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Book Review: Stuck on 1/Forty


SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | New Delhi, September 5, 2012 10:24
Tags : Stuck on 1/Forty book review | pritish nandy poems |

He is an entertainment entrepreneur, politician, media personality, painter, public figure, activist, bon vivant and much else. But amid the plethora of hats he’s sported over the years, Pritish Nandy’s true identity is inextricably intertwined with the startling poetry that he wrote in the 1960s and 1970s, defying and redefining the established norms of the craft of the wordsmith.

His return to verse after a hiatus of 20-odd years has been rather felicitous and characteristically whimsical. It is as if he has taken off exactly from where he left many, many summers ago. Of course, it isn’t just the gap of years that separates the verse he wrote in his 20s from his latest collection of poems, Stuck on 1/Forty. These lines are all limited to 140 characters so that they can be tweeted. It’s instant poetry for a new age.

The words are expressive no doubt, but just as crucial to the experience of savouring these poems are the design and typographical elements packed into the slim book. Stuck on 1/Forty is sensory in nature thanks to the manner in which it plays with colours, font sizes and page layouts to create patterns of feeling. Not all of it might be penetrable, but it is all delightfully quirky and evocative.

These untitled poems are about love, memory, mortality and, above all, hope and faith. Nandy writes in the introduction: “The poems here are for those who enjoy the magic of words, who believe that an image conjured by words can be as powerful, as moving as one captured by a Nikon DSLR, who still argue that three words strung together with the impassioned glue of hope can change the world… As for me, I simply write them because I know no other way to fight this boring sense of mortality.”

What is undeniable is that the reinvention of a poet for a generation in a hurry cannot but draw sustenance from who he really is because it involves both running away from and towards that essential persona. On the very first page of the collection, Nandy provides a clue to where he is coming from and where he is going: “I pause too often. Delete. Start my life all over again.”  And then he poses the question: “Am I God or the eternal Fool?”

Eternity is a word that constitutes a constant refrain of sorts in Stuck on 1/Forty. One poem goes, “Where shall we meet if not there where the sea and the sky merge like a solemn promise of eternity?” And another, “You lie. So do I. Does that make us liars? Or are we just lovers claiming our share of eternity? And then one more: “Memory reinvents the past, tomorrow unfolds its legs: I see you somewhere lurching into eternity.”

The poet is obviously engaged in a struggle to make sense of “moments sliced out of time” and weave them into "wafting memories" for he is “lost in the impermanence of everything I watch”. Can his solitude, his retreat into the self, be the salve that he is craving for? One poem provides a faint clue: “The tramcar hurtles through the night, Kolkata sleeps as I walk alone/alone in the dark, through lonely parks to where I want to be.”

The “magic of words” apart, these poems deliver nuggets of visual compositions and challenging ideas that do float through this collection and hold it together. On one page, the poet says, “Faith is so yesterday. Tomorrow is where I want to be.” Nandy then leads us to the facing page and declares “Audacity is what I begin with. That’s my usual entry point.”         

Stuck on 1/40 is another proof. Brave and bravura. Perfectly understandable. For Nandy writes, “Sartre’s gone. So has Camus. Paz returned home never to come back again. All I have for company is Baudelaire’s Fleurs du Mal.” But, teasingly, he signs off with “It’s funny how much fun living is.” There is such aching beauty in these finely chiselled and wonderfully strung together “flowers of evil”!  

Author: Pritish Nandy

Edition: Flexiback

ISBN: 978-93-81506-20-2

Pages: 101

Price: Rs. 350

Publisher: Amaryllis

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017