Like her austere lifestyle, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s anthology of poems, Earthsong, is devoid of refined adjectives. There is a simplicity that traverses the language and ends up expressing only one thought—of hope. Not following any particular pattern, these poems reflect the mindset of Banerjee’s formative years when she dreamt of hope and witnessed the troubled times in her home state, West Bengal.
Earthsong—a collection of 56 poems—draws inspiration from nature, struggle, hardships, love, pain, death and freedom. From words like dawn, dream, desire, awakening, sorrow and strife, it appears these verses speak of difficult times that West Bengal witnessed when the Left ruled the state for over three decades. Yet, the hope of finding dawn prevails in her poems, and overcomes the anguish and bitterness many must have endured.
Banerjee’s name is synonymous with her favourite credo, “Maa, Maati, Maanush”—‘mother, earth and people.’ These are encapsulated in these poems as we trace a journey through river Haldi and Kasai; see sunrise over the Sundarbans; get acquainted with Tagore; and read about clouds playing hide and seek.
Most of the poems, translated from Bengali by Nandini Sengupta, begin with melancholy and sadness, and then raise questions that have been left unanswered. They talk about dreams that have met thorny alleys and dark nights, and emphasise on freedom that was snatched away. One can clearly understand the undertone of these poems. Barring a few, most of them seem to be written before she became chief minister. She writes: “Give me back my peace of mind, Give me a change of life. Give back the green shoots of hope, That were mine before the strife.”
We do read a handful that talk of the sunrise and end of melancholy, and urges youngsters to relish the bestowed freedom. But, they are just a few, maybe written about the times when her dreams finally met the dawn. These poems also reveal an emotional and observant side of her persona that has often been labelled as stoic and expressionless.
The most delightful element of this book is the paintings that accompany each poem and make for a wonderful company. At times abstract, at times vivid with blooming flowers, or a woman fading into obscurity, they surely reveal the other side of ‘Didi,’ as she is fondly called by many. These works of art are not mere lines, but deftly-crafted portraits of nature, mind and life. They add freshness to the entire poetry experience.
Having said so, there is a stagnation that seeps in after some time. Possibly because they are translations, or maybe because we get entangled in words that are repetitive. If poems become monotonous, they become a burden. In the case of this book too, this is a problem. Lyricist and poet Gulzar has rightly said, “Translation is like a mistress. If she’s faithful then she’s not beautiful. If she’s beautiful then she’s not faithful.” This seems to be the case here as well: the beauty of these poems might have got lost in translation.