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Sumana Roy
Free Verse

The alchemic relationship between rain and verse

Photo: Laffy4k (Flickr)

s rain a verse poem or a prose text? Does it come in instalments of stanzas or paragraphs? It's an old curiosity, this bunch of questions — they visited me recently when I began reading Sudeep Sen's series of Rain poems from his most recent collection, Fractals. Perhaps this was because the 13 poems about rain were all prose poems, and decades of conditioning had taught me to find a kinship between rain and verse. The unpredictability of rains and their schedules of arrival and departure as if it were a moody muse, the imagined madness of the monsoons, the legitimised insanity of creative artists, the analogy between rain and poetry — verse poetry to be precise — had sat comfortably inside me until I came to these poems.

Rain, Maps, the first of these poems, talks about the rain in such a matter-of-fact tone that one is compelled to read the long poem again immediately, wondering whether one has missed something. It is then that you begin to notice that this is how it was meant to be — tracing the everyday career of rain without almost any hint of romanticism. "It has started raining ...", the opening line of the poem, isn't meant to announce a hero on stage. So throughout the poem one hears the tone of a prompter, nudging the flow of rain and regretting its missing flow, the latter so essential to hold the audience's attention on stage. I use the word "attention" consciously, for this visual alertness marks the poem, an ambition that is evident in its title. "Maps": Rain, Maps reads like an oxymoron. Can there be a map of rain? And if yes, what is one to do with this impermanent map at all? What does such a map reveal to us?

As I read these from a small town in Bengal, the rain pellets hit the neighbour’s tin roofed terrace, I look for the rain’s “artery” that Sen says is severed every time it rains. Is it this that makes rain a fractal?

"I like this mystery. It allows one to completely imagine and plot a path that suits one's own sense of direction. I have a compass to find the Earth's cardinal points. But this is of no use when it comes to details of terrain, temperature, vegetation, and the inhospitality of travel itself," writes Sen in this poem. That rain is beautiful can only be a by-product of the imagination — whoever's found running water or water from a shower beautiful? By which I mean — how many poems have you read about the beauty of water emanating from a bathroom shower? This fact about its "mystery", its refusal to move to a constant chartered map like water paths from a tap or shower, must place it at the top of an imagined hierarchy about the movements of water? So, by the time we've grazed through the rain and the poem, we find Sen ventriloquating for the rain itself: "I can walk anywhere from almost anywhere. I do not need time-tables, or ports of embarkation and disembarkation". That is how Sen imagines the poem, in alliterative couples, "visual and virtual, spontaneous and sure".

he title of the next poem is Rain, Rain, and it seems to highlight two things to me — our tendency to imagine rain as a rhyming couplet; the second is the rain as a product of a mimicry machine. The title also takes one back to the oldest English language rhyme about rain from our childhood: Rain, rain, go away. "It is another space, another view, but the same rain," writes Sen in the first line of the poem. And because it is the "same rain", it is "rain, rain". The next poem has the same complaint about the rain, its sameness: "like an extension of last evening", even the "quality of light is the same as yesterday's". This poem, "Languor, Wet", introduces a second rain-watcher in the series. So long this had been a solitary exercise. The man is Rashid, "our guard and gardener", who blames his "inactivity on the weather". The introduction of this Man Friday is an important choice for the poet — it allows him, and the reader, to see how the rain affects us unequally. "All this is much like the gaze of a sophisticated onlooker — a visualiser — who sees the same scene with a different sense of calm, poise, thought, and imagination." (Fern Frost)

Sudeep Sen gives a name to what he considers a genre of rain — "Bengal Rain". After all the poems and songs by Tagore and the post-Tagoreans, perhaps it was inevitable that the rains in this part of the world be given a name all its own. "There is nothing like the rain in the two Bengals — West Bengal in India, and Bangladesh." The rain and the reader might disagree, but not when both encounter this line that makes of rainmaking a religion: "Rain in its overbearing gait, its preparation, its brooding quality, and its romantic heavy-lidded cloud structure. Ordinarily one would call these rain clouds 'cumulonimbus', but that name or model does not in any way do them justice". As I read these from a small town in Bengal, the rain pellets hit the neighbour's tin roofed terrace, I look for the rain's "artery" that Sen says is severed every time it rains. Is it this that makes rain a fractal?

And hence the need for the last, a single line poem, which seems to conclude the season, but without and almost inevitably, without satisfaction: "'The more you know, the less you need' — but that is not true at all for thirst, water, or rain".

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