Nitoo Das was selected by poet Meena Kandasamy for the special edition of PIW India, ‘Poets on Poets’.
Nitoo Das (born 1972) teaches English at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She runs a blog that began as an experiment over three years ago while working on a research project on poetry as hypertext. Her interests include fractals, caricatures, comic books, horror films, and studies of online communities. Boki, her first collection, has just been published by the Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago.
A friend introduced me to the poetry of Nitoo Das early this year (2008) and since then, I have returned to it again and again. I love her critical, caricaturist eye because it shocks me in the most unexpected places. Sometimes she playfully populates her poems with insects and bugs; sometimes she escapes after getting one stuck in a multiplicity of interpretations.
Many of her poems appeal to me because they are about the secret life of everyday things – umbrellas, pencils, razors, scissors and safety-pins. That make-believe, that anthropomorphism might belong to the realm of the fable, but Das pulls it off brilliantly within a short poem. And because I am an activist obsessed about social ostracisation, I am moved by her poems about people whom society has trouble accepting: Pandita Ramabai . . . or a dreaded forest-brigand's daughter . . .
Her poetry raids the reserves of memory, so panic rises “like steam like heat like / Flashbacks of quick childhood slaps”. In the hands of Das, stanzas become embodiments of rebellion: “They could not / kill me. I erupted out / of the soil wailing / at the sun and pulling / at my hair. The earth / could not hold / my ankles.” She writes a lot about sexuality and gender, and her women-oriented poems, as in the ‘Street Series’, can be as brutal as they are beautiful: “The street grows / lewd hands / and sneering eyes / and slaps me until I shrink to a zero”
I admire her work because of its versatility, its ability takes on various voices while experimenting with the form of the dramatic monologue. She is by turns intuitive (‘The Water-Strider’, ‘Conjoined’) and seductive (‘Guwahati May’), fiery (‘Murder: An Experiment in Perspective’) and earthy ( ‘how to cut a fish’). And then, when her poems grow moody, she takes shelter in nostalgia (‘April is a remote place’, ‘School Sonnet’).
Perhaps because she is a visual artist, she is able to re-imag(e)ine every poetic cliché and so we are informed that “The sun jumped / headlong / into the river and killed himself / everyday by / the ghost trees.” She makes her poems stark and short, and within that space, she shakes her fist at a status-quoist society. I love her poems because they speak to me with a star-burst of spontaneity. Like a river in first flood.
Boki, Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, September 2008