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The Bisected Self

Pramila Venkateswaran

By Darius Cooper
Poetrywala, Mumbai, 2011, pp. 98, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 9 September 2015

Darius Cooper’s poems bear the influences of the revolutionaries in Indian poetry written in English; one can hear Nissim Ezekiel, Saleem Peeradina, Kamala Das, and Arun Kolatkar, as well as some of the bards from the West, like T.S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg, establishing him as a poet who embraces the influences from contemporaries and yet places his unique stamp, despite his humble disclaimer, ‘I am not a poet’. Irony, realism, and irreverence, the hallmarks of modern poetry, underpin Cooper’s lines. Storytelling is his forte and he mines it in his poetry, so we feel we are reading a novel with multiple characters and settings. His keen attention to detail, dialogue, observation of character, and interaction between people, which are elements of fiction, become deft in his hand in crafting poetry. The plot centers around the personal experience of crossing from his native Bombay to the West Coast of the United States. The speaker, a young man with an Anglo-Indian and Parsi heritage, moves from awe of the West, wrought by his western education and the legacy of colonialism, to his awakening to the realities and many ironies of this legacy and the awkwardness of decolonization. Pushing aside the cobwebs of assumptions, the speaker becomes aware of his complex heritage and the consequences of his immigration to the U.S. He realizes that there is no looking back, that there is no room for nostalgia or a romance of the past, only a ‘halfyankee, halfhindustani helplessness’. Memory only brings with it incongruous images—abhangas along with American pop melodies (‘raindrops / keep falling / on my head’), titles of novels (‘area of darkness’ and ‘empire strikes back’ and ‘hyphenated generation’) with street talk (ghaznee). He does what most immigrants do (or not!)—‘straddle alien concrete /and piss / on the whitewashed wall’, thus stubbornly holding on to his Indian heritage, which ironically is not anything sublime. Some of the poems startle with their opening lines. For example, ‘The Consent of Exiles’ begins with, ‘Night swallowed you in a hurry of blue’. Many of these poems dazzle with the poet’s ear for rhythm and melody, the use of assonance and off-rhyme Cooper also goes for the unpredictable both in syntax as well as in subject: For example, in the same poem, ‘The stripper refused to shed her clothes’, the speaker demanding the right to get drunk and break the bottle, ...

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