Saturday, March 25, 2006
A Far Cry from America
How do you feel when, one fine morning, your acquaintance comes up carrying a slim book of poetry collection with an abstract art in its cover? I, for one, was pleasantly surprised to find out that my teacher at Ratna Rajya Laxmi College, English Department, Mr. Hriseekesh Upadhyay has a penchant for poetry. I recalled him teaching Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott in our Postgraduate classes, but never knew he was clandestinely following their suits.
In the first week of March, his poetry collection In Love of America and Other Observations saw the light of the day. In fifty one pages, he has put together 30 poems; from half page long to 8-page long title poem. I confess: I'm still a novice in terms of technical aspects of poetry. I love reading them but can not fathom much beneath the surface. Not a review or anything, here's just a primer:
The first poem titled 'The Need for Proving Yourself Constantly' begins with the following stanza:
I live poetry
I see poetry in triumphs and trepidation,
I have poetry in me like in everyone else.
Though I don't wear them in my sleeves.
Yet, every time I'm asked where's your new poetry.
Most of Upadhyay's poems pivot around him and his milieu. He has dedicated two poems to his son Paras and one to his daughter Sujana. One such poem 'Only The Strife' (for Paras) talks about the generational gap between father and son. This is a commonplace story of almost every Nepali household. The father wants the son to be someone else while the latter's mind may be occupied in something entirely different. But, this strife, seen in a larger canvas, results in demonstrations, strikes etc. Another poem 'In my World' dedicated to Sujana, is about a computer savvy teenager who indulges in her server: Just a click away/I surf on sites and sights/ What the fancy follows.
It is said that one writes best about his/her own world. In 'With Eyes on the Prize' he creates a familiar world of University. It deals with the expectations, dreams and desires of MA students. The title poem 'In Love of America' is amazing. It evokes the Nepali version of shattered American Dream. The poet must have picked these characters in his sojourn for Fulbright Fellowship in the US. The story of Nepalese who have embarked upon American odyssey, that of Biru, Rajina, Jagan, Bismrit is superbly depicted. Here's Biru's story in a fragment:
He gave himself to the sweetshop
Grilling day in day out.
In mechanical round
Odd hours jobs his specialty
The only option open to him.
Another character Bismrit enrolls in Creative Writing course in American University and weaves tales of strange characters from his homeland:
Bismrit got noticed
In the little circle of foreign land
Exoticising their former homeland–
As steeped in occult beliefs;
Queer sexual mores.
He won a prize or two for first-time writers
A thank you for maligning your own roots
His books come out in rapid succession,
Love in the Himalayas and Livido Avatar.
It's a satire upon writers exoticising Nepal to embellish the writings.
The second last stanza of the same poem is wonderful:
America sells its Jacksons,
Bombards the world
With its Madonnas
Shellshocks the innocents
With its Demi Moors.
I love America
At a distance
You can escape it all.
In an underdeveloped county like Nepal, America is widely regarded as a promised land where everything is utopian. But, when a Nepali eventually lands there, the sweet dreams turn sour. We here in Nepal make a big fuss over the success stories of Nepalese making it big in the US. They are only handful of in comparison to other South Asians. Most of them work in underpaid jobs. In this regard, the collection's America related poems portray stark reality.
'Sunrise–Sarangkot' talks about a beautiful vista while 'Chitwan Reconfigured' is about this variegated terrain district with "Tigers, rhinos, ubiquitous elephants."
'Two Diaries' depicts two facets of same individual,
The other entry
Of the diary book
Paints another picture
Of different depth and dimension.
Every step in a jig
Opening uncharted vistas.
This poem is reminiscent of Willim Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. His poems are simple yet subtle. They are replete with the subjects as human irony, snobbery, pressures of modern life etc. One poem titled Look Back in Delight sums up my experience of reading Upadhyay's poetic endeavor. Its a delighful reading. I also look forward in delight for some more meaningful poems from his pen.