A Beautiful Ceremony

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Tonight, This Savage Rite   by  Kamala Das  , Nandy PritishThe cover’s a shock of candy colours, magenta and emerald, canary yellow, large bold font, hitting out at you almost savagely. Tonight and Savage shriek at you in more pink and green and then you read Tonight This Savage Rite and the cover’s mayhem seems to come together in a riot of love.

Welcome to the reissue of the love poems of Pritish Nandy and India’s famous candy coloured poetess Kamala Das who wept eros up and down her stanzas. Kamala Das ended her life veiling her colourful serendipity in black and changing her name – and with it her faith – to Suraiya, but her rants of passion live on.

Scrabbles of black, profiles etched on the cover echo the blacks and greys of the typesetting and artist Manu Parekh’s curves and sensuality and stand out even more because of that deep candy pink. You flip through the pages and the poems meld one into the other with words and phrases jumping out at you ‘my hurt’ ‘resurrect our love’ till you are drawn into the poetry. Kamala Das’ poems more typically have titles. Nandy’s do not, so words have been picked out to make the greatest effect – stopper value as they call it in advertising.

“Perhaps it was inevitable that two poets who wrote so strongly of love should have been brought together in a single book of poems.”

It’s not just a matter of the poems – many of them are familiar and beloved like the April sun of Summer in Calcutta. Both Das and Nandy were habitués of Calcutta so many many years ago when poetry was mouthed from house to house and new poets were springing up in every corner of the city and writing in English instead of just Bengali. Laid out by Pritish Nandy’s daughter Ishita to give it a more contemporary look and feel the book is bound to be exchanging hands on anniversaries and Valentine’s day. For that matter it could also be left around on countless coffee tables as a conversation starter or stopper.

There is nothing new to be said about the verse – it matches the cover in technicolour passion. And the lover is the desired and the enemy, the one you lie with side by side and who rises up and betrays you. Those truths remain the same.

Das wrote she said because she felt unloved. “If I had been a loved person, I wouldn’t have become a writer. I would have been a happy human being.” As a result, criticism of her verse tended to lose itself in perceptions of her personality and her politics – though responses to her work were never tepid.

Pritish Nandy was writing in the Calcutta of the 70’s when political rebellion was in the air. That was a time when love poems flourished in Bengal and a poet who wrote in English and managed to bring romance and politics together filled a very special place. ‘Yes, we have loved like the wind that swirls into the seasons’ he wrote.

Perhaps it was inevitable that two poets who wrote so strongly of love should have been brought together in a single book of poems. Pritish Nandy’s fantasy world of promises and Suzanne playing in the background set against Das’ obsessive stark realities of the hurt that love can engender.

But in the end, as Kamala Das writes, ‘The only thing that matters is/That all this love is mine to give’. In this case the format certainly does justice to the book and kudos to Harper Collins for realising that love has its time and place and that time is now.

Tonight, This Savage Rite – The Love Poems of Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy
Published by Harper Collins India

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Buy book online
Buy book online
Tonight, This Savage Rite
by Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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