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Creation and Criticism

 ISSN: 2455-9687 

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

Jan-April 2019

Looking through the Spaces of Memory: The Poetry of Bibhu Padhi

Sudhir K. Arora


Somewhere in the mind, there is a storehouse reserved for memory that has two systems—an inlet that remains open for perceptions that get stored and an outlet which though remains locked, opens at the order of the mastermind that controls the whole system. It has two fold cognitive processes—retaining and retrieving of the past experiences. Memory has been employed as technique by the poets not merely for articulating their silences and pent-up feelings but also for exploring ‘Self’. In the province of Indian Poetry in English, it is no better seen anywhere than in Bibhu Padhi (b. 1951, Cuttack) who has entered the unoccupied spaces of memory on the wings of his poetry collections, namely, Going to the Temple (1988), A Wound Elsewhere (1992), Lines From A Legend (1993), Painting the House (1999), Games the Heart Must Play (2003) and the chap book Living with Lorenzo (2003).


Here in this paper, an attempt to explore different dimensions of the role of memory in Padhi’s poetry is made. Before peeping into the spaces of memory in Padhi’s poetry, it is better to know the basic concept of memory. “Memory consists in remembering what has previously been acquired or learned by an individual. Memory helps us in forcing the past experiences and pervious knowledge to come into a state of consciousness in the shape of images and ideas etc. Memory is not a simple process but consists of learning, retaining, recalling and recognizing ability of an individual” (Kulshrestha 201). Forgetting is just opposite of memory and hence, is associated with memory in the reverse order. Forgetting is equally important otherwise man’s life will become miserable, hence, is necessary for “better intelligence, better adjustment and better personality” (Kulshrestha 212).


Summarising Padhi’s poetry, William Stafford writes: “For Bibhu Padhi, life enjoys a promise between the outer world and the self, and his poems reach across that space we all feel when we pause and reflect what our lives mean” (JSL 79). Mishra epitomizes his poetry stating: “Poetry for Padhi means more than survival and it is survival with a cause—the cause to live a life not with a choked feeling but with the ability and the chivalry to express what the heart longs for, the body feels and the spirit cleanses” (176). Here is a beautiful excerpt for the spaces of memory:


Today, once again, I started

looking through the unoccupied

spaces of my memory.

Today, once again, someone

has to remind me of a presence

and words, of absence

and the loss of a word (Games 38).


The excerpt clearly reveals the route through which the poet in Padhi searches the spaces of Memory. He talks of its “unoccupied spaces.” Some spaces are already occupied and these spaces may be teemed with those remembrances which he often recalls. But some spaces which remain unoccupied or over which the poet declines to show his possession or the spaces which are filled with some possessions which remained un-possessed in the past were thrown into recycle bin and forgotten but not deleted, are once again visited at the reminder of someone who acts as catalyst in the process. This ‘someone’ comes in touch with the poet and reminds him not only “of a presence and words”   but also “of absence and the loss of a word.” The game of presence and absence and of words and loss of a word makes him oscillate between the extremes to the extent that he feels that he is in ladder and snake game which sometimes makes him happy when he realizes the presence that makes him articulate and unhappy when he has to embrace absence resulting in his inexpressiveness because of the loss of word. The repetition of “once again” makes the poet poignant as he faced the same ordeal in the past. Today he finds once again in the same position. He is in-between remembrance and forgetting but this “someone” does not let him forget the past and forces him to look through “the unoccupied spaces” of memory.  The space between yesterday and today makes the difference. Yesterday a thing was his own but today it is not his own as it has been owned by others or time has taken away from him. How can he disown the thing today that was his own? Mark the lines for the sense of loss:


What happened between Monday

and Tuesday, yesterday and today?

The answers are beyond

a translucent sky of remembrance

and forgetting, calling someone

or something one’s own, disowning

the whole thing on any one day (Games 43).


The poet in Padhi has suffered “humiliations of defeat and loss” between “yesterday and today” but now he feels that “death were just another  word for / whatever happened between yesterday and today” (Games 44).  While in the space where the sun’s light falls on his face, he looks back but to his surprise, finds his “shadow lost somewhere” (Games 45) on the way. The shadow has left the poet who moans over the loss. It passed away in its “own private, self-consuming way” (Games 45) without the knowledge of its master-person, i.e. the poet. Though “someone has to remind” him of presence and absence, he interrogates “this someone” in such a way that he is not aware of this “someone.” Sample the lines for his surprise and the quality of bringing past, present and future together:


Who has opened the pigeon-holes

of my heart and mind to remind me

that I’m still living with my

family and friends

In the dark forgetfulness of the past,

the remembrances of the present (Games 53).


