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  Books   09 Sep 2023  Walking the lanes of personal history in Rahim’s shoes

Walking the lanes of personal history in Rahim’s shoes

THE ASIAN AGE. | SUDEEP GHOSH
Published : Sep 9, 2023, 5:56 pm IST
Updated : Sep 9, 2023, 6:02 pm IST

A review of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s latest collection

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Book of Rahim & Other Poems (Westland Books 2023) is an invocation of literary icons Rahim and Ghalib coupled with the precise juxtaposition of personal memories. (Image: DC)
 Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Book of Rahim & Other Poems (Westland Books 2023) is an invocation of literary icons Rahim and Ghalib coupled with the precise juxtaposition of personal memories. (Image: DC)

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Book of Rahim & Other Poems (Westland Books 2023) is an invocation of literary icons Rahim and Ghalib coupled with the precise juxtaposition of personal memories. Divided into four sections, Mehrotra imparts a nuanced understanding of belonging, culture, memory, identity, exile and revival by shifting the reader’s perspective closer to the treasures of truth, personal and cultural. The experimental nature of the work opens up alternative ways of understanding how ‘writing’ works in modern episteme and gains the legitimacy of historical and cultural discourses.

In Section I ‘Book of Rahim’, Mehrotra’s free-flowing reworking of Rahim’s lines solicits readers to unlock unexamined truths. In ‘Schoolboy’s Rahim’, one marvels at the visionary quality of the poet-philosopher whose epigrammatic lines anatomise human suffering: “Keep grief / to yourself, Rahim says,/Sharing doesn’t help. It only leaves/ chinks in your armour/that others exploit.” To quote another doha (couplet): “To walk the path of love, Rahim says,/ is to ride a wax horse over fire”, Rahim evokes a satiric gaiety in human introspection and transformation. In the uncanny simplicity of Rahim’s verses, one encounters a burst of timeless wisdom.
 
The Section II ‘Ghalib, A Diary’ deepens the experience. Adopting the technical ingenuity of the British poet Basil Bunting’s form, Mehrotra brings out Ghalib’s existential nihilistic frame of mind that reacts to the dictates of irrational ideas. Also delivered are a sense of his penury and his cavalier attitude to life, his aversion to the conceit of cultural superiority, his rancor with the willfulness of authority, and his brooding depression.
 
Section III ‘Book of Lahore’ invokes telling sites of memory to interrogate the construction of personal identity. Drawing on a repertoire of personal memory, the poem ‘Lahore’ is a poignant reminder of Mehrotra’s early memories of Lahore where he was born and which he had to leave following the tragedy of Partition. The autobiographical ‘11 Temple Road’, with a wealth of allusions to other books, is a testimony to the author’s fervent desire to relive the “city of my birth”. The recollections of his mother’s memorabilia also exude exilic sensibility, too deep to assuage Mehrotra’s desire for an extended dialogue with Lahore.

Section IV ‘Laugh Club of Gandhi Park’ finds meaning in diurnal realities. The poems show how an event can animate a train of thought. The faces in ‘Neighbourhood’, a tribute to the radical Hindi poet Mangalesh Dabral, register the innocence of poor. With refreshing chutzpah and flamboyant use of meter and rhyme, the poet manages to see past the politician’s “well-cushioned mouth” and tear the veil of his “colour-schemed thoughts” which reveal the cruel games he plays with their efforts which he not once spares a care for, what with his elitist’s voluntary blindness. The eyebrows of the weighing scale man in front of the ‘General Post Office’ present the reader with an intense stab of recognition. ‘Cage’ and ‘Tent’ unravel a moment that brings forth a tactile solidity to fleeting moments. Mehrotra captures flashes of prismatic light on the edges of daily life.

Mehrotra’s Book of Rahim & Other Poems is a wondrous, inventive mode of interaction between memory and the act of writing. His book crafts an alert awareness of writing that allows a candid conversation with texts and contexts in exploring the possibilities of meaning. Mehrotra’s measure of subjectivity prioritises invisibility over the visibility of cultural narratives. In that sense, the book is a solemn journey to launch one’s personal expedition into memory and the past and explore the congruence of auto-ethnography and intertextuality.

Book of Rahim & Other Poems
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra  
Westland Books
pp. 67; Rs 399

Tags: book review 2023, poetry, translation, memory, culture