Finding Habitat in the Universe: Bashabi Fraser’s Journey into the Heart of the State of Being and Becoming

by Bashabi Fraser
Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh, 2023
ISBN: 9781804250938
Paperback £9.99

Review by: Sunil Sharma

Bashabi Fraser is on a literary quest, an existential search, like some classic authors seeking moral answers to fundamental questions of being and becoming in a crass age.

The eminent professor and poet, among other avatars, is deeply engaged with the meaning of living in all its complexities and dimensions on a degraded planet. The lyrical effort births a new book; a book of arresting poetry that not only witnesses the grimness of being situated in the bleak landscape of the new millennium but also, simultaneously registers protest in an idiom that immediately connects with an equally-alert readers with similar and shared concerns and values for survival and sustainability of ecosystems.

Bashabi, as a creative explorer of the effects of the post-industrial reality, poses the question through this latest collection of engaged poetry: What constitutes habitat? What are its various dimensions? 
In brief, nature of habitat in a rapidly-altering world…and, of being and becoming in scary contexts of interdependent existence of species and their interconnections.

And she proceeds to provide logical and cryptic answers; in the process, also unravels many dimensions of an overwhelming sense of foreboding that attends the empirical state of Homo sapiens in an age of unmitigated, human-made crises and cyclical disasters caused most notably by extreme climate change, among other grave challenges like poverty, pollution, wars and ethnic cleansing; the condition of being human, in the post-truth culture of manipulation and brazen political class out to destroy the democratic ideals, and the only liveable planet, for their own selfish purpose---clinging to power at any cost.
Habitat comes as a departure from your regular poetry which is largely formalist and self-reflexive; it is highly philosophical and political in nature and scope. 

It is a battle cry for some fine causes on behalf of the silent majority.

The poems take a fresh look at locating elusive meaning in a world that has come to resemble a post-apocalyptic planet for every sensitive soul, and finds strategies of surviving wastelands, via deep engagement and commitment, thereby resisting official versions and status quoist mentality of the conservative power structures.

Bashabi’s new aesthetics is a heroic attempt at finding new habitats and decoding the existing ones: The spaces inhabited by us as cognitive beings, creating values.

Beginning with the white space, typical habitat to verbal constructs and realms, home to new epistemes.
Bashabi deconstructs it in the following lines:

The white space
Is like a still lake
Undiscovered in
An emerald grove,
Its silence borne
From the depths
Of a forest
From which
It was torn –
The screams
Of death

Continuing further, the poet talks of giving voice, animating this space, through words, images and syntaxes unique: 

Of rustling leaves,
The shooting
Desires of tendrils
The wisdom
Of the dark bark
And ambition
Of branches
Waiting to find
A voice to spill
Over and fill
The white space.
(“The White Page”, p. 15)

A whole universe is packed within the covers of this book: 128 pages of adventures, recordings and unpacking newer experiences and living moments and moods in intense, sometimes trance-like, state. Birds, cats, friends, landscapes, stars, skies, winds keep on emerging before your startled eyes. Earth, freedom, joy, fear, waves, mountains, mists, the elemental nature converse directly to a poetic soul in a heightened space of cognition.
Here, some stirring lines, released by the sight of fireflies:

They whisper, they beckon, they urge
Us to join their dance of true freedom
From fear
They lift up our spirits with sparkle and glitter
They scatter our suppressed thoughts and stall
Our tears.
(“Fireflies”, p. 18)
Deforestation, degradation of the planet, melting of ice, among other worrying signs, occupy the poet worried about the sustainability of our only home.

As each year we release new fumes
Of eight billion tons over our homes
In heat-trapped carbon dioxide
And methane that now provides
An encasing warmth that chokes this earth
This swirling mass that gave us birth.
(“As the Ice Melts”, p. 23)

Her critical gaze takes in the entire phenomenology; ecology of the organic and inorganic life and articulates the concerns felt by every conscientious citizen wishing for the sustainability of earth, as a real habitat. 
When habitats get threatened by callous actions of selfish and greedy governing elites, Bashabi registers her/our combined angst and anger at the plight of the wounded earth, the primary source of life, the original mother in every civilization, old or current.
Poetry becomes political and engaged in the Sartrean sense and beyond in her able hands.
As a committed academic and creative, Bashabi Fraser gives a clarion call for immediate and informed action; poetry urging us as thinking and caring souls interconnected with the universe and other forms of life, for meaningful and productive praxis, as both collective and individual acts can ensure a green future for coming generations:

Peep into your hedge and see the fledglings grow
Let your vision embrace hilltops clad in tranquil snow
Feed the fox that wanders free
Release the wasps to liberty
Return the bats to forests where no footsteps go.
(“The distant and the Near”, p. 123)

Oscillating between many distinct cultures and identities, covering panoramic landscapes, inner/outer, Habitat makes us understand the realities of living in a society heading for apocalypse and urging us for undertaking initiatives to stop and arrest that slide into hell through public action and literary-philosophical-ethical art, in the time of cholera.

Highly-recommended for seekers of serious writing in a mass market!

(Bashabi Fraser is Professor Emerita of English and Creative Writing at
Edinburgh Napier University and Director of the Scottish Centre of
Tagore Studies (ScoTs). She is also an Honorary Fellow at the Centre
for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh, Honorary Vice
President of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) and a
Royal Literary Fund Fellow. She has edited and authored 24 books and many articles.)

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।