The Unfold Pinnacle: Book Review and Interview with the Author
Because of the uniqueness of the project which is described in Basanta Kar's book, The Unfold Pinnacle, the editors of Wordgathering invited the author to participate in a short interview describing the genesis of his work.
WG: Can you describe significance of the title?
BK: The Unfold Pinnacle is a collection of poems that attempts to unfold the pinnacle of the sorrow and agony that a woman undergoes in her life. It is a portrayal of the deep felt feelings of dejection, loneliness and self imposed guilt on the one hand and that of a never ending search for love and life that seems to be a mirage on the other. These poems are written on real life stories on women who suffer from multiple marginalization and vulnerability. These women are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged and are forced to survive under odd circumstances. . They are one among the multitude of HIV positive, women, sex workers, deserted, divorced, victims of conflict/violence/abuse and torture. The poems bring forth the voices that remain unheard and the truths unshared.
WG: Tell about how you went about collecting the stories of the women involved.
BK: I am working in the social sector and hence find the opportunity of interacting with one of the most deprived section of the populace in many states in the country during my field trips. I usually find my subjects during these occasions.
What mesmerizes me is the inner strength of women to hold on to life in spite of the scathing pain that has seared their lives. In my zest to understand their lives and feelings, I hear them speak their hearts out. It is not very easy to break the ice. I build a close rapport with them and never forget to take their permission to write with due consideration and respect for them integrity and their feelings as individuals. It is only when they have complete trust on me that they share all that is buried deep down in their hearts. Usually, the feelings break out from captivity in a torrent as if they have never spoken out for fear of not being understood or taken advantage of. It takes hours and hours to cull out the story, to discover the chain of events leading to the predicament. It requires active listening; listening with understanding and empathizing. At times non-verbal communication also carries a lot of meaning during these sittings.
One needs to be extremely sensitive while scribbling. In most of the cases the woman breaks down. The past, the painful moments and the nostalgic memories that she had buried and covered with a made up exterior begins to haunt her. It is at this stage that she needs support and counseling. She needs the reassurance that it is she who is fighting the odds, sustaining herself and her family and that she has a right to love and life.
I have attempted to follow ethics and do justice to my subjects and uphold the faith that they have in me. I do not put out anything that would demean or embarrass them. I am writing on too sensitive a subject. I neither want to underplay or overplay with their story.
Overall it requires a unique skill to write on these subjects.
WG: In what respect do you see it as innovative or new?
BK: One can easily find real life stories in case studies or in any other prose form. Similarly one can find poetry on specific themes or issues or on eminent people who are departed.
Writing poetry on real life stories is innovative because it is almost like painting a portrait with the subject before you. In this case imagination and thoughts revolve around real life situations and the throbbing soul of the poem and its intensity are derived from an in depth understanding of the lives of the women, their emotions bared and their truths unfolded and naked.
This approach of communication/poetry is new to both the development and the literary world. The imagery and metaphors used are taken from natural surroundings. It is a powerful development communication tool that has been ignored over ages and needs to be widely experimented with. It will be useful in bringing about a new dimension in the efforts of many a poet in their quest to understand the ever complex human psyche and display its nuances with words.
In all, it is a unique way of drawing the attention of people with literary interests and those that can feel the passion with which these are written to evoke concern and action for this section of the populace which is crying out that it is alive in silence.
The disabilities that most readers of Wordgathering are likely to encounter are those people in the United States, Canada or Great Britain. Draawing conclusions about disability from these observations, however, is likely to obscure the nature of disability in much of the rest of the world where the cause of disability is inextricably related to poverty, malnutrition and violence.
In his latest book of poetry, The Unfold Pinnacle, Basanta Kar focuses on disability in a larger context. The Unfold Pinnacle is written as much for educational as it is for literary purposes. The book is based upon the lives of poor women in rural India, many from villages whose people are facing extinction. Each poem is essentially a vignette drawn from the story of an actual woman's life, to which the author has added his own didactic voice. The poem is followed by a short note about the subject of the poem.* Typical is "Puzzle", one of the poems that deals most directly with physical disability.
Sukhi can't move, others jeer at her
Even this poem, however, shows that for the women Kar writes of, disability is rooted in malnutrition and poverty. The problem is systemic, repeating with each generation.
I am fourteen, he is fifteen
The world that The Unfold Pinnacle depicts is likely to feel so overwhelming at times as to make it seem sisyphusian. Nevertheless, there is an occasional phoenix rising from the ashes. In "Equal" he describes how one young woman's success at education allows her to say "The sun shines in my backyard."
The sun shines in my backyard
In the world of Kar's poetry, however, even this apparent success, however, brings with it, its own problems.
I look for a life partner
For Kar, who is the Operations Director of Care India in New Delhi, the primary purpose of the book is pedagogical. In the author's own words, "These poems ...can be used as a case study for a teaching-learning purpose ...and provide insight into understanding poverty and multiple deprivation of rights." Indeed, one can easily feature a high school class reading through half a dozen of these poems as a prelude to discussing how it is to live in a part of the world and culture different from their own. Such efforts are both important and laudable, and tie in with the cosmopolitan education philosophies of thinkers like Martha Nussbaum. Unfortunately, what these intentions can not overcome is the uneven quality of the poems as literature.
The style and language of the poem frequently come across as crabbed or confusing as in these lines from "Fragile":
If unfulfilled then sorrow foreordain
In addition, the author's need to polemicize is likely to come across- at least to American readers - as somewhat heavy-handed. Rather than allowing these eloquent stories to speak for themselves, Kar seems to feel the need to put his own interpretation. What would probably have been more effective is to give his readers a bit more credit for intelligence. In all likelihood, a reader who would be picking up Kar's book in the first place would be a reader who would also want to draw his own conclusions. In fact, Kar is at his most poetic when he withholds his own opinions from the poem as in "Neighbour."
I understand my neighbours
Asking Kar to focus on the poetry rather than the polemic, however, is perhaps a bit unfair. Aesthetics are not this writer's main concern, as he makes clear when he insists, "the quest for 'love' as a respite to loneliness and lamenting of a mother's soul inspite of multiple disabilities needs to be highlighted."
In short, The Unfold Pinnacle is a genuine attempt at poetry in the service of the greater good. It is built upon a view advanced by writers like Brecht and, indeed, many in the disabilities studies community, that end the end, message trumps artistic merit and that art which does not advance work to somehow improve the human condition fails. Given this premise, Kar's writing is a success. It is hard to believe that many readers could not read the poems and not be awakened to the disabling conditions that the women whose voices the author represents. As such, it is a manuscript that deserves a home with a pubisher that shares Kar's vision, and merits the consideration of readers, particularly those in the United States who may hold a more parochial view of disability. Publishers and readers interested in Kar's work may contact him at email@example.com.
*Because the biographical note accompanying each poem is included as part of the poem in the book, they are treated as such in this review.
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