Scaling Heights is a representative anthology of contemporary English poetry dealing with a vast gamut of themes. Well edited by Gopal Lahiri and Kiriti Sengupta, the anthology has a short but beautiful foreword by Anna Sujata Mathai who underlines that “poetry is the language of intimate soul, the secret language of the heart, the language of relationship” where “the self may discover itself”. Scaling Heights is indeed a literary "platform for young, unheard, promising poets from diverse backgrounds and established poets" showcasing “the kaleidoscopic nature of poems emerged in day to day struggle of living a life and the relentless uncoiling of action that endures torment and uncertainty” with an universal appeal. Put it simply, Scaling Heights is a flight of fancy in the literary firmament of the world literature.
To begin with, Aju Mukhopadhyaya provides the stepping stone to climb the literary height. In his poetry he deals with the themes of life, humanity, nature, spirituality including transience of life. He touches upon various facets of life from love, romance, and joy to spirituality. His are thought provoking and insightful poems, shaped up with deep understanding of human life faced with myriads of problems. He believes that with one’s persistent patience and unflinching faith in oneself ‘the turbulent sea would thaw’ at last. He boosts up readers with his motivating and encouraging poetry.
The world looks beautiful with variegated nature and immense love for the people. With his inner sense a man realizes the pitfalls of life's each moment in ‘action or in thought’ and regains inner succor in deep silence. Anup Datta’s poems portray such a world very vividly. Love, human relationships and hope despite all pessimism play a significant role in the poems of Anupam Naskar. His “In Hopes Of” record sustained endeavors with varied moods.
The poetic world of Atreya Sarma U. is dominated by chains of life like pain, relationships, intimacy, flora and fauna and romanticism. At the same time, paradoxes in human life and the sense of contrasts and paradoxes are also dominant in his poems. His poems evoke and kindle varied emotions in readers. He expresses his yearning to transcend ‘time and space’. Chandra Shekhar Dubey’s poems portray the picture of beautiful nature with vivid and excellent imageries; they also have a veiled satire on the political conditions. His poems are also soaked in past memories with realistic portrayal of the society. The world, where ‘a meal prefixes a deal/ and a deal suffixes a meal’, is in helter-skelter, everything being topsy-turvy. He longs for making it up with peace that ‘comes from within’. His political satire is very pinching in Parliament of Owls.
Anupam Roy’s poems are replete with tender feelings for the one he loves so much, and whose smiles soothe him in his ‘deepest heart to the brim full’. His love for siblings and children is reflective with deep touch. On the other hand, to Aparna Pathak, ‘Longing is beautiful’, ‘leaving trail of love’. The poet has a quest for introspection to quench the thirst of life here and beyond. She is of the view that carrying on the spiritual pursuits is ‘never a waste’. A sense of enthusiasm and human dignity is felt in her poem when she proclaims-“Even the blind did not lag behind’. She also expresses her bewilderment at the hectic life in the rapid world.
In the poems of Chitra Banerjee, continuous flux of time with its unending problems, its powers, evolution of humanity predicament of human life and various other issues pertaining to contemporary society find an excellent expression. Love is also an important theme of her poetry. She finds 'the pleasure of union of love', ‘happiness’, and 'bliss of achievements' and this is all possible due to eternal time. She also laments the loss of 'compassion, commitment, cohesion' and sense of 'coexistence', as 'corruption, coercion, caucus, cacophony' has taken their place. Her poems also elucidate upon the human existence with a metaphysical quest to know the genesis of life and the destination of death, with ugly turns of adverse circumstances. The naked truth is reflective in her poetry. The indifferent attitude of man to understand the ultimate reality also bothers her.