Adjustment is the art that the poet has learnt and this someone may be time that reminds him that he has a family and friends who expect his engagement for them. Hence, he buries the un-possessed (which he wished for possession) in the past and forgetting it, remembers “the remembrances of the present” (Games 53) though his intuitive mind anticipates “the future’s death –smelling / homes of fantasies” (Games 53)? The poet in Padhi does not bother “over the small losses / over the years” (Games 25) as he has learnt “to live with losses too” (Games 25).  He feels an intuition that there is “something” that “seems to separate” and “Before anything happens, something / seems to get lost, again and again” (Temple 11). No doubt, he has small hopes but they are “tinged with / a word-estranged quality of loss” (Temple 62). Premature loss of things torments him and many things about things which he ever thought to translate are lost before their time “in the darker texts of our minds” (Painting 62). He hears different sounds—“lonelier notes of a lifetime of forgetting” and “a remembrance of losing things” (Painting 78).  It is time that plays trick and makes a man believe “a lie as truth” but in spite of time’s tricks, he has to look back at the beautiful things that occurred in the past. The poet shares his experience with the dream children:


But, do you know how,

at the end of all the tricks

of time, you shall still look back

and fondly remember

all those beautiful things

that first occurred to you,

just as I might do? (Games 19)


He asks one of the dream children whether he will remember him as he remembers him, particularly when he is “at a place / just half-a furlong away,” in his “dream-kingdom” (Games 22). He is not sure that the world will remember them but is certain that it will forget them “in the dark tunnel of time and history” (Games 23). He asks the child if he will remember him as he remembers him. He still feels that he is “still a child somewhere” (Games 81) and tells the daughter that he does not “know ways/ of love and prayer, of how / to listen to and obey”. He thinks that a child can guide better because of its purity and innocence and hence, he states to the daughter: “Since you take me as I am, / show me the right ways. / Teach me how to pray” (Games 81). Padhi admits: “I see look in the mirror and see a middle-aged child (JSL 90).


Waiting is associated with memory. It activates the mind that recalls the things connecting with the person being waited. The reel reels displaying all the things concerning the person. The flow of “memory and presence” is mixed into each other while entering his frail heart that is “still in good order” (Games 21). He has been waiting for the children who are not only the dream children but they may also be the representative of his unfulfilled desires, of his dreams that he has in his heart with soft touch and of his desires and aspirations that he wished to translate but could not. He waited for them during nights but this “waiting was endless” (Games 21). As he dreams of them, they appear “shrouded in stories and history / like a dark shadow from the past” (Games 21). Dreams come only when they are stored somewhere in the mind and the owner does not remember them that he has stored them rather thrown them in the store of mind. When it is night, they come and register their presence before the owner that they are also stored in the memory. Dreams that one dreams are not absolutely his dreams. Those dreams may have another owner. The poet in Padhi knows it and hence, utters these words: “These days my dreams / haven’t been mine. / I know, there is a long line / of owners (Games 26). He is lost in the spaces of his memory and is forced to live among the absences—the absences that haunt him by making him realize something missing. He admits before the daughter that he has not “received so many things” and of those things he “can only dream of” (Games 94). Though he used to think that “distance didn’t matter”, now he realizes that “perhaps distance matters and must be / taken care of” (Games 87). Memory cannot be wiped out and it always haunts him more of painful and unfulfilled remembrances and less of happy occurrences. His wish to “speak is keen during / winter” (Wound 57) but such wish remains as it is and “the frail horizon / sinks, then fades, while the promised deeds/ lie impossible scattered over / the darkness of the previous night” (Wound 39). Grief is felt because of the wound which is “always there somewhere, where / words are afraid to go” (Wound 73). His heart weeps on account of its inarticulateness through words which are afraid to go to “yet unexplored spot of the mind” (Wound 73). He recalls from memory every little object which he once shared with others and feels a kind of pain over the loss that hurts. He searches the hurt but it steals “into the night from there” (Wound 73). He is sad over the death of Lorenzo and there remains nothing in his mind except the image of his memory. Mark the lines for poignancy:


he is dead and with him has gone

everything except the image of his memory?

