The Other Voice (A Collection of Poems) by Dr.Nandini Sahu, Authorspress, New Delhi, Pp.137, Rs. 150/-
"I write poetry when words dance on my pen’s tongue, when my spine starts melting, the heart aches unbelievably, then I have that ecstasy of being a woman, when my pen needs to disturb the slumber of the society on sensitive issue is like mental slavery of human, subjugation of women, and when I rejoice at the beauty of the creation. Then I open up petal by petal through my verse.”
(quoted from ‘The Preface’)
Social concern as a theme of poetry and the role of the poet as the chronicler of his or her times, dark or otherwise, have occupied centre stage for the better part of the country is the ongoing debate about poetry. ‘The Other Voice’ by Dr. Nandini Sahu is a major undertaking to the chronicle the events, movements, trends unfolding our times. Her conscious originality is manifested in her use of an idiom and thought that are entirely her own. Her poetry reflects the complex, paradoxically and dramatic inner life of her contemporary men and women. Sometimes she seems overwhelmed by the enormity of the possibilities in life. The poet has an insatiable desire to live and experience life fully rejecting self imposed isolation. She is sensitive, capable of experiencing a rich range of emotions, but invariably tender, loving and reflective. She also reflects on the state of the contemporary world with its many burning issues-her poetry is boundless like the poet herself, thus consciously marking the continuity with a generation of Indian women poets.
In this collection of poems, each poem is refreshingly different, and words have been used with great potential. In a period of political uncertainty and changing social values, she attempts to play the role of the harbinger of peace and communal harmony in poems like ‘Thirteenth Impurity ‘,’For the Men of Tired Times’, ‘ A silent Dialogue on War’. Religious and moral fermentation is distinctly marked in the poem ‘The Mother’. Violence against women have been dealt in many different ways by individuals, groups, and poets. Nandini Sahu sounds as a rebel against male-chauvinism in some of the poems in this collection, like ‘On All who Suffer from Sleeplessness’, ‘The Dead Woman’, ‘The Sorcerer’, ‘ Patch Works’. ‘Patch Works’ is a poem where she speaks of women and their role in the society in a rather ironic tone:
"Woman is good at patchworks.
Frills, long skirts, mirrors
needles and thread
virgin colours, dreams..."
In the Preface, she writes, “the woman poems assume a feeling that not only the human but even the celestial beings need the feminine power to sustain them.” The title poem ‘The Other Voice’, which was originally published under the title ‘The Opposite Sex’ in ‘Last Good Bye’, Maryland, USA, has the same ironic stance when she says:
"The pleasure of being a woman,
the opposite sex, is immense.
...Opposite, perfect and indifferent,
Of face and the soul as well,
the better part of man and
mirror of God,
teaching affability to
the opposite artless,
sucking the venom of life
opposite to the sweetness
set in two sides of the coin."
Still, the possibilities of peace and co-existence are still there, an optimist that she is. The poet seems to be very humane in her attitude to the living being in such poems like ‘Rhythm’, ‘Hand-in-Hand’, ‘Micro Verses’, ‘Two Drops: Sonnets’, ‘Excerpts’, ‘For the Men of Tired Times’, ‘From an Absurd Sun to the Earth’,’ Heart’. She believes in purgating the inner filth of man other than outward superficialities:
“You are white washing
every wall, rinsing the
verandah, wiping the sky,
cleaning the idols and faces.
But whatever you’ve
written on the back of your past
and whatever mud you’ve
thrown on hearts and souls
who’s going to wash?
Rather throw some water
and save some
For future thirsts."
The poet traverses the distance between mythology and contemporary history in a very feministic poem, ‘Draupadi’. She seems to love imagery and symbolism very much, as in a poem ‘The Moon Garden’, she takes the symbol of ‘moon’ to identify the many faces in her life. And the imagery ‘blood’ is beautifully used in many poems like in ‘Draupadi’, (the blood turn land), ‘Moments of Solitude’ (hidden soft blood wails), ‘The Homecoming’ (oozing blood drowns us), ‘The Night Motif’ (my dark blood wails) and in poems like ‘The Sun Taned Earth’, ‘Blood’.
Nandini Sahu recollects her cultural and familial past with a strange twist in some of her poems. The futility of war, bloodshed, violence in the wars is pointed out in ‘For the Men of Tired Times’, with a view to our rich cultural history. Recollection of her familial past serves as a mode of redemption to her in poems like ‘The Posters of Spring’, ‘The Serpent’, ‘Under a Water Soaked Moon’, ‘Theses Evenings’. ‘Ritual’ is a beautiful poem where she pays tribute to her "imperial, royal, oil-painted, photographed” grandpa, and her granny whose ritual death drains her of every other ritual:
"Our granny’s ritual empties us of
every other ritual, of thinking of our
childhood fancies nine, hidden ‘pakodas’ in her saree,
most of them are of the fish and vegatable the vision of a many markets, road side
lemon soda, of sugarcanes and toys...
and of air, water, earth, fire."
The love poems in this collection reveal her poetic personally with her vitality, ration is striving to be free and her femininity. The woman’s heart is center of the world she creates and love naturally becomes part of her central themes. It is the essence of feminity, a form of realisation, a creative and regenerative impulse, revealing a woman at once tender and powerful. Ironically, she sounds to be a rebel against conventional norms of behavior, free from prescribed social roles. Some very romantic love poems are there in this collection, but somehow the poet seems to associate love with incessant pain, separation, and love is platonic in her hands. Poems like ‘Moments of Solitude’, ‘Touchstone’, ‘The HomeComing’, ‘The Flute’, ‘Last Night’, ‘Love Poems for Two Opium Eyes’, ‘Pain’,’Anniversary’,’ Sonnets Six’, ‘Love-and-Hate’, ‘Last Evening’s Fire’,’Sepia Afternoons’,’Gift’,’Fleeting Time Stops’ deal with love that is transparent , touchy and nostalgic. Also motherly love expresses itself in some fine poems like ‘To the Foetus Growing in Me’, ‘In the Operation Theatre’, ‘Lines to My Son’,’ On Your First Birthday’, ‘For My Pearly Son’.
Her poetic sweep has touched almost all aspects of modern life: love, politics, poverty, nature, relationships, ruins, myth, past, present and future. Nandini Sahu, in her poetry, celebrates the ordinary and the commonplace, striving for a transformation that might well be magical, original, fascinating and influential. She has always been a poet, long before she won the acclaim for the All India Poetry Contest or the publication of ‘The Other Voice’. In this collection, she is not a poet of grand themes like Jayanta Mohapatra, not very sensitive like Kamala Das, rather there are fleeting experiences that somehow impinge upon our living, and slowly bring about a new awareness in our response to the surroundings. A very promising poet, through this collection, Nandini Sahu is able to find a secure place for herself in the scenario of post-modern Indian English poets.
Reviewed by Dr.Ratan Bhattacharjee, Dept. Of English, Dum Dum Motijheel College, 1,Motijheel Avenue, Calcutta, West Bengal, India.