Book Review by Amit Shankar Saha

A Diffused Room by Niladri Mahajan

Partridge India, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4828-4650-8, Pp. 110
A Diffusion of Impressions into Verse

“The Book of Barasat” is a series of poems by Niladri Mahajan about the poet’s impressions of a small town and its various incidents. There is nothing fantastic in these impressions and yet there is nothing ordinary about them. Niladri Mahajan’s poems traverse a realm that is diffused. It is a realm between time and space, Vedanta and modern science, living and nonliving, romantic and surreal, and the meditative and reflective. “The Book of Barasat” has nineteen poems. The first poem in the series has the lines “When I first came here in 1986/ The temperature was 11 degree centigrade with/ A year full of pale morning and trees of light,” which has almost a Wordsworthian ring to it. The poet progresses through melancholy in the second poem and reaches a meditative phase in the third: “The simplest way to remain in sanity/ Is to embroider the hidden sky”. He concludes the three stages of his prelude with the line “We exist in this forgetfulness.” The following poems from IV to XIX are about various incidents, activities, people and establishments the poet encounters in Barasat like “A Medical Representative”, “The Flower Exhibition”, “Harkhola”, “Skylight Studio”, “Baro Bazar”, “Chhayabani” and ending with “Disclaimers”: “Barasat is not a real/ City, it existed/ A thousand years ago/ In a fictitious place/ Called Jerusalem”.
“The Book of Barasat” is not the only series of poems in Niladri Mahajan’s book A Diffused Room. There is also “Simple Things” which consists of ten short poems. The very first poem in the series, titled “Somewhere Else”, sets the theme of love and deserves to be fully quoted:
A fresh spring comes
Whenever I see you, every time
As I hold your hand. You quiver like the
Fumble music of diffused light,
Deep inside me.
It scents anew, every time you come.
Later on, in a journey of letting go, the poet realizes in the poem which gives the series its name, the profound impression of unrequited love: “Life has such magic/ Without any glow.” There are two other independent poems, one a longer piece and the other a comparative shorter one, form counterpoints to each other. These two poems are “Bongaon Local at 7 p.m.” and “Bongaon Local at 4 a.m.” The lines in both the poems are structured to resemble the sounds of a moving train. The first poem reflects on a journey taken daily from Sealdah to Barasat. The second poem starts with the line: “We are passing through a dream.” If the former poem describes a material phenomenon, the latter gives a transformed reality of it. Such are the uncanny perceptions of Niladri Mahajan and the juxtapositions of his mundane and extrasensory journeys to create a rich interplay of the ordinary and the magical.
Themes of unrequited love and the interplay of dreams and reality recur in poems like “Forgetting” and “So Long” respectively. But there are poems too which are more objective of reality like the poems “The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, USA” and “Langarkhana, Haridwar”, both speaking of small universes though from altogether different perspectives. “The Present Perfect Tense” is a philosophical prose poem where Mahajan employs portmanteau words like “nonesuch” and “nonremembrance” to muse on life. Another prose poem “Narcissus” is a reflection on singlehood. At times Mahajan shows perceptive ability to come up with imagistic comparisons like in the poem “AI and Predicate Calculus”: “A crowd like thousand marbles in motion”. And sometimes he comes up with a aphoristic proclamation: “Love is but a fixed point./ A probability. Never ruled out.” Poems like “You”, “Chickens” and “Evergreens” make the readers pause at their brevity and lead them to depths of understanding and interpretations. In the poem “The ECT Handbook” the profession of Niladri Mahajan as a counseling psychologist comes to the fore. He writes: “A love for human being and madness, these two extremities/ Come round again and again, that you are a psychiatrist”. He concludes the poem with a tribute the ECT Handbook: “No one but you, my handbook of love and convalescence, of life/ Yet travelled and sufferings bravely suffered.”
Many of Niladri Mahajan’s poems are influenced by music. Poems like “Dhrupad Ashram”, “A Chromatic Harmonica”, “Rudraveena”, “Raag Patdeep”, “Braganza & Co.” form this category. In “Braganza & Co.” the poet discovers a Pearl River Piano, whose notes sound like a “timid young lady listening to the distant rain”. The poet writes that the music kept on returning to him and it was so good to have. Tagore’s explored his ideas of translation of silence and sensation into music when he was writing Chhinnapatra in 1892. Tagore was speaking of “shabdoheen shabdojagat”, which can be translated both as a “wordless world of words” and “soundless world of sounds” depending on the interpretation of the word “shabdo” as “word” or “sound”. This interplay of meanings can be found in the opening two lines Mahajan’s poem “Dhrupad Ashram” which begins with the words “Silent gathering…/ A room reverberating”. The silence in the first line is that of words and the reverberation in the second line is that of sound of music. There are other poems by Mahajan which are inspired by art. Poems like “Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata” and “Kangra School” fall in this section. Some poems are based on his travelling like “Ghoom Station”, “Santiniketan” and “Wanderings”. Most of these poems are intricately crafted and calls for an intellectual indulgence into them to enjoy their true beauty. Niladri Mahajan is a poet who dabbles in many art forms and also investigates human psyche. All these form a rich source of inspiration as well as resource to practice his art as a poet. “A Diffused Room” is a book that is both intellectually stimulating and passionately crafted and gives through a diffusion of thoughts and feelings into the reader’s mind an impression of the poet’s world of words.
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