Maitreyee B Chowdhury is a web columnist and a poet. Besides writing on cinema and issues related to women and the environment, she has also been featured in an anthology of contemporary Indian writing, ‘Celebrating India’.
I have reviewed her poetry collection – Where Present is Still Ancient, Benaras. This book is a collection of 50 poems each bringing out a facet and essence of Benaras. Each city has a distinct flavor to it and Benaras is one such place…with its filth, smell, culture and religion attached to it.
Maitreyee talks about this book. In her own words –
As a child, I had heard my father always say that “If you have not seen Benaras, you haven’t seen India.” And when I got an opportunity to travel alone for about 2 to 3 weeks, of all the places I wanted to see Benaras. At that time, however, I had no idea that I would be writing a book about it.
Poetry, of course, I was always writing them. But, I never had a clue that I would be writing a whole book of poetry. So, while I was there seeing things by myself, wandering around the ghats, walking in the streets at night, it was a very different experience for me altogether. While I was doing all this, I was writing too. I have this habit of writing while walking…on my mobile that is. Most of my works have been conceived during these walks.
I had written about 40 poems while I was in Benaras and the rest 10 of them, I wrote after I came back. I had no idea that there actually has to be a theme when a book of poetry is written and when my publishers told me this, I structured my poems according to the theme, choosing and editing them.
Many people have asked me…why Benaras? And what was there that you saw made you write a whole book about it? Well, when I was going to Benaras, I had been warned by a friend, “ It sure looks good in pictures, be prepared for the smell.” It is very dirty like many other pilgrimage cities of India. But as I have said while talking about this book…you have to see Benaras with different eyes.
Many people asked me, if this is a religious book – it is not. In fact there have been many poems where I have ridiculed religion. ( The following poems illustrate the same) I had a nasty experience at the Vishwanath Temple and I was harassed by the so-called pujari’s outside the temple and they irritated me a lot. I came out of the temple and saw a cow, which made me think, “Why is God not accessible? God should be accessible.”
‘Vishvanath’ I had come
your doors were closed however-
With people, full of you
and yet themselves.
The crossing proved too long-
Between goatherds deciding Moksha,
Both yours and mine…
I decided not to leave that Rupees hundred
Fluttering in the Benaras breeze,
At your doorstep.
I wonder if you are pretty,
Decorated by the ego of so many-
Does the waft of prayer,
reach beyond the mush?
My shoes, another’s cell phone,
some flowers and Prasad
I returned, with Hare Rama in my ears
And filth in my eyes-
A sudden brush of a cow’s bushy tail,
Small it seemed, six month old?
‘Vishvanath’! Calls his master,
‘Ghar aajaa bachcha’
Vishvanath, struts his rhythmic back,
Some dung in every step.
A Fisherman’s Ganga
I sat on a dingy boat,
Looking at the Maha Aarati
on the Dashwamedha Ghat.
Seven priests adorned their Ganga
in every human way possible…
Tourists shrieked, conch shells sounded
I lit a small lamp and let it flow
Into the unknown corridors of faith-
A fisherman sat nearby
Perched on the helm of his boat
Looked at the skies,
And spat some Benaras
Into his Ganga.
In some way if there’s a perception of religion, it could be called Spirituality…finding one’s spirituality.
(As told to Janaki Nagaraj)