Musings on our life and times rise above narrow individualistic confines
By Deba Prasad Nanda
The collection of poems, Mellowed with Years by Debasis Panigrahi, is a book that reflects the lived experience of the poet. And one can easily detect his self-reflexivity: “But sometimes,/Somewhere,/On one’s journey,/one gets a breather,/to look upon oneself…” (from Entitlements). The gaze is as much on the outside world as it is trained on oneself. Self-criticism, self-conceptualisation go hand-in-hand in these poems. But the self is not abstracted from the others. The poems have an intrinsic capability to rise above the narrow individualistic confines to resonate with others. The stage is set by the pandemic. In a sense, the universal and the particular blend seamlessly: “Also we are all fearful/and fearful/and brittle to the core” (from Lockdown Monologues). The outcry of the moralist in the poet against the modern industrial civilisation is palpable: “Humans have long/savaged mother nature/and now she is/extracting revenge,…” (from Life in the Time of Corona).
Modernity’s ambivalence towards unreason has been vividly portrayed by Panigrahi in two poems: When the Mind Plays Games and Sanity. They bring out in bold relief how the unconscious asserts itself in a way that leaves the agent helpless: “I wake up every morning/with a dreadful feeling/that something terrible/is going to happen./Then I wait and wait endlessly,/to experience the/foreboding playing/itself out” (from When the Mind Plays Games). This playing out is beyond rational/scientific explanation; only meanings can be attached to it. Even then there is no assurance that one would not sometimes become opaque to oneself. And Sanity explores the fragile and fuzzy line between reason and unreason, without privileging one over the other.
Panigrahi’s poems are crafted very much in the postmodernist ethos and sensibilities. Call it spirituality or religiosity—this is a thread that marks his poems. Further, the romance with the city of Cuttack and the accolades showered on it (in Cuttack) are a veneration of the local and, hence, intimate. And anybody who goes through these poems will notice that tentativeness—the eschewal of certitude-buttresses the whole work.
Deba Prasad Nanda is associate professor, Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi
Mellowed with Years
Pp 105, Rs 225