Shadows of the Real is a collection of 63 poems written by poet K.K. Srivastava who hails from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. His are poems which occupy either small spaces (tercets, five to ten-liners, a page or two) or wider spaces (nine, sixteen or 17 page poems). Concision occupies one end; on the other end there is a train of contemplation which takes the reader to the deepest of tunnels of thought.
One of the first elements that strike the reader of this collection is the fact that Srivastava’s poetry is very profound, philosophical on the one hand, human and critical on the other. From the beginning Srivastava discusses “ontological dilemmas” and describes life as an “abysmal continuum” and writes about humankind’s “schematic perceptions”; man lives hand in hand with illusions (“We survive in mirrors/ having lived beyond oblivion”, A Mirror), also in a “maze of false/ starts and imperfect endings” (Our Being Us). In his descriptions of what makes us human beings, thus our being, Srivastava has no half measures but uncovers both negative and positive aspects: he writes about “the possibility of our being us/ a mere, simple coincidence” and about our life made up of fragments. This creates in us a sense of “sizzling hollowness”, of “nothingness”, fatalism, and disillusionment. In Lonely Travellers Go Astray we read that:
sometime becomes standstill,
in a lampless cell
comes to a halt, a standstill,
establishing their equation
But “Our being us” is also “a perpetual renewal”, “a continuous flux – a moving horizon”, thus “being and becoming” (see Our Being Us). The former is linked to the poet’s deep sense of awe when faced with life. Srivastava tries to fill in the gaps (“holes in the wall”) of life’s “missing parts” by his profound verse. This links perfectly with Sealed Remembrance where Srivastava admits that “Sometimes our lunacies are our brightest spots”.
Such thoughts are also expressed in Time’s Emptiness. Life lasts only one second and this thought again creates a sense of futility, an inner “abyss”. Once again it is poetry that tries to give meaning to life and breadth to the reader. Poetry is an “iridescent/ light of intellectual apogee”, even “mental asylum” (Mental Asylum and Poetry). Thus words become meaning, life itself; words have more permanence than memories and life itself. Time is given an identity, animated through various images: “you have lived here, there, everywhere/ sightlessly rejoicing your divine gaze;/ Your owlish glasses”; or “An unknown nymph guards us”; or “An infinite living force/ your stillness moves everything else/ your stillness stands still”. Like life, even time has a paradoxical nature.
Srivastava analyses life from within and without. The poet becomes “An interpreter” who “seeks to look and feel inside” (Time’s Emptiness). Reading his poetry is like walking on a tight rope: the reader has to be attentive all the time or else he loses balance. No solutions are offered, but a sense of understanding of life with its contradictions and betrayals.:
“Reality owns everything but in
Another day swings between
Trauma of being and
Greater trauma of becoming;
In between we journey into
Fraglity of dreamless sleep: life.” (Our Being Us)
We understand that being in this world is finite, but becoming is infinite. One may thus speculate that Srivastava fights strongly against this sense of being in order to enjoy a better becoming. Being is thus transitory and becoming becomes a destination.
One of Srivastava’s favorite poetic mechanisms is playing on words which have deep meanings. There are numerous examples: “its permanence makes a being a becoming/ and becoming a being”; “Doubts have details/ details doubts” (On Being Us); “action stirs dream/dream stirs action/[...]passion stirs desire/ desire stirs passion” (Time’s Emptiness); “We time placements just as/ we place timings” (Faces). Other poetic mechanisms are the anaphora: “or an enigmatic irrationality/ or a treacherous self/ or a mixture of all three”; alliteration: “Endowed with inertia/ the existence of being/ an exteriority to itself” (On Being Us); “Hang heavily/ leftovers of/ hardened hours” (Between Night and Morning); “Open to opposing possibilities” (Faces); personification: “Night has just left me/ morning wears an unwashed dress” (Between Night and Morning); “Lonely lamp listens and waits” (A Sketch Made in December) ; imagery: “From within/ waves of forgotten horizons/ look for invisible anchors” (From Within); paradoxes: “night has arrived/ another chance/ to drown myself/ into my wakefulness” (An Insomniac’s Dilemma); oxymoron: “shimmering tombs” (A Mirror); internal rhyme: “every vision, a revision” (Through Time).
The poet also manages to give solidity, make tangible, abstract things such as the mind (“an amorphous collection/ of ruined realities,/ half-thought dreams”), decisions (“unreal stars/ on a dismal plain”), hopes (“Milky haze/ lingering, far off,/ shrouded mountains”), the day (“The day is like/ a rain coming in drops/ insufficient enough to swim/sink”), doubt, contemplation (“Something is always afoot/ knocks at the door”), melancholy (“Inconspicuous sense/ of worthlessness”), and success (“thin, long rope [...] an intriguing rope”), all these titles given to different poems. “Youth and old age” are “like next-door neighbours shunning each other” (Afternoon Musings).
Srivastava’s verse leaves the reader breathless as he/she comes face to face with harsh reality itself. All this is expressed in a clear language – which flows naturally and hand in hand with knowledge of us and what of lies around us - but with abyssal depths and levels of meaning. One can spend weeks pondering about lines such as the following: “Sagacious time – a hollow survivor”, or “Consciousness rips apart/ the dissolving streams of/ infinitum./ The wait continues...” (Time’s Emptiness). This kind of poetry is not only meaning to be uncovered, but also an inner experience and a search of what humankind truly is.
Love is another important theme in this collection. That Night is a poem about love, or about the need for the return of love. Night here comes to life as the poet is overwhelmed by memories of a mysterious “faceless woman”. Even in A Woman, love, sensuality, nature and finally, poetry itself, form one composition.
In Chanakya Puri of New Delhi the reader sees Srivastava as the observer of humankind – with its social class differences and opportunities - and other living creatures through time and space (Nehru park and Sarojini Nagar market). This is also an example of Srivastava’s socio-political verse in the widest of meanings:
dark, quite and unshakable
it give us songs
that have no note of
compassion, have no thoughts.”
Such world is a “headless world [that] has lost all its/ meanings”. Such meanings may be “discovered” every time humanity experiences a beggar’s death (A Beggar). Srivastava’s socio-political verse is strongly felt also in Faces where he writes about hypocrisy: “Our great strength;/ the still-life faces like/ skulls without jaws/ concealing deceitful jades in/ glamorous roles.”
Srivastava’s poems are not only works intended to be read and understood, but also compositions to be heard as each one has its music, its particular notes and sound. There is also the visual element: his verse creates beautiful cerebral images to watch and savor more than once because of their colours, shades and hues. There is beauty itself, even untimely wisdom, in Srivastava’s verse. There is poetry and beauty behind everyday happenings, many of which go unnoticed by the many (see Fog). Thus even small things acquire weight and meaning. At times these small things are placed in the foreground thanks to the acute eye of the poet. Through Srivastava’s eyes reality is described through a special lens which makes it look magical, profound at times mystical. Srivastava is the poet who has traveled long distances and feels that he has “nothing left to tell”. Is this knowledge that he has reached a final point, or that he has understood the essence of life? (Nothing Left To Tell)