From nostalgic poems that urge readers to enjoy life’s small moments to verses about the jarring noises that surround us, Hyderabad-based poet Jhilam Chattaraj’s latest book explores a range of themes.

Jhilam Chattaraj, author of Noise CancellationJhilam Chattaraj
Features Books Friday, March 04, 2022 - 20:08

Our lives currently are dominated by dreary thoughts about the virus and death. Added to this is the blast of information from deafening 24-hour news cycles, the virulence of social media, constant digital alerts, and the clutter from the cacophony of day-to-day existence. In this backdrop, Hyderabad-based poet Jhilam Chattaraj’s latest book Noise Cancellation is all about practising ‘sustainable consciousness’ to save oneself from the jarring noises that surround us.

Click, click, click —
the birth of a sound.

Ah! The whip of time
lost on a map of lies.

Speaking to TNM, Jhilam, who is an assistant professor at RBVRR Women’s College, shares, “When I was looking for options to buy headphones, my brother advised me to look at noise cancelling headphones. I had an epiphany of sorts. Noise cancellation became a spiritual metaphor. In 2019, I wanted to take a leap in my writing. Poets constantly tend to respond to things that are happening around them, but this collection really sheds light on the need to cherish finer details.”

I seek the slow pause,
the quiet way of plants,

pale plumes float, mid-air,
my wine melts into rain.

Dog-like, I wait

at the door of monks
for milk and hugs.

Jhilam explains that her book, which has both old and new poems, discusses themes like cancelling one kind of noise or the other, be it political instability, mental illness, excessive digital dependence or emotional turmoil. Being a professor herself, Jhilam also writes about the increasing disconnect between teachers and students in virtual classrooms. “Both teachers and students need to find spaces for connection in the digital learning environment. Technology cannot be the end, it’s only the means. Trying out hybrid models seems to be the way forward,” she observes.

Image: Author Jhilam reading poetry. Description: Valley of Words Literary Festival, 2021, Hyderabad  

One of the most striking features of the collection is that beyond finding magic in little moments and celebrating the joys of everyday life, it also provides food for thought and urges readers to understand the fine print. A poem that describes the rich aroma of potatoes simmering in poppy seeds while making aloo posto also brings out the household dynamics.

Jhilam points out that the physical distance between the mother and father in the household is juxtaposed with the description of the aloo posto, showcasing the strong connection the family members have with food. “Readers resonated with the poem since aloo posto is Bengali comfort food and made them nostalgic. But it is also an exploration of the intricate politics of sensuality in domestic spaces,” says Jhilam.

She adds, “Food is such an important part of our cultural histories and identities. It connects with readers instantly and that is the reason why the first section of the collection begins and ends with a food poem.”

In the poem ‘Sari’, the poet vividly recounts her mother’s wet sari soaking in the heat of the sun as ‘six yards of soft wetness’ and ‘a scripture’. At the same time, the sari also becomes the canvas that bears the brunt of patriarchal household truths.

she, in bed with children,
she, scrubbing the mossy bathroom walls,

she, in kitchen, smashing
a cockroach to its end.

There’s love and violence
that only the pleats of a sari can tell.

Description: Cover photo of Noise Cancellation. Credit:  Hawakal Publisher

Jhilam’s eyes light up when she speaks about how she observes and picks subjects as a writer. Paraphrasing poet Agha Shahid Ali's quote from the essay, 'The Ghat of the only world': Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn by Amitav Ghosh, she says, “A poet might have an agenda or purpose, but the ultimate objective of any artist is to contribute to the field of art.” It is with the same kind of rigour and flamboyance that she weaves magical metaphors in poems like ‘poets of the pandemic’ and ‘untouchables’. At the same time, Noise Cancellation is not devoid of hard-hitting pieces where she discusses topics like feminism, capitalism and communal violence from a critical lens, handling them with sensitivity.

“All of us tend to respond immediately to what is happening around us. Artistes are expected to constantly react on social media. We don’t realise that it does not alter our understanding of the landscape of the subject, or offer solutions. I started thinking about how my writing too gets lost in all the chaos and I’ve also found ways to moderate and use social media,” Jhilam says, while adding that she wanted to be focused and mindful with her writing in the book.

The book is divided into two parts – ‘Active Noise Control’ for poetry readers who prefer longer verses and ‘Portraits in Pods’ for on-the-go readers with poems of only five lines in 22 syllables.

You can buy the book here

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