Being-in–the World and Beyond: A Review of Nandini Sahu’s Zero Point

- Gagana Bihari Purohit

Dept of English, R.N. college, Dura, Berhampur, Odisha
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Philosophically speaking, a zero always looks forward to attaining higher goals in life. It is proved, more often than not, as the beginning of new epistemic access to life at the behest of life’s ordinary course of experience as a worldly-wise (wo)man. The dexterity, with which life sets out in its diligent as well as quotidian course, only becomes real add-on for analyzing the higher values of life. This kind of a situation is really ripe for an understanding and experiencing the larger-than-life goals set by a poet, catering to all her womanly needs at first ask, certainly is a big ask in comparison to common parlance prevalent in the contemporary world. Yes, Sahu’s poetry has travelled the distance to pay due attention to beyond-the-life goals. Nandini Sahu’s sixth collection of poetry Zero Point (2018) proposes philosophical vantage positions for unraveling the deeper truths of life.

            The first poem, “Zero Point”, out of total forty-three, just initiates brilliantly the summing up of the life’s philosophical sojourn which accounts for “Nirguna Brahman”, “ timeless ambiguity / the known-unknown” (15). Its range is panoramic; beginning from primitive realities based on the basic needs of life characterized by the oxymoronic phrase “attached –detachment” the body, cosmos, physical and metaphysical realities have definitely enriched the gamut of operation. It relates to both life and after-life.

Another poem that easily catches the attention of the reader is “From Dust to Dust: A voyage” where the five elements related to life are represented with a view to projecting the deeper realities of life. The “Air” section refers to both weightage and emptiness in an unambiguous way. Its marginal presence, one cannot see it; only experiences it, is presented side by side with the power it is invested with when required. It does not make a distinction between the “sacred” and “profane”. Death is the universal leveler here; preaching the lessons of life in a unique way.

When we switch over to the “water” section, one is at a loss to solve the riddle of ambiguity where all good association of water are explored expect perhaps one word “disappointment” to describe the side effect of otherwise life sustaining qualities of water. Another interesting poetic device of comparison and allusion is used in the poem, making the pursuit of the poet grander by any count. By recourse to water being used by Sophocles to survive a difficult phase of life, the poetic persona also invokes water to recharge her “fiery being” (20). Her firm assertion to attain the scales of the sun is really worthy of mention which would stand women’s cause in good stead. 

The “Earth” section appears to be more earthly as the poetic persona compares itself with and flourishes adhering to the stern strictures as well as the sound signs of “green earth”. It finds close proximity with the earth which keeps watchful eyes on the poetic persona providing the ways of rejoicing “the fusion” of life.

The “Fire” section shows off the persona under fire. The emotional outbursts hold life accountable for all known and unknown failures of life. It has been in a giving spree without expecting anything in return: “I have been just a giver, an instrument of giving, conquering all fire” (21). That it has become an “eternal Socrates” for pursuing goals without much success. What is significant here is, the intrinsic worth of being firm to deal with dire needs of death and other difficult courses that life has on offer.

The loftier world of the sky section is at odds with the saner world the persona is subjected to. Plato’s plight is being used here to describe its unconquered woes. Perhaps the philosophical implication that all human beings born to this world bear the imperfect mark is at play here. How human beings take easy recourse to unjust ways looking down upon truth and justice forms the bedrock of this section. But the persona is optimistic about coming out with core issues concerning women persisting with a clean slate. Though the world does not have easy let outs to women, “Much in it is my not-yet being”, yet the persona pursues the subtle ways of life with the assertion that “still today’s ether is bright winged” (22).

Taking cue from the Hindu philosophy, the five elements represent five distinct yet crucial stages of life in order to give a complete view of the world an individual must encounter in life time in the process of completing the earthly assignments before he or she calls it a day. Sahu’s poetry is passing through a fair degree of maturity relying upon the first hand needs of transition from physical to metaphysical world view.

