Book-Review: MINIMAL MYSTIQUE

Review by Anjana Basu


Pankaj Saha Selected Poems
Edited and translated by Boudhayan Mukherjee
In association with Andrew Wareham
Chitrangi
₹ 300.00 INR

Pankaj Saha has made a name in many fields of culture, though primarily for producing programmes for Doordarshan in the East which made him the first noted TV personality from this part of the world. However to say that is to do a disservice to the many books of poetry that Saha has penned, which have won him notable awards. However the works have been out of reach for non-Bengali main English speaking readers – even though translations in varied languages have begun to trickle into the literary consciousness. Now however, a seminal translation of Saha’s poetry into English has been published by Boudhayan Mukherjee and Andrew Wareham.

Anjana Basu
Of Saha’s twenty two published poems, many have been translated into French, Hindi, Tamil, and Odia. There have been English translations but this current edition brought out by Hawakal brings Saha’s subtlety into focus. Saha specialises in the quiet moment, in wondering what to without a visa or a passport. There are no unnecessary frills and flourishes in his work which is unusual in a time that focuses on hype, no matter what the language or the drama of the moment. His depiction of Arjun the super warrior of the Mahabharat has the hero supine beneath a flame of the forest tree in protest with his wife lamenting the situation. The poems have the effect of seeming to hold their breath letting the message sink into the reader’s consciousness. The red soil smeared Usha goddess of dawn realises that the whole thing is an illusion and smiles quietly to herself.

Many of the poems are about the mystique of maya because life and love are all illusions but there are those that talk about martyrs for language and the birth of Bangladesh which link to Saha’s origins in East Bengal. With the intention of expressing a greater path toward freedom, compassion, selflessness, understanding, wisdom, bliss, and peace, these poems concentrate on broad life goals and themes, such developing humility. They frequently deal with recognisable settings, and ideas, treating each with consideration and respect for human the human condition backed by the image of the disappearing persona which is most often that of the poet who absents himself from his surroundings.

Saha’s diverse poems are best united by his explorations of world view and self discoveries through a beautiful economy of language. Once again drawing on his own experiences, Saha takes his readers through paths more or less travelled using his poetic skill to mentor readers. His unmistakeably authentic and honest voice takes the verses beyond the every day in poems such as ‘If a Yes is forced to a No’ . All these nuances have been conveyed by the translators – one of whom is, amazingly English and whose hard work to transcreate the texts shows. The translations also make it easy for those unfamiliar with Bengali to understand why Saha was awarded so many prizes and is held in high regard by his fellow litterateurs. Boudhayan Mukherjee the editor has risen gallantly to the challenge of conveying the concepts behind the poems in his own way.

The Jogen Chaudhury artwork that is and yet is not in full flower makes an apt cover for this collection.

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