‘Home is here and a long way on’
Natalie Linh Bolderston connects with the sense of place and familial legacy in Amlanjyoti Goswami’s River Wedding.
River Wedding Amlanjyoti Goswami
In his debut collection, River Wedding, Amlanjyoti Goswami considers the enduring pulls of memory and perception, and the way in which familial bonds and legacies shape the self and one’s way of experiencing the world. Recollections and associations become precious anchors, memorialised with love and reverence throughout. Accordingly, the speaker’s experience of place, history and myth is relayed through a highly intimate, transformative lens.
In ‘The Dighalipukhuri Trilogy’ – which takes its name from a rectangular, 800-metre-long pond in Guwahati, India – a site of national history coalesces with the subject’s personal history:
Slowly, it grew dark, rain windy
Twilight birds restless in ancient tree
Timeless as banana leaves in the backyard.
Signs say move on, traces always remain.
The kid turns a golden mellow
He finds his feet where he walked before
No more rages, just as mad
Home is here and a long way on.
The subject’s sense of place starts off rooted in the physical, the immediately tangible, but quickly becomes unmoored and shrouded in personal mirage and reverie. An external journey bends inwards as a previous, youthful self is conjured, along with their passions and notions of belonging. Home follows, is carried, is constantly re-manifested before the speaker’s eyes; home is a sensory network of ever-present associations, waiting to be stimulated.
The setting then shifts again to fit the eyes of a child – the subject’s daughter –gesturing towards how a place can be remade for each new generation, and how in turn this new understanding will come to reposition the father’s present visions and associations:
But tonight is bright with moment.
A daughter’s small, bold hands
Feel the present. She knows where to go
And moves towards the light,
Where an ancient shed once stood.
And the father follows,
Forgetting the weight of experience.
Again, a physical journey develops an additional layer of meaning and resonance as the daughter experiences a spiritual pull, an innate familiarity with her surroundings. Here, the historical setting perhaps functions as an illuminative space of awakening and self-knowledge, sparking the daughter’s discovery of – and latent affinities with – her cultural and familial inheritances.
Throughout the collection, such associative journeys are also instigated by food. In ‘Lunch’, the act of sharing a meal is an expression of love and union:
At the common table, the familiar hum of
Would you like a little more?
Those words haunt me when I pour morsels home:
Today’s prawns are so good.
The table is a space of care, generosity and constancy – a space in which the speaker will always feel at home. Eating here is a dependable and almost ritualistic experience:
Calm, lunch done, the sun moves slowly
Down the late afternoon sky.
We too remove ourselves silent,
Like those plates, to the quiet of our rooms,
For the evening to stir us awake,
Night to call us again,
Morning to somehow, crawl back in,
To life, more life.
The kind that, like a child,
takes in a morsel, when nobody’s looking.
The cycle of each day is measured in meals. Sharing food is a regenerative process and keeps the cyclical wonder of familial traditions alive. Lunch is treated as an observance, a sensory vehicle through which – with the innocent and marvelling nature of a child – the speaker can revel in and absorb the quietly joyful pulse of a moment and the shared feeling of belonging.
Similarly, in ‘Aabu’ food embodies and preserves a specific person and relationship:
I am grandmother.
Your daughter will remember me,
Whenever you mention gravy
When the trace of tongue
Here, a certain taste becomes sacred, intimate. It is a way in which the grandmother is not only remembered, but also symbolically internalised. Her legacies are ingested, made part of the granddaughter’s body – a spiritual and physical sustenance. Again, there is something ritualistic and prophetic about the speaker’s tone, as if such a precious bequest is fated, inevitable.
Another form of inheritance Goswami explores is familial myth – the stories and beliefs that are passed down to us as we grow. In ‘River Wedding’, superstition and anxiety are immortalised and transferred from a mother to her child. The speaker relays their mother’s fear of ‘water after dark’:
Once she told me why.
When she was five,
Oruni, the village Huck Finn,
Who ran after ghosts and no book could catch up with her,
Oruni told my ma, goggle-eyed,
Sompawoti, the river behind their thatched houses,
Was getting married the next evening.
All the rivers would come,
Kopili, Bordoisila, Dibang, Disang, Kolong,
All the sisters of Brahmaputra would
Flow through their village!
It would rain and thunder,
So much fun.
The element of prophecy in ‘Aabu’ recurs, but in another register. The mythic story is relayed as an epic, almost apocalyptic vision, but retains a sense of childlike fascination. Rather than being terrifying, the fear of supernatural destruction is expressed with overtures of innocent glee at the thought of such a spectacle: ‘so much fun’. This feeling of wonderment continues in ‘Remembering Ancestors’, in which the speaker begins to construct their own stories:
Mantras fly, terrace to sky. […]
They were forming musical notes
When last seen, by the sunset.
to get a feel of sky.
I knew right then,
How ancestors, the dust
and my headaches,
Were all related.
The speaker seems to be waiting for the ethereal, speculative ‘mantras’ to be answered by something more tangible, something that can be deciphered into a personal epiphany. They are searching for familial affinities, and legacies that will better help them understand the unknown parts of themselves. The hinge moment – the point at which this understanding starts to emerge – is emphasised by the linear disintegration: ‘I stepped / down’. The sudden abundance of white space around these short lines opens up the page and gives the speaker – and the reader – space in which to ruminate and marvel. The sought-after epiphany then comes, as the speaker builds their own familial myth and realises the extent to which they are haunted by – and belong to – all that came before.