REVIEW

Book Review: Mdantsane Breathing

March 27, 2010
Nibedita Sen

In Mdantsane Breathing by Amitabh Mitra one can literally feel Mdantsane inhaling and exhaling time with nonchalance that stems purely from an acceptance of life as it is …

The book breathes an air of close knit community life where the sun is red with warmth from merry women dancing away to the beats of life.

Poet-painter Amitabh Mitra has lived this sun and this air for over twenty years. He is also a medical doctor by profession and is a trauma specialist. Ask him about Mdantsane, and he would probably describe it as a geographical area without barriers which begins at smiling faces of its people and ends somewhere at the genesis another Mdantsane.

This book is a celebration of life and living. In the details of its throbbing life Mdantsane releases latent joy and Dr. Mitra captures these moments of flourish in his reflective ballad as it comes through in day to day life.

At Mdantsane ‘hunger is an imagination’ and as ‘country runs on fasting streets’… mornings begin in a ‘cacophony of smog and strider’ with people travelling their ‘dreams and hopes on a brittle movement’ in Mdantsane taxis …

With the sun journeying its way towards eternity, Mdantsane also journeys along the paths of everyday familiarity, everyday nothingness towards a new sun and a joyous day.

Amitabh portrays glimpse of rare joy hidden under layers and sub-layers of extreme adversity and with strokes of optimistic colours he unleashes laughter, long held captive within the barriers of pain. His transparent colours speak a lucid lyrical language and his words draw out life from the seemingly lifeless.

Being a trauma specialist himself, Dr Mitra has had several distressful experiences in his twenty years of Mdantsane life at the Cecilia Makiwane Hospital. He is vocal about the sinister darkness that looms large even in the blaring daylight …

the dead treads softly here
not to awaken the shadows
living in the confluence of dread
and disparity

The questions are obvious and the answers are obvious too yet Amitabh seems still in search of a palpable reason like one of his patients … the one legged man at the Cecelia Makiwane Hospital who dreams of a repaired prosthesis and a ‘phantom leg’ and …

‘he still doesn’t understand
why they didn’t kill him
why they shot him, a black pastor

why they laughed at the end
why is liberation so precious now.

The racial discrimination and the extreme violence during the apartheid years in Mdantsane, a township of black people still struggling to come out of its past doesn’t really care for the excruciating pain - it has Friday evenings ‘when women dance to the fury of moon’.

Amidst the flaking walls and the smell of decay with sickly lungs and hollow eyes, life takes a joyous turn when a child smiles and his

‘laughter runs amid narrow streets
takes a turn
and runs amok with grey
sodden clouds
and then it rains in mdantsane
heavy downpour
weeping
all its miseries in one go’

Poet Amitabh Mitra has lived with the suffering people of Mdantsane, watched them in their agony and shared their moments of rapturous release as they together stepped forward into a hope-filled tomorrow, peeping out of the black clouds ….

Here ‘aloe and wild grass shake to jazz moments’ after a long day of hunger and thirst night comes as a surprise when alcohol colours the darkness with hues of dream.

The minute details of Mdantsane life in this book point out to the fact that Dr. Amitabh Mitra has delved deep into the psyche of the township as well as toured through the lanes and by-lanes of human consciousness ….  

He has seen ‘Nonzamo’s Shebeen shutters down at nine’ and watched Siya taking a short cut with his bag of oranges and behind this parchment of orange and yellow he has observed a drought of the unspoken …

Here children laugh at nothingness and ‘happiness is as hungry’…

The entire township is ever prepared to stumble into a live explosive or get shot at by a stranger at broad noon …

Though Mdantsane doesn’t understand the reason for its another existence, yet its nights instinctively ‘tumble onto a today’ and then at daytime it somehow drags its feet through the painful rituals of existence ‘reeling under a broken sun’

Mdantsane has to move on and a tremendous lust for life makes the most difficult moments alive with a life that ‘bursts itself in a mayhem of another carnival night’

As the name goes, Mdantsane Breathing, poet, painter Amitabh Mitra has created a flesh and blood township with the face of a smiling child and  psyche of an undying, indefatigable mother nature with a bounteous body yet to be discovered, yet to be traversed and yet to be chronologically fixed.

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