COMMENTARIES ON KUSHAL PODDAR
In his introduction to the terrific anthology Mirrorwork: Fifty Years of Indian Writing, Salman Rushdie attempts to place the body of Indian writing mainly in English in a cultural context, among others. "As a writer," he asserts, "I have been partly formed by the presence, in my head, of that other music, the rhythms, patterns and habits of thought and metaphor of my Indian tongues." Re-reading that, I thought, yes, that is it, precisely. What is so spellbinding to me about the work of Kushal Poddar is the way he uses a language I thought I understood so well. It becomes newly musical and vivid to me, and in part explains why I am enchanted with the mere sounds of his words. For example, in Universe, breathe! Poddar writes "He holds his breath./Often a child performs this for gaining/significance." Well, yes, we think, we know just what he means – the kid is just doing that to get attention – but the music is different to an American ear. The poem stretches, describing "The line of water is the line of land/A crane patrols the border./The pier resigns on the third step." It encompasses an essential universe – water and land – grounded by the elusive presence of a water bird; infinity once again invoked as the pier recedes. Like a Magritte painting, all the elements are there; in choice and fresh re-composition, we see our world anew.
So too does Poddar draw us in with his often dreamlike imagery. In the motion of the poem The Pacifist, we know just what he does: "A crane brings down the white/upon the rails./I dream of the Pacific./An illustrated marine life lies on my lap." We see him pause, look out a window, and then take note of an armless soldier in the facing seat. The soldier fuels a continuing reverie: re-composing white and crane, the ocean heaves and giant turtles swim. But the train jostles to his stop; the mundane trumps his perhaps newly pacifist's somewhere-else, for the train runs late again. The modernist American poet Wallace Stevens similarly bundled and unbundled language, probing new meaning in words re-ordered and re-cast. Poddar here, with consummate dexterity and a philosopher's love of riddles, pulls readers into his new lands; as Rushdie says, about Indian writing in English, "This is also, let us remember, a young literature. It is still pushing the frontiers of the possible." In Poddar's magnificent work, we see those frontiers re-defined.
- WREXIE BARDAGLIO