Isn’t it our image of the memory that survives

mere instincts, wishes, acceptable fantasies? (Lorenzo 14)


Lorenzo is dead but the image of his memory survives. While focusing the case of Lorenzo, he generalizes as it happens with every man who keeps dear ones locked in memory. The dear one dies but memory survives in the form of “mere instincts, wishes, acceptable fantasies” (Lorenzo 14). It survives because of “the blood” that “moves into the heart”. The poet in Padhi becomes emotional and connects the memory with heart, not with the mind as he feels that it is heart that takes the image to the mind only when the affection is great. Sample the lines for the flow of his feelings in connection with the memory:


Now, within me, the blood moves

into the heart of my years,

where memory is so alive,

so insistent and alert (Legend 13)


The poet in Padhi has fondness for the sea that becomes his sole companion with whom he shares and it responds to him. He asks the dream children not to “forget that the sea has / its own way of dealing with everything / the things that are yours / and the things which you dream of possessing” (Games 4). He personally advises them: “Place yourself near the sea / when no one sees / The sea will tell you everything” (Games 4). This is the personal experience that he has got during the past years and he has kept it safe in his memory. Dream children should make a good use of his experience and share with the sea to know everything.


Memory is not the result of any one day’s experience but it is the long process that continues from the very day a child comes on earth. The child learns as he grows up and is also taught various things to follow for present and future. These are words that play the game and make men swallow pain and insult. Mark the excerpt for the obscurities of inner space:


We swallow our pain and insult,

thinking they are a part of the game of words;

besides, we could be wrong and stupid, since

those words are said to be kin to darkness,

obscurities of inner space, and belong

to a world of conjectures and long waits—

a world that is neither mine nor yours;

we’ve been long taught to believe so (Temple 61).


The poet in Padhi analyses words that are “kin to darkness” and is shocked to trace out obscurities of inner space in words. He swims in the space of memory where he sees the star like words but these have space within space. Even then, he enters the space within space but now the inner space remains obscure. He has to presume in absence of any light in the inner space that words “belong to a world of conjectures and long waits” and this world belongs to none. This is the conclusion that he makes though he, like others, has been taught to believe so. This is the conclusion that was already stored in his memory but practically he realizes it while exploring “the clean, regular spaces between words” that “tease the night’s loneliness” (Temple 12).


Rain takes Padhi to the route that links him to the domain of memory. Rains come from the clouds and memories reside on the hills of the mind. As rains fall on the plain, it also forces memories to fall down. The shower of rains as well as memories fall on the plain of the poet’s heart which makes him long for the those things about which he either dreamt, or could not translate them into reality because of adverse circumstances created by time. Here are the lines for the association of rains with memory:


The first rains of the year

have started falling on the plains

since yesterday,

and with the rains, memories

of the hills started falling too (Games 78).


As it is raining, the poet can sense the wet voice of his dear one through his son’s loud singing. He can also hear his dear one’s voice even through “the humming sound / of motor cars crowding the foul road”. Rain has entered the pore of his heart so much that it can hear the wet voice of his dear one “through the damp sound / of a faraway afternoon rain / in the July of one distant, echoing year” (Wound 11). “The first large drops of spring rain” make the poet “move within” and he guesses that that “the same rain must be falling now / at the point where Mahanadi originates / among forests and boulders” (Wound 16). As he watches the steady rainfall, he is engrossed so much in the rain that he hears the sound of his own blood on the rooftops and also hears the same sound down “among the dancing feet of children / in the rain” (Wound 36). But between these two sounds one that is heard on the rooftops and other that is heard down among the dancing feet of children, the poet in Padhi feels a sense of loss as he states:  “Something / remains absent amid / these sounds and movements, something / very near to what couldn’t be said / or carried in the blood” (Wound 36). This “something” remains uncommunicative and cannot be carried in the blood. He asks the daughter to remember him whenever she feels “tired and breathless”. He will be her lungs and her warm breath “while climbing a step” (Games 77). He will be with her especially on “those cold rainy / nights with thunder, wind and lightning” (Games 77). Rainy nights become troublesome and the poet connects such nights to the unpleasant conditions.


