Revealing the Unrevealed: a review of “The Fern-Gatherers’ Association”

Reviewed by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Title: The Fern-Gatherers’ Association
Author:  Sekhar Banerjee
Page: 101
ISBN: 978-81-950900-4-4 (Paperback)
Edition: 2021
Publisher: Red River Publishers. New Delhi. India.


     The title “The Fern-Gatherers’ Association” reminds readers of how nature and its images transcend their immediate functional role to become clues and signifiers over time. Few signifiers are as aggressively loaded with trenchant messages as Ferns, Bryophytes, Botanical Herbs are. The Ferns create poetry as they embrace the mountains and rocky roads like immigrants in search of a home. K. Satchinandan writes “The poet has an uncanny way of turning the familiar into the unfamiliar even as he retrieves our lost links with nature in subtly evocative ways”. Sekhar Banerjee a former Secretary of Paschimbanga Bangla Akademi under the Government of West Bengal is a widely published Bilingual poet living in Kolkata. He has a monograph on an Indo-Nepal border tribe to his credit (Dhimal, Folk & Tribal Cultural Centre Government of West Bengal). Banerjee carries the mountains and its solitariness, the flora, the cotton ball clouds, the butterflies, the small rivers, around his neck; “If you ever climbed a mountain/ touching its Adam’s apple, sorrow, its primitive ferns,/ flint, its armpits, and ambition---/ you would have known it is insomniac”(“The Lilies and a Hoe” 72-73). His intricate embroidery with words envisages a future where nature flourishes in all its vivid hues and his landscapes are pigmented with simple folks. A few of his poems are a chilling reminder of how cheap life and labour are in the impoverished pockets of the Himalayan region (“Shadows in Washabari Tea Estate” 89). Banerjee’s canvas also brings to the fore the indigenous culture of the region. (“Bhutia Market, Terai” 91). Organized into three sections—Floral Bedspread, Fluid Room and Salt and Autumn, these poems look at life and its fallacies with a distinct rhythm and a rare imagery” (Blurb).

Sekhar Banerjee
       The first section of the book-“Floral Bedspread” forges a tender and caressing bond between humans and the earth and nature: “Sun perforated us every day with a warm needle/ and wove faces for all of us—blue, white, green and pink and maroon/ Oh yes/The rooms already knew who was entitled/ to enter which room yes yes/ and the smell of each room was different yes like the continents yes/ into which we were about to branch out” (“Family” 11). The poet has a penchant for revealing the invisible. The poems in this section full of intricate designs meant to induce a certain degree of warmth that is rare. He is in search of a “permanent address” and sends the butterflies to “the Supervisor of the Posts” as he fails to “decipher anything/ of any message, mail or an official letter” (“Scheme of the Post Office” 13).  The Postman is a recurrent symbol in his poems.  Banerjee employs the jewel tones in which his room at night is portrayed --“like an apprentice postman” he roams about in the living room, balcony, the kitchen only to come back to the bedroom. He keeps on thinking about “a postman lost in the woods/ complaining about the butterflies/ and the dead letter boxes in June” “standing alone in the darkness/ looking for an address” (“Dead Letter Boxes’ 23). The poet challenges the idea of identity in the twenty-first century associated with modern lifestyle by holding up a mirror to ground realities that impede engagement with nature and the environment.

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

       The next section—“Fluid Rooms” egg us to decipher fluidity as content and form- “Every fallen leaf in autumn hits/ the ground like our fingers in sleep/ They touch gently/ my twenty-four ribs-one rib/ every hour/ It is a feeble music, as if/ I am an old harmonium”(“Harmonium” 30). “Juxtaposition” (62) shows that even those grouped under the same group are not a homogeneous group—Banerjee juxtaposes the text and image beautifully in his poem and makes it clear to his readers that “juxtaposition is rather a choice than a coincidence”(62). “Salt and Autumn”—the last section depict utterly commonplace objects to appropriate the familiar as creative fodder:  “like two-second flush cups of tea, complete and lingering, / as if, it is a second birth/ I squat before the blades of grass, / violet grass flower and a water tanker with a leaking tap/ and breathe my deepest in November” (“Second Flush in Danguajhar Tea Estate” 71). In “Buxa Forest Camp” (73) explorers are in search of ‘Buddha’s footprints” there is a shape-shift with changes in light and perspective—these transformations highlight the cycle of life and death, opening up a twilight, in-between the world in the process. “He must have been here, somewhere, looking for/ a quiet place to sit/ and search for a red lotus lake/ near the Buxa hills”.  ‘In-betweeness’, then is the only constant in life. These poems also remind us that natural settings can be verdant sites of transformation.

     “Privacy”, “The Track”, “Tractor Man” is spread in fluent sweeps with fineness and interspersed with word pictures that correspond to the imagery: “Walking along the jagged cliff/ like a local guide without a job during quarantine,/ I stroll and do not look back/ on anything/ The track is deeply freckled with deafening/ silence of the lonely pine trees/ And, still uphill,/ the old solitary monastery on the cliff indifferently looks at me,/ and I look at it hard:/ our eyes lock like fellow historians, now retired”(“Historians”88). The Ferns and its associates—the mountains, butterflies, the mist --moulded lovingly with Banerjee’s fingers—are pools of tranquillity. The poet lets go of the mundane and delve within. His imagination takes flight in a work of elegant, abbreviated levitation: a gathering of capriciously tangled knots of Ferns and Bryophytes that’s as light as a butterfly’s colourful wings: “the spruce trees, pine trees starts/ on the other side of the valley/ thick with monosyllabic crickets and polite fiddlehead ferns”(“Sleep House”96).

   “The Fern-Gatherers’ Association” is a book that leaves you wanting for more just like a second flush of hot Darjeeling tea. Nature is the stimulus of his work and he seems to draw his inspiration from life around him. These seem to have evolved on their own from the rocky soil. The exquisite book cover, the illustrations deserve a word of appreciation for the editor, poet and publisher Dibyajyoti Sarma. The book is a must-read if you are a lover of poetry and nature and is an addition to the opus of Indian English poetry.



BIO NOTE: Dr. Sutanuka Ghosh Roy is an Assistant Professor Department of English in Tarakeswar Degree College, The University of Burdwan, India. She is a regular contributor of research articles and papers to anthologies, national and international journals of repute. She is a reviewer, a critic, and a poet. The titles of her books are Critical Inquiry: Text, Context, and Perspectives and Commentaries: Elucidating Poetry, Rassundari Dasi’s Amar Jiban: A Comprehensive Study.

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