Lakshmi Unbound by Sanjukta Dasgupta

Review by Amit Shankar Saha
(Kolkata: Chitrangi, 2017, ISBN-13:97893-85782-73-2, Price INR 200, Pp. 80)
Lakshmi Unbound, the fifth collection of poems by Professor Sanjukta Dasgupta, comes after a gap of nine years. Her last volume of poems, More Light, was published in 2008. Her other books of poems are Snapshots (1996), Dilemma (2002), and First Language (2005), which were all published at a lesser gap of time between them. So this collection was eagerly awaited for by the readers of her poems. Her last collection, More Light, had a series of poems on Hindu deities – “Durga”, “Lakshmi”, “Ganesh”, “Saraswati”, “Kartik”, “Manasha-Snake Goddess”, “Kali” – and from the list it is Lakshmi on whom Dasgupta writes again but using the goddess as a metaphor for female emancipation by evoking Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound”. This marriage of Hindu mythology with Greek mythology by giving Lakshmi a Promethean attribute not only brings pan gender connectivity through intertextuality that destabilizes the pre-lapsarian equation of “man” as the emancipator. In “Lakshmi Unbound: A Soliloquy” the image of Lakshmi as an abstract epitome of goodness, without any human attribute, as determined by patriarchy, is challenged. Even the association of Lakshmi as the goddess of wealth is seen as confining, constricting. Dasgupta writes:
                        I will sing the freedom song
                        I may not be Lakshmi
                        But I am
                        I just can’t be Lakshmi
                        I have to break the silence
                        My wealth is not jewels
                        My wealth is my gipsy spirit (p. 13)
The apparently paradoxical statements of being and not being Lakshmi can only be understood if the different Indian cultural connotations of the word “Lakshmi” is taken. She goes on to write “I am Alakshmi” (p. 13) – someone who has been unbound from the boundedness of gendered cultural denotation of the linguistic signifier. Sanjukta Dasgupta has the amazing capacity to mix theory and aesthetics in a combination that is both subtle and deep. Later in another poem “Festival of Lights”, Lakshmi and Kali come together and become one in a poor human form of a “young woman in a dirty faded sari/ And an oversized blouse” dancing under the flyover (p. 36).  
Many poems in this volume cry for freedom, be it on topics of gender, race, class, caste, politics, refugees, displacements, terrorism, rape, and so on. Poems like “Mrinal’s First Letter”, “Chandalika”, “Chitrangada”, “Refugees” are all exemplary in this respect. In her poems there can be found Ibsen’s Nora, Brecht and Gorky’s mothers, Shakespeare’s Caliban, Shelley’s Ozymandias, and Tagore’s Gora. In the poem “Second Coming”, evoking Yeats’s poem, she presents a picture of disillusionment and writes wittily “Windows are not magic casements/ Not just forlorn fairy lands in cyber space” (p. 29).  In “A Tale of a Sleeping Village” she writes: “A sleeping village/ Drenched in blood and tears/ Grew three crops- guns, bullets and bombs” (p. 25). In “A New Dawn” she reminds how Martin Luther King was introduced as a fellow Dalit from USA in a school in India. Even in times of disappointments she presents a picture of hope. In “Love Poem” she writes “After all each poem/ Is a love poem” (p. 50) and goes on to say:
                        Love is a storm that rushes through homes and hearts
                        Opening barred windows and doors,
                        Melting rusty locks with a magic touch
                        So don’t tease me to write a love poem
                        What else can I write? (pp. 50-51)
In “Let’s Go” she crafts each of the three-line stanzas so meticulously with allusions to T. S. Eliot and Robert Browning and gives a sonorous picture of Elysium in words. In “Staircase” she describes the pathos of letting go when she writes:
                        Stepping carefully
                        Down the broad stately staircase
                        Will no longer be watched
                        By a pair of beautiful young eyes
                        Waiting with a smile
                        At the landing (p. 54)
These simple words paint a haunting picture so poignant in its suggestion that it sucks the reader into the world of the poet. Each of Sanjukta Dasgupta’s poems is such that it can be quoted and explicated upon and perhaps all thirty-one poems in the volume can be reviewed independently. And yet each poem may be connected with the other in the volume. In “Ode to Silence” if one starts by reading the first few lines “Sounds of silence/ Trickled like silent teardrops/ On a monsoon midnight” (p. 56), one can easily make its connection with the closing lines of the poem “Ode to Sound”, “Perhaps it is just some din/ A vociferous statement/ Bridging life and oblivion” (p. 58).
First the poet creates the poem, and then the poem re-creates the poet. This mutual process of creator being defined by one’s own creations is very true of the poet-academic Sanjukta Dasgupta. Even though “poiesis” means “making”, Plato denies that the poet is a creator and attributes only the task of an imitator to the poet. Socrates in his Republic reduces poetry in status by arguing that it is the third in descent from nature, the first two being ideas and concrete objects. It was only Aristotle who uplifts poetry through his theory of mimesis by saying that the poet actually improves on reality because the poet does not mimics slavishly but artfully. To this it is necessary to add that poetry too is a creator because each poem improves the art of the poet and thereby re-creates the poet. With each poem we see the poet in a new light. Sanjukta Dasgupta’s poems too do the same. Reading each of her poems we see her in a new light. We appreciate her better as a poet, as a sensitive human being, and as a Promethean figure who has stolen the “fire” from the spoils of patriarchy and is bringing words of emancipation and love to humankind. Her poems, “A Poem a Day Keeps the Psychiatrist Away”, “Bovine Exports”, “Talaq” and “Translation” present a picture of the world and the self in conjunction, with an enlightened perspective. Her poems are words that are erupting to come out of her being in an endless stream. In “Poem Within” she writes:
                        A poem within
                        Needs to be let out
                        As long as words survive… (p. 62-63)
The poem ends with ellipsis and that is how everything ends because nothing ever ends…
Author's bio:
Dr.Sanjukta Dasgupta, Professor and Former Head, Dept of English and Former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Calcutta University is a poet, critic and translator.  She is the recipient of numerous national and international grants and fellowships and has given poetry readings in India, Europe and the USA. Apart from her books on literary studies, media and gender studies, translations and Tagore studies, her articles, poems, short stories and translations have been published in journals of distinction in India and abroad. Her published volumes of poems are Snapshots( Writers Workshop),  Dilemma (Anustup), First Language (Dasgupta Book Company), More Light ( Dasgupta Book Company) and Lakshmi Unbound ( Chirangi 2017).

Reviewer’s bio:

Dr. Amit Shankar Saha is a faculty member in the Department of English at Seacom Skills University. He is also a researcher, a critic, a short story writer and a poet. His obtained a PhD degree in English from Calcutta University in 2010. His research articles, essays, reviews, stories and poems have appeared in magazines, journals, periodicals and anthologies both nationally and internationally. He has won Wordweavers Prize (Poetry-2011, Short story-2014), Poiesis Award for Excellence in Literature (Short story-2015), The Leaky Pot - Stranger than Fiction Prize (2014), Asian Cha – Void Poetry Prize (2014), Reuel Prize for Poetry (Shortlisted-2016). He is the co-founder and coordinator of Rhythm Divine Poets (, a Kolkata-based poets group dedicated to the promotion of poetry. His website is and he blogs at