Book Review: Jagari Mukherjee’s ‘The Elegant Nobody’

The Elegant Nobody
Author: Jagari Mukherjee
Publisher: Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata,
₹ 300.00 

Reviewed by Gopal Lahiri, Poet and Critic

A journey of love and deception

Poetry may be the antidote to what many of us feel: we are glued to screens, numb with fear, lost in elastic stretches of time. One of the poetry’s most appealing elements can be the mixture of observations and ideas. Poetry’s density can connect us. It contains world and much more.

‘The Elegant Nobody’, the third collection of poems, by Jagari Mukherjee, interweaves words with love and despair, language and history that reflects and reveals the inner space and refracting reality. She walks in poetry with sensuality and warmth and her poems excavates the nuggets of human experiences pouring light on identity, beauty, nostalgia, love and deception. Her contents, too springs elegantly across various cultures, antiquities and anecdotes. They are a joy to read.

Poetry is for her a practice of daily redemption, a form of ritual, for taking roots in life. We can enshrine unequalled moments in our hearts and treasure them. We must, for they are transitory, as is our time here on a subject that are focussed from various angles concurrently.

Amit Shankar Saha, the noted poet, has rightly pointed out in his introduction, ‘Many of Jagari Mukherjee’s poems, speaking of deception in love-deceived sometimes by circumstances and sometimes by beloved.’ Her love poems are striking as they conjure up two opposite and complimentary faces of love, truth and lie as one wavers between rejection and acceptance.

Even the music of the first syllable
gathers the remainder
in a symphony
whatever it is, it is not skin deep.’. (Pulchritude)

Any given moment is likely to be cherished in her poems and what is striking is that throughout the collection, she never hides frailties of life for the sake of poetry Her poetry, it seems, avoids being conceitedly selective or unreliably uplifting. Her sensitivity to the words rarely goes awry.

‘I grieve because I am lost
and have no rationality left;
feverish, I dream of you as a lover
and long to secure you in a clutch (Grief)

The poet introduces a voice that intent on investigating spaces we do not ordinarily occupy and the arresting lines keep the readers on their toes. Her poems open up a space for a necessary transformation for a new world, brief, fragile, fragmenting her exposure of love and beauty.

I’m your turquoise woman
To cherish
when the fermented rice wine
makes me cry (Stone)

Even though most of her poems dip in lost love and silent grief, they show as careful an ear for light and warmth as for darkness and cold. Linguistically dexterous, her poems are also polyphony of voices and virtuoso musicality.

In this series of precise, resonant poems, the poet skillfully intensifies the stressed mind, showing how precarious it is to exist in this world without beauty and love.

Dustin Pickering, the well-known poet and critic has mentioned very rightly, ‘this collection is fruitful for its colourful explorations of music, history and sensuality yet underneath the allegories stands a poet of stalwart prowess’.
‘My mind is a sunless labyrinth
where sorrows awake.
I sew together
the corpses of the past
and preserve them in the enamelled
coffin made of ice. I write poems
to stifle the cries.’ (Labyrinth)’.

Poetry is one imprint-live in all its flesh and blood and here the poet becomes acutely conscious about it.  The hardest part about writing poetry, often said, is choosing the right words and here is a poet who effortlessly uses her prismatic output of the words with grace and finesse. An insightful poem is as follows,

‘But the tall woman stops my mouth
Dragging me to bed while
The jealous bartender grows two Dali heads
And the Moon wears my pilfered choker
Scolding me for past and present tense
While the women’s flickering tongues
Pillage my stars smudge the colours
Blue green mauve (Eros Thanatos)

Sometimes the poet put disparate things next to each other and admirably eschews topicality by asking the readers to decide the relationship between beauty and lies. with nuanced expression,

Stars wash my hair and the firmament
is my body
I dress in muslin clouds. (Self-Portrait as NYX))

This poem reminds us of the words we play with our minds to calm our own edginess. Set in a postapocalyptic dystopia, she talks about the ‘earthly lover’ and embraces the metaphors and virtually paints with words,

‘Twilight’s stars are the coolest eyedrops
I recover my sight to exercise
the debatable right
of bestowing on you my gaze.’’(Twilight)

It seems more likely that Jagari’s poems often tap into some of the same anxieties about the instabilities of contemporary life. Some of his poems come up with parallel ideas that always feel a little uncanny.

My poems are vinyl dolls
that I make for you
sketching in eyes and nose and lips
with watercolour in ink.’ (The Metapoem)

Poetry means what we are. What strikes me most in her write, is the genuine freshness and lyricism. Subtle, thoughtful and carefully constructed, her poems stay with you a little longer and you feel you are not alone. Her lightness of touch with wordplay and inherent music makes her poems at times dance and sing on the pages.

‘I went last year
to the best Parsee restaurant in Mumbai,
Mother and Father in tow.
I was startled to see tah-dig
on the table after ten long years
“this is delicious”, my parents exclaimed- ‘. (Tah-Dig).

Sometimes her words take refuge in the extremes of emotional outburst and transitory truth as the poet draws Hamlet’s love for Ophelia as nothing is certain, not even truth, ‘Doubt truth to be a liar/ But never doubt I love.’ The following poem is racy and conjures the musicality somewhat quickly with a little agitation- presto agitato.

‘I am a mad woman
Lost in the storm
from hair to toe
presto agitato
thunder and rain
How do I translate losing you
How do I translate the tongue
Of pain?’ (Presto Agitato)

Not to be stuck in a groove, the buoyant mobility and full of unexpected fronts in her poems leave the readers enthralled. The poet’s repartee gives the book its significant power, its considerable grace and even, in the end its real meaning.

‘rubbing a rose on nude lips
to conjure you and rescind
the touch of the shameful flesh of
past lives. Wild salty lips can dream
of flowers…-?’. (The Autumnal)

In her earlier collection of poems, ‘Between Pages’, Jagari speaks of Hibiscus morning that looks so content and rooted. But in ‘The Elegant Nobody’, the poet makes continuous attempts to leave, to escape, to break away from easy emotion and easy rhythm of the mundane life. This collection actually dismantles the conventional style of writing poetry of love and lies.

Like Francis Macinelli, one of the most accomplished contemporary Italian poets, her poems also reflect inside and outside interpenetrate often. Caring and crafty, this book is distilling its central idea – the love and deception, beauty and truth– into a series of indelible impressions between pages. 

The cover design is engaging. And if you love poetry, perhaps this book is surely for you.

Gopal Lahiri
Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 21 books published, 13 in English and 8 in Bengali, including three joint books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India. He works have been published in 12 countries and in 10 languages. 

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