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October 20, 2022

Dipika Mukherjee's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "Dialect of Distant Harbors"

Dialect of Distant Harbors by Dipika Mukherjee

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Dipika Mukherjee's collection Dialect of Distant Harbors is filled with musical, fierce poems that explore themes of migration, family, and home.

The Chicago Review of Books wrote of the book:

"Mukherjee’s work is kaleidoscopic in its scope and emotion, a thoughtful examination of migration, belonging, and recovery in a profoundly racist world that leaves room for the full range of emotions associated with resilience. Alternating between wonder, love, and at times even rage, Dialect of Distant Harbors is a remarkable achievement in making sense of our modern world through verse."

In her own words, here is Dipika Mukherjee's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Dialect of Distant Harbors:

I grew up in a Bengali home, within a community where Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry is still set to song, still ubiquitous, in celebrations and mourning and just to mark the passage of time. I also grew up with ghazals, both religious and romantic poetry melding internal rhymes and couplets into Urdu/Hindi music. I grew up in foreign lands as a child of a diplomat, but the songs I did not comprehend still spoke to a thrum of my heart, and a lifetime of this music—tunes that molded me, sustained me and rescued me—have leached into this book of transcultural and polyglottal poems.

Coke Studio Season 10| Ranjish Hi Sahi| Ali Sethi

My collection begins with Wanderlust Ghazal and the urge to travel; in this ghazal sung by Ali Sethi, the lyrics urge a lover to return. These words seem cloyingly sweet when translated, something no one would ever say in English, but the original words by Pakistani poet Ahmad Faraz stirs the heart with a poignancy that has made this one of the most beloved ghazals in the South Asian continent for almost a century. There are times in life when love is unrequited, and this is the soundtrack for yearning.

Meat Loaf | Bat Out of Hell

Meat Loaf sang raucous lyrics straight into my pre-teenaged heart. Dreamscapes: Haibun is written about a time in Wellington, New Zealand where I faced racism and misogyny and anomie and had no tools besides music for coping. Bat Out of Hell was released in 1977, and although I could belt out every song on this album, it was Like a bat out of hell I'll be gone when the morning comes, the most over-the-top, escapist drama to ever be recorded, that spoke to my need for escape so eloquently. The nomadic vibe would come later; at this point in my life, there was only the urge to flee.

Mon Mor Megher Songi | Bonnie | Partha Paul | Goutam Basu | Rabindrasangeet

There are six Indian seasons but the monsoons are the most beloved, certainly the most celebrated in our poetry about love. Bengali has so many words for falling drops of rain and they are rhyming onomatopes: Rimi Jhim; Jhirjhire; jhorjhore; jhomjhome; tapur-tupur; tip-tip, toop-toop;… it is a time when dusty roads smell of warm red earth. This is a Rabindrasangeet, written by poet Rabindranth Tagore, and the joyous internal rhymes and pitter-patter sounds gloriously mimic a rainy day. My poem Monsoon: Delhi is darker, but this song lifts my spirit, no matter how dark the skies.

Colonial Cousins | Krishna

K Block, Chittaranjan Park was written about a time of self-discovery: the first R-rated movie, smoking cigarettes on the sly, speaking in a mix of Bengali and Hindi and English, open to the many possibilities of life. It was a time of becoming aware of politics and social justice. What was on the top of the charts in the US took some time to reach us in India, but Indian musicians were already making fusion music that spoke to a troubled world.

Humein Tumse Pyaar Kitna | SANAM

What would my poetry collection be without a Bollywood song? Rewound is a poem about first love and loss, and yes, being jilted for the very first time. But before all that was the sizzle of possibility and he sent me this song (also handwritten letters EVERY SINGLE DAY). I listened to this song on a loop, until I couldn’t bear to hear it at all. From the movie, Kudrat, which within a splendid Bollywood melodrama had murder and reincarnation and vengeance, all told through a story about love conquering time. Lovelorn, I had no sense of irony then, none at all.

The Beatles | While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Beatles are timeless, aren’t they? I remember singing Yellow Submarine to my father’s LP collection, and many many decades later, my son would astonish me by declaring, at 11 years of age, that Eleanor Rigby was his favorite song. Street musicians everywhere play these instantly recognizable tunes, and I wrote about a musical Chicago summer evening, when a busker serenaded us all with a voice that made us forget the politics and the violence and the dis-ease of our days, and united us in dance.

The Girl from Ipanema - Frank Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim

Bossa Nova beats and a Brazilian seascape. I wrote Saudade in Bahia, on the island of Itaparica that thrummed with music. This has to be one of the catchiest multilingual collaborations ever in music and I had to visit the café in Rio where this piece was composed. This is an earworm; I find myself humming it incessantly, and I’m transported back to sun and sand and song.

Illuminating Souls | Medley | A TagoreCovers Production | Rabindra Sangeet

Supermoon in April was written at a time of extreme grief, but also gratitude. When my father passed away in 2021, he called us to his bedside, and despite the pandemic raging around the world, I flew 7500 miles to be at his side and it was a state of grace, to be able to be with him in the last minutes. I felt acutely the stress of people who lost loved ones in the pandemic, some without a last goodbye. In my father’s last days, I had the privilege of singing to him some of his most beloved songs, and I think he heard the poetry of Tagore, and was soothed. This medley of songs gives a taste of the brilliance of Tagore, and how he merges the sacred and the everyday seamlessly into something accessible to all.

Yuna - Crush

So much of my writing is rooted in Malaysia, and the last poem of this collection, Aphorisms from the Malay Archipelago, uses Malay pantuns and idioms to form a poem about flying far from roots. Yuna is a Malaysian singer who is making her mark globally, but she is also firmly rooted to Malaysia, and sings bilingually. May we all, as artists, stay rooted to what gave us sustenance in the early years, but also blossom in places we make our own.

Dipika Mukherjee is the author of the novels Shambala Junction and Ode to Broken Things, and the story collection, Rules of Desire. Her third poetry collection, Dialect of Distant Harbors, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in October 2022 and a collection of travel essays, Writers Postcards, has been accepted for publication by Penguin Random House (SEA) for 2023. She teaches at StoryStudio Chicago and at the Graham School at University of Chicago and holds a PhD in English (Sociolinguistics). Mukherje has taught creative writing in Chicago, Amsterdam, New Delhi, Kolkata, Penang, and Kuala Lumpur, and she is the recipient of a 2022 Esteemed Artist Award (DCASE) from the City of Chicago.

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