Weaving Stories From the Pashmina Threads of Memory: A Review of Sayan Aich Bhowmik’s I Will Come With A Lighthouse 

Somrita Misra

“There have been evenings

                                                     When my grandmother would weave stories

                                                     From the Pashmina threads of memory

                                                   She would seamlessly arrange all the events

                                                  which I then knew by heart

                                                and she would keep weaving

                                                 long narrow, now foreign lanes

                                                 which ran like mice throughout the fabric.”

                                                                                (“Dhaka”, Lines 1-8).

     When I read the title of Bhowmik’s collection of poetry, my first thought was of sunshine and sea beaches, of night skies with full moons and beautiful scenic landscapes. The collection has turned out to be that and so much more. The book divides itself into sections like “Longing and Solitude”, “On Love”, “Political Poems”, etc. But there is a seamless narrative running through the collection, connecting one section to another without any apparent connecting lines. Like the borders of Amitav Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, I Will Come With A Lighthouse brims over with porous thoughts and ideas, a layered narrative of stories in verse. What struck me is a longing for the ideal, for the home that runs through the poems. There are the lines: “I trace cities on the map/cities which were once my own/Lahore, Delhi, Dhaka . . . I run my fingers all over the atlas/and the tips of my fingers/smell of blood” (“Mapping Blood”, Lines 1-3, 8-11). There is such a haunting desire for the erasure of boundaries in these lines; a desire for a common country and common cities that runs counter to the polarized divisiveness  of our times.

     There runs through all of Bhowmik’s poems a kind of meditative quality: small nuggets of wisdom that force the reader to contemplate and think. Consider these lines from the poem “Separation”: “ . . . When the city burns on the wings of the butterfly/somewhere, someone sets/the dogs on men returning home/having sold off everything that day” (Lines 5-10). It is as if the poet is luring the reader into a trail of thoughts and meditations; leading the reader down the road of memory lane to moments long forgotten: “Memory is a foreign tongue/rusting on spiral staircases/that go all the way/to the moon” (Lines 11-14). The meditative quality continues into the love poems, strangely volatile and tranquil at the same time: “Across that long courtyard/where I once sat/eating pistachios and drinking tea/your ghost talks with mine/in a tongue/which turns words into air . . .” (“First Time”, Lines 1-6). The love poems hum with a feeling of unrequited affection, a desire to possess an ephemeral beloved who refuses to reciprocate or even acknowledge the love of the speaker: “. . . I sit with unpaid bills/waiting for the things, like the sky/and your heart to crack open” (“Of Things Like the Sky”, Lines 21-24).

     There is, within Bhowmik’s poems, palpable evidence of poetic and personal influences. Aga Shahid Ali’s name comes up as does the name of ‘Thamma’, the poet’s grandmother, who he has recognized as a huge influence, in his interviews on the book. We see the reference to Shahid in “Twin Cities”: “I switch between two languages/when writing about you/between Faiz and Shahid/between nights descending on Lahore/and evenings on grocery shops in my neighborhood” (Lines 1-5). In another poem, “Kashmir”, the despair that Shahid echoed in his poems on Kashmir, is blatantly felt: “Here I am/writing about my favorite hell/holding a tourist brochure in hand . . . But in the heaven/that is not on any tourist brochure/tombstones have names” (Lines 1-3, 6-8). Bhowmik’s poetry brims over with the possibilities of dissolving barriers; his poems yearn to dismantle religious and cultural divisions: “The ants on my wall/form a long procession from opposite sides/meeting and greeting each other . . . My grandmother, when alive, / would have hoped people migrated like that/to their Pakistans/to their Hindustans” (“Pakistans and Hindustans”, Lines 1-3, Lines 6-9).

     Disputed territories and displaced people find their space within the folds of poems in I Will Come With A Lighthouse. The haunting pain of a citizen in a conflict zone is seen in the poem, “In Dreams”: “ . . . A curfew has been imposed on spring/even the flowers look askance/before winking at the bees./The wind blows through the bullet holes/decorating my city’s punctured lungs” (Lines 5-8).  We see the same grief in “Treasures”: “ . . . This was the currency of a land/without identity cards/where a blueprint of the night/lies at bureaucratic desks/and distance between temples and mosques/no one cares to remember” (Lines 6-11). Bhowmik captures the dissociative isolation felt by people in conflict zones and disputed territories and strives to show how any victim of trauma is connected to another victim who has suffered, even though they may belong to different religions. The universal grief of partition or displacement cannot be compartmentalized; binaries of victimhood are dangerous and unnecessary in a Sub-continent wracked with artificial borders and divisions. The fissures within the heart will become that much harder to overcome if we refuse to let the fissures of the land heal; this realization permeates all of the poems of Bhowmik.

     Poetry, Wordsworth said, “is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions”. For Shelley, poets were “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. What very few people realize perhaps is how difficult it is to write poetry; to capture your flowing thoughts into verse onto the page can be a daunting task. But Bhowmik has proven that poetry can be natural and effortless; the poems in I Will Come With A Lighthouse are like water flowing into a spring, as graceful and as spontaneous. Each and every section is beautiful and each section’s poems meld into the other sections in a palimpsestic narrative of meanings. Reading this beautiful collection has been sheer joy, all the more savored because the poet is a dear senior colleague and friend. I hope this collection falls into the hands of every hope starved reader to bring a ‘lighthouse’ of happiness and expectations.   

Bhowmik, Sayan Aich. I Will Come With A Lighthouse. New Delhi: Hawakal, 2022. Print.  

13th April 2022

SOMRITA MISRA is an Assistant Professor of English in Chanchal College, Malda. She has obtained her M.Phil. from the University of Calcutta in 2013. The author’s M.Phil. thesis is entitled “The Magical Brethren: An Analysis of the Social and Political Hierarchy in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series”. The author is a Ph.D scholar at Diamond Harbour Women’s University. Her areas of research interests include British Fantasy, Kashmiri Testimonial writings, and partition narratives.

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