Pain and Paradox: a review of The Real and the Unreal

Reviewed by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Title: The Real and the Unreal
Author: Nishi Pulugurtha 
Page: 80, Paperback
ISBN: 978-93-90459-53-7
Edition: (2021)
Published by Authors Press. India.

      Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and creative writer. She writes, travelogues, short stories, essays, poems, and on Alzheimer’s disease. She’s published widely and is the author of a monograph on Derozio (2010), a collection of travel essays, Out in the Open (2019), and an edited volume of travel essays, Across and Beyond (2020). The Real and the Unreal is her debut collection of 60 poems out of which ten poems deal with dementia.

Nishi Pulugurtha
      The very title of the collection indicates that as the poet straddles between the real and the unreal she sees life with its myriad hues through the lens of the camera and cracks upon new narratives. The opening poem ‘Bitter Gourd’ ‘underscores how the present and the perennial can be in conversation, as mobile phone in hand, the poet spies on the persistent resilience of nature, an indomitable survival instinct, despite neglect and indifference’ writes Sanjukta Dasgupta in the Foreword to the volume. Pulugurtha writes, “A small one/ Ridged/ Fallen seeds and nature’s work/ Among all the dirt, there it was/ Pushing back so much of the unwanted/ Breaking out/ Pushing/ Carving a small place/ Being seen/ Uncared but there”(17). It a pleasure to watch the poet continuously expand the capacity of nature to project delicate turns of thought and sensations. The poet as the storyteller adds a humane touch to the language.

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
     There is an endeavour to visit the landscape and it is an exploration through a travel lens. We are to remember that Pulugurtha is an avid traveler and a travelogue writer. The chief object of Pulugurtha’s poems in The Real and the Unreal is to determine the relationship between the memory of various places, everyday experience, lived events, and its translation into narratives and she deftly uses this device to manipulate the reader’s attitude to the narrative development as in “Inbhir Nis (18)”. In this context, one can always refer to E. Relph’s book, Place and Placelessness, where Relph applied phenomenology to notions of place and identified ways in which individuals relate to where they are and to the places and landscapes they remember. In “The Locked Workplaces (19)” Pulugurtha uses a wide spectrum of emotions to completely rope in the readers, “the gate closed, the creepers wild/ the grass untidy/ cobwebs too, in places/ as we remain locked in/ at home/ when there are many on the roads/ trying to get home”.

      In the poem “Loss (27)”, a length of river embracing its ghat evokes a sense of fragility and mortality wrapped around the narrative, with the soulful strain of the tonsured boy underscoring the pensive mood. In “My Son (46)” the poet sought to trace the plight of women by moving along the rather-worn-out trajectory of a womb to arrive at the present—“No one bothered about me in my marital home/ Marital house/ It is only after my son was born that they began to behave well/ towards me. / Am I just a womb?” Throughout the poem, the keen edge of satire cutting through hypocrisies and falsehoods that underlie so much of our Indian society. Across the world and in India over a year or more face masks have become inseparable components of one’s countenance. Meant to ward off the deadly virus, they can defamiliarize our closest acquaintances. The “masks”—false faces—humans slip off and on now and often baffles the poet. She writes, “We always wore masks/ Always had them on/ Most of the time/ Now we get to see them/ The masks on faces/ A preventive measure this time/ One wonders why at other times”(“The Masks We Wear”, 61). She reflects on the ability of a mask (made by human artifice) to conceal one’s real self/face. She plays with the theme of the real and the unreal which is the title poem of this volume.

      “It is just like in the real world/ someone says/ much the same, tho’ years have passed between/ Holding up for us to see- (66)”, the poem “fuses the real and unreal with reference to the timeless plays of Shakespeare that a teacher has to interpret for her students, refers to the contemporaneous effects that the plays written more than four centuries ago can generate ..”(Foreword, Sanjukta Dasgupta). Pulugurtha distances herself from the lived experiences and observes the cracks in life in general and personalities. The poet is a keen observer even the minutest details do not escape her eye. The images of poems on “Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease bear witness to what goes deep within---“The book goes into the refrigerator/ My slippers are under my clothes/ I look for something- (“ Lost Things”, 71). The thin line between the real and the unreal gets blurred. Pulugurtha looks through the aperture and zooms in and out leaving her readers flabbergasted. These poems bring forth the literary mediation of memory and experience set in the narratives of the particular time, space, and milieu. The memories are then turned into archives.

       Jhumpa Lahiri in The Clothing of Books writes, “the right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers. The wrong cover is cumbersome, suffocating. Or it is like a too-light sweater: inadequate”. With Aditya Banerjee’s imaginative perspicacity and exquisite designing skills, the book cover of The Real and the Unreal is a visual translation. The book cover becomes the door to enter the text. The Real and the Unreal add to the oeuvre of English poetry.

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