’40 Under 40: An Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry’ Is a Must Read For ’80s & ’90s Kids

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2001

“This poem refuses to go
Under the knife
To yield to size-zero conformism…”

A soon as I read these lines from Plus-sized Poem written by Chandramohan S, I knew I was hooked to the anthology that this poem is part of. While being acutely aware of itself, this poem is also completely unapologetic, a trait it shares with the other poems in 40 Under 40: An Anthology of Post-Globalisation Poetry. This book brings to life a world that is slowly phasing out; a world where biscuits were cherished and floppy disks were all the rage, and it tells these stories in a raw, honest manner.

As a twenty-something reading this book, I felt as though I was transported right back into my childhood. The culture unique to the period between the eighties and the early 2000s has been captured marvelously in this anthology. Pallavi Narayan describes a day in the life of her young speaker in Garden Games; she fills it with details of innocent fun had while watching Doordarshan, eating corn and banana, and drinking homemade ice soda pop. This innocence is what makes the last stanza particularly hard-hitting.

“…The servant boy, his name that of a python,
curling his arms around me stealthily
in the velvet darkness of the garage.
Shush, stay calm, Baby: for evenings
were for hide-and-seek.”

In The Prequel, Sumaiya Inayat creates a realistic and vivid image of a child eating a potato chip – licking the masala first and then munching on it – an experience we’re all familiar with but one that I have never seen put down into words. It is these true-to-life throwbacks to the past that lend to several poems a strong sense of nostalgia.

A lot of the poems in this anthology dwell on the theme of spaces, both in the geographical sense and as we know them in our minds. In Alienation, Manjiri Indurkar talks about how when one is surrounded by family and love, the space you occupy is that of a home. But the moment you begin thinking of spaces as being tangible and allow them to define you, they turn into asylums, people turn into refugees, and existence becomes claustrophobic.

Poems such as Goirick Brahmachari’s The house by the wooden bridge at Silcoorie and Semeen Ali’s Back in the orchard both deal with a loss of connection to a space. If you are one of those people who has witnessed their ancestral village change from a rural setup to a more urban town, Brahmachari’s poem will truly speak to you. It tells the story of a university student’s trip to Silchar, where he fondly remembers eating hot shingaras (samosas) and drinking tea at a local shop. This memory, built of smells, tastes and textures, is juxtaposed by a picture of the present day scenario, where people prefer eating non-Indian fast food like burgers and pizzas.

With globalisation came new ways of looking at feminism and empowerment, which were often at odds with orthodox attitudes. These ideas find a place in 40 Under 40 in poems such as Why Loiter? by Chandramohan S and Dear Mr. Yadav, I too am an Indian Woman by Aditi Rao. The former talks about society’s double standards; about how it allows women to import progressive ideas from the West (in the form of pink panties), but it does not permit them to flaunt and practice such attitudes (as seen through the inability to dry said panties out in the open). Rao’s poem, on the other hand, is an open letter to Lalu Prasad Yadav and everybody else who thinks that Indian women are a homogenous group of people who must behave in a submissive, “culturally acceptable” way.

“…I run barefoot through sand. I can wrap six yards of silk into a sensuous sari. I wear a dupatta to the mosque and the gurudwara. I am more often seen in jeans and orange slippers. I am still an Indian woman…”

The most memorable parts of this anthology are the poems that imbue technology with emotions and experiences. In the 1.4 MB floppy disk by Akhil Katyal talks about how filling a floppy disk with personalised “gifts”, such as sketches drawn on MS Paint and handpicked songs and fonts, could give so much joy to both the person who was giving the gift and the friend who would receive it. What is most striking about this poem is that it puts into words the amazement that we once felt when 1.4 MB seemed like a large storage capacity; so large that you could fit entire friendships in there.

“…Then, after these (because
1.4MB never felt small, then, stowing
all I wanted to give) I added three .ttf’s,
font files, as special gifts, one of which even
had a middle-finger-symbol, which you then used
in almost every subject-line that year”

In Maaz Bin Bilal’s Two Typos on FB, two misspelled words, “heartarming”, which is used to describe path-breaking women, and “waisting time”, which is used to explain how someone is spending their day, offer a look into the ironies of social media activism and interaction. First Love, by Jhinuk Sen, eloquently explains the benefits of falling in love before the advent of instant messaging and social media. Sen’s speaker says that she can choose to remember her relationship the way she likes rather than being given constant reminders of it by social media.

“…And after all these years, we can read over chapters in distracted
moments and not feel an ache. To remember enough, not too
much. You and I can choose to remember exactly what we
want –
that which hurts us least. Or most…”

There are two poems that must be read because of the writing style they employ. The first of these is Shelly Bhoil’s untitled work that talks about the reason why we make certain associations with particular words. The stanzas of this poem are fragmented and the words are spread across the pages, written horizontally, vertically, spelt backwards, and separated by space. The second is Michelle D’costa Ambition, whose stanzas must be read in ascending order to understand the rungs of ambition of a young village boy. However, when the stanzas are read in a descending order, the poem tells the story of the same boy but from the perspective of his troubled mind once he has achieved his dream.

This anthology leaves no stone unturned; it covers themes as varied as the self, death, suicide, storytelling, and poetry itself. This is what makes it such a fulfilling read. If you were born in the eighties or nineties, this collection of poems will definitely resonate with you. Read it to remind yourself of simpler times, to laugh at relatable stories of childhood, and to comfort an adult heart stuck in an ever-changing world.

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