Guest Editorial: Basudhara Roy (Special Issue, June 2021)

Basundhara Roy
The word ‘setu’ in Hindi denotes a bridge. Connotatively, it invites us to think of connection and communication, of translation and transit, of strength and sustenance, and of exploration and exchange.  In the last five years that Setu has been in the world and in the sixty eclectic issues that it has published so far, I have seen the journal doing all this and enormously more, its ideas and borders ceaselessly expanding every month. It did not, therefore, come as a surprise when Setu introduced me to its new project on collegiate poetry, the idea being to showcase student voices enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses across the country. For Setu, this was an endeavour towards its social responsibility of promoting the diversity and potential of young poets; for me, this was an opportunity to converse with and learn from an array of fertile minds; for both of us, this promises to be the beginning of an endearing journey that we will share with the fifty poets who have featured in this memorable issue.

While art, youth and life are words integral to creativity’s register, how exactly do we perceive the relationship between them? One way to characterize youth is to look upon it as an interim period of emotional vitality that though fecund and necessary, must eventually be sloughed off to embrace the sobriety and wisdom of maturity. From this point of view, youth’s golden glory contains within itself an essential lack, an absence of something not yet arrived at. In the Preface to his Endymion, John Keats writes:

The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.

Though Keats’s poetic heights attained in Endymion will, in every age, give the lie to his own ideas on the immaturity of youth, it invites us to look at youth as a liminal space in the process of growth. Another way of looking at youth is to find in it the best of life and oneself and to set it up as a goal of imaginative return, no matter how far life leads one to travel from it. This perspective, however, can be gathered only from the vantage point of maturity, youth having long slipped away and art being reclamation’s sole route. Viewed thus, youth becomes a metaphor for life’s splendour, an asset to be perpetually held on to, a destination for the creative life of the soul. In ‘Soonest Mended’, John Ashbery writes:

 

None of us ever graduates from college,

For time is an emulsion, and probably thinking not to grow up   

Is the brightest kind of maturity for us, right now at any rate.

 

One would be hard put to speak of the value of the phase of youth in definitive terms but it remains to be recalled that youth has been at the centre of much of  Romantic, Avant-garde and Postmodernist art.  In the unformed landscape of youth, one comes across a subjective self-consciousness hard to discover in later years. For every person who has been young, youth manifests itself as a space of idealism and uncertainty, of confidence and hesitation, of marginality and retreat, and of alienation and rebellion.  Growing up, one realizes there is a legacy or at least the ghost of one that must be squarely confronted. Does one step into one’s legacy, alter it or reject it outright? The tension between worldviews is at its sharpest here and it is from this conflict that a remarkable volume of potent art has entered the world. Arthur Rimabud, in writing of (his) youth in the prologue to his ‘Deserts of Love’, states that its “strange suffering holds an uncomfortable authority”. (trans. Wyatt Mason) This ‘uncomfortable authority’ born out of ‘strange suffering’ comes from youth’s experiential intensity and searing honesty – two attributes that will always be indispensable to art.

 

This issue that brings to you a selection of fifty student voices from across the length and breadth of India, is an attempt to showcase not only the writings of young poets but also the contours, colours, conjunctions and concentration of youth itself. One comes across a passionate, unbridled energy in these poems as the contributors explore subjects like gender, social inequality, economic recession, violence, love, nature, relationships, depression, dreams, failure, the pandemic, and art. In Charu Bahal’s ‘The Diary and the Pen’, “a pen sits half-open,/ longing for the fingers to hold it”. “Can love exist without lust lingering?” asks Debanjana Majumdar in ‘I built a wall with sand’. “How funny it sounds, when I say/ I saw my mother yesterday. We have been living together / For 21 years, now,” states Nicho Rongchehonpi’s ‘My Mother’. In ‘Middle Partitions’, Shriya Girish Bhunje writes:

 

Ravines don’t need a partition,

but oceans? Oceans ought never to be parted.

They can seep away and quench and quell—

sweep away what tries to temper them.

My hair can curve into fountains on my head

and choke the breath out of air.

“Maybe our fates too have crossed and we have met/ Maybe they’ve intertwined but never aligned,” muses Doma in ‘Songbird’. In ‘To Love’, Titas Sarangi writes, “Between heaven and earth, you're the bridge/ Though you've the power to ruin.” Weighed down with life’s tyranny, Babita Daimary wonders whether “To wear or not to wear” this ‘life saving mask’”.

 

Dishant Chourasia’s ‘Raining Ecstasies’ rains thus:

 

I am the sunlight on your destroyed column

I am the fire setting my own skin ablaze

I am the tornado you never saw or will see

because it’s inside my

pair of odd clothes

and torn shoes

that goes through the empty cycles of bloom.

 

Syeda Farhin Sultana writes in Christmas Grief:

This Christmas I will wrap
myself in memories of your
chestnut eyes and saccharine
skin. This Christmas I shall
make peace with my grief.

 

Here are poems that will ask you to stop, to re-read and reflect. Where the language wants perfection, it is more than compensated by the energy and depth of thought and the overpowering range of association. Besides carrying the poems into a wider world to meet more readers, I believe that this issue of Setu will go a long way in helping to build a community of these young poets. In poetry, as in most forms of art, a community is crucial to catalyse belonging, assurance and growth. As you engage with these fifty voices that speak from various locations of the country – Jamshedpur, Ranchi, Dhanbad, Patna, Jhargram, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kerala, Assam, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Kohima, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Lucknow, I am certain that you will be drawn unawares through poetry into youth, promise and nostalgia.

Basudhara Roy

Jamshedpur

 

Basudhara Roy teaches English at Karim City College, Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. An alumnus of Banaras Hindu University, she holds a Ph.D. in diaspora women’s writing from Kolhan University, Chaibasa. Her areas of academic interest are diaspora literature, cultural studies, gender studies and postmodern criticism.  She is the author of three books, Migrations of Hope (criticism; New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 2019) and two collections of poems, Moon in my Teacup (Kolkata: Writer’s Workshop, 2019) and Stitching a Home (New Delhi: Red River, 2021).




Figures of Thought: Collegiate Voices across Spaces:
Featured Authors

1. Akanksha Pandey
2. Akanksha Subba
3. Anandita Guleria
4. Ananya Pahari
5. Anjali Sharma
6. Ankita Gupta
7. Arnika Mishra
8. Asha Bhandari
9. Babita Daimary
10. Charu Bahal
11. Debanjana Majumdar
12. Dipanjan Mandal
13. Dishant Chourasia
14. Doma
15. Ekta Dogra
16. Geethu V Nandakumar
17. Kanchan Jasmine Xalxo
18. Kaushiki Singh
19. Kiran Joshi
20. Komal Gupta
21. Madhurantika Sunil
22. Meghna Mukul
23. Monami Chatterjee
24. Monobina Nath
25. Nicho Rongchehonpi
26. Nikita Soni
27. Nitu Roy
28. Prakriti Deb
29. Puotounguno Basumatary
30. Rachana Bhosle
31. Rahul Kumar
32. Raka Mukherjee
33. Ramsha Zaheen
34. Saad Inshrah
35. Sangeeta Banerjee
36. Shailja Chaurasia
37. Shivam Kumar
38. Shreesti Kumari
39. Shreya Narang
40. Shriya Girish Bhunje
41. Shruti Singh
42. Shweta Kumari
43. Simi Baruah
44. Simranjeet Kaur
45. Sneha Bhunia
46. Surabhi Kashyap
47. Syeda Farhin Sultana
48. Titas Sarangi
49. Vidushi Pragya
50. Zahra Ahmad

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