Thursday, 28 August 2014


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.”

‘To Vishvanath’

‘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
For you?
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
humanity applauded.

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)

1 comment:

  1. An enlightening chat Janaki and Maitreyee. While reading her poetry one thing was constanting going on in my mind.... what was she thinking. Did she picture that place like this or can a everyday road scene of Benaras have such a profound effect on one's mind. Many of my questions are answered here .. thankyou :)


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