Where Even the Present is Ancient: Benaras (A Book Club Review)


Summary

Where Even the Present is Ancient: Benaras is a book that seeks to tell the little stories that make us who we are. The author believes that Benaras resides in all of us Indians, in some beautiful often-unknown way. The author is the Sutradhar, in that she attempts to connect an India that many do not realize exists, in that it is everybody’s story. Radha, Krishna, Ganga, Benaras and Me are all characters in this deluge of poems.

This attempt at telling the story of the ancient, of love and of faith is to instil the confidence that poetry exists in all of us, everywhere, all that is needed is to smell its fragrance.

To those outside India, the book does not seek to be a representation of what India is or was, but a whiff of what it also can be. It is an attempt to ask people to see the little stories that govern all of our lives, stories that we often don’t see, but those that are important.

The audience for this book might be strewn across the globe, for faith is not religion-centric, it is people- centric and often without dimensions.

In poetry there is no beginning, no middle, nor no end. Like faith it is everywhere, it is omnipresent. The book affords no answers, nor no questions, but if you listen and read carefully you will see new things, a new beauty perhaps, one that has been silent so long.

 

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My Thoughts
Poetry is the sublime power which can show the stark truth in few strokes. This book is collection of such poetry. The book is inspired from Benaras or Varanasi, and mostly is the juxtaposition of life and the scenes of Benaras. But it’s not merely the story of experiences of the poet in Benaras; it’s the acceptance of many facts and lies we speak about life. Poet has captured the moments she saw and her understanding is reflected in these verses. As she says in her first poem:
Sometimes Benaras seems like a poem,
A long lost one, at that.I see it from a distance,
Walking across time and space,
On the edge of tomorrow
painted in history.Stories hovering in time,
Lost somehow in the lanes
And hovering as if
Just beyond the surface.

I am a Hindu, but then there are many things which make me question the traditions we follow. The poet, at times, seem to be similarly perplexed by those rituals (or maybe it was just my interpretation of the words fueled by my own confusion.) while at other moments, she was completely satisfied to bow to these rituals.

Like in poem ‘To Vishvanath’, these simple four lines capture the crowd vying for entering a temple. I haven’t been to Kashi Vishvanath temple (or Benaras), but then this crowd is one of the reasons I haven’t.
‘Vishvanath’ I had come
your doors were closed however-
With people, full of you
and yet themselves.
Another line which describes Hindu rituals so well is:
Divinity is cheap, I think
And so is living-
It is only the dying and the dead,
That become priceless.
I think my favorite lines in the poem were which describes the face of “religious” places like Benaras:
In Benaras,
you open a gate,
a God pops out.
You touch a wall, a God stares back,
nameless, faceless,
Orange and passionate.
The poet has traveled and captured Benaras at all moments, 1:30 a.m., 3:00 a.m.,5:00 a.m. She has captured myriads of emotions as well: death, religion, love, heartbreak, poverty, contentment; all of them beaded with the thread of Ganga.
What I loved

I loved that author hasn’t shied away from the reality of the place. She hasn’t tried to glamorize the place or show only the positive points. She has shown the place as she saw it– sometimes a solace, sometimes a pain.

What I didn’t like

 The poems have descriptions in the end to explain the meaning of Hindi words used. Although the meanings indicated are correct, I don’t think they are sufficient for somebody who doesn’t know anything about these rituals/customs/traditions to understand the poem. Since I’m aware about all these things, I could get what exactly the poet is saying, but not everybody will get all the poems.
Overall Opinion
 These poems touches the heart and leave one wanting to read them once more. It’s a thin book of only 78 pages, but you’ll want to read these 78 pages again and again

About the Author 

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Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a web columnist and creative writer. She is author of Reflections on My India, a book of Indian traditions and spirituality in parts. Maitreyee is also author of Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen- Bengali Cinema’s First Couple and Ichhe Holo Tai, a bilingual muti media presentation of poetry. Maitreyee is featured amongst other Indian writers such as Gulzar, Shashi Tharoor and Deepti Naval in an anthology of Indian writers Celebrating India.

 

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Tuesday Rants

Have you ever suffered from reading ennui? It is the time when nothing you read interests you, sort of like a reader’s block. (And, no this is not the literal definition.)

I have been suffering from this situation for quite a long time. I have read books of all kinds for last few months, but nothing seems to capture me or inspire me to write here.  Call it an excuse if you want, but it’s the fact for me. Even the good books failed to enrapture me. For a time, I wondered if I have lost my interest in reading. Good news is, no, I haven’t.  Finally after a long, long time, my reading ennui is broken. I have been ensnared again by not one, but two books.

1. Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Review for this should be coming up soon, but I just can’t resist saying: What a fantastic book! I’m absolutely in love with Karou.

2. Where Even The Present Is Ancient: Benaras– Another book whose review you’ll hear soon, but honestly thought provoking poetry can break even the strongest walls, and this book does that.

Have you ever felt such condition? What do you do to break this reader’s block if it comes?

Monday Musing(18.08.2014)

Musing Monday is a weekly meme from Mizb of ShouldBeReading. It asks us to talk about the books we are going to read or any bookish rant.

Today my musing is about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire

When the book and the series made so much noise, I resisted falling into them because they seemed too murderous and I try to avoid things with bloodshed. Violence bores me mostly. But on the insistence of a friend, I decided to give the HBO’s Game Of Thrones a chance.

I always make a point to read the book first. But in this case I was advised I won’t enjoy the TV series if I read the book first. So, it was TV series first. I have watched the first two season. (And no, this isn’t the post about the TV series!)

My next step was going to be to order the first book. But I think there were things which disturbed me so much that I am reluctant to get into that aspect of the story too much. As a result, I’m afraid of ordering the book. What I have seen in the first two season of the series, I’m pretty much sure the book will expound on those things.

It’s not the violence and the story in itself which makes me feel like this, but it’s the unaddressed and unnecessary glorified areas which make me feel sad. I hate the (mis)treatment of Daenerys. Although she is one of the characters I enjoyed, I just hate her relationship(s) and reactions in the story. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go through the her love scenes without tearing the book(and no, I’m not exaggerating.) I hate the way negativity is seeped in all characters. I’m not against the grey areas in characters, but then I’m absolutely against the unnecessary and the thing is that I feel everything in the story is geared toward only one goal– to show that everything in the world is evil. ‘

So here I’m, sitting silently, trying to decide if I’ll be able to stomach the detailed description of the evil in the story. I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy the show. I truly did, but it’s too much mired in darkness and in my opinion, if the show itself is that dark, the book are going to be oozing that darkness. So here I’m selecting/de-selecting the Game of Thrones from my book list.