Book Review: The Music of Eternity – Ketaki Datta

The Music of Eternity
– Ketaki Datta
Penprints
Pages: 67
Rs ₹ 250/-
First Edition 2022

Reviewed by Naina Dey

 

‘If winter comes can spring be far behind’

The immortal line from P.B. Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” comes alive in novelist and poet Ketaki Datta’s recently published second book of poems The Music of Eternity containing fifty-one disparate poems of hope, ennui and despair, which taken together, become one profound commentary on life and its vicissitudes. Poems as “Dreams in the ears of Impossible”, Love or no Love” fuse the sensuousness and spirituality of Gibran and Neruda in their use of unusual similes and sensory images. Love for the poet ‘in the era of postmodernism/ Is like a desiccated grape,/ that needs an overhauling!’ (“A Post Modern Love Poem”) – a truth that shocks us by its starkness. And as if to corroborate this argument, what follows a little later is a masterful translation of Jibanananda Das’s  ‘Haoar Raat’ (‘A Wind-Swept Night’) – a tumult of sensuous delight.

Ketaki Datta

Love and its enigmatic passions get enmeshed in the factual battle of the sexes which finds apt expression in “Caught in between Mirror Images”, “Celebrating the Purest Emotion” and in the matter-of-fact poem with an equally matter-of-fact title “Cleaning the Countenance, Cleaning a Carpet”:

Carpet cleaning is an easy job

No doubt

Where promises held out

Can be kept, if willing,

But cleansing the dirt on a face,

Body and soul,

Inner within and the exterior,

Is not a fair job but foul,

Not an easy deed but hard,

That needs no vacuum cleaner,

But a strong will, never to be found in a sinner!

 

Naina Dey

Life’s struggles together with deprivation and discrimination affect women most, and their travails are sensitively portrayed in “Changing Roles”, Emotions Revisited”, “Sunday Roles and Women”, “From Here to Eternity”. Interestingly, “Fresh Juices and Parted Lips”, reminds us simultaneously of the ‘blushful Hippocrene’ and ‘purple-stained mouth’ of Keats and

Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” in its gustatory and visual appeal as the vendor pushes his cart loaded with

Fresh fruits crush in juice

Fresh pulps melt in puce,

Tasty glasses to quench thirst

And made perfectly to win all heart.

 

But since the vendor will not offer the female onlooker a single glass, she will have to satisfy herself by drinking with her eyes.

However,  it is the poem “I am a Dalit Girl” which happens to be the most scathing indictment of the evils of casteism and untouchability that are corroding Indian society even today. Thus, the poor Dalit girl who has grown amidst torture and victimization, comes face to face with a horrible truth:

I am a Dalit girl,

Not meant to be touched,

But to be raped and tasted,

To have my chastity outraged!

 

Despite the utter darkness and disillusionment of poems like these, there are also the optimistic “Brand New World”, “Cage-Free Emotions” and “Bye, Bye Illness”, the last one celebrating human bonding during crisis, strongly reminiscent of O’Henry’s story The Last Leaf. “Famed/ Less Famed” is a tribute to all writers both famous and obscure, who are of equal importance to the poet for whom the merit of a book is just a matter of relativity:

Back home, my mom

Took up one by a less-known

Author, read and praised it to the skies!

 

The lockdown of 2020 and the post-covid era has initiated a deluge of a new brand of literary output based exclusively on covid times, and there are a significant number of such poems in The Music of Eternity. Therefore, “A Quiet Diwali”, “Bidding Adieu sans Touch”, “Corona Isolation yet a Hope!”, “Desire, Isolation, Proximity…” etc., mark the abrupt change in lifestyle after the advent of the dreaded virus.

Sarcastic snippets of a daily life of soulless materialism appear in poems like “Bawdy Banters”:

Money can buy fridge, TV, washing machine

It can buy rocking-chair, apartment

A skin-hugging garment,

And even a woman who can look after

A man and get filthy obscenities in return!

 

or in “Call it Rose or Fragranta”, Do’s and Don’ts” (a commentary on environmental pollution), “Going Down the Elevator” and so on. But Ketaki is capable of transcending mundane concerns when she is preoccupied with thoughts of Time and transience in “A Tale of Walking in and Leaving”, “Coma or Stupor” and “A Swing Sways on…..”, the last of these poems concluding thus:

The swing rocks to and fro,

The swing oscillates, on and on –

The past, the future

Fall in its trajectory,

Though it skims past

 The present, inadvertently!

Past to Future

Future to Past!

With Present intervening

Like an interlude of a medieval play!

 

At the end of life’s unpredictable merry-go-round journey so honestly and intensely portrayed by Datta without malice or attempt at confrontation or forcible conversion of preconceived notions, we realize the ultimate irony of existence (“Maxima Theatre and Rush Hours”):

All the world’s no doubt a stage

All roles are played to perfection

Life is no less a play – runs an adage,

And tales of idiots need no correction.

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