Poetry in the city.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla arranged to meet poet Jit Shankar Banerjee at his one-room apartment in Green Park Market.
In his 20s, Mr Banerjee is a surprise. He is not all like a professional bard. There are no moonlit moments in his talk. Instead, it comes laced with expressions like ‘global value chains’, ‘employment outcomes’ and ‘gender parity’–as well as Hindi slurs like ‘kaminapanti’. His room is as messy as that of a dreamy writer but the literary furniture consists of copies of The Economist, not The New Yorker (ok, there are a few Grantas around). In addition, Mr Banerjee’s neighbors include a start-up entrepreneur and a business consultant. He himself entered the rat race by getting his first job in a corporate consultancy firm. Now he focuses on the labour market at a global think tank. Mr Banerjee composes the first drafts of his poems during his salaried work hours (he tunes up the lines at night). Lately his output has increased.
“I have started writing more poems because it’s a last-ditch attempt for me not to simply accept the status quo of my professional life,” he says. “I know that to be better at the work expected from me at the office, I might have to be a less of a poet than I am. And I want to prove this wrong.”
A while later Mr Banerjee starts to muse about the virtues of empirical research. He feels it might widen his poetic perspective. “I’m gathering material from project-based environments far away from the abstractions of literary circles. That may bring a more authentic representation of what it means to be a cog in the wheel of India’s new economy.”
Perhaps that explains that why this English (Hons.) graduate from Delhi University’s Hindu College made a white-collar leap to something more “application oriented” – to find out, for instance, “how writing a report on international migration could really impact lives.”
Mr Banerjee shares two poems with us.
Spring Break Register
down the road
before spring break ends.
to keep the window open
in my small room
is to let the
around the silent tidal wave
that is my mattress
as you lie
in the silver glow
of a macbook pro
and your body
which is just so nice
hopeless salivary lines
that dry in all fairness
by the rough edges
of the doors
of my closet
moving slightly in the breeze
while the market noises
of Green Park
all the tacit smells of remorse
all the landlords and their
World Bank datasets
that could help us
once and for all
hang in the air
in a Politburo office
to be renovated.
A globe tottering on its side, spinning
Patches of green, yellow and blue,
Encircled by smoke trails
That lead to everything, but obfuscate you.
As I move in closer,
Dark swathes of continents.
Choking for air, screaming for space, digging for food,
Scratching for identification.
Countries with traces,
Of your efforts, your lingering smell.
Tidbits of your personal effects.
Burnt panties in haystacks, hijabs in mud.
A city where we met and separated,
Searing in pain, awaiting your cold gaze.
And in a small room, on a small bed,
My mangled body and a tired globe.
The poet of New India