The growing commercialization and materialism has gripped the whole world. There is an alarming threat to ecological balance and to humanity that is losing the touch of heart. All the emotional, social, natural values, trust, fellow-feelings and love are receding at a faster pace. The poems of Diwakar Pokhriyal are testimony to this realization. He cries over 'detached humanity', as “We eat animals leaving nature stun” due to “Prioritizing money over life”. Very heavy-heartedly he accepts – “From golden emotional heart,/ We write 'Irony of humanity'. He is all praise for the beauty of his beloved, love that keeps him “away from misunderstanding and lies”. However, his loving heart is pained to see “Selfish love raping trust” and traumatized souls groping for the relief. There pervades a sense of realism, with melancholy, throughout his poems. Almost the same theme also echoes in the poems of Gayatri Majumdar who gives a wonderful vent to her random thoughts from the corridors of her consciousness. Desires, aspirations and dreams underlie unfulfilled and shattered. Her poems are soaked in sadness and frustrations. She has nostalgia for her love, now no longer with her but the sudden remembrance of her lost love comes up and that finds a tragic mention in her poems.
In the poems of Gopal Lahiri we find vivid hues of love and life, despite losses, sadness and inevitable setbacks are aglow with profound thoughts and ideas. As a lover of nature, he expresses his anxieties about man-made pollutions resulted from urbanization process, that are emitting toxins everywhere, that have defiled the true beauty of nature. He bemoans the loss of good things from our society. Silence speaks louder than his words in his poems with tormented soul. Colors used in his poems paint various pictures of the contemporary world. They evoke emotions in the readers to grasp the dignity of humanity. His poems present “a rare spectrum” with elusive words “in emptiness” flooding his emotions “on unstable crust of silence.” The vivid description of beauty also finds its due place in his poems. In short, he is a poet full of potentiality and possibilities.
Simplicity has great attraction in our life. With it comes a large number of good things that bring great joy and pleasure for us. Jagdish Keshav is all praise for its importance in our life. However, with the change of time and trends, true values of simplicity are being eroded and this erosion has saddened the poet. The poet calls simplicity his ‘friend’ and ‘companion’. He expresses his dissatisfaction with the present life styles followed in cities. For this chaotic situation he holds the people responsible- “But that came from men and not the beasts of the jungle.” Exploration into the unexplored aspects of life, into the beautiful aspects of the unseen and the hidden is yet another theme of his poetry.
Love, life, existential concerns, the plight of the underprivileged and dalits, naxalism, human predicament form the basic core of the poems of Dr Jaydeep Sarangi. Different patterns of thoughts with musical echo beautify his poetic style and impressive creativity. Living in “Lonely corridors” of the metro he is concerned with “threat to my (his) native links.” To him a city life is too disturbing as he metaphorically remarks- “Like any metro tunnel/ where life heads for a blind end.” Further, very honestly he accepts that “Love is rather a skinny matter/ I collect somebody’s leftover.” In his poetry his silence speaks loudly, realizing “full circle of things”. To him time is all that matters. As a strong voice of the marginalized, he is consciously concerned with the sad plight of the downtrodden being subjected to atrocities and tortures not only by highhanded police but also by their own leaders who “cut down your (their) throat/ they take your (their) land and bow.” For betterment of their life, he is hopeful “Indian Maxim Gorky can save a race.” His poetry is a realistic depiction of “our Alice-moments in dramatic life.”
In his poems Jubin Ghosh confesses his Platonic love and deep longing for Deblina. His poetry is like “a note written with sand on a snail’s tail.” His personal thoughts and feelings run through his poems, “with ease and personal purity.” He believes in permanency of love, hence despite sea-changes in “villages and the towns” his love for her is unchanging.
Jyothsna Phanija’s poetry presents the Golden Twilight in the extended night of life with dreams, hope and happiness. She also takes up the theme of superstitions prevalent in our society and in ignorant people. Childhood days still tempt her to their glorious phases of delight “like lambent moonlight”. To her a child is the prince or the princess of “enkindling light” in the “river of happiness, mountainous innocence”. She yearns for returning “to the shells of memories childhood seashore site”. There is a pervading sense of loneliness and nostalgia in her poems. Intensity of love with sensuousness is reflective of hers as well. Moreover, like a true poet of women, she takes their side. Through the poignant portrayal of miseries of Sayori, she brings home the point - even today we find the Sayori in many other women of the nation.
