This Damp House by Bibhu Padhi

Title: This Damp House
Author: Bibhu Padhi
Publisher: Red River
Year of Publication: 2023

This helps keep the focus

The other major poet from Odisha, Jayanta Mahapatra’s disciple and his spiritual successor, Bibhu Padhi has been writing quietly and consistently for a while now, and one can witness his lifelong concerns distilled in his latest collection, This Damp House, which follows Principles of Sleep (Red River, 2021)

The title of the book is telling. It is the home where happiness and grief take birth. It is where we paraphrase our present, past and future. And in this sense, This Damp House, swims in the oasis dwelling between a haunting sadness and a precisely sharpened solace. The former comes out as verses which may weaken our relaxing neurons whereas the latter can peel through the layers of conditioning predating upon us.

In poem after poem, Padhi documents a kind of yearning that’s usual but beyond the physical dimension where it thrives, in general. It reminded me of Alexandre Lehmann directed movie Blue Jay where two lovers meet after a span of a decade to go through the times, they have lived in unison only to then come back to the reality where they are not together anymore.

In the poem, ‘Echoes’, the poet addresses a relationship using the small moments as stairs which helps in arranging the bricks that gave it a structure. Even though it has a haphazard one, yet in the long run the image become clear in the reader’s mind.

Do you remember me? I ask

and you reply, ‘How can I forget you?’
The words fly like house sparrows

Your words feed me too.
When I am far from

everything and everybody,
they brush my heart and lips.

In an interview the Shillong based writer, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih opens up about the value of having conversations regarding the voices which remain unheard.  In ‘Tribal Voices’, Padhi swims on a stream that originated from the core concept of belonging and conversations. But the poet tilts towards seeking the bigger picture that lies on the back of insects, sap of tree trunks, fading echoes, and the night air. They provide comfort to those who are being sabotaged and cornered. The monstrosity of consumption is not just a hype, but a truth.

In a verse of the poem, the poet speaks about how the same voices who were forced to leave their own territory find a place in modern stories. We get to see the English translations of folktales, and unheard voices finding a place in modern literature. It becomes a hopeful place for some writers. But, at the same time, there’s a strange helplessness amidst those who have not walked through the same time. Even then, the inclusion of these unheard voices has given wings to a literature which is absolutely rooted to this civilization. Padhi describes how these stories and poems which have left the mainstream are returning for what they have been adhering to.

The voices left their appointed place
a long time ago, leaving their dense choric
songs suspended in the placid night air.

Look how the same voices are
heard in the middle of stories of
return and love, words of rapture. (Name of the poem: Tribal Voices)

The Damp House is a home for grief that is born of many parents. Some are rooted to what the poet pursues – poetry. A few of the poems penetrates the personal realm of both the poet and the humankind, as a whole, to stitch adhere to its original form. In other poems, readers get to read a kind of grief which is located in our subconscious. We usually get to feel it when we are engaged in some other chore or when the comfort has become quite convenient. The grieving person, population and periphery locates their equator in this collection of poetry.

Grief is the result of a collective discomfort. It cannot take our right measurements on its own. The poet’s understanding and personal affair with grief works due to the incision of his dear innocence. When he says: my own stories, which were beautiful once, are in flames; they crumble at the first breeze, as readers we get to measure the onslaught of his words which do not align with a cynical population. He also addresses the sadism of monotony, which can only be felt when torment becomes a proudly built characteristic. In a subtle way, the poet undermines the dull advice of people especially when they say: everything will fall into place, time will change for the better. Something that stays only as an ‘advice’ from the perspective of an unaware individual.

The morning however
is much more than this,
taking in the world’s hurt.

I watch the sun appear
on the huts, slowly flourishing
in our small apartments. (Name of the poem: Strange)

In the poem, ‘The Night is Still Awake’, Padhi keeps the life of a night and its constituents before readers who have felt the growth. A non-physical entity that maintains the physical and organic concepts finds an ideal platform that sharpens its visibility. In our childhood, we have never known that the stars we get to see from the Earth died a million years ago. With knowledge and maturity, we start to lose our gaze full of wonder. The poet here displays the sadness of a tensed marital, which in its deepest form is sexual, which most couples can relate to easily. Every human being desire to touch or be touched yet the despair is a quiet reality of daily life.

The sounds continue, replace
every former sound of the day.

My children and wife are going
through narratives of sleep.

There’re the memories
of the nights, middle-age

dreams of quickness,
the weight of unspent sleep. (Name of the poem: The Night is Still Awake)

Bibhu Padhi’s collection strikes the right chords of poetry where everything starts to make sense. It also nullifies the presence of sensibility through its chaos. The uncertain order of the poems worked for me since the monotony, which the poet is strictly against, fades in thin air. Yet the constant melancholy never allowed the fresh breeze to stay for long. The poet knows his readers and it’s percolated with sadness, pessimism and many unsettled hearts. The Damp House, although like its name, sprinkles droplets of solace and symmetry, to not let his poetry stay confined within a boundary. Bibhu Padhi is an important poet of this century and we must make our ways to reach his works. Sometimes all we have is a house, and that can be a damp one. But, at the end of the day, we can hope to call it a place to grow our heart and spine. 

Kabir Deb

Kabir Deb is a poet, book reviewer, banker and editor from Karimganj district of Assam. He currently works as the interviewer editor of Usawa Literary Review. When he is not working he loves to be pampered by his dogs. He is also the recipient of the Reuel International Award of Poetry and Nissim International Award for Best Upcoming Poet.