Born in Bhagalpur, Bihar on 15 January 1947, Pritish Nandy is perhaps the most prolific as well as the most controversial of creative writers in India. As a poet, playwright, novelist, translator, executive, anthologist and editor, Nandy is both innovative and profuse.
Some of Nandy’s published novels are, Of Gods and Olives (1967), On Either Side of Arrogance (1968), I Hand You in Kum My Nebbuk Wreath (1968), From the Outer Bank of the Brahmaputra (1970), Madness in the Second Stroke (1971), The Poetry of Pritish Nandy (1973), Dhritarashtra Downtown: Zero (1974), Riding the Midnight River (1975), Lonesome Street (1975), In Secret Onarchy (1976), A Stranger Called I (1976), Tonight This Savage Rite (1977), An Anthology of Modem Indian Love Poetry (1979) and various other anthologies including a verse play, a book of short stories and several translations of Bengali works, not to mention his journalistic pieces in prominent Indian magazines.
Nandy’s poetry hinges on a variety of themes and moods. He is noted for his prose poems, especially those on love and romance. Death, loneliness, suffering, sex and friendship are some of his preoccupations. His early poems are usually in short line free verse, reminiscent of the style of E.E. Cummings. Indian, classical and Christian imagery are skilfully interwoven in an effort to combine and symbolize words of Nandy which are only “masks to be interpreted in terms of messages.” His best known poem, “Calcutta if You Must Exile Me”, states in a brutally frank style the cruel realities which revolt him.
As a poet, Nandy attempted a breakthrough in form to evolve a new language. He felt that creative writing in English by Indians was largely an echo of the West, being imitative in form and approach. Nandy infused his idiom with myths and symbols of the Indian tradition. According to Nandy, Modern Indian poetry draws “strength from the bedrock of our tradition”, yet is violent, anguished and brutally contemporary”.
“Memory”, a short prose poem is based on an oft repeated theme of the poet, namely; that of memory which integrates the world of reality with the world of emotion. Memory, like a nightmare, “brushes past” the poet, its “giant wings” blotting out reality. It takes him to the root of his desire. The finite world recedes as memory distorts or perhaps sharpens perception. He is trapped by its nostalgic recollections. Helpless, he is forced to succumb to the sympathy of his loved one, for memory makes him a prisoner of love.
This prose poem poignantly recaptures in its image and diction a powerful personal experience. The image of memory brushing past “with a rustling of its giant wings” brings in the seas of darkness that mirrors the despair of the protagonist. In eight lines, Nandy effectively holds a personal experience in a unique idiom.