Looking Within and Beyond
Poems by Dr VVB Rama Rao
Rs.350/$20 – pp 184
“In the very conception, a poem creates for itself its context, space and structure.” (The Poet)
Dr. V V B Rama Rao is a retired ELT professor, a prolific bilingual writer in English and Telugu with several published works to his credit in various genres like poems, fiction, short stories, literary criticism, translation, reviews, religious and philosophical works etc. The book under review “Looking Within and Beyond” contains 102 poems. As the captivating title indicates, poems in this collection with spiritual insight make the readers to look within and beyond and greatly influence the readers’ thoughts. That is to say their reach and impact not alone prompt one to explore from within, but steers them to go further in search of peace and tranquility in the otherwise volatile environment. His expertise over the dialect is incredibly deep and expressions chic and one needs to equip one to catch up with the nuances of the language for a perfect poetic savor of his poems.
The book is divided into three parts viz., Seeing God and Other Poems, For our Grand Children and Looking Within and Beyond, the first part brought out previously as desk top edition. In the preface Dr Rama Rao says that a good poem must lend itself to interpretation or take the reader to rumination.
In the very first poem ‘Beauty and the Feast, Rama Rao says ‘Wills the Supreme deciding and ordering,/The deities just carry out the commands’ and he believes that events and concatenations are purposeful like ‘from the fall of a sparrow to the budding of a plant and twining of a creeper’. Adi Sankara’s composition “Saundarylahiri” envisions the effulgent beauty flowing in waves and the poet concludes the poem thus remarkably :
Beauty with its glory permeates the blessed beings with faith
What is saundarya if it doesn’t bless one with bhakti. (p.23)
Poem titled ‘The Seers Eye’ draws image of white vulture’s feathered nest that subtly refers to the rampant oppression in the society. The poet asks:
Will vultures be transformed,
Into white doves, blue pigeons and black birds? (p.24)
And he himself keeps the readers optimistic with the concluding line: ‘Sure they do’, Confident, the seer says.’
While “Allegory is a short poem that vouches for the humour sense of the poet, “Stop Press” is satirical about politics wherein the word-play is notable:
They don’t want to know
What they undo
Rob taxpayer Peters
Pay rich leader Pals
Creepers, crawlers, climbers
Over and under fences
Into assemblies and committees. (p.26)
In “Winter Rain” Rama Rao reminisces his morning walks in Delhi with its green lungs with images of swishing leaves, freezing breeze, mouse and mongoose sprinkled in line after line giving a feel as cool as the chilly morning .
The poet is sympathetic about the young woman, her poverty is visible in the words of the protagonist in the poem titled “Jingles and Whispers”:
“Born under a makeshift tarpaulin roof,
Living in a slum where water is rare….
“I have just thee saris worth the wear.”
“The mill-owner gives my little mother a stipend
Even a rag is hard to come by,
Cursed are the likes of us all along.”
Moaned the house wife. (p.29)
The poet has been successful here in bringing her pathetic living conditions before the readers’ eyes.
In poem titled “Storm Clouds”, the poet symbolically uses three birds vultures, doves and pigeons to depict chaos, innocence and communication respectively, where the seer is a witness to all. The whole episodes of happenings are explained in the lines:
The vultures spit and spew venom through bust-
Blow hot and blow cold: shatter microphones
Systems go haywire: committeemen opt for suicides
There would be alarms all around. (p30)
Finally he concludes the poem thus: “Vultures are altruistic/They’d be dressed to kill or killed and dressed.”
Poem “Ars Poetica” is a three-pronged poem that talks about creativity, i.e. about nymphets’ worshipping Goddess of Fertility in the first stanza, a cat with brood of her kittens suckling them and cats depicted as masters of fecundity in the second stanza and these two are equated in the third stanza to humans producing poems i.e. artistic creativity and he says poets should have intuition and imagination and he concludes that this artistic creativity gives them an orgasmic feeling of satiety.
Needs a spur – call it divine – a spark –
An inspiration, a frenzy.
Orgasmic feeling of satiety – whiteness of mind,
Or what you will (p.31)
In poem titled ‘Look Within’, the poet says, ‘In many a child we see His face or hers.’ He sees no mask on a smiling infant’s face and goes further to say, ‘What is without is within’.
Spiritual leanings are seen recurrently in Dr.Rao’s poems. ‘Seeing God’ is one such which opens with a symbolic question whether anybody has ever seen God and is full of dialogues. The poet sees God in everything good in nature, everything divine. In another poem ’Bardo Verses’ (Part III ), which deals with infinite consciousness, he says,
You can lay claim only to skin gone, just
Nothing within is yours. (p.44)
‘Beggar and Better Half’ is a long narrative poem, in which we see the story of a beggar and a girl going to a burial ground, where the beggar takes some burning poles to light his fire to prepare alms of the day., When the girl seeks his permission to join the meal, he says,
You do not need my permission
The food is as much yours as mine. (p.50)
The girl also does not seem to be an ordinary girl. She wants to give the beggar some boon and at this the beggar says : “Give me what really is yours” The suspense of the story is kept till the end. Only the concluding lines reveal that ‘The two are Inseparable, Shiva and his own Shakti.”
