Mallika Bhaumik’s ‘How not to Remember’

Book Review by Gopal Lahiri – Poet & Critic

An Inward Journey from the Past

Poetry often reminds us that we are connected beyond words, and communication through poetry has the potential to connect dots in a canvas. If you have the words, you can find a way to expand the words into silent depths, to help us move together into fresh artistic vision.

Mallika Bhaumik’s luminous second book of poems, “How not to Remember,” considers layered feelings and identities. In this time of transformation and cultural change, this collection of poems offers a deeply compassionate voice, truthful deep down, engaging from opening to end. Her poems are direct, impressionable, and trusting of life,Nostalgia continues like a play on an unreachable stage, as though taking place in another world.

In his opening note ‘Overruling Impermanence’, Amit Shankar Saha, has rightly pointed out, ‘Mallika Bhaumik knows how to transform nostalgia into art by the usage of words in poems’. One can take a deep breath in the vitality of poetry.

The poet focuses on the working of the images, memory, literature and history and also on the physical world around us. Mallika’s poem pulls off an odd feat, exploring the past while staying in the present. It becomes an experiment with
her conscience – an exploration of what happens when you visit your soul. There is a conflict about the unspoken and its relationship to the unspeakable and the poet underscores the closeness between the two and resist the false notes admirably.

Sharmila Ray, the noted poet, has observed, ‘The poems are a dance towards and away from poetic limitation, sometimes they falter and at other times the sensual, metaphysical are fused in this movement.’

Poetry can also reflect the fear and anxiety coming out from any disaster! It condenses and crystallises an experience! Set readers up for something more direct and discursive than the complex elliptical meditation, Mallika’s poems ultimately deliver.

Here is a poet who anticipates and rethinks the way we physically experience images, both collectively and privately in the natural surrounds. The poet envisages the end of the world and observes to her horror, ‘There are no marks on the snow/ there is nothing of me’. Her poems often seem to dissolve the boundaries between inner and outer worlds.

‘our promises are like cut out kites,
by the verandah our potted greens die’
I weep for them,
my teardrops ink an apology’ (Apology)

Poetry is actually making a story out of a moment and the poet can unpack that moment in many different forms and ways. What is remarkable about this collection is the emptying of images and ideas. Many of the poems reveal the deft touches that radiate the insistent allure.

‘the bubbles of the summer days
Became the words of our poetry,
And somewhere
Between our words and our worlds,
Life froze
-a still shot in monochrome (Colours)

One of Mallika’s strength as a poet is that she doesn’t fill in just for the sake of it. Her poems are beautiful but not maudlin, gritty but not shocking. It’s always a challenge to tie all those strands all together. This poem is a shining example,

‘purple is their colour,
unwept memories of some lost trinket,
some unanswered call,
missing marbles of childhood. (Unaccounted)’.

The poet refines her words to find rhythms that are dynamic and emotionally evocative. Yet sometimes her poems convey the sense of boredom ‘I smell like the damp walls of home’ and make us feel a bit unsettled or edgy. Her poems at times sound like private speech than outward exchange. The poet believes, ‘some words just refuse to be born’.

Clarity and frankness are her forte; her voice creates at times a panoramic composition. Sometimes her words are like the lowest note on a piano; sometimes like a crack of thunder. Nature is no less powerful for being indescribable. 

yes, I have ticked away like the hands of a clock.
a dropped moment
curling up like mist
amidst the memory of rhododendrons,
or lying amidst chipped tales of sea shells
looking up at the lovely cerulean spread (Beyond)


A fish gulped the ring of Shakuntala,
Later it was discovered by a fisherman
-so goes the ancient love of love reconciled.
A fish grows fertile like a woman
Drinking the tales of love; of life. (A Tale of flesh)

The poet excels in adopting the predictable form- its imagery, its verbal dexterity- makes it her own, collate the experience of the unchartered territories. Even so, one can’t escape the feeling that the poet is going through her charged motions.

‘I drink with my soul
Your dear and precious words
I drink and relish’ (Your Words)

We talk to make sense of the intensity and randomness of our minds. We talk to relieve the emptiness of our minds. In Mallika’s poems, that’s how it is. It’s true that the splendour of language is as much a matter of sound as of meaning.

Poetry’s density can steady us. It contains worlds. Her poems slippery syntax, dreamy imagery and soulful struggle draw an expanding poetic landscape. The mascara of bondage is palpable and the insular treats also play in the vacant
space Sometimes her effervescent poems are as if an ethos of empathy and the words- touchingly naïve and heartfelt- seem to come from a utopian world.

‘The words are like plankton, floating,
drifting in the muddy water
of remembrance. (Pallete)

More importantly, the poet is reimagining the world. She is delving deep into the bottom of the heart that seeks out new and revealing perspectives on the human and physical condition with unerring brilliance. Here words are disordered, rumpled but real in essence. Raucous rainy night rumbles with the same wild energy brims with reference.

‘the present sits numb
with tall mugs of coffee,
and then plunges into the disorder of
wordlessness. (Rainwashed)

Mallika has always had a gift for balancing the personal universe in her poems, and the following poem is strong and deep as gravity. Her tone is matter-of-fact and personal, as in this poem. Emotion is the locomotive here that drives her feelings and draws the reader’s attention.

‘An old lane walks out of my eyes,
my limbs flow through it;
it then widens and widens
to become a river,
eager to touch you.’ (Scattered).

Poetry often asks us just to focus and think and not to dissolve in empty cannons of rhetoric. Mallika’s is a voice from a past at once distant and close at hand-and a voice we should pursue to notice, to find, for we need that elegance, that confluence now, in our own time. Her incantatory, distinctly varied poems have constantly innovated, crossing and re-crossing the borders with consummate ease and lyrical grace.

The cover page is striking. The book enlists your heart as well as your mind and is definitely a worth buy.

Gopal Lahiri is a Kolkata- based bilingual poet, critic, editor, writer and translator with 21 books published mostly (13) in English and a few (8) in Bengali, including three jointly edited books. His poetry is also published across various anthologies as well as in eminent journals of India and abroad. He has been invited in various poetry festivals including World Congress of Poets recently held in India. He is published in 12 countries and his poems are translated in 10 languages.


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