It is a pleasure, not to mention a challenging and rewarding experience, to immerse oneself in this epic poem of discovery over and over again, fishing out a new catch every time. From the Ganga to the Tay twists and turns through the pages in rivers of narrative on the banks of which are colour photographs by the author herself and by Scottish artist Kenny Munro, with whom she has collaborated on a number of arts projects. As Munro has observed: ‘The mythical qualities of Indian rivers is profound, with daily rituals imprinted in community consciousness. Scotland’s rivers were also recognised as the life blood of mother earth, and considered sacred, but cultural evolution seems to have clouded our ancestors’ respect for Scotland’s most powerful river, the Tay.’
Bashabi Fraser’s unique calligramatic poem gives voice to the Indian River Ganga (Ganges) and the Scottish River Tay, personified and entwined in a dialogue which evokes the sacred significance of these two vital water sources. The cultures of the people who live on their banks are described from a multitude of perspectives: as befits a social scientist, poet, writer and commentator who is highly active in developing the links between India and Scotland, Fraser draws into this poem every possible thread from what has been a complex tapestry of exchange and separateness, similarity and difference. Folklore and religion are explored in such a way as to draw out the diversity of tradition, the power of the Hindu belief system being met by the Celtic. As well as aesthetic and artistic facets, she tackles politics and economics - unusual poetic fare, but her commitment is holistic. Showing how deeply the exchange of culture and goods has marked the India-Scotland experience, she explores experiences of the two diasporas - of Scots to India and of Indians to Scotland.
However, as a post-Midnight child, Fraser avoids easy criticism of the British Raj. Hers is a more nuanced attitude, inflected with the values of Patrick Geddes, whose correspondence with Rabindranath Tagore she has edited; the influence of these visionaries is palpable in her approach. Guided throughout by the author’s steady moral compass and the value she places on sustained ecological and social diversity, From the Ganga to the Tay brings out of myriad contrasts an awareness of the fragility of ancient wisdom in a nuclear world.