Poetry of paradoxes

By Ananya S Guha

Manu Dash’s debut poetry book A Brief History of Silence is about places, people, history and society. The intertwining of darkness and light is a remarkable aspect of these poems. There is a leap from the ordinary to another world. The movement of these poems is lyrical, poised and elegant.
The poems are mainly short but into this brevity he packs a power and pungency which has a truth telling urgency. From the local to the universal, the poems attempt to resolve inner conflicts. These are poems shorn off wordiness or verbal flatulence. They use a colloquial tone but forge ahead with a distinct poetic idiom.
The satirical is compressed tightly within a poem which falls short of protest but leaves one with the feeling of pathos or compassion. This poetic worthiness is one of the hallmarks of his poetry deeply entrenched in philosophic doubts and the quest for search and inner realisation.
The metastatic tone of his poems leaves you wondering as to where a poem begins and where it spirals into. This taking off from the subject matter into another world is the poet’s craftsmanship and a dexterous blending of past and present, satire and lyric, and a unique way of blending philosophy with doubts.
In presenting paradoxes, Dash’s poetry creates heightened tensions of conflict, sadness and irony. The poems are narratives which take you to ostensible external themes but always come back forcefully to inner quest of doubt and longing. This he does masterfully through a process of estrangement where inferiority and exteriority combine to make the poems complex with a heightened suggestibility. Always one is left wanting for more and awaiting the next poem.
The texture of his poems is varied. In fact, they are so wide ranging that they do not allow you to pinpoint a focal theme in his poetry. His concerns are local or national which defies any regimentation. The poem entitled Bhopal is an ostensible title. It does not directly mention the gas tragedy but insinuation of death is present subtly even craftily in the last line:
Although I suffer from insomnia,
Bhopal knows the art of deep slumber.
There are such clever twists at the end of many such poems but the twists do not lack profundity or there is an ironic reversal at the end. Such devices that the poet employs give a structural intensity to the poems. In his poem Mask he says:
I try my best
To keep everybody happy.
There is ingenuity and irony in these lines as ‘mask’ is a figurative device to suggest concealment.
In his poem Buddha, he suggests asceticism by bringing the first person into the poem speaking about himself, deserting his wife and child. But the ennobling spirit in the poem is that of the Buddha. By using the first person pronoun it is as if both the persona and the Buddha are speaking. This double voice leads to a denseness in the poem.
Again and again Dash uses the technique of manipulation and craftiness in his poems which elude meaning and demonstrate the power of his poetic diction. If he is talking about the aged elephant who died, or Irom Sharmila or a man in a village who carried his dead wife to a hospital Manu Dash’s poetry always reflects double layers of irony with compassion.
Silence is the interweaving thematic tonality whether he talks about Bhubaneswar, or the temples of Odisha or of a recent cyclonic storm in the state. Satire and compassion go hand in hand in the poem, A Parable On Cyclone 2019. This indeed is a parable or a fable, it is allegorical in both content and intent: The cyclone arrived and disappeared as scheduled.
Everything was on schedule is the laconic comment but perhaps death or destruction were not.
Manu Dash’s poetry always has the surprise element which baffles the reader and makes the poems engaging and highly interpretative.
In his poem Odisha, he begins with I love you and ends with I am used to over- the-hill-dawn/That arrives with a cloudy sunset.
There is a brilliant merger of clouds and the sun setting here as if the paradox of life is resolving itself slowly. His poetry has deep embers of heightened tension resolution or no resolution.
This book is a must read for all lovers of poetry and is a brilliant debut collection. It weaves a tapestry of poetic fusion with ‘meanings’ going evasive, leaving the reader wanting for more and more.

(The author is the regional head of IGNOU, Shillong)

Book: A Brief History of Silence; Author: Manu Dash; Publisher: Dhauli Books, Bhubaneswar; Pages: 80; Price: Rs 295

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