Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Green Poetry by Nitoo Das (AKA River Slant)

Framing a Lohit Evening

It is time for the casual, one-legged
grace of the crane. Fish in beak it poses,
waits for my summary. It is time
for the queries of crows, disguised
by vapours rising from Abdul Ali’s boat.
Time now for Arif to shoo away witches
who come wearing amma-smiles.

It is certainly time for chatty scarecrows
that focus on a long-distance paradox.
It is time for Abdul Ali’s smoke. Time
for him to test the nets. Time
too to prepare for prayers, the cage
of night, sneaky currents and fish that fly.
It is time to talk with his friend.

Hori, when will the floods come this year?
Hori, do you think the fish will follow me tonight?
Hori, I have to buy new clothes for Arif.
Hori, there is a mark on my boat.
Help me fix it tomorrow.

It is also time for me to filter
the stiff frills of a flower sagging

on the sand and smear over dusk
a gesture. On an evening like this one, I saw
my father picking eucalyptus leaves. Smell them
he said. I sniffed and sniffed until the earth
sprouted wings, the sun jumped headlong
into the waves and the river waited
for Abdul Ali’s song.
Nitoo Das (AKA River Slant) teaches English at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She was born in Guwahati, but came to Delhi in 1994 for her higher studies and "decided to stay on and learn various survival skills in this ancient city." Her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University dealt with constructions of the Assamese Identity under the British (1826-1920). Das runs a blog by the name of River's Blue Elephants which she began as an experiment almost five years ago while working on a research project (with Sarai, CSDS) on poetry as hypertext. Her interests include fractals, caricatures, comic books, horror films, and studies of online communities (hyperlinked examples mine).  Das is one of the featured poets on Poetry International Web’s page on India. Her poetry has been published online at sites like Pratilipi, Muse India, Eclectica, Poetry with Prakriti and also in several anthologies. 

Das' first collection, Boki, was published by Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, in September 2008. I liked it a great deal.  This is not a collection of poetry about nature, but nature finds its way into many of these poems in interesting ways.  In fact, Das writes about a range of subjects, from many perspectives in a variety of voices, both contemporary and historic.  Boki evokes plenty of serious emotions--grief, anger, nostalgia--but Das can also be playful both in terms of the subjects she writes about ("Toes" and "Barbie Roopvati") and the surprising kinds of verbal music she employs.

One thing I've always liked about Das is her ability to take a poem and, in the close, bring it (and us, her readers) to a new, unexpected place.  I think her ability to make these turns is related to her ease with ambiguity. It may also have something to do with the command she has over language--or the command it has over her.

I bought a copy of Boki this summer. It was well worth the Rs 250.  Though Das feels ambivalent about selling her poetry,  I don't.   People who write advertising copy and greeting card verse get paid for their labour--why not people who make us reconsider the language and world we think and live in?   If you think like me, consider following one of these links:  

Buy Boki in the US through Amazon.

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