In this article the writer reviews poems from the collection ‘Alley’s are Filled with Future Alphabets” by Gopal Laheri. The book was published by Rubric Publishing, Greater Noida, UP, India
By Sreemati Mukherjee
This collection of poems by Gopal Lahiri, provides a very intense exploration of ‘within’ and ‘without’, with ‘within’ acquiring an intensity that is overpowering. The very title of the book suggests Lahiri’s attempts to contain the paradoxical, the painfully contradictory and the irreconcilable through language. ‘Alleys’ are inevitably dark, yet, the ‘future alphabets’ suggest both meaning and the possibility of redemption through language. However, the dialogue that he keeps open with Nature, political events, children, cityscapes and city ethos, give this collection of poems an extraordinary range and compass.
The collection is divided into a number of sections entitled, “VoyagesIn”, “VoyagesOut”, “CityscapeSilhouettes”, “Macrocosm”, “HaikuSeriesandMicroPoems”, “TravelDiaries”, “PandemicandResilience”. I shall try to say something about all these. The ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’ remain in constant dialogue and dialectic in Lahiri, with the ‘I’ bringing him back to poetry, but the search for meaning through poetry never becomes solipsistic and oppressive for the reader. The ‘thou’ is often children, migrants and Dylan Thomas.
Clearly it is “VoyagesIn” and “VoyagesOut” that carry the spine of the collection, with a definite progression from the first to the second in terms of a surer grasp of craft and the arrival of Haiku like intensity created by the superb fusion of word, metre, image, metaphor and structure. There is a definite alteration or maturation as we transit from “VoyagesIn” to “Voyagesout”. In “VoyagesIn”, there is expression of pain and trauma, yet in terms of craft there is still something tentative. Perhaps there is a certain repetition of the traumatic effects of a bizarre childhood experience of molestation, where memory is repetitive, punishing and incapacitating.
The heroic enterprise in the entire collection is to move out of the penumbra of this recollected and persistent anguish and move towards a larger and greater understanding of the world, of the human position within it and to carry out a relentless quest for the perfect configuration of word and structure, rhythm and metaphor. Thus by all counts, Lahiri’s poetic output in this collection is affirmative and humanist.
In his very first poem “FirstBirth”, where a father devours his son and is not ‘handcuffed’ for his sin, we come face to face with the source of the trauma, whether real or imagined. An oppressive memory dogs the entire collection, preventing cohesion and integration with the world that lies outside the self; that world towards which the voyager ‘voyages out’ and carries an incessant dialogue with. As Lahiri writes in “IntheOther I”:
Memories swirl, unspoken,
Wounds come from the same source (4)
Again in the poem “TimeCapsule”:
Between you and me, unspoken memories swirl
In the hovering time capsule (6)
Darkness, night and shadow dog Lahiri’s quest for meaning, emerging as powerful leitmotifs in many of his poems. There are references to ‘old staircases/exposing/ the hidden stories’ (14), and the ‘cry’ of ‘empty doors’ (15). An intense discharge of a denied truth and an imposed falsehoodblots out light and creates endless night, a fact borne out by ‘night’ being compared to a ‘piranha’ (14):
Night’s piranha swallows the pale moon
On the staircase, stillness answers the cry
of empty doors (15).
In “Raindrops”, the poet writes:
All night the raindrops scatter and fall apart
We stand by the window, a night bird cries
In the “VoyagesOut” section there are poems entitled “SurrealNight” (32) and “DarkisNight” (36),the latter poem being a ‘tribute to Dylan Thomas’(32, 36).Yet, in a poem like“I Still Love”,there is affirmation in love. The poet persona avows to his beloved that although no scripture can tell him the right path, he still continues to love:
I still love, I promise I still love.
In the “VoyagesOut” section, where the haunted, alienated self explicitly voyages out to seek connection with a greater world and a greater self, there are some magnificent poems. One such example of engagement with the wider world is with the fallen beauty of the Kashmir Valley in “AutumnMuse”:
Every stone is s story teller in Lal Chak
And stubborn enough to talk about
The empty nest of the birds, bullets
And unbelievable sobs (40).
In the next poem (“ColoursofTulip”), also on Kashmir, there is an exploration of blood as theme and metaphor that is almost Shakespearean:
Blood is mute, autistic and seared
Blood on the dark night, on the stillness
Its edges blur with cries, a kind of moan (39).
However, “VoyagesOut” also sounds the note of hope in the resonant poem “Homecoming”:
In a world full of hope and despair,
The pace of time has swept all that into the past,
A time to bury the past, a time to get on with life (41).
Gopal Lahiri is certainly modernist in many of his poetic manoeuvres and aesthetics and does not forget to write about the city. Urban aesthetics in European poetry makes its presence first felt in Baudelaire writing in the 1850’s. Henceforth, European Modernism articulated and defined itself within the backdrop of London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna. In “KolkataScene 2”, Lahiri’s city Kolkata is full of paradoxes:
Darting spots of light, dust I in cryptic shade
Love and death stay together (60).
The section “Macrocosm” again reiterates the lack of connection and the agonized effort to remain connected to a greater world. Funnily there is reference to both ‘memory’ and ‘April’ in Lahiri—tropes that provide a context to the disintegration of the self that is enacted in “TheWasteland”.
I do not belong to April
Yet you lean over and look at my grey eyes
All those orange yellow flowers touch noses
Descend on my wounded heart
Searching for connection in the quiet
The real showstopper is now the drunken breeze (81).
Yet, affirmation also echoes through “Macrocosm” in the shape of the ‘Simul Tree’ which is tagged to his childhood:
Red silk cottons are now in bloom,
In the age-old Simul tree
My childhood melts here in soft silence,
Your flame still burns in my thought (91).
The “HaikuSeries” contains some gems:
Stars come out
From the clouds
Sharing stories (95)
Dooms day scrolling
In Lockdown (97).
“PandemicandResilience” sounds the elegiac note and yet affirms beauty:
As much as there is recognition that:
The world will not be the same
Without those who built it (125), there is also belief in the possibility of beauty:
A certain beauty is waiting on the street
With something that cares, that cultivates (134).
Honest, disturbing, meticulous, intense, Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets seems to resonate William Faulknar’s claim in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech:
“Man will not merely endure but prevail”. As Sethe in Toni Morrison’s Beloved realizes, we are our ‘own best thing’.
Alleys are Filled with Future Alphabets: Gopal Lahiri.
Rubric Publishing, Greater Noida, UP, India. 2021.
Price- Rs 275/-,
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Sreemati is a Professor in the Department of Performing Arts at Presidency University. A Fulbright Visiting Lecturer Fellow to the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University in the Fall of 2011, she works in the areas of Feminist Theory, Narrative Studies, Postcolonial Theory and Literature, Performance and Theatre Studies.