Pandemic ponderings

A feeling of futility permeates the poems from the very onset as Mohanty traces the despair attached to the well-documented pandemic exodus, contrasting it with the pre-pandemic calm.

Published: 03rd April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd April 2022 08:25 PM   |  A+A-

covid-19 lockdown, coronavirus lockdown

Image used for representational purpose only. (File photo | R Satish Babu, EPS)

Utter the word lockdown and a collage of images flit through one’s mind: doctors in heavy PPE suits to crematoriums overflowing with the dead. One of the most lingering images is that of the migrant worker with his meager belongings, trudging endlessly on roads. Artist Jatin Das immortalised the migrant worker in his ink paintings following the lockdown, and now in his collection of poems, Migrants Chronicle and Pandemic Musings, Satya Mohanty adds a poetic dimension to the tragedy. 

A feeling of futility permeates the poems from the very onset as Mohanty traces the despair attached to the well-documented pandemic exodus, contrasting it with the pre-pandemic calm. ‘We move like castaways’ he writes, ‘Like children born in shame.’ But even if the body is broken, the spirit is indomitable as reflected in the words, ‘Unplanned and abandoned, but still untamed.’ The poems in this section (Migrants Chronicle) seethe with injustice and a deep resentment for the powers that be, living in their ivory towers, far removed from ground realities. ‘Your ermine sleek justice…../The Constitution was on vacation/ You had gone virtual/ Saving yourself from haunting facts/ You crafted us into non-existence.’ The denial of identity to the migrant workers is a recurrent theme in Mohanty’s poems.

The former IAS officer’s empathy for the marginalised is palpable as he conjures image after image of misery, hardships, injustice and ennui; scorching sun, blistered feet, empty stomachs, police atrocities and dwindling hope. Irony peppers some of the poems as the poet holds up a mirror to a flawed society; a system which needs menial workers to function smoothly yet denies these very people their rights and dues. The yearnings of these shadow people crystallise chillingly in Mohanty’s poems, superbly flanked by Das’s sketches.

In the second section of the book, ‘Pandemic Musings’, the voice shifts from that of the migrant to the gaze of the urban observer also caught up in a horrific situation that he can make no sense of. Everyday life, in that sense, became ‘A book no one could read. It was life swallowed by the night.’ In the poem quirkily titled ‘Locked-in God’, Mohanty touches upon the unexpected collapse of religious institutions and their heads. Doing a sudden flip from the all-prevalent mood of misery, he pauses to reflect on the merits of the face-mask which can sometimes provide a convenient cover for undesirable facial expressions.A thought-provoking collection, it comes at a time when growing global unrest is fast replacing memories of the pandemic.


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