The haikus in Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s collection Time’s Barter are elegant, delectable, witty, and humorous. They are imbued with colour, imagery of the natural world, the world of change, and a frenetic rush for what is ‘new’. The verse is splashed with nature, rains, the wind, and burgeoning fruits. The technical virtuosity and the craft is apparent, but the overriding consideration is content. They are contemporary in tone and intent, marked also with wry and sardonic humour.
Talking about the region’s backwardness the poet quotes a road sign which reads:
“Slow men at work”
Such irony is present, but what is also noted in these haikus is the metamorphosis of change. What is change? What impact does technology have on present times? What happens to the innate beauty of nature, the cascading waterfalls of Sohra, for example? The pivotal points are the poet’s home towns Sohra and Shillong. The poems turn around these two places to ask searing questions about life, its mechanization and whether the city of Shillong is actually a town, desperadoes may call it a city, all because of this frenetic search for new found expressions, and changing with the times!
Technically, these haikus adhere to the traditional mould — 5-7-5 syllabic utterances — but their poetry lies in their suggestibility as the last section amply demonstrates. They have an apparent directness, simplicity but the last section is a take off into a new spinning world. It is as if after the flotsam and jetsam of life, characters take a new shape and meaning. They become more shadowy and less flesh and blood:
“man telling a tale-
a loud tune, friend turns away,
left hand holding his ear.”
The ambiguity and paradox of these haikus are poignantly underlined:
watery taste- shouldn’t have plucked
on a rainy day”.
“wind- whipping the rain-
on the soggy earth,
blood-red, the plums.”
Though technically perfect, the haikus are concerned more with content than form. The themes have a wide range: love, relationship, a changing consciousness, and nostalgia. The poet remembers suddenly his home town in the midst of a busy life in the metropolis. Nostalgia has to do with the hills, pines, and the rivulets. The dialectics of change and modernity imbue these haikus with a mood of sad resignation. In fact, moods dominate them, the poet is variously sad, angry, and happy.
In his beautiful introduction, the late Nigel Jenkins, Welsh poet and scholar puts the haiku in the main tradition of Japanese Haiku verse and examines Nongkynrih’s verse in this literary context. He avers that haiku in India is still incipient, and Nongkynrih’s verse is a new found voice and seminal in this respect. One cannot but agree with him, with the rider that Nongynrih has once again penned delightful verse with all universal concerns of a life that is, with implications of dynamism and change. This is a must read book and a watershed in Indian poetry in English.
Title: Time’s Barter
Publisher: Harper Collins, India
Price: Rs 325/-
Ananya S Guha has been born and brought up in Shillong, North East India. He has seven collections of poetry and his poems have been published worldwide. They have also been featured in several anthologies. He is also a columnist, critic and editor. He now is a Regional Director at the Indira Gandhi National Open University. He holds a doctoral degree on the novels of William Golding.