The image of ancestors is imprinted on the mirror of memory. The mirror of memory reflects image of ancestors permanently resulting in making the roots firm in the soil. The walls of the home take him to the domain of memory that reflects an emotional bond and makes it stronger than ever. If he tries to go away from home to somewhere, he cannot do so as he is “bound to its wall, damp with / last year’s rain, smelling its stale / unmoving air” (Wound 42). It is his father who has made him “stay here, in this house, haunted by malefics / in obdurate conjunction with each other / and my own sulky capricious years” (Wound 43). In his memory, he recalls his grandmother who used to warn him stating “Take care of your child. / You will never get another like him” (Wound 66). He can never forget her caring and affectionate nature. She always used to make him realize his duties towards the child. Before her death, she asked him to take “her gold ring on her right forefinger” (Wound 67). Her words that come out from memory are heard echoing: “Take it off / my finger. I’d like you to wear it. / It will protect you from possible / enemies, from the sly, slanted look / of the inauspicious stars” (Wound 67). Even after her death, her blessings are present in the ring that will protect him form his possible enemies. It will fight against the “slanted look of the inauspicious stars” (Wound 67). He knows that his ancestors inhabit “their layers of miraculous air” and certainly they are his “well-wishers / during hour of pain and pleasure” (Painting 29). Though they remain unseen, they “participate in the earth’s rites” and the poet has “inherited their responsibilities / towards the innumerable dead” (Painting 29). They always remain refreshed in his memory. It is the poet in Padhi who keeps them in the safe corner of his memory. He generalizes the concept of memory associated with his ancestors.


I think we know how one inherits

a look or word of love, how generations

stay at one place and time so they could

share their long line of ancestral company (Legend 61).


The poet in Padhi locates a place “somewhere / between the soul and his wintering body” (Painting 66) and it is “other place” that has occupied rather encroached the unoccupied space of memory with the intention of conspiracy with the soul “how to prolong / its own impatience with time and failure” (Painting 66). He feels that he is enwrapped in darkness which plays havoc on his body and soul via his mind. The mind bears the blasts of the darkness in every form. It is darkness that is falling on “every sudden loss and every gain” (Legend 31). In loss, it is quite natural there will be shadow of darkness. He has a fear that loss will lead to further loss. Even the gain is not without the shadow of darkness. It seems that the poet fails to enjoy the gain for the fear of losing it as he sees the darkness falling. He traces the darkness “on every road that leads back to memory” (Legend 31). Darkness does not let him forget the painful past and always reminds him forcing him to go to space of memory. His “struggling act of speech” is not without the fear of this darkness. Darkness has gone deep in his life and cannot be taken out as it is falling “without rest / like a slow expanding rain / like an unceasing invisible dream that / plays around my eyes and turns round my skin” (Legend 31). Rain and dream are the fundamental things associated with every man but even rain and dream, the poet peeps into them and searches the darkness there.  


A close study of his poems reveal that he has exploited the technique of memory and to a great extent, succeeded in his purpose as he has made it a vehicle for disclosing his tragic consciousness and voicing his viewpoints regarding landscape, rain, dreams, loss, loneliness, past, absence, time, waiting, hope etc. Space between words creates space that can lead further for explorations. He looks through the space that leads to another space. His poetry is the outcome of the space exploration in memory. It is his memory which never allows him to forget anything and prepares the layers for future. It is memory which makes him purely a poet with difference—a poet who likes to play the game of love sometimes with dream children, sometimes with his beloved, sometimes with his daughter and sometimes with Lorenzo and finally reaches the sea to share his feelings about the wounds that he received while playing a game with heart that houses a legend of the temple where remains only “a lingering quality of decay and pain” (Temple 45). From deep to deeper is his voyage that he makes in the poetic sea with his paper boat of memory. While reading Padhi’s poetry, the reader descends in the poetic valley of feelings that seem to be his own. It is he who feels with Padhi: “I am all time and all space” (JSL 88).


Works Cited:


Kulshrestha, S. P. “Memory and Forgetting.” Educational Psychology. Meerut: Loyal, 1979. 201-217.


Mishra, Binod. “Rediscovering D. H. Lawrence: A Reading of Bibhu Padhi’s Living with Lorenzo.” Explorations in Indian English Poetry. Ed. Jaydeep Sarangi. New Delhi: Authorspress, 2007. 163-178.


Padhi, Bibhu. Going to the Temple. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company, 1988. 


---. A Wound Elsewhere, New Delhi: Rupa and Co. 1992. (WOUND)

---. Lines From A Legend, Great Britain: Peepel Tree, 1993. (LEGEND)

---. Painting the House, Mumbai: Disha Books, 1999. (PAINTING)

---. Games the Heart Must Play, Bhubaneswar: Pen and Ink, 2003 (GAMES)

---. Living with Lorenzo, Cuttack: Peacock Books, 2003. (LORENZO)

        (Names given in brackets are referred to in the text of the paper)


Sarangi, Jaydeep. “Interview with Bibhu Padhi.” JSL (Spring 2006): 79-94.



About the Author:


Sudhir K. Arora (b.1968) teaches English at Maharaja Harishchandra P. G. College, Moradabad affiliated to M. J. P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. He has several significant publications to his credit including Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker and Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English in Five Volumes.