Kiriti Sengupta's poems advocate “spiritual pursuits” and quests in life. His poetic endeavor lies in unclouding our souls to “Reach the void, and see the cage”. In his poetry we find the ways to unravel the mysteries of the unexplored facets of human life. However, he holds the view that “defining soul is difficult.” His thoughts on metaphysical aspects of life veer around the “Nucleus” of mysticism and spirituality- “Whatever you wish, darling; remember, the limit is half of a thousand.” As a spiritual insightful poet, he perceives the invisible presence of the Invisible.
The poetic world of Madhumita Ghosh is replete with love and romance, in addition to the beauty of nature all around. Symbolical interpretation of the subtle meaning of Goddess Kali is testimonial to her firm faith in the feministic principle of creation, destroying the evil “racing across the universe/ to usher in the good.” The most striking feature of her poetry is her bold expression of revolts against the age-old stereotyped social norms. With her feminist sensibility she challenges social taboo and the restrictions imposed on women desirous of tasting the ‘forbidden fruit’. On the other hand, the poetic garden of Mary Annie A.V. is dotted with beautiful portrayal of variegated nature with butterflies of thoughts, humming around smiling flowers, whistling winds, vast sea while singing songs of life, realizing the power of destiny, making compromise with predicament in life. She emerges the best with her striking expressions like “Wheels that move on/ birth life and death./ Moments of peace/ sandwiching.” There are several beautiful images that depict life with its ebbs and tides. Pessimistic elements found in her poems show the positive side of her poetic writings. She remarks- “I am ripped open / left to bleed.”
Mohini Gurav’s fascination with theme of love is remarkable in her poems. Through the ‘Magic of Love’ she wishes to establish an amicable empire of peace and harmony in the world ripped off by the commercial onslaughts. Nostalgia is an important tool that racks up the romance and love in her. As a poet of love and romance she believes that the romantic smiles have the capability of uplifting soul to a blissful height. In her poems she talks about the beautiful relations and formation of strong bonds. She puts more emphasis to live a life of love and joy, as the ‘Time flies’, ‘Leaving the memories behind’. She is aware of the hard reality of life and hence suggests that love alone can resolve the problems of life- “Language is misused to/ Create misunderstandings,/ Quarrels and rivalries many/Which can be solved with love/ Care and concern only.” She expresses her anguish over killing girl child. With true motherly pathos she pleads-“Save female foeticides./I wish to see them bloom/ Like the way I do.” She is also kind to animals and requests through her poems not to resort to animal butchering. As a lover of peace, she reiterates to establish harmony in the world. Her poetry is really a brilliant expression of her thoughts on various universal things of life.
Moinak Dutta’s poems are his poetic outbursts. He opines that true poetry is born in the loving heart of a tormented mind, bringing smiles on his/ her face, and it provides peace to their soul. A poem deals with outer world and the innermost. It has an eternal promise. It is a thoughtful reflection of beauty of nature. A brilliant and apt use of elegant similes and metaphors, and personifications to convey his message is another beauty of his poetic technique.
In her poems, Monika Pant deals with several themes from life, world, desires and lusts, joy and pleasures, pain, dreams, illusion, transition, nature, beauty, philosophical quest, juxtaposing of ethereal and earthly, and most importantly the renunciation and emancipation. Her poetry is “A kaleidoscope of dreams/ emotions distilled in a cup of poison” on “a painted picture” of life, in the “perfect world/ like an elusive dream.” She muses over the futility and transitory of dreams and world, and desires. She believes that the emotions pursuits are obviously painful. With a very beautiful commentary on the Indian landscape made during her train journey, she describes the beauty of pied nature and then she questions philosophically- “What is this journey, if at all?/ Who goes where? And who stands still? “. Further, she reveals her assumption- “Am I the viewer and you the viewed?/ Or is it you who is watching over me still? “ Attachment and detachment are one of the real concerns of the poet. She has firm faith in dignity of man. “A born heretic, an enlightened man,/ A man nevertheless”. She makes eye-opening remarks- “Lust for gold, or for the flesh,/ The deep dark desires within,/ Who knows how to dislodge a vice?” She sarcastically underlines- “Steeped in worldly pleasures-/They are no worse than/ His Holiness desecrated.” And this summarizes her thoughts at one place.
