. Perhaps it is an effect of the various kinds of rice beer that he mentions throughout his book.

The writer’s novel, Ritual, will be published later this year

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