For a few years since the ‘listicle’ has been in existence, there have been countless nostalgia pieces on the ’90s and the faint memories of a simpler time. These pieces have been liked, shared, poured over and eulogised to no end. But what has been grossly missing from these trips down memory lane is the poetic sense of the era gone by, with a sense of perspective that is almost always missing. Hence, enter the young poets of India, writing in English, as they reminisce and consider our past, especially the post-globalisation years, through a new anthology.
When the term post-globalisation gets thrown around, a couple of images or events come to mind. The introduction of the cellular phone, cable television, the creaking sound of the phone lines as we dialled for a desperately slow internet connection. What way to better capture these images, than through the words of some of the finest young poets writing in the country at the moment. Right from the very first couple of poems in this anthology you can get a sense of what awaits us as Aditi Rao writes in her poem titled, Dear Mr Yadav, I too am an Indian Woman:
I am anxious in tight crowds that carry memories of touch and helplessness.
I am learning to shimmy out of colours I did not choose. I remain an Indian woman.
These lines, probably, perfectly encapsulate the rise of feminism through the ’90s and evoke the memory of events that came to define such fragile existences of dissent amongst India’s women – whether it is the Jessica Lal murder, or the Delhi rape case of 2012. Technology as it so evidently has evolved over the years finds the perfect exponent in Akhil Katyal’s In the 1.4 MB floppy disk:
I used to gift you two or three photographs,
(jpeg’s were smaller than .bmp’s),
Of us standing on the Gomti embankment,
Or of you at the Chota Imambara
Katyal manages to weave a floppy disk into verse, and it is bound to resonate with everyone who has ever used the black square-shaped discks to carry whatever little files they could on them during the years before the compact disc arrived. Katyal’s unique style and subject matter are splashed across his body of work as it is represented here in the anthology. The issue of caste, aside from issues like that of gender bias, find voice in the book. A poem by Aruna Gogulamanda reads:
She was dirt. . .
She was filth. . .
She was an object of contempt and insult.
And in this country of thousands of goddesses,
She was called a Dalit. . .
It is heartening to see writers write about issues that have come to form the discourse of the country, in the recent decades, rather than just stay aboard the nostalgia vehicle and consider only the niceties of our immediate past. Poems like these make poetry as essential to our discourse, as say any other channel, or mode of expression. There is a politics here, as there is perhaps to every piece of art ever conceived. An anthology of post-globalisation poetry would be incomplete without invoking the very event itself as Chandramohan S does through Why Loiter?:
(In the Neoliberal times)
The era of open markets
Added color to the stale world
Of only white lingerie,
No place to dry pink panties.
Chandramohan refers here to the introduction of pink-coloured panties that were, perhaps, non-existent in pre-liberalisation India. Goirick Brahmachari writes an Ode to the Indian Coffee House – keeping in mind the introduction of the western idea of the coffee shop – and Hemang Desai considers the baffling numbers and hysteria surrounding the sensex. You could be forgiven for taking a moment to put the book down and ponder over the landscape that these poets have painted. Maaz Bin Bilal addresses the absurdity at the heart of our social media presence, while Manjiri Indurkar captures the loneliness in our lives, throttled as they are by capitalism and the idea of the ‘big city’ in the deeply moving Alienation:
From the girl who plans on leaving her job everyday
To the boy who burns his food everyday
We all exist in the narrow spaces of this big city
Where we all walk its littered path
Buy our groceries
Pay our electricity bills
And hold on to our rented spaces.
Nitasha Kaul ponders over the irresolvable political dispute that is Kashmir in Kashmir: the wait is, and is not while Pallavi Narayan takes us to the days of Doordarshan and its array of programmes in Garden Games. Rohan Chhetri considers poverty in the light of a new aspiration that was fed to a generation through western programming on cable television during the ’90s while Sohini Basak deals with the blast of advertising as it was after the Indian markets were opened to the world. Of course, any piece of nostalgia on the ’90s would be incomplete without an ode to the Indian Postal Services. Soibam Haripriya writes in Ode to a letter:
The letter lies unwritten
Like so many silences
That grow heavy as a heart.
From memories of ‘Raja and Rancho – the tv show’ to the existential crisis of a generation, the anthology is a near-complete emotional journey to a past we so fondly like to talk about – ‘those were the days’ as we may have said a thousand times.
But like any other anthology there are a few things one would wish he could have found in it; for example, something about the India’s first televised war (Kargil) or the indelible impact on our psychology through some iconic cartoon shows – like say Dexter – the birth of the ‘saas-bahu’ soap opera, the culling of Arts and Culture from the pages of the press, the global impact of 9/11 and for the women writing on feminism to consider the country’s obsession with beauty pageants that took hold during the ’90s. Or maybe even have a multi-lingual anthology – the saleability of which might then suffer but would still ensure a more accurate representation of the literary demography. Perhaps, it will serve as material or inspiration to consider a follow-up to this anthology.
A mention must be made about Hemant Divate’s Poetrywala imprint that continues to challenge the contours of publishing in India by catering to poetry alone. The quality of writing, the gravity of subjects considered and nuance, with which the young authors have done so, only makes one wonder why traditionally bigger publication houses fail to back such projects. The 40 Under 40: Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry is not so much a must-read, or a must-buy as it is a must-experience.