A resonance of myriad experiences

Avtar Mota
‘Harud, The Autumn ‘ By Brij Nath Pandit ‘ Betab’
(A collection of 64 poems in English)
Publisher: Triple Zed Publishers, Kashmir
Price: Rs 250/=
Brij Nath Betab’ is a well-known media personality from the union territory of Jammu And Kashmir. Apart from being a broadcaster, he is a poet, author, speaker, essayist and literary critic. He writes in Kashmiri, Hindi ,Urdu and English. With six published books that were well received, he has earned a place for himself in the literary circles of the country . The Well known poet, lyricist and filmmaker Gulzar has included Brij Nath Betab’s poetry in his anthology of Indian poetry titled,” A Poem a Day”. Published by Harper Collins, the anthology comprises 365 poems in 34 languages from across the country. Gulzar is all praise for Betab’s poetry. And grateful Betab says,” By using my two poems, the anthology has given voice to all those people who are uprooted because of terrorism.” Prof Suvir Kaul from the University of Pennsylvania has also included Betab’s poem in his literary collection titled, ” Of Gardens And Graves: Kashmir, Poetry, Politics”. Born in Akingam, Anantnag, Kashmir, Betab is a widely travelled person within and outside the country. He has been officially associated with Sahitya Akademi, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages andBhartiya Jnanpith (Language Advisory Committee), .
Formally released on July 11, 2023, in a seminar organised by Sahitya Akademi in Srinagar, the book under review has 104 pages spread over which are 64 crisp, poignant and profoundly stimulating poems. The poet has dedicated the book to the memory of his parents. From the first poem,’ I am Shiva ‘ to the last poem, ‘Mahabharat’, the poet’s observation looks sharp, clear and devoid of any haziness or ambiguity of conception. In many places, he is forthright and direct in talking about terrorism and the devastation caused by the merchants of death and destruction. There are three moving poems dealing with the massacre of innocents at Wandhama, Chithi Singh Pora and Nandimarg. The poem dedicated to Shujat Bukhari is highly moving and profound in tribute. Bukhari was a well-known journalist and the founding editor of the ‘Rising Kashmir ‘, a Srinagar-based newspaper. He fell to the bullets of the terrorists in the Kashmir valley. I quote some poems:-
“You are off the beam.
if you thought
you erased
what my ancestors wrote
beautiful and fragrant
fascinating, prideful
please remember
Abhinav and Lall
are eternal and immortal
My pages shall never be blank……”
( poem ” blank page” )
“All day
we keep planning
discuss strategies to safeguard neighbourhood
support each other
be prepared to help
in case……..
the night changes the scenario dogs start barking
neighbour refuses
to open the door…”
( poem ‘ deceit’ )
In its multiple forms of political banishment, voluntary expatriation, and or economically-driven emigration, exile has been a literary topic since the times of ancient Greece. The subject of exile occupies a fundamental position in several world literature’s oldest masterpieces such as Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Even in Ramayana and Mahabharata , we come across the Exile of Sri Rama and the Pandavas. Exile is a major subject that surfaces in the poems of Betab. Exile undoubtedly denotes the process of separation from one’s roots, the natural and familiar environment. Through some poems appearing in the collection under review, Betab proves himself a deft handler of subjects like estrangement from the origin-disjointedness, feeling of loss, disparity, decentralization, and marginality while conveying pathos and pain of exile in a style that comes closer to the well known Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas. Sometimes I find Betab’s ‘Exile Poetry’ almost similar to the poems of well-known Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. In Betab’s poetry, the motif of exile does not appear as a matter of choice but is imposed upon it by the political and social circumstances that he and his community encountered in 1990. This exile invites the use of motifs derived from the conflict between separation from one’s homeland and soil and the desire to return. Among these motifs are memory, nostalgia, return, and absence. This is what Betab writes in a poem included in the compilation under review:-
” Rays kissing
paddy ears
yawning tree branches
inviting singing birds
dancing rivulets
playing santoor,
shepherds moving uphill
school bells ringing
skies resonating with prayers, a gunfire, the village is dead …”
( poem ‘ my village ‘)
Some poems in the book under review are nostalgia-laden. This nostalgia is associated with positive memories and evokes deep reflections. Through his poems that deal with nostalgia, Betab reconstructs images for the reader to resurrect the place or situations of his past triggering mixed emotions of pleasure and sadness. This mixed feeling sends overall positive vibes. And Betab’s nostalgic poems hold the power to safeguard the emotional contact of the reader with his obfuscated past. In many of the poems in the book under review, Betab describes nostalgically his village, willow trees, brooks, Chinars, birds, paddy fields, seasons and festivities. He is bold and eloquent when he speaks about the dagger that the merchants of death and destruction thrust into the backbone of the shared living and the composite culture of the valley. Through this collection, Betab also presents the helplessness of people for whom all options were closed by the gun wielding terrorists . Deserted or burnt structures, silence, fear, deceit, and plunder have been used as metaphors to convey the tragedy that befell the beautiful valley and its inhabitants .
There are many other interesting and excellent poems in this compilation. Specific mention needs to be made of poems like, Migratory Birds, My Post Office, Caricature, Wetland, Lady Of The Lake, Aroma, Market Men, Waw ( wind ) and Dark Room. Written in simple English, the poems are full of powerful imagery that connects the reader. For a reader, these crisp poems resonate on some deeper level reminding him of something he has lived through, felt, thought and experienced before. I observed that the poet has possibly used the technique of enjambment in these poems to retain a distinct flow. I recommend the book to all and conclude this review with a poem from this compilation.
“.. Nights are curfewed
the scare has engulfed the village
windows shut
barking dogs
add to terror
ailing mother screams
under the quilt
children are dumped
in a cellar wind at the door petrifies father loses hope mother identifies the knock a neighbour needs some medicine..”
( poem “pain”. )