A higher form of body politic is also perceived with precision and economy of word use in the poem “The Song of Liberty”. Published originally in Ireland amidst rave reviews, it represents original, intimate and innovative tales of South Asian women vying prominently for self identification in the age of globalization. The persona speaks explicitly about her body part, more specifically, vagina as a precious possession of and universal access to understanding the reality around her. Unlike the common place association one would like to read with, the persona uses it as a secret weapon to voice out her individuality in a fiercely competitive world to establish her unique identity. It is a performing agent with the thrust on “such a relative many pronged act!” (81). No wonder she succumbs to “… my day of yielding crops/ in an unremebered time / in the history of vagina-tales” (83). She wants to write off the entire act of love making involving the vagina in retaliation to and in connection with her emerging individuality. The metaphor of home with all its protective overtures and patriarchal repressions is quite disgusting for the persona; she simply cannot afford to fly away from such burdensome relationships, metaphorically rejoicing her freedom unlimited. She just wants to participate in the subtle process of family; it does offer any easy respite, though. Poignancy characterizes the lines inviting readers’ empathy: “’Home became a blood curdling place / from where I wanted to flee. Hard hitting / domestic slaps”(85). Her flight from family and home seems temporary in the larger context of assuming responsibility to rectify the faults of a patriarchal society and to set the records straight of the cause of women emancipation. She becomes a victim of body politics or vagina game leading to her symbolic flight from home on account of untold domestic violence. However, resorting to a representative and responsible woman she just subverts, her fleeting symbolic stand of deserting home, family and society.

The persona’s ambivalence with vagina being a potent weapon of child birth and rearing, and opting out of a home is characteristic of new Indian woman who does not want to desert the family set up yet asserts her individuality by adopting the ploy of “vaginaless love”. Initial pangs of life gives way to getting out of confined life with husband being be all and end all of life. The new breed of woman wants to be more assertive and individual in her choice belying   absolute, often brutal control of the husband. The persona’s quest for completeness amidst harsh realities of life matters when the vagina representing the body is perceived as a gateway to attain the demands of soul. The culmination comes with “vagina song” becoming the “song of liberty” when women are empowered to “speak with their bodies” (93). Far from falling prey to patriarchy, the persona shows women compellingly, the way to face the world with “the vagina truth” (95). Sure enough, the poem can be considered as a universal equalizer, if not conqueror, in the age of ‘me too’.

The poem can be considered in the broader context of body and the political directions it can take in crucial situations involving women. The theoretical proposition of political philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty comes handy here vindicating the insight that the “use a man is to make of his body is transcendent in relation to that body as a mere biological entity”. That is, a body can be used as an effective and transcendent tool in respect of the increasing number of challenges a woman faces in day to day life.

The body is the locus of many physical and metaphysical experiences in the world incorporating torture, starvation, physical denigration, social and psychological alienation and a predominant desire to transcend all physical limitations unraveling the very ways of god-realisation ultimately. The experience of finitude and incompleteness, of overcoming the fear of natural death, leads to self transcendence and foregrounding of self assertion opting for a voluntary death. Worldly existence becomes insignificant in such a scenario but the poet in Sahu  is not pessimistic even for a moment. Hers is a self assertion supported by a renewed vigour and vitality that forms the crux of the matter when coping with obvious challenges of the world both as a woman and as a representative writer. Both these challenges have been well coped with, maturity and exactitude being her innate forte.

The phenomenology of death and dying as put forward by Heidegger in Being and Time comes to our aid in a big way while attempting a ready access to Sahu’s poetic philosophy and metaphor of zero point. She makes her stand clear in a poem like “Death” which simply puts forward the thesis that one would do well to understand the fact that death is a normal activity like every other common chores that we undertake daily. She asserts in a matter of fact way: “The most appalling thing / about death is / when she visits / you are absolutely / inevitably / on your own” (63). Overcoming the fear of life and death through the dare devil act of self assertion and firmness in pronouncing the urgent and fundamental needs of life is perceived as central here.

The most important and satisfying thing about Sahu’s present volume is that she is not a scapegoat rather she assumes responsibility of panoramic and death defying dimension to help her cause on personal front and for her depleted class in general. Prosaic and at times clichéd expressions pales into insignificance under the shadow of philosophy of life. Readers are bound to derive delight and wisdom dealing with collection in an absorbed way. No wonder, then, reading is relishing. The cover design is just an overall add on and the price well within reach of an avid reader.  

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