An Exposition of Political and Ideological Sham
– A Study in Text
PCK Prem has emerged as a major contemporary Indian English poet writing today. His poem, entitled ‘Monto’, the last poem in his first collection Among the Shadows (1989) is the subject of this discussion. The central character, Monto, a distortion of the Hindu mythical character, Manu, the first Man, symbolises the modern aspiring man. The poem has eleven sections.
The first section opens with Monto still sleeping on a cosy quality mattress: “Monto sleeps / his body is stretched wide / on the dunlup mattress”. When he gets up from his sleep his movements have been described as laboured: “It moves as if lifting the earth / with slight-heavy breathings.” Here the pronoun “It” refers to his body. Thus the first five lines of the poem, introduce Monto to the readers on his bed on which he was sleeping and is now languidly getting up. It also suggests that it is morning.
The next eight lines tell about the sounds that he hears on getting. These are the sounds of washing clothes and vessels, rustling of water, and telephone: “There is sound / of washing and rustling / in kitchen”. Then sound distances a little, and hears: “sweet tinkling and tingling / flowing water in tap”. The water is not flowing uselessly, but for someone who is “washing … old torn out / Towels and dirty linen”. Who is there washing at the tap? This question at once grips the reader who is keen to know about the person at the tap and “washing … old torn out / Towels and dirty linen”. But the answer is kept in abeyance. It sustains the suspense for the reader. Right now the protagonist’s telephone rings. He gets ready to answer the call.
The third stanza apprises the reader about his manner of getting up: “Monto / Removes the quilt”, and his handling the phone: “Right hand picks up the hook / And mouth says hello”. It appears as if he was still languishing in his sleep and was not fully awakened that becomes clear as the reader goes through the last line of this stanza: “He wakes up.” It is now that he fully wakes up leaving his indolence.
The fourth stanza makes it clear why he wakes up from his sloth. In his answer to the caller he “howls, rages, cries”. It reveals that he is angry with the caller for his queries. Thereafter, he begins to sermonize the caller. The poet/narrator tells: “It appears / He languishes in sermons”. At this point, the poet uses a simile by enjoining it with the preceding word “sermons” to bring home the idea of his languishing and his rage with the caller:
… like Bhisma
wishes to advise God of Death
To come during Uttrayan
So that he avoids death
For he has done enough
And does not want rebirth (56)
This simile recalls an episode from the Mahabharata when Bhisma, the great, was lying on the bed of arrows prepared for him by Arjuna in the battlefield. At that time Bhisma does not want to die because he wants to see the end of the dharmayuddha being fought at Kurukshetra between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. So he advises Yama, the “God of Death”, to visit him only during Uttrayana, when the sun starts its journey towards North from the South. This period is considered auspicious for death. It is believed that any person who dies in Uttarayana is freed from birth-death-birth cycle and attains moksha. The battle between the Pandavas and Kauravas was being fought in Dakshinayan, a period which is not held auspicious by the Hindus. So, Bhisma had expressed his wish to Yama for death in Uttaryana. Now we have to see the relevance of this simile with his phone call. Perhaps, it was not an appropriate time for the caller to call him as he was not ready to answer him (the caller) appropriately and justifiably. This idea also becomes obvious in these lines of the same stanza:
It is embellished with assertions
Voice full and hoarse
And gentle other times
He pauses, listens, hears
And speaks. (56-7)
His voice is full of overstated claims. The last three lines tell the mode how one answers a telephone call. Monto also follows the same mode. But these lines also throw light on his manner of speech which sometimes is raised and loud, expressing his anger and/or disagreement and at other moment it becomes soft which tells about his agreement with the caller.
The next stanza informs the reader that Monto is an intellectual and modern man and also that, at the moment, his wife is not at home. The first five lines,
He is an intellectual
He understands. He is a full
No doubts, no explanations (57),
…make it clear about his intellectuality and modernity.
There is neither any reservation about it nor any need of vindication and clarification of this fact. At this moment “He is happy without wife”. He is not a bachelor but his wife “is gone with her train”, perhaps, to her parents’ house. He finds his wife and children “a hindrance slow and sluggish.” Now he enjoys his liberty and autonomy in the absence of his wife and children.
The fifth and last stanza of this section has only five lines that tell the reader about his views about his wife: “Not writhing with passion / But a machine”. She lacks “passion” in bed and behaves mechanically like “a machine” that is what he abhors in his wife. The lovemaking with her is cold: “It is love without warmth”. Because of this behaviour of his wife, he terms her only a “wife but not woman”. While a woman is always passionate in such acts, a wife becomes cold due to the monotony of the act and the person. At this thought “Monto laughs” that he knows the truth.
