Nanu pours his heart out in This Summer and That Summer [Bloomsbury, 2015], and apparently allows his readers to go back to their childhood vacation in the summers. The cover page is strikingly soothing and certainly tranquilizes our tired nerves amidst the urban chaos. I can see two paper boats, melting ice chunks, and blue in several hues. What does the paper boat signify? I read the poems, explored them, and finally, Nanu turned up and said:
“[Nanu] is the real me.
Sanjeev is the frontal
part of my existence.
When you attach Sethi to it,
you are adding
the burden of many births.” [“Name” page 4]
Nanu, worldly known as Sanjeev Sethi, appeared disturbed to have been named Sanjeev, as he said: “That my name is common/ is not my fault./ It is a part of the package/ from my past, a lock/ I am trying to loosen.” Nanu challenged the ordinariness in his name and appealed: “I want people to call me Nanu.” The poem is all about Nanu’s wish or wishes he wants the world to listen to and take care of. But did he write the poem just for the sake of writing one? I wonder if he would feel delighted having been addressed as Nanu even in formal occasions.
But then, “Name” questions the societal norm of carrying the ‘family name’ with one’s existence — a family where the father heads and rules. I can quickly remember a poem by the distinguished Bengali poet, Bibhas Roy Chowdhury:
I brought my daughter to the riverside
and urged: “Don’t call me Baba;
call me friend. Do you understand?”
She smiled, “But why?”
I didn’t bother whether she would realize at all
I told my daughter a few secret words—
“Fathers rule … none forgives the faults
of a ruler! But, friends can be pardoned
for their guilt
for many times in a lifetime…”
[“True and False for My Father”*]
Nanu’s “Name” slaps tightly on the face of Indian patriarchy and unlocks the child in a grown up male body who still perhaps wishes to make and float paper boats in the water with the help of his Nana [grandfather from the maternal lineage], an unwanted entity in today’s nuclear families.
Honestly, “Name” consumed much of my reading time, for this apparently easy-to-comprehend poem unfurled many layers of meaning, a quality which brings me to genuine poetry time and again. I can actually see Nanu sporting the wet chinos and jumping intentionally in the water-filled pits on the road, spoiling his chinos further when he writes:
“Sometimes, rain helps this wretched fellow.
On an evening out, after a couple
of tough ones, flub at the facilities
ensures my trouser is wet.
C’mon, this can happen
to best in the business.
I notice others, especially
those with Irish handcuffs
eyeing my chinos with kindness” [“Rain” page 39]
Here an adolescent is the speaker. The young Nanu does not fail to notice others’ “kindness” to his wet chinos. And I find another reason to look back on the front cover which has the paper boats inviting me to revisit my past.
Age is just a number, they say, and it is evident when young Nanu tests the nursing skill of the healer while there is no lesion that requires curative measures. He believes:
“Some wounds require
healing of the hurt.” [“Life Lesson” page 12]
Loner Nanu grows up; his frame expands, but fails to get rid of the fear from crawling cockroaches in the night.
“After I switch off the lights,
crawl out of closets.
They waltz on walls
choke my conscience.
For insects, various repellents
But is there a pesticide
for the past?” [“Nocturnal Activity” page 3]
Does Nanu think of his past life? Does he believe in rebirth? Or, he finds guilt in the days he passed? Nanu’s present does not perhaps allow him to enjoy innocence anymore or, he has arrived to an understanding that paper boats don’t reach their destination of choice. The inevitable call of simplicity dies with time and age. But poets are essentially loners and dreamers as well. These dreams keep the young Nanu alive in Sanjeev Sethi who was born in 1962.
Sanjeevji [as I dearly call him] has merged his eyes unquestionably well with his vision and voice in This Summer and That Summer.
*Note: “True and False for My father” is a constituent poem of Poem Continuous—Reincarnated Expressions by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury [translated by Kiriti Sengupta], Inner Child Press [USA] & Hawakal Publishers [Calcutta], 2015