THE JOURNEY OF A YOUNG POET

---Review by Anjana Basu


A House of Rain and Snow
Srijato
Translated from the Bengali by Maharghya Chakraborty
 
Vintage Books
₹ 399.00
ISBN-10. 0143459805

It starts with windows, one with views of snow and one with views of rain. Pushkar sees the windows from his room and tailors his day according to the weather. That is how Srijato’s novel begins and though the windows gradually fade out, moods and weather persist. Rain is positive; snow brings everything to a halt in Pushkar’s head. Pushkar’s world unravels for the reader, the narrative of a college going boy who lives in rented accommodation with a dysfunctional journalist father and writes poetry. Miraculously a friend of Pushkar’s puts the young poet in the way of publication by introducing him to Nirban.
 
Readers in Bengal will traverse worlds that they know – the alleys of North Kolkata where printers work hidden behind the city’s historic red light area. Pushkar and his friends are young, somewhat confused and lost in issues of love and career. Pushkar is in love with Saheli, the only girl whom he allows to read his poems. Then there’s Asmita who is caught in the traditional situation – in love with a boy without a job and facing an arranged marriage because her parents refuse to wait and there’s Prita who has a beautiful voice and who is under the mentorship of the uncompromising Ishita a classical singer who is underrated by the musical community despite her years of performances.
 
These are worlds familiar to Srijato who comes from a musical family and writes poetry. Worlds divided by promise and grief, the rain and snow of the windows. There is never enough money in the middle class urban households – Pushkar hopes for his father’s puja bonus to pay for publishing his poetry since his group of friends led by Nirban are bringing out an anthology through crowdfunding. His father is also a poet but the journalist is lost in the haze of alcohol and finds he cannot understand his son’s poetry any more or his own work circumstances. The characters have their own nuances and their own approaches to life.
 
The city Srijato describes is a time of lockdowns and trade union strikes – he does not set a decade to it but one can easily guess. Rain is life and snow is the big freeze that halts any wish to explore the everyday. There are the trials and tribulations of those who live in rented accommodations with entertainment either on the TV or in the windows across the street and the cheek by jowl houses that look old and toothless.

Slow to pick up A House of Rain and Snow settles into his narrative with shifts and changes of pace.  It halts to take in letters and then as the end approaches tries a cinematic approach of quick cuts and short words deriving from the author's experience with films. Part of the ending can be guessed at; however, despite the disunity and the lurking hopelessness in places, it is a book about holding together through words, threads and notes. It is a book about life and poetry and how that can be a lamp for the soul.
 
Pushkar the poet, walking the roads of the city, finds his soul mate in a milkweed tree, whose trunk he hugs briefly and surreptitiously through the changing seasons and in its roots he buries his dreams in hope.

Anjana Basu
Rooted securely in the ethos of Kolkata A House of Rain and Snow opens up Srijato’s world to a wider audience through Maharghya Chakraborty’s translation. Occasionally, words like an ‘ewer’ of moori jar – when it is obvious the translator means bowl and she later reverts to bowl - but quibbles like these are few and far between. Ultimately we lose ourselves in Srijato’s journey.

Reviewer’s bio:
Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. She has had a book of short stories published by Orient Longman, India, the BBC has broadcast one of her short stories and her poems have featured in an anthology brought out by Penguin India. She has appeared in The Antigonish Review. The Edinburgh Review and The Saltzburg Review have also featured her work. Apart from Outlook Traveller, her byline has appeared in Outlook Traveller  and Conde Nast Traveller. She has 10 novels to her credit and 3 collections of poetry.

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