Poetry brings joys and helps us get in touch with our deeper self
BY SUPRIYA NEWAR
The year 2022 started on a muted note for nearly everyone. The Omicron was surging, posting daily numbers that were sometimes higher than the Sensex; lurking around the corner, waiting to catch you. My building complex was no different. Every hour, the phone would ping with a notification of a new case reported in some apartment. House staff was strictly stopped. December and January are by all accounts the merriest, most colourful months in Calcutta, but this year, all social meets and greets had come to a grinding halt. I found myself moping too. Feeling crestfallen. Staring at walls.
In all of this, one morning, the vegetable vendor’s cries from the by-lanes behind my building carried all the way up to my 13th floor. He was loud and clear and utterly familiar. It is not that that was the first time I had paid attention to his call; I had always marvelled at how each of them could throw their voices, their individualistic bells and cries and their rather creative jingles that they came up with to bridge the divide between the roadside and the high-rise.
But that day, his high-pitched holler comforted me. All afternoon, I sat glued to the spot and heard each and every call for its melody, its music, its human voice. Finally, by the evening, I had scribbled a poem dedicated to these vendors, the Pheriwalas.
Right after writing it, I felt a deep sense of calm, a release. I realised that in times of turmoil, we instinctively seek the familiar and in more equanimous times, we strive for the unachieved, the unfamiliar.
A few years ago, after consuming a packet of Masala Muri, one of the most loved street foods of the city, I had come back and scribbled a verse on it. I had titled it Jhalmuri. That poem was languishing in my computer. I decided to share both these poems – Jhalmuri and Pheriwala with my publisher. His response was a positive one. He confirmed that this could indeed turn into something special if I could put together a compelling collection.
After 4 months of this conversation with him, Kolkata Classics – a book of verse was born. It did not need much research as me digging deep into my own insights, my absorptions and pulling out every bit of Kolkata that resided in me.
Kolkata Classics therefore captures the quintessential spirit and energy of the city, lovingly called the City of Joy. 24 odd verses look at extremely ubiquitous elements of the city and present them to the reader in catchy verses that offer a smile, a giggle, a ponder, a poke and some musing. All my poems are generously sprinkled with local words and terms that are widely known and just in case, a detailed glossary is provided too.
From quaint by-lanes to the potters’ colony – Kumartuli, from the true-blue Bengalis’ love for maach to their obsession with indigestion and ombol; over bhaanrs of cha and mouthfuls of jhalmuri and intellectual addas – I have tried to serve you my savouring of the city with transportive expressions that will hopefully cajole you into taking a second look at all that makes Calcutta a classic, a constant muse. All that gives it its unique character, its signature.
It may be noted that each of the elements I have picked to write about have continued to survive, sometimes even thrive, in a world dictated by unfathomable rapidity of change that has been triggered by technology but has consumed every bit of our life. So, whilst we depend on Alexa to switch off our lights or tell us what we had for breakfast, we still reach out for the humble chaata when it rains. Whilst we post pictures of our global sojourns and adventures, our eyes can’t escape the tears when year after year, Maa Durga bids us adieu – a poem I call Immersion.
May I also take this opportunity to share with you, that my love for poetry is long and abiding. I have consumed poetry in different languages and have found that in all the hurly burly of life, poetry can be a great companion – a source of strength, perspective and joy. Kolkata Classics has, by God’s grace received heartfelt appreciation from across quarters. There have been media reviews that have been nothing short of enviable. But the remarks that I hold closest to my hearts is when a friend calls me to say that her husband has kept the book by his bedside; or that a son recites one of the poems at the dinner table because it entirely fits his father and his family.
I hope Kolkata Classics can secure not just a spot on your bookshelf but one in your heart as well.
@juggernaut @rukssaluja @supriyanewar