Review | A Poetic Journey Back Home

Poet Siddharth Dasgupta has the heart of a nomad, a fact which comes across beautifully in his recent collection titled A Movable East. Dasgupta calls his book “an archiving of the east”. The cities that have been archived in this collection are the ones he drifts in and out of, and he weaves them together to turn them into a seamless narrative of his journey home.

Home remains the main motif across all the poems along with the concept of nostalgia that he wishes to make sense of as he travels across continents and across time, which turns into a quest for a sense of belonging. The act of movement becomes the focal point and a reason behind why these poems came into existence. The exploration is not just limited to cities, but also to things, that one carries within as one move across spaces and time. How interactions with the city and with its people, as an observer and as a participant, create a volume of ideas that Dasgupta has sat down to sew together.

Identities cannot be contained within borders. The definition of selfhood is being constantly redefined in the current social and political milieu and cannot be considered as a fixed one. The fluidity spills over the lines that have been drawn and redrawn by cartographers/political powers over years. A Moveable East, the title inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Moveable Feast, is a love letter to the latter, as the poet in his short introduction informs the reader.

‘…immigration birthing a moving 
confluence, yet another ethnic thread, 
handsomely, movingly sewn’

– ‘Café Yezdan’

The idea of a city as explored in this book of poems is not a simplistic one. It gains importance as the poet moves/explores cities and brings up an impressionist mode of writing to define the places he visits. It brings forward the idea of space that Edward Soja has termed as real and simultaneously imagined where it is material and yet metaphorical. Dasgupta’s collection of poems is infused with the idea of a ‘Thirdspace’, defined by Soja as being the space that is being directly lived and which actively transforms the world one lives in. The urban space is represented through the process of re-reading/interpreting it through one’s memory. The flâneur is not just observing but recreating/reimagining a place where the poems must also be read as a deconstruction of the self.

Who’s to say that these cities we call 
our own, are ours to own at all. 
The stories hidden within their crevices, 
the fallacies buried beneath their graves 
and their spires, owe nothing to our 
implorations for answers and anchors.

‘Refugee Crisis’

A Moveable East
Siddharth Dasgupta
Red River (2021)

Migration becomes one of the themes to be examined in this collection. As an outsider; the edges from where one stands, observes, and writes, find its way into Dasgupta’s poems. The invisible borders crop up as does the distancing of the self from cultural-specific spaces. While reading these poems, one is also reconstructing one’s relationship with cities by examining them against the experiences of the poet. The temporality of memory is connected with the poems in the latter half of the book.

The idea of hüzün (sadness) is also explored. Nostalgia is not attached to a specific place but to a set of cultural practices that attach meaning to actions that are significant to a specific culture. At a personal level, the hüzün that accompanies Dasgupta seeps through the pages of the book but at a community level, the poet attempts to uncover the true nature of this emotion as he sees it.

The idea of home turns into a state of flux. As bell hooks has observed, “At times home is nowhere…Then home is no longer one place. It is locations.” Home becomes an imagined location. It begs the question to see when is the idea of a home limited to looking at from an individual’s point of view to when it gets magnified to define a nation/country.

What turns interesting in this book of poems is how the natural elements are represented and how they define the poems. Nature signifies a place of refuge and an escape to a place of harmony. The natural elements connect the poet’s personal and collective memories together.

The earth’s 
Moist mother 
Hiss beneath the 
Brevity of grapes 
Soil’s syntax 
To the looming 
Of another 
Vintage year.

‘Wild Blush (Burgundy as Belief)’ 

There is a sense of belonging that arises when these elements are used as a thematic background but at the same time, the delicate fabric threatens to be destroyed by external factors. Dasgupta uses this concept to define one’s relationships and explore/construct one’s identity and the idea of self-definition. The malleability of identity has been looked at through these poems. Towards the end of the book, the poems turn more visual. At times, they feel like a conversation with Leonard Cohen or Pablo Neruda or Derek Walcott. And at times they turn mystic and feel like a page out of Junoon-e-Intezaar by Muhammad Hadi Ruswa.

Nina Simone doused in the embers of Paris; this is not a dream 
Begum Farida Khanum rises in rasp and the royalty of silk; this is not a dream 
They drown their sorrows in the faraway cry of waves; the sky begs clemency 
They drape their pasts of such melancholy over the silent fabric of filigree 
Each word uttered in the robes of romance; hold on tight, forgotten dream

‘Illicit Rhapsody’

It is towards the last few poems that a switch occurs in the search for oneself. The meditative ocean in the former half of the book now turns into a noise where there is no longer room to contemplate. Rather, a cacophony fills up the spaces in a clash of personal and collective histories. The intangibility of the concept of home finds a concrete form that one looks to as a place where one can feel safe. And the book finally arrives home.

The ‘East’ in title of the book now takes on a new meaning. It is not just representing or carrying a baggage of symbols and identifiers, rather, it assumes the persona of the poet who wanders around the world, breathing in varied emotions, assimilating diverse cultures, and yet retains a sense of what he believes in. The social geography turns into a portrait of the self. The concept of home does a turnaround and Siddharth Dasgupta has, through very carefully selected and positioned poems of fragmented narratives and individual experiences, given a 360 degree view of what a moveable East looks like.

…I move the drapes and breathe 
in the sea—the lighthouse to the east, reminding 
me of home, of how almost everything lies east.

‘Desiderata, Times Two’

Semeen Ali has four books of poetry to her credit. Her works have featured in several national and international journals as well as anthologies. She has been invited to literary festivals to read from her works. She has co-edited three anthologies of poetry that have been published nationally and internationally. Her new anthology on women’s writings will be published this year. Apart from reviewing books for prestigious journals, she is also the Fiction and the Poetry editor for the literary journal Muse India.