Rugged Tale: a review of Rugged Terrain

Review by Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Title: Rugged Terrain
Author: Abu Siddik
ISBN: 978-93-89615-54-8
Edition: (2020)
Published by Authors Press. New Delhi India.
Page: 86,  Paperback

      In the introduction to Rugged Terrain, the poet Abu Siddik writes, “Rugged Terrain emerges from a storm-tossed, broken-winged, caged bard”. “Poems are simple and at the same time realistic, challenging, and thought-provoking. And they are not meant to please the readers. Each poem is nuanced. Broadly each poem is a celebration of the faceless multitudes, the unheard, and the unsung. Each poem attests to their undying sufferings and their charismatic resilience to it.” This is the debutant collection of poetry of the poet. He is a bilingual author, editor, critic, poet, and storyteller and has been widely published in India and abroad. He has three books- Representations of the Marginalized in Indian Writings in English (2015), Misfit Parents in Faulkner’s Select Texts (2015), Banglar Musolman (2018).

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

     The opening poem “A Winter Day in a Forest” sets the tune here the poet is an astute witness, testifying to the authentic social sense of Dooars, and by extension of India ---- galvanizing the perception of setting in the realistic mood and simultaneously underscoring the spiritual malaise symbolized by present India. The poet writes, “Couples left minutes ago, / Beer bottles, plastic cans,/Soiled paper-bundles guarded the day./Day died,/A madman, four naked children,/Dogs and langurs clashed for leftovers” (15). We find the same squalor and poverty in “Garopara”, “At Garopara/I see beauty/And poverty/Walking hand in hand” (17). In “Dooars” the poet is bold and the imagery is stark “Hands behind scabbard,/ Stomachs empty,/ Eyes tears-strained./Sun-burnt men,/ Sunken cheeks,/Wasted lips”. In the introduction the poet mentions, “Poems are not flashy and insipid here. They are bold, cruel, crude and savage in their pluralistic underlying thematic textures”.

Abu Siddik
The title “Rugged Terrain” therefore captures both the denotative and connotative meanings. The people and the terrain both are rugged therefore there is no fantasy or romanticism. This is a trait of postcolonial Indian English poetry-- the contemporary poets speak of everyday reality. Thus we find that here the earth is black and empty. “Outside it was dark, and the smell of the wood, / The sparkling stars and the scythe moon/ And the silver leafless trees spun a tale of their own” (“Hundred Evenings I Saw the Man Naked”57). The poet speaks of poverty, squalor which is a grim reality. “So she hung a poster /At her bamboo fence, and in red ink/She wrote, ‘I sell flesh no more’ (“I Sell Flesh No More”, 34). The poem corroborates her unending sufferings and her charismatic resilience to them. The poet captures an intensely personal moment of the woman shaped by an overarching presence of poverty on the one hand and hard reality on the other. This moment of flux exploded into a defining poetic language that touches upon contours of ‘life’. This is the voice of dissent. The poet writes, “Visit a haat,/ And see their charisma!/Labourers, unfed, half-fed, barefoot,/Children with running nose,/And the Adivasi women/Selling haria for a bare living,/Or in some mushrooming resorts/They sell their emaciated bodies”(“Kunjnagar”, 67). These adivasi women have no recourse to humanity, even after years of Independence, they have no place and space in mainstream India. Independence has not wiped their tears. They hardly understand the meaning of independence. They remain the ‘other’, ‘weaker strata’ of society. And the Adivasi woman is ‘doubly marginalized”, both because she is an ‘Adivasi’ and also because she is a ‘woman’.

     “Bilkis Yakub Rasool” is a long poem comprising of eleven stanzas. This is one of his few poems that draw attention to itself for its somewhat unusual poetic technique which is at its subtlest. Thus this is a mature work of art, with an intricate technique suited to the poem. The narrative of the poem alternates between the past and the present, swinging backward and forward like a pendulum. March 3, 2002, when horrifying communal violence engulfed central Gujarat, a truck carrying seventeen people, including nineteen-year-old Bilkis who was five-months pregnant then and her family, was moving to Radhikpur Village in Dohad district to seek refuge. This truck was attacked by a mob of thirty-five people and soon the attackers descended on it. Around three hours later, Bilkis woke up to find she was bare amidst the fourteen dead bodies. Her three-year-old daughter’s head was purportedly crushed on a stone by an invader. Bilkis stayed at the top of the hillock for a few hours and later took refuge with an Adivasi family. This was not the only rape case during the communal violence, but fighting for justice was something other sufferers never chose. But Bilkis did. In the first stanza, the poet puts it simply, “You are not Lucrece/ You have no lily hand”. In the second he introduces Bilkis Yakoob Rasool as “You are a pure woman/ And you are marauded/ Not in feather-bed/ But on a fleeing highway truck,/Not by king Tarquin/ But by a gang of lecherous, leprous poltroons/And the site of sacrilege is not Ardea/It is Dahod”(68). Thus the poem/poet questions the freedom of living a life, in the dark times.

    The poet is conscious that as a citizen of an independent country he should register his voice of protest when needed, “Am I to raise my voice against the ills?/Or be a mute spectator and carry the wounds?/ Am I to support the traitors of my people?/Or smash their wings to the ground?/ Am I to witness to a hauling of a girl by wolves?/Or cut their secret things and fling them into dust? (“ I Ask You Friends”, 76). He refuses to remain as a mute spectator to things that pains him. Long ago Kahil Gibran in “My Countrymen”, had written, “What do you seek, My Countrymen?/Do you desire that I build for /You gorgeous palaces, decorated/With words of empty meaning, or/ Do you command me to destroy what/The liars and tyrants have built?”.

     The book is a collector’s pride and evokes many a question in the mind of the readers.

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