Payal Pasha expresses her love for the animals, children and natural objects. She is moved to see the plight of beggars. Her poems lie in proper redressing of their problems which find full expression in her poetry. She appeals to the people to have kindness for each one here in the world. Sometimes, she turns philosophical and perceives ‘invisible arms’. She believes ‘after all,/What goes around comes around.’ Her ‘Crusade’ is a triumphant of her thoughts on love and life. She rightly says that ‘my love is much stronger/ than your hate ever will be.’ In ‘Friends’, she prays for warmth of closeness between two friends as to her ‘a friend is a mirror that tells the truth.’ However, in absence of ‘goodwill’, ‘ego rides in the driver’s seat’.
Ananaya S. Guha has great feelings for October as it has his “winter of longing” and at the same time, ‘wistful’ ‘nostalgia’. “Me, You” is a beautiful poem with beautiful ideas about ‘memory“. He is the best in his shortest poem 'Childhood' with his striking lines. “We sell our souls/and she sells her childhood” contains a scathing satire and also compassion for penurious children, bereft of happiness of their childhood. Angad Singh Saluja deals with many universal facets of life, evil practices of untouchability and vices polluting human life, subjugation of women being tortured. His portrayal of caste discrimination and rape of virtues is haunting and touching.
Nitin Soni seems to be a poet of realism, who has heart of gold for the poorer sections of society. His faith in human values is reflective in his poems to a larger extent. Like “Trees are lamenting the separation of leaves”, he is saddened to see that miseries and sorrow of the world mocks “at the state of happiness”. However, there prevails “Naked Silence, naked reality” everywhere. His is poetry of protests and revolts against the social systems, a pinching satire on the coldness of the people. As a poet of the underprivileged sections of society, he is sympathetic to their plight with all his generosity and compassionate heart. Absurdity of human life, and all our so-called charitable acts is another theme that his poetry deals with a great sense of realism, for “We are tormented creatures of a ‘Silent-burdened-clock’,/ Frustrated by the cycle of life.”
Perugway Ramkrishna‘s poems are the realistic portrayal of human predicament, social realism optimistic zeal and advocate for the global unity in the interest of humanity as a whole. On the other hand, Prabir Roy is aphoristic in his brilliant expression of his ideas. His poetry not only reflects existential concerns but also weaves pearls of wisdom with philosophy of life. The element of cosmic divinity is sparkling also.
In his poetry, Pradipta Kumar Mohanty presents a comprehensive overview of human life with all varied moods and vivid vision. His longing for the reality, hope in despair, dreams, love all find a brilliant expression. There is a perfect blend of romanticism and spirituality culminating into ecstatic bliss. He explores the ‘novelty/ by crossing every possible boundary’.
With his ‘twinkling, sparkling’ poems of love, Prahallad Satpathy recalls his ‘girl poem’, the poetic muse and goes on to the extent of his own subjectivity. His beautiful description of ‘the geographical territory’ leads him to the subtle realm, where he perceives Death as a silent ‘Intruder’. He is alive to the realization that ‘life continues in this earth/ and death continues in this earth’ and that we are mere players in ‘the celestial drama’ till the end.
