'London Diary' A review of Patient Dignity by Bashabi Fraser with artwork by Vibha Pankaj
She is known as the poet and author who has always brought together her roots in Bengal with her life in Scotland. Bashabi Fraser, professor emeritus of English and creative writing at Edinburgh Napier University, has now published a book of poetry inspired by the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic. Like others around the world, to Fraser, the lockdown meant separation from family, zoom calls and anxiety. But it was also a time, when as things stopped, the skies got clear, and people heard the celebratory music of birds in a new dawn. “Ceasefires were called by the UN,” she writes, “and there was hope that the need for wars and weaponry might be considered a contradiction when human survival became a prerogative.”
The book of poems called “Patient Dignity” covers the different aspects of the pandemic – from the dedication of health workers and doctors, to the beauty of nature as it lay undisturbed. It is accompanied by paintings by Indian artist Vibha Pankaj who has lived in Scotland for 20 years. Fraser wonders how the empty Maidan in Kolkata would have looked on Poila Boishakh when there was no one to celebrate. Referring to the statue of Subhas Chandra Bose in Maidan, she says: “Is Netaji surprised to see the confluence of five roads bereft of traffic on the run/ while the Hooghly flows with renewed confidence?”
There is a poem about dolphins returning to the Hooghly as the smog lifted, but also of the green and beautiful valley of Srinagar that has been destroyed by firing. Fraser remembers the shikaras on the lake and the chinar trees and asks “How green was that valley?” She answers the question: “Till a thousand boots trampled through the valley/and gunshots drowned their songs. The lakes turned Red.” The site of migrant workers walking thousands of miles back to their villages reminded Fraser of the Partition and the movement of people. Yet, today they walked in a free country in their own land, but far from home. “Unwanted by those that they sustain, they start their long trek home,” she writes.
Fraser – author of the book From the Ganga to the Tay -- compares the two popular parks in her ancestral home in Kolkata and her present home in Edinburgh. In the deserted Maidan in Kolkata, no batsman was scoring a century, and no demonstrators were shouting slogans. In The Meadow in Edinburgh, no families were having picnics and playing with Frisbees. Both parks were silent.
Shrabani is a writer and journalist, author of ‘Victoria and Albert’, ‘Spy Princess’ and ‘The Mystery of the Parsee Lawyer’ and other books.