The second section has only two stanzas: first one begins with his inspection of his room. He finds a large number of books and periodicals that he had gone through and other writing material scattered in it:
Monto looks around
Books and books
Cuttings and diaries
Pens, pencils, magazines and papers
Strewn over and had read all (57)
After his inspection of his room is over, the poet/narrator writes/updates the reader that his contemplation begins: “He broods over”. About this state, he reflects: “It is lustrous / It is ridiculous / It excites many yearnings / It dampens many spirits” (57). He thinks about his stature, which at the present moment, is splendid, ludicrous giving rise to so many aspirations and, at times, oppressive. He has mingled thoughts about his studies. He considers himself as a giant careful about his surroundings and stretches himself. In his opinion, “He is a giant / He watches full and eyes open / He scatters his body and arms” (57). This view relieves him of his previous tension and absurdity of existence. Now “He feels fresh.” In another whim of imagination he “feels the spirits of a nomad” that he does not belong to any one place, thought or person and remains a wanderer. That justifies the use of the word “nomad” to describe himself. His rational mind, on the other hand, insinuates him to believe that he is a messiah to the common man: “His brain tells him of prophet / He is a Moses.” To describe himself as a saviour, he alludes to Moses, prophet of Judaism. Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia has this entry about Moses:
According to the Book of Exodus, he was born in Egypt to Hebrew parents, who set him afloat on the Nile in a reed basket to save him from the edict calling for the death of all newborn Hebrew males. Found by the Pharaoh’s daughter, he was reared in Egyptian court. After killing a brutal Egyptian taskmaster, he fled to Midian, where Yahweh (God) revealed himself in a burning bush and called Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. With the help of his brother Aaron, Moses pleaded with the Pharaoh for the Israelites’ release. The Pharaoh let them go after Yehweh had visited a series of plagues on Egypt, but then sent his army after them. Yahweh parted the waters of the Red Sea to let the Israelites to pass, then drowned the pursuing Egyptians. Yahweh made a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai and then delivered the ten commandments to Moses, who continued to lead his people through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness until they reached the edge of Canaan. He died before he could enter the Promised Land. (Vol. 7)
Monto, here, justifies himself as messiah of the common Man in the present age by alluding himself as Moses. With his intellect and learning, he seeks to deliver the common man from inequitable division of wealth, poverty and hunger as Moses had delivered the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s bondage. And then “he launches a marathon dandi” (58). The noun phrase, “a marathon dandi”, refers to Gandhiji’s historic Dandi March organised to protest against government’s imposition of tax on common salt in early thirties. While the common men followed Gandhiji in his march, here “All Gods walk into the room” of Monto. He tells the reader that “They are his friends”. And then he “hums a tuneful song / of piety, faith and God.” In his room “Decorated fortunes … / Sparkle and splatter” and he finds that “the door is opened” (58). These lines suggest that he has amassed fortunes by his intelligence.
The first one and half lines of the second stanza: “His maid making sounds / Doing odds” in his house in the absence of his wife, takes the reader back to the sounds heard in kitchen and at the tap in the second stanza of the first section. Now, “he remembers / Ticklishly soothingly / Her body calming him down / at night”. It is an escapade, in the absence of his wife, with the maid, who is “Doing odds” in the kitchen and the reader also comes to know why she was washing the “old torn towel and linen” at the tap. The memory of it amuses and appeases him because she had sexually satisfied him. The reader is informed: “It was her journey / Into a life of experience / When a virgin is made a woman / Over night” (58). He does not call it as his/her misadventure, but “her journey” into a new “experience” which she had not had before that moment. And in a single night a virgin has been changed into a woman. “He shivers not with guilt” because his conscience does not prick him for this act of violating the modesty of a virgin, instead he feels “pleasure and victory” in his sexual jaunt with her. “It was her journey / Monto feels” and not his; as, he was already well-versed in such acts of moral turpitude as the reader notices later. All this happens in the morning and he has not left his bed yet.
The third section, that has seven stanzas, commences with a hypocritical note. His thoughts about his books, the caller on phone and the maid still haunt his mind:
He is still thinking
He is to get up so he looks around
And hums ‘Om’ many a time
And folds hands to salute his gods
Hanging on the walls (58)
His salutation to his gods and humming ‘Om’ several times before getting up mocks the holiness of a religious and morally upright person. He wants to show himself as a pious and religious man bounded by religious ethics. This act, when seen in the light of his exploit with the maid, debunks his hypocrisy blatantly. He is aware of the fact the gods hanging on the wall are no more than portraits; they can’t do anything. They serve only to befool the common man – aam aadami, and not an intellectual like him. He considers himself “a Solomon / For David is declared unfit” (58). There is again an allusion to Bible. Solomon, the greatest king of Israel, was son and successor of David. He was also known as the wisest man. His mother, Bathsheba, and the prophet Nathan anointed him as king while his father, David, was still alive. “On accession to the throne, he liquidated his opponents ruthlessly and installed friends in key posts” (Britannica vol. 9). It is said that in his harem he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. David, Solomon’s father, was the second of the Israelite kings. The word messiah has been derived from hameshiach, the title of kings of the line of David (BRRE Vol. 4). His accession to the throne of Israel, while his father was still alive, proves that he was more capable than his father. “And Monto remembers each of them” – he knows all the tactics of acquiring power and being wise/intelligent like Solomon; and, that is why, he calls himself “a Solomon”. All these thoughts are moving in his mind and he is smiling and feels blessed alone in his room. He feels exceptional quietude and moves quickly from one idea/thought to another: “He feels within calmness / His mind peaceful and swiftly flowing / from image to image” (58).
In the second stanza of this section he recalls:
This maid was so satisfying
It was passion fulfilled
It was lust and was virginity
And a virgin wittingly laughing away
To lust without recompense. (59)
He remembers about the maid and his sexual jape with her. He finds her quite satisfying as opposed to his wife who seems to have become frigid and fails to give him the kind of joy and sexual satisfaction that he gets from the maid. The maid, in the incident, was full of excitement and sexual desire, besides, being virgin. For the maid, it was a novice experience that gave her immense excitement. She laughed while enjoying this event consciously. For her, pleasure exceeded any other reward. Thus, she “wittingly laughing away / To lust without recompense.” The pleasure, in this experience, was her highest reward. Both of them felt blessed, in the seventh heaven of enjoyment, after this adventure.
The third stanza begins with Monto smiling on “maid’s fate”. He thought that she was “meant to oblige him”. The reasons, of her this obligation, were never clear; perhaps, for the new experience. It was her “Alter / she symbolised and failed” (59) in her attempt. Perhaps, she tried it for a change and to have a taste of sex. But how she “failed”? remains ambiguous. Both, Monto and the narrator, are silent about it. Monto considered such sexual deviations as the “hallmarks of genius.” He himself represents a society and its