Ram Sharma’s poems are ‘sweet lull echo of music’ wafting from deep ‘darkness’ with ‘vibrations of positivity’. He takes his readers to a soulful sojourn ‘Beyond seeing- beyond mind’ dipping their soul ‘in the vast ocean of celestial light’. Further, he rightly remarks that ‘relations become foggy/ when words become wounds’. He satirizes modern people with no touch of spirituality- ‘men are drinking petrol and diesel/ eating their heart and soul.’ His poetic creed is to ‘revive the life’ and ‘concrete soul’.
The poems of Ramakanta Das revolve around human life with vast envelope of celestial light. He prescribes the ‘praying words’ of divinity to heal the hearts writhing in pangs of loneliness on their ‘allotted spot’. He highlights the fact of life that we are born with 'a transitory existence on parole/ in the thickness of harsh realities’. Only the divine force recharges our life and redeems us. Spirituality and aphorism are the hallmark of his poetry.
In the days of high-tech age everything is being translated into a virtual reality. Love, emotion, poetry are all there with their warmth that the techno-savvy feels and this feeling has found a brilliant expression in the poetry of Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee. He presents a world of dreams where love provides ‘warmth of home’. Love remains forever from the cruel clutch of Time. That’s why he woos his beloved to spend some precious times with him, enjoying to the fullest each and every moment of life. The apt use of metaphor and the diction add beauty to his poetry.
The poetry of Sunil Sharma is a beautiful tapestry with a fine portrait of life and diurnal activities being executed in Mumbai. From pictorial description of the monsoon to the sad plight of the begging people, all these are wonderfully reflected with a human touch. His appreciation of God’s 'wonderful sky’ is quite noteworthy. His poetry is the heartfelt outcome of his keen and minute observation of objects of nature that provides the reader with aesthetic pleasure.
Tapeshwar Prasad expresses his love of nature with all its constructive and destructive power. Influenced by pantheistic idea of P B Shelley, he finds immense significance of nature in life. Celestial beauty of nature appeals to his soul. Imagistic, aphoristic expressions captivate the readers with their subtlety and fluid movement of thoughts, draped in the “Universal language of love.’ Despite ‘the worldly tricks’ and the ‘broken man’ in him, he tries his best to search for the meaning in life. His poetry is noted for a wonderful expression of the inevitability of death and transience and futility of life.
Varsha Singh, in her poetry, sings the glory of unification of love in proper harmony with the thought and imagery. She believes that ‘love is utmost / without a rule/ which keeps alive/ the sense of life’ and it’s the sectarian people ‘who made the world/ fractured from within.’ The vivid description of the earthly beauty is at its best with ‘grandeur covered with elegance’. Her poems are aglow with ‘sublime radiance’. Her English translation of Hindi poems is also much more beautiful that exhibit her special translation skills.
Vihang A. Naik’s poetry is a manifestation of his poetic creed, his creative vision and beauty, intensity of strong emotions, philosophy of life, sense of realism, eco-socio-political concerns, and existential dilemma. His poetry has several features, both thematically and technically. Love for native places, personal love, ecological concerns, ambiguity, beauty of nature, quest for the meaning in life, poetic vision are some of the recurring themes that find a brilliant and frequent expression in his poems.
Vivekanand Jha’s poems are all soaked deep in spirituality and profound philosophy which, in perfect blend, provide ‘a true meaning of life’ despite ‘a cascade of complexities’. His poetry deals with his insightful thought that form ‘a shelter and shadow’ for the tired travelers from ‘heat wave’ of the world. His contemplative soul has a quest to ‘illumine’ his darkness. Also, some elements of satire find a corrective expression.
To sum up, Scaling Heights provides succor to the soul, joyous beauty to mind and heart, deep insights and vision to the people, by scaling down the height of ever elevating poetic skyscraper. This comprehensive anthology of 202 poems by fifty six accomplished talented and emergent poets from different parts of the country is very pleasant and enjoyable and a must read book for all the lovers of poetry across the world.
Reviewed by Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar
Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar is a trilingual poet (Maithili, Hindi and English ), short story writer and a reviewer, based in Kolkata. He is regularly published in various national and international magazines, both printed and online. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org