Time Whispers in My Ear
by Aju Mukhopadhyay
2016. OnlineGatha – The Endless Tale, Lucknow, India.
Time Whispers In my Ear is an evocative title for this latest collection of wonderful poems by Aju Mukhopadhyay. The title poem honours the relentless workings of nature – never still, never looking back, forever ebbing and flowing, coming into being and passing away.
infinity may be guessed in the palm of hand
but it cannot be gripped by any standard;
time whispers in my ear
that everything passes on for ever.
(lines 31 – 34) (pp.11 -12)
I sense a further, underlying meaning, perhaps unintentional, and that is, that time is running out for humans and the natural world. The first few lines of Fall of a Habitat
They have been facing dangers for centuries
since man’s appearance on earth, like their colleagues
Friends like Lord Rama after their age vanished
like many birds and animals who are now extinct.
(lines 1 – 4) (p.107)
Many of Aju’s poems are powerful, hard hitting observations concerning the destruction of the planet, and decent human values by the unbridled greed of the rich and powerful – time is indeed running out for us.
The book is nicely produced and comprises some new previously unpublished poems and a selection of the very best poems from his earlier published books. It runs to one hundred and seventeen pages with seventy seven poems. Most of the poems are medium length poems, the very short Japanese style poems from his book, Manhood, Grasshood and Birdhood (1) are not included.
Aju’s poems are wide ranging in their subject matter, however, the celebration of the natural world, the problems of environmental destruction, and the disintegration of decent human values are prominent throughout the book. Even when not directly addressing Aju’s deep seated spiritual sensibilities, this quality underpins most of his poems. There are a number of poems which actually do directly address spiritual matters such as: Buddha Purnima (p.16); Sri Aurobindo (p.41); Mother The Divine Spark (p.46); and Either Saint or a Ganja khor (p.86)
The poet is an astute observer of all things. The Sri Aurobindo poem celebrates Aurobindo’s genuinness as a seer and spiritual teacher.
The voice of truth in the seer poet Sri Aurobindo was heard
As he was a lotus born in mud, away from the mundane scene,
The cascading Supramental light like the golden swan
Touching the sky kept its foot on earth fixed.
(lines 5 – 8) (p.41)
But in the Either Saint or a Ganja khor poem Aju questions the motives of some “wandering monks” or “sadhus”, cautioning us that this type of life can only be lived correctly if it is a “true and honest calling”.
best if it is honest
according to your real nature and taste
but if it is not the real inner call
from life’s secluded shore
it is often the life of
an efeem or ganja khor
or a culprit or an escapist.
(lines 11 -17) (p.86)
When Aju’s poems are not keeping us spiritually honest, or asking us to respect nature they often expose various states of the ‘human condition’. As I mentioned in my review of Manhood, Grasshood and Birdhood (2), Mili is one of my favourite poems. This wonderful, gentle poem comments on the timeless and inevitable transition from innocent childhood to adulthood. I found this poem very moving and the line, “forgetting her lollipop days” captures perfectly the passage from the carefree innocence of childhood to the responsibilities of adult life. Here's the bitter-sweet poem in its entirety.
School bag tied to her back
looking in front she walks;
no more whimpering
to get into her mother's lap
no more carried in a push cart
no more sucking her thumb, she walks alert
leaving all who reared
freeing herself from those
who so long for her cared
forgetting her lollipop days
she walks apace
with her bright eyed juvenile friends;
she walks, dreamy eyes, towards the future
like all her known and unknown predecessors.
As a poet Aju is fearless in tackling the “big questions” he contemplates and ponders the nature of existence. A friend once remarked “great poets are seers not only concerned with their personal petty concerns” Aju's poetry certainly fulfils this criterion. His poems such as Structural Violence (p. 59) Nuclear The Evil Force (p. 84) express disgust with the boasting of the “World’s richest chairmen of companies” all worth several billion dollars when the children in places like Haiti are starving to death. Referring to these insensitive greed mongers Aju says:
Shall we offer hurrah to the rich for their mirth?
Beg on behalf of the poor for their munificence?
Does the whole structure not require
overhauling or demolition with fire
to rebuild a new structure for all?
(lines 27 – 31) (p. 60)
In the poem Nuclear The Evil Force Aju offers hope in the last few lines
But Karma may be uplifted by human wisdom
To defeat the evils of life like nuclear fission
To keep high the flag of freedom.
(lines 13 – 15) (p. 84)
It is interesting to note that even though many of Aju’s poems call our attention to these inhuman acts of violence against each other, and the earth (our mother) the poems themselves are not particularly depressing or angry. I think this comes from Aju’s spiritual nature and beliefs, tending to state the case as it is but offer hope and solution. Also he often posses a rhetorical question which increases the reader’s interaction with the poem and gives the reader hope and that the reader themselves can help bring about positive change.
Time Whispers In My Ear is a special book. It should be mandatory reading for all politicians, company executives and global policy makers but I digress here into an unlikely fantasy. However, it is a realistic suggestion that this marvellous book of Aju’s best poetry deserves a place in schools, universities and on all poetry lover’s bookshelves.
1 - Manhood, Grasshood and Birdhood by Aju Mukhopadhyay pp. 88. 2014. illus. b&w. Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly, India ISBN: 978-81-7977-521-9
2 – Manhood, Grasshood and Birdhood Book review in boloji