Rashmi Narzary: Why did you title the collection Quarter to Eight?
Jaideep Saikia: Quarter to Eight perhaps emanated from the deepest recesses of my brain. I have been — for quite some time now—getting the feeling that my time is up. It is — I am quite certain not related to the manner in which the Wuhan scourge is entering every aspect of our lives. I am afraid, I am not able to put a finger on the sensation, but perhaps it is some sort of a premonition, perhaps because I feel that I am mediocre and that there is no place in this universe for mediocrity. I am, of course, as all of us are, aware that termination is inevitable, but we do not quite speak about death all the time.
You may wish to compare the poems in Twilight Hour — my second collection of poems — which also sings of darkness and the unknown even as one of the poems in the second compilation says Darkness I love, path that it lights up! The contradiction is apparent, isn’t it? Indeed, I think that everything in this world is ephemeral: the reason for which I refer to life as a pause between two eternities. Night and Day in Twilight Hour perhaps has allusions other that mere inconsistency and may border on aspects that are more human. Hence, my noontide aches with your incestuous midnight play.
I also felt — when I composed the third collection—that “time was running out”, and in the uses of this world eight o’clock in the evening is the time when the glitterati of society readies for merriment which is almost a misnomer nowadays with a curfew like situation at 6 PM. Therefore, even in such a mundane context, Quarter to Eight conveys a sense of urgency, to complete aspects that may remain non-inclusive before one shakes off this mortal coil. Therefore, Hangman’s time is Hangman’s time.
The trilogies, too — eight of them — are experimentation with style. There are, as you have discerned, eight such trilogies, but only one poem that is left hanging without any companionship. I refer to the very last poem in the collection Quarter to Eight which I title Dying. I have always wanted to “climb up stairs”. I prefer it to going down. To that end, I sought some sort of evolution, however idiosyncratic and impenetrable, in my prose and poetry and even in my otherwise forlorn life. Therefore, once again one of the techniques that I attempted was to nuance the title of the collection with its innards.
Therefore, all the eight poems (trilogies) are so numbered: three, for me makes up eternity, be it in 1/3rds, holy trinity in mythology (Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheswara. Christianity: God the Son, God the Father, God the Holy Ghost) or even in death (remember, Pratchett’s first three novels about death: Mort, Reaper Man and Soul Music).
For me “three” stands for the receptacle of life itself: wisdom, understanding and harmony. Three is the first number to which the significance of “all” was accorded. It is The Triad (must I say, even for a national security observer such as I, there is “land, air and sea” in the realms of which armed forces operate). It is also the number of “entirety” as it contains the beginning, middle and the end.
Therefore, Quarter to Eight was both titled and composed with the conscious decision to encapsulate space and time and even the silence between the trilogies of eight and as I stated above the last poem is the 1/3rd of the 2/3rds that have been covered by the eight poems that speak of Beads of Remorse, Priyam, Saludo de Neruda and finally Dying.
I sincerely hope we would be able to discuss the thought behind each of the poems one day, but for now suffice to say that I have (at least in the ones that I have named in the four poems above Beads of Remorse, Priyam, Saludo de Neruda and Dying, my world has been summarised. There is love and lust (Priyam), Penitence (Beads of Remorse), Admiration (Saludo de Neruda) and termination (Dying). Incidentally, when a friend asked me if I was influenced by Federico Fellini’s film 8 ½, I confessed I have never seen the film and heard about it when she first mentioned it to me. Incidentally, Quarter to Eight was published on March 20, 2021.
The cover design of the compilation, however, has been influenced by Salvador Dali and I have acknowledged it in the back cover of the collection. I also take the opportunity to inform you that I was the first person to transcreate the Assamese National song ‘O Mur Aapumar Dex’ into English taking it thereby to the world stage.
The Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Assam presented me a Scroll of Honour and a Certificate on January 18, 2021 as tribute to my contribution and I am informed that there was a move by some very senior personages of Assam including a former chief secretary of the state to honour me by recommending me for a Padma Shri award for my effort. But, it has fallen on deaf ears, not that I think I either deserve it or care. I transcreated the Asomiya Jatiyo Songeet into English way back in 2003 for the Assam Regimental Centre of the Indian army and they have been more than generous with me for my endeavour.
As Time Melts
Review of Jaideep Saikia’s Third Collection of Poems Quarter to Eight
‘My time was up, I thought,
No, there is still a quarter of an hour
It is precisely the feeling that time is running out — not because of some terminal disease, but because of the realisation that mediocrity has invaded his innards — that inspired celebrated security and terrorism analyst Jaideep Saikia to name his third collection of poems, Quarter to Eight. In his experiment with trilogies and dwelling on the number three which traverses through religion, philosophy, history and literature, eight of the nine meticulously laid out poems in this collection are composed in strategic sets of three, wherein the poet feels and conveys the human pulse of love and lust in Priyam, of repentance in Beads of Remorse, of illusion leading to unorthodox obeisance to the God of Wine in Ode to Bacchus, and of course, of a sense of impending death in Quarter to Eight.
Jaideep Saikia’s inimitable grasp of privileged knowledge, evident from his poems that have been influenced by a wide array of subjects, travel, people and tradition, is extremely hard to match up.
However, there is a yarn of despair and yearning that weave through the poems in Quarter to Eight. The earlier collections in Twilight Hour and Lyrics from the Amygdala, too, leave the reader somewhat pensive. It is indeed rare that a cuckoo’s call brings to mind anything other than rejuvenated life and melody. But in this latest collection, Saikia’s compelling sense of imagery shakes up the reader’s habitual belief when he says, in the poem Measurements,
Call of the cuckoo on my window twirls hoarse
My eyes shimmer with radiance of despair,
I measure nothingness
The contradictions, as in call of the cuckoo and hoarse, radiance and despair, and measure and nothingness, perhaps speak of some deeply embedded sense of forsakenness or betrayal, and subsequent angst, aspects which seemingly drives the poet within the security analyst to let suspicion and apprehension exhibit themselves through otherwise tender emotions as in love and cosmic truths as is in the case of death. However in Priyam Ravaged the sadomasochistic firmness of love making is illustrated as,
Ravage therefore I will, with
The ferocity of a Minotaur,
Lashing unto cavities of eruption and
Hennaed hands and feet
Throbbing with aching elation
Gasping, Gasping, Gasping,
Dugdugi, Junbiri, Dhaansira
[For the uninitiated, the last three words above refer to pieces of Assamese jewellery that lie on a heaving and gasping bosom or as adornment in a lady’s hands and feet]
Saikia is equally at ease with analyses of espionage, terrorism and the likes as he is with an awe-inspiring store of fine and fluid words, language and ideas to compare and contrast with, as he pens his immensely powerful and thought provocative poems.
His poems convey gloom and morbidity as well as the need to achieve or commit, as if in an urgency. Perhaps because there is not much time left for the clock to strike eight.
Such strong craft in poetry, as is Saikia’s, is indeed rare and exotic. The poems are unimaginably passionate and speak profoundly of how intense and voracious a reader the poet is. They emanate with consummate ease from a mind that is free spirited and a heart that constantly seeks to strive and achieve the best, now that there is still time, for it is yet only Quarter to Eight!
Rashmi Narzary is a celebrated author and winner of the Sahitya Akademy for children’s books in 2016.