These are the times of sudden death and heartbreaking distress experienced by almost everyone in society in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
How will humanity adapt to this situation and be resilient, is a big question.
Bishnupada Sethi, a well-known civil servant and poet, who writes in both English and the Odia language.
He has a number of poetry books to his credit: Where should I go? My world of words and beyond feelings.
He helped popularize the philosophy of Mahima in Odisha by writing extensively on it and preserving the birthplace of Bhima Bhoi, Khaliapali, Sambalpur district in Odisha.
In Odisha, the poetry written by the officials is not something exceptional but rather a convention.
Poets like Ramakanta Ratha, Sitakanta Mahapatra, JPDa to name a few who were civil servants like Bishnupada Sethi.
But what sets Bishnupada Sethi apart from all the rest is in terms of context and presentation of real life.
In this context, Raj Kumar, a well-known critic, in a book discussion about the author, states: “Their poetry is abstract, mythical, unreal, condescending.
On the other hand, Bishnupada Sethi’s poetry is real, contemporary and down to earth. In the context of the introduction to Beyond Here and Other Poems, the poet writes on the back of the cover page: “There are individuals within the book who are in dialogue with me. “
The Covid-19 pandemic is an incident of such magnitude in recent history that has emotionally shattered people across the world.
The pandemic and its devastating effects have already started to surface in the pages of literature.
Beyond Here and Other Poems by Bishnupada Sethi is one example.
The poet so skillfully captured various nuances of life affected by Covid-19 in this collection of poetry.
In one of his poems “As I Breathe Deep”, the poet sees a sadness that has come down with the spread of Covid-19 and the continued lockdown that has followed.
The poet can smell the “stench of death” in every breath he takes. This “annoys” the poet and is “seized with fear”.
What makes him even more fearful is finding no one to mourn the dead.
The poet remembers “the tradition of the song of lamentation” in society, where people even mourn the death of a calf.
But the Corona pandemic has been so devastating that there seems to be no one left to mourn the dead.
In the verses, “There is no one to do a favor – Lamenting while singing,” the character of the poet seems to be disturbed to see such a deplorable state of society.
In “Beyond the Lock Down”, the poet tries to capture the unbearable suffering of migrant workers.
The poem captures the plight of migrant workers in various towns, who were forced to return to their villages barefoot in the scorching heat. Displacement and migration are not happening for the first time.
Natural disasters like cyclones, drought, etc. forced people to move from place to place in search of “work, food and rest”.
The words ‘hurt and numb’ reveal how the poor have always been the victims of these natural calamities.
However, the end of the poem is very powerful. He sees hope against despair, strength against helplessness.
The poet character seeks strength and courage to overcome the arduous journey and reach a place where he can support the life of his family.
His desire to see “his loved ones smile and grow” fills him with determination and the strength to fight.
“Cheering up the Brave hearts” is a poem in tribute to the brave doctors and paramedics who lost their lives fighting head on during the spread of the pandemic.
Indeed, health professionals were “brave hearts”.
When people were pampered in their homes, these brave hearts cared for Covid-19 patients at the risk of their lives. Many of them died to save the lives of others.
Thus, the character of the poet greets them by saying: “We are here to brighten up brave hearts.” Seeing medical professionals working selflessly to save lives, the poet is comforted to know that human civilization will surely win this battle, as daunting as it may seem.
The last two lines of the poem, “We will have the conquest, with science as a weapon” say a lot about India’s desperate response to the pandemic by imagining it vanishing by beating the thali, burning the candle, etc. .
The poet is rather convinced that with our scientific approach to the pandemic, human civilization will surely win.
The poem “Where Have the Children Gone” aptly describes how the pandemic led to a situation that pushed everyone into lockdown.
The poet is saddened by the disappearance of the children from the streets and from the park. Likewise, the elderly are absent from public places such as parks.
There is a feeling of abandonment and sterility all around.
The phrase “the silence is strange” reveals how truly frightening and terrifying the silence caused by the pandemic can be.
Here, the “silence” has caused grief, panic and deep pain everywhere.
The only sound that could be heard was the occasional sirens of ambulances carrying Corona patients.
People had no choice but to stay snuggled up in their havens of peace at home.
In “My Chase with the Monster” the poet uses the metaphor of a “monster” to denote the powers of darkness and negativity.
In a frightening time like this, the poet encourages people to say, “Life is a great gift”. It is to be celebrated by doing good and being kind to one another.
The poet is convinced that victory surely belongs to life; death monster cannot rule over people.
The spread of the pandemic, the lockdown, and the social, mental and economic pressure it brings afterwards, is certainly more than a human mind can handle and comprehend.
Bishnupada Sethi used poetry to express mixed feelings: frustrations, despair, determination, hope, all of it in his poetry.
Poetry could certainly be a kind of therapeutic agent which gives the poet the possibility of expressing himself.