The Freedom of Those Million Evenings: Review

By Kabir Deb

Title: I’m Your Poet: Author : Nilim Kumar/ Dibyajyoti Sarma
Genre : Poetry
Language : Assamese/ English (Translated from the Assamese by Dibyjayoti Sarma)
Publisher : Red River
Year : 2022
Pages : 180
Price : Rs 399
ISBN : 8195090060

Editor’s Comment. Astutely translated volume of poems, which simultaneously preserves and enriches the original.

Reading translations opens doors to worlds which exist beyond us. Jhumpa Lahiri wrote in her book, “Translating Myself and Others,” that she feels free whenever she is translating a piece into Italian. It is quite possible that Arunava Sinha feels the same when he translates Manoranjan Byapari. I personally feel a translator develops the sense of growing a deep relationship with the original world of the original poet or writer. Dibyajyoti Sarma’s translation of Nilim Kumar’s book,“I’m Your Poet,” is a vivid and absolute manifestation of what I feel and Lahiri says.

The book paves the way for the much-deserved possibility of Nilim Kumar’s poems (written in Assamese), translated by Sarma into English, for a pan-India recognition. The responsibility of a translator lies in weaving intimacy. We cannot deny the fact that the translator forms a special bond with the original poet. But we do find a lack of intimacy in many translations of the past and present since the readers take the secondary seat during the journey. A reader is a voyeur and s/he keeps on peeking into the world of the actual world through the translation.

Kumar might have come across a moon that takes bath in a pond, but as a reader “The Moon in Paris,” reminded me of a story from Sasthipada Chattopadhyay’s “Pandav Goyenda,” series wherein the moon is reminded of the pond as it is the only way the former could meet the five brothers personally. This was intimate to me. Readers of Calvino would take it in a different way but the poem is going to have its own soul and many new readers. Sarma silently keeps the situation before his readers know Kumar’s approach to poetry.

The poem says:

“…that’s the moon,
her elbow on the Eiffel Tower

she’s not our moon
who appears in our courtyard
through the gaps of the coconut leaves

stepping out of the bathtub
the moon has just left the bathroom
wearing a gown made of dazzling ice

she’s not our moon

our moon takes birth in a pond
changes her clothes in a bamboo grove
and taking a leap through the field
sleeps on a bed of grass.”

The poet is a rooted one, though the translator carries the weight with pleasure. So, the bathroom of the moon is more than just a room to take a bath in. It works to disturb the constant and monotonous experiences of people within the boundaries of the sphere. Everything that seems ordinary can find its own way to be the exclusive one if the vision appeals towards the development of the inner world more than the outer. Italo Calvino’s moon secreted milk for the pleasure of the writer and his readers. Nilim Kumar’s moon takes a bath, sleeps on a bed of grass, and drops her clothes. The serendipity of a peculiar sensuality finds its way through both languages.

The adoration of the poet for folk legends named Kamala Konwari, and her husband, also the King of Kamrup, Bari Konwar, is certainly one of a kind. Sarma, as a translator, brings to life, the legends for the rest of the world. The silence of the Queen to show respect towards the dharma of her husband (king) is what the poet wants to break. The subtlety and beauty lie in how the translation was not blunt, to ensure the resurrection of the love of the legends. What matters in modern poetry is the intention more than the existence it wants to give shape to. For me, the poet chose the latter one for a surreal kind of pleasure only a poet gets to feel even in turmoil.

The poet writes:

“People call you in thirst for water, they call me in thirst for song.

Come, in call of the people,
we resurrect.

I am Bari Konwar, the same one,
I carry a song for you on my lips.

Kamala Konwari,
Kamala Konwari.”

The sacrifice of Kamala Konwari is a twin-edged sword. Some may call it an act of Dharma where the queen sacrificed herself for the sake of the praja or people. Her beloved king still asks her to return for him, privileging love over dharma, as the only act of dharma. The poet uses role-play where he plays Bari Konwar to wish for rebirth from death in the name of dharma. The wonder lies in how the poet doesn’t explain too much, and leaves the words to do their work. I was pulled by the silence of this poem.

It is quite something to read a memoir in the form of poetry. When a person has understood what he should take from his life to keep before the world, the memoir becomes a poem even if it has been written in the form of prose.

Kya Clark from Delia Owens’ When the Crawdads Sing says,“I was not aware that words could hold so much. I did not know a sentence could be so full.” Something about this line fits so perfectly to describe Nilim Kumar’s poem “Memoir.” If Kya would have read it for her readers, the memoir would have resonated with that lonely marsh, the way she feels it is her friend with a piece of heaven hanging from the wings of the birds.

Kumar writes:
“O God, did my soul not suffer in its,
journey from attraction to repulsion,
from love to hate? What would be the use
of this soul without its existence within the body,
the body which can offer pleasure to another body,
which can give birth to another body? And when
I sang about this body, O Devil, you too were its companion
Now, how do I return it, without the body? How?”

The poem is an experience, a proper question we often ask but never confront. Kumar is seeking answer with triggers for his readers. Self-exploration brings out the monk inside the poet. We feel lonely whenever we give a portion of our soul to someone else, or even to something that is very dear to us. The reflection of our face in the mirror is an example of it. So, we see prayer and worship keeping the self in our mind. “Memoir” deserves multiple reads.

The poet’s conversation with Anindita Kar is a very important portion of the book. A reader would get intimate with the poems after going through brief answers to the questions Ms Kar poses. Poetry is not always about romanticising suffering, loneliness, and pain. Sometimes people want someone to represent these as it is. The book gets more interesting if we get to read the first page of the book where the poet answers a very important question. He is asked in Assamese: kobita ki? (What is a poem?), and he says, “Ishware kora eta dhuniyapaap (God’s most beautiful sin).

The ‘bank of the mouldy river’ is waiting for fascinating people. And the courage ‘to be the sun in the womb of a mother’ finely gets suspended within our time, cravings, choices, and, actions.

I’m Your Poet is a necessary book, and Kumar deserves to be read widely. Not very often a poet comes with the thought of ‘holding hands just to have a look at the sadness’ we all go through.

Buy the book here

Kabir Deb is an author and poet based in Karimganj, Assam. He works in Punjab National Bank and has completed his Masters in Life Sciences from Assam University and is presently pursuing his MCW from Oxford University, London. He is the recipient of Social Journalism Award, 2017; Reuel International Award for Best Upcoming poet, 2019; and Nissim International Award, 2021 for Excellence in Literature for his book ‘Irrfan: His Life, Philosophy and Shades’. He runs a mental health library named ‘The Pandora’s box to a Society called Happiness’ in Barak Valley.

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