Dr Satnarine “Sat” Balkaransingh’s forthcoming poetry collection, The Wanderers—which includes thirty poems by his late, elder brother Lal Balkaransingh—confirms without reasonable doubt the vast creative powers of one of the country’s outstanding multi-disciplinary minds.
Depending on the context, Sat Balkaransingh can be described as a Kathak Classical dancer, choreographer, dance instructor, cultural anthropologist, mentor, author, playwright, pannist, economist, development planner, and now, through this collection, a poet of considerable skill and importance.
In some ways, all of these credentials are, through his verse, expressed as singular voice in The Wanderers—poems composed between 1988 and 2020.
For instance, Balkaransingh says Kairi Sanctus (A Ballad on our First Peoples) is, among others, eventually to be choreographed onstage as a dance performance, even as it stands on its own as a powerful poetic tribute to the contribution of aboriginal ancestors.
In this poem, Balkaransingh’s voice is one of poet as strongly as it resonates as (at times somewhat pedantic) scholarly observation.
“Listen to my moving history, /A gory but gallant, though sad story. /We once freely roamed the hills and dales;/Young braves tramping through the rolling plains,” the poet urges. He closes: “Oh Yacoah!” he closes by asserting, “When the midnight hour arrives, /And you listen to your peoples’ plaintive cries, /Wrathfully descend with thunder and fire, to cleanse us. /Shower your grace and restore to Kairi, its Sanctus.”
The cultural tour provided by the collection, also focuses heavily on the poet’s East Indian heritage within the context of a thriving multi-culturalism which he embraces as part of self-identification.
“I know for sure from whence I came,” he declares, “My heritage, literature and attire determined my name. /But this pioneer knew not, /To what desh (country) he was bound and just where, /Except that out of the fires of his hope and prayer, /He might be forging a new destiny there.”
This opening proclamation from the title poem The Wanderers, launches an exploration of the story of East Indian immigration. At times, it reads as history-telling text in verse, changing voices and personages, then slows as if in choreographed motion in the way, perhaps, Balkaransingh would instruct his dancers on stage.
The collection, as socio-cultural message, could have begun and ended with this poem. It raises questions that occur throughout.
“Now we were all Euro-Afro-Chino and Indo-Trinbagonians/Black, White, Yellow, Mestizo and Brown, /Sharing community space, though not really as one. /Living in peaceful co-existence, on common ground, /Each seemingly pursuing his own destiny, /A veritable confusion, while creating fusion in diversity.”
One feature of the dynamic captured in The Wanderers, the poem, is captured in The Ghungroo/Ankle Bell which flows like rhythmic meters for the execution of dance moves.
Balkaransingh is recognised and being at work here composing a poem while mentally choreographing dance steps.
It is one of the poems that will be seen on stage this year, rendered as dance: “Full throttle into cruising speed;/Takataka takataka, Takataka takataka/Accelerating in open plain/As it heads to Port of Spain;/TaketaTaketa-taka; TaketaTaketa-taka; TaketaTaketa-taka …”
Oh, for certain, there are also other poetic passions that flow peripherally around the sharp admonitions and concerns and evade the wholesale lure of dance.
Erotic love is explored in Shrinaga, for example. “Oh, how I welcome the opportunity,” the poet says, “To sip the elixir of life/While worshipping at its sanctum sanctorum, /Savouring the rejuvenating nectar from this lotus flower.”
In his notes to this verse, Balkaransingh explains it was composed while scripting the ballet Yahi Madhava in 1993 and is reminiscent of 12th century poet, Jayadeva’s love song Geet Govinda which invokes the emotion of erotic love “not lust; that profane dimension of love.”
He is less apologetic, though, in Nostalgia—a recollection of student life in Yorkshire and late-night studies involving a small group of men and women. “I enjoyed her beauty and company, just for the hour, /Embracing it gently as a fragile flower …”
And, again, in The Minstrel’s Song: “Though later, with some remorse she may utter, /’Oh my honour, I lost in a wandering balladeer’s arm’;/Lamenting publicly, her reputation harm’d;/Savouring privately, that fleeting ecstasy/From the minstrel’s intoxicating charm.”
Yes, it’s not all work and no play from this poet. This portion of the joint collection delivers the full package of grief and delights. It closes with Twenty First Century (The Wuhan Virus) which explores the pain and sorrow of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lal Balkaransingh’s contribution to the collection is also substantial, but veers in different poetic directions with insightful reflections on religion and spirituality. It is worthy of wholesome understanding on its own.
To Rabindranath Tagore captures poetic aspiration and Evolving Stages the dreams and visions upon which Balkaransingh, the elder, constructs his mission as a writer.
The Wanderers is a delightful anthology of poems by two committed T&T patriots who approach both universal and narrowly focused themes from different angles, but find fraternal commonality when capturing joy and sadness, the lowly and the sublime, the ugly and the beautiful.