by Vidhu Aggarwal
Bangalore, India: The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, 2016.
120 pages. $19.99 (paperback)
The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, founded by Minal Hajratwala, Ellen Kombiyil, and Shikha Malaviya has started a new “Emerging Poet’s Prize,” this year judged by the Indian poet Jeet Thayil. The selected three manuscripts for print include Vidhu Aggarwal’s debut collection, The Trouble With Humpadori. You can watch the trailer here.
In your hands this astounding collection of poems is a wild bird that shimmers into rattlesnake scales and folds into a paper plane. Aggarwal’s daring produces the character and speaker, Humpadori. Hump/adori is an amalgam of positionalities. He/she/they is/are affectionately referred to as “Hump,” a composite of words in English, Hindi, and Japanese, according to the internal Interlocutor, that mean “deformity,” “idol,” “OM,” “we,” and “Humpty Dumpty.”
Don’t try to understand every nuance of Humpadori’s shifting ontology; rather, glide with them as they skitter across English and Hindi in a Gravitron motion that will leave you breathless, gasping at the texture of tongues and language.
This book, a “jilebi-shakarkandi” Bollywood-voodoo OM, spits with postmodern, postcolonial spunk as it veers toward critique of colonial literature and wages an alternative to single identity-based poetics. In the list poem “Calling All Manifesticles,” Hump is defined, redefined, and abstracted. Aggarwal says,
- HUMP is always next.
- HUMP is never now. (16)
Humpadori’s definition is always becoming fully realized at some other point. Like the word “postitionality,” Humpadori is also a relational being, a constant mediation between “the ordinary and spectacle.” In this way, the identities of Humapdori are performed in the lyric — both adhering to and thwarting the expectation of identity category. In “Humpadori East & West, Twinkle Twinkle,” Hump uses the first person to say,
I recognize only two directions: away from me & towards me. There’s a chance we live in both at once. (54)
Also happening in this poem is a subversion of English nursery rhyme and song. The song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is rewritten in Indian English and Carnatic raga structure as,
When someone leaves you in pain, you repeat yourself: twin-ka-la, twink-ka-lah ah-ah-ahhh— You hold the note until it zigzags east & west, west & east, & back again. (55)
Indeed this Hump-ish critique of Western canon appears throughout the Humpiverse where the speaker ruminates on Humpadori’s language skills. Indeed, the use of English and changing speech patterns is a method of Bhabhaian sly civility and mimicry that may seem polite but cuts at the very power core/chord of colonial authority — a sober moment in the Techni-Bolly-color haze of lyric metamorphosis. In the poem “While Tail” Humpadori
speaks white out of politeness — (36)
The references to The Jungle Book and the re-appropriation of the Hindi word “junglee” engage this trajectory. In “Live Desi Feed,” Hump says of themself,
We wander only in the Cloud! Proud of our translational apparatus,
we sing aloud. We’re never lonely. We’re a prism of martyr/hero/virgin. (99)
In this way the speaker, Humpadori, exists in the cross-sections as an entity complicated and queer, a palimpsest of subject positions that challenge colonial tactics that seek to define and rule. The “desi” references Wordsworth (“I wandered lonely as a cloud … ”) and ends in an explosion of the speaker’s first person’s multiple identities — a postcolonial, queer, Humpadori truth.about the author