On the midnight of July 20, 1970, a cloudburst resounded in the Alaknanda valley of the Garhwal Himalaya, unleashing tons of alluvial debris that ended up clogging 10 km of the downstream Ganga Canal beyond Hardwar. Some 50 years down the road, Urvashi Bahuguna’s father is haunted by the sound of the mountain torrents breaking loose through the mountains just outside his window in the complete darkness of his upstairs room. It continues to bother him far from the hills in distant Goa where he has made his new home. Often he ‘still wakes my mother in the dead of night screaming—catches her mid-dream’.
Inside this glass terrarium, the whiff of her parentage—Garhwali and Odia—imbibes her poems with this dual heritage. Awash with nostalgia, it holds within its transparent confines, the young poet’s school days with that one favourite teacher we have all had in our once-upon-a-time-days—one whom we cannot forget in a hurry. Though arrival in Goa is a journey to a place she now calls home, where The Last Ride Before the Monsoon finds her doing the rounds:
‘We count churches like daughters—
Santa Monica, Basilica Nossa Senhora do Monte,
Aldona, Brittona: Our Lady of the Rock…’
On display is a strong bonding with her family that bubbles to the surface from her work. Her verses become a mooring to express her angst. Time and again, she turns homewards in poems like The Heart of a Mango or in We Are a Few Burials Overdue. Her love for her sibling is apparent in In Search of Lice and Love.
There is in her debut work, a wilful restraint akin to Emily Dickenson’s want of not going too far beyond the garden gates of childhood; adolescence and sun-kissed beaches of coastal Goa. All of which become grist for the mill, as anecdotes transmute into verse. The slim volume springs new surprises at every twist and turn, while remaining firmly yoked to what envelopes the young poet. Despite the rap-like structure of some of her poems, they do not turn into a monotonous listing of a telephone directory as others are prone to become.
The triumph of things ‘not done’ find celebration in The Meaning of Family, which is akin to a spool running in a loop to a beat of you don’t really care about some things. But at day’s end it’s what makes life worth living.How often have I been told: ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover?’ But this cover by Alisha Dutt Islam proves the adage wrong. Get a copy and you will fall in love all over again with ‘this bruised and bumpy earth’.
By: Urvashi Bahuguna
Publisher: Indian Poetry Collective