‘Being’ is another philosophical poem, where the poet says that this world is a Maya (illusion) and whatever we see is not real. Reality is somewhere else.
In ‘Seeing through ICU’, the protagonist sees a terminal patient in comatose and the poet’s belief in Hindu philosophy of rebirth is reflected when he says, ‘ searching right away for a suitable yoni to get born/the soul perhaps midway in transit’. The poem has this general words of wisdom to convey:
Sadness is pitiful: it doesn’t make one spiritual
Spirituality needs wisdom and piety. (p.59)
In poem titled ‘King Size’, the poet says, ‘Difficult becomes easy for the real aspirants, the ‘sadakas’ with two examples; one throwing pebbles in placid water and then trying to stop the ripples; the second sitting in the shade of tree and staring at the stars. He advises readers to lead life king-size here.
Though poem titled ‘’A Bit of Kargil’ brings before us the infiltrations, Indo-pak conflict and its aftermath, the poem is about loneliness in Delhi winter mornings, about which the poet reminisces:
The lone man on watch cuddles a cur
Loneliness is hell:
Kargil could be in the mind too! (p.77)
Poem ‘Where Word Failed’ which starts with an aphorism in Latin ‘Amor vincit omnia – meaning: love conquers all.- describes couples enjoying bliss quoting examples of soul-yielding devotions of Savitri and Anasooya.
About dreams, the poet says, ‘Dreams come true/If they don’t who’d dream!’ in the poem ‘Dream, Wouldn’t You?’
Changing climatic conditions and the severity of summer finds expression in ‘Summer Flare’, which is juxtaposed to rampant corruption everywhere; the speaker of the poem says:
It is not the sizzling in weather alone
Can we find fault criticizing the all-seeing Sun
For the scams that are spewing all around? (p. 89)
Rama Rao writes with a purpose. His words of wisdom and insight reveal morality, philosophy and faith. In the third part of the book viz., ‘Looking Within and Beyond’, he deals with many issues, seemingly simple, but not so in the deeper sense.
Memory from the distant insignificant past forgotten long ago flashes for no reason at all. One such childhood memory of wearing a fashionable T shirt and stylish dark glasses with a boy like pride is narrated in poem titled ‘Memory’, which most of us can relate to.
Life is for living and the joys of living at every stage of life i.e., childhood, middle-age, as senior citizen are touched upon by the poet in poem titled ‘Joys of Living’, where he says,
Life is for living in joy
With a satisfied feeling of well being. (p.101)
In poem ‘On Sobriety and Sensibility’, the author subtly deals with the delicate subject of Vatsayan’s sutras which were misused, abused or over-practiced and the speaker of the poem feels that men should hold passions under control. He says:
It was the wise one’s hope that man can differentiate
Never sought our Manus with either fame or power
Their object it was to lead human to light and wisdom
Wise counsel not followed, we are doomed to fail and perish. (p.105)
‘Quizzical Quartet’ is a poem that crystallizes the functions of body, mind, spirit and soul distinctively in first person narrative.
‘Old Age Domes’ brings before us the maladies of senior citizens and the existence of old age homes, for whatever good (or bad) it may be, which are burning issues in the current social scenario.
‘Mystery Spots Galore’ is a poem pointing fingers at the atrocities like scams, murders, blood curdling rapes in which even children are not spared and the poet vents out his heart by saying:
Surely Shakti from Her numerous peethaas
Must have been venting Her disgust, anguish and wrath
Leaving children to the mercy of glib-tongued multi-crorepatis. (p.110)
While poem ‘Strategic?’ talks about the shady deals of organ donation ‘Pessimism?’ is about wide-spread corruption. Even temple hundis are not spared by the culprits. The sarcasm in this poem cannot be missed by the readers.
- Corruption cannot be wiped out by the corrupt
In conflagration one fire cannot put out another
Taught and trained their disciples the dignity of poverty
A politician in power rues in bitter agony:
‘How can I win without money?’ (p.115)
About hatred, the poet has this to say in the poem titled such:
Once it enters the mind
It’s a fire that blazes, leads even to conflagration.
And he has the solution also to this in the following lines:
Stop this and think of understanding
The mind itself can help you.
Only you have to have patience and cerebration. (p. 119)
As for the poet ‘Poetic Sensibility’ is, as in poem carrying the same title:
Not-just either sweet or savory
Never for munching, gulping or gobbling
Never is that to be hurried
It’s like a kid’s licking a lozenge to stay long. (P.122)
Dr. Rao is compassionate towards people who are doing various errands to make our lives comfortable. ‘Looking Below’ describes the low social status of the car washers in an apartment complex, a set of people who are ignored by the ‘babus’
In many poems in this collection, poverty and sufferings of people in the lower social strata like house-maids, people who are vulnerable, are the subject matter that shows the poet’s empathy towards the less fortunate ones. From corruption to exploitation, orphanages to old age homes, natural calamities to man-made disasters, various social issues are touched upon by the poet effectively and thereby he makes the readers sensitive. Images and metaphors enrich Rama Rao’s poems. He deals with the human emotions such as emptiness, loneliness and isolation with great insightful wisdom and philosophy. His poems are evocative and are a pleasure to read.