'To Whom I Return Each Day' by Jaydeep Sarangi

- Review by Patricia Prime

 Author: Jaydeep Sarangi

 To Whom I Return Each Day, (2017)(Poetry Collection)

 Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India.  info@cybewit.net 

 Pb, 75pp.

 ISBN: 978-81-8253-398-1

 Price: ₹ 200.00 INR

Jaydeep Sarangi
Jaydeep Sarangi has published several collections in English, including From Dulong to Beas, Silent Days Days, A Door Somewhere? and The Wall and Other Poems. He has edited several poetry anthologies, the latest being with Usha Kishore, Home Thoughts: Poetry of the British Indian Diaspora (2017). To Whom I Return Each Day” is dedicated to poet Derek Alton Walcott. A short prose preface explains that Sarangi’s poems are prayers: “Poems are for peace and order in human life.” He says that the poems in this collection were written over one year, at multiple places. The poems are firmly rooted in the poet’s own life. The collection is illustrated by several photographs and the cover art is by Rayla Noel.

Sarangi’s poems explore episodes from the standpoint of Indian life, philosophy, moods and places. It is a highly personal story which avoids sentimentality to explore themes of identity, relationships and the mystical. One of the questions that Sarangi grapples with is that: “Every action, every work, small and big / Is surrounded by defects.” (“The City of Nine Gates”).

The poet confronts difficult issues and complex feelings head on. “The Bowl Drops from My Hand” indicates the struggle with words and feelings, and ends ruefully:

           I wear makeup in my country, a face,
All rivers are sacred, all tribes have rich mosaics.
Writers are seers caught in violent conflict
And long for peace. Poems are moments of passion.

At times, there is a quiet detachment to Sarangi’s writing which makes his words all the starker. In the long title poem, “To Whom I Return Each Day”, he specifies the land and his forefathers:

           My Dulung has a natural course
           My forefathers lay bare on its banks.
They have a happy abode, somewhere beyond these words.
Priest chant santi santi santi.
Peace in the land is the rose that blooms
Every season. Every house is wet by love.

Sarangi is adept at using sound, the occasional Indian word and rhythm, to bring moments to life. So, in “My Temple of Delight”, we hear that

           My land is my mother
           To whom I return each day
In deep silence.
I’ve seen their faces
Heavenly smiles. Taking goats to the field.
My Dulung
Is a reservoir of my tears stored for years.

There is a beautiful rhythm as well as images in the description of his brother, when, in the same poem, he writes:

           My brother lives in me
Though I’ve forgotten his sweet face
His blood polluted.

In another poem, “The Wall Beyond the River”, the poet recalls his feelings as a youth when

We fought against each other, ramp shows
On different grounds. Wrote history of the other. Slogans.
Burned flags and showed our back. Organs of the senses
Had a festival. Cock fight.

The vocabulary and syntax give voice to the man recalling past events. The collection makes for a challenging read, confronting us with the vulnerability of youth and the isolation that comes with the inability to articulate feeling. But there is humour too. In an observation which may resonate with many readers, he writes in “The Other Side of Silence”:

           I am a juicy fruit, voluptuous and campy, one might say
‘Exotic’. I am a native here
My lips have stories
Some stories you like some you may not.

This same capacity for layering images with other sensory impressions is also used to evoke more poignant scenes, as see in “Last Rites of My First Love”:

           I read my earlier lines, written during the rain
I count her sighs, her texts for me. She made promises
Of past, of now for tomorrow.

The poems are simple, deceptively so – the plain language moves with ease and cadence. Though very moving, and at times sorrowful, there is a tranquillity here. The poems mostly look back, there is a found understanding, a resolution. They may be quiet, but they are forceful, as we see in the lovely poem “I Go Green” in which the poet recalls his brother:

           Wherever I go, my little brother’s voice.
I carry, my green hopes.
I save his voice mails.
Long back.

These portraits are fascinating, layered, soaked through with descriptions – or memories – of time, place and season. The images are brief and haunting, as in
“The Red Diary”:

There is a letter in a blue cover
Addressed to me, red in blood marks
From a voice I hear no more, may be
Someone who predicted my poems so many years ago.

The poems are told as small stories, rather matter-of-factly, but with clarity and simplicity. A common thread runs through many of loss, of love, of various situations. The portraits are intensely personal, the poet always present. In “The Master as I Read Him”, about Swami Vivekananda who aspired and organised the youths of India, his admiration is clearly enunciated:

            My book contains pages from you.
What you taught me so many times
Over the phone or taking me beside you.

Another fine poem is “A Tree and My Daughter”, presented through images of a green tree to be planted by his daughter, which will one day grow, and be her own, with “green top, roots deep”. The longer poem, “A Dalit Poem”, which the poet describes as “unorthodox and nagging, at times. / Mostly self-narration in a different cadence”, ends with these lines to his daughter:

            During her breakfast, licking egg poach, my daughter
Wants a Kinshasa poem from me. I gave her
“Che” Guevara’s diary. She promised,
She will read between the lines.

“I Drink Your Tree of Beauty Kangchenjunga” is presented through images of dancing quiet, white peaks, the holy, an “epic of the land”. It is a vibrant, ever-fascinating description. Meanwhile, it is “All I conjure in one single breath.”
Darjeeling tea is something with which many readers will be familiar. In “Darjeeling Leaves”, Sarangi writes:

            I sip, I return to my thoughts
One sip, one step within the dark
Deep and dark. A chamber of thoughts high.

There is an ease, a rapidity, in the language of this poem: long and short lines, varied length of stanzas, a fluent, fluid tone. “The Trusted Army” (for poets of different nations) is an enigmatic account of the variety of virtues poets can offer: they give care, are humanists, sign peace accords, “give us a green earth / Of values and morals”. They usher in “hopes for tomorrow” and “They write.”

The final, beautiful poem “The Shrine of My Past”, contains some powerful images that transform the poem into something that resonates with nostalgia:

            I keep the lamp with me, your spirit, perhaps
You cannot leave me dark, black night. Sediment from the
Ganges I carry in my diabetic blood.

This collection is rich in observed intensities, the poems radiating out from the poet’s memories and imagination. Human relationships, memory, love and loss are the compelling themes. The poet’s energy is engaged with experiencing and voicing the world in all its richness, while there are also darker elements which he explores and masters. His work reveals a searching intelligence and a willingness to engage in language and experience, while retaining measure and control in form and content.
Bio Note
Patricia is the editor of the New Zealand poetry magazine Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today and writes reviews for various magazines, including Takahe (NZ), Atlas Poetica (USA), MetVerse Muse and Poets International (India).  She has also reviewed the poetry collection Home Thoughts, edited by Usha Kishore and Jaydeep Sarangi. Her poetry, essays, haiku, tanka, haibun, cherita and reviews have been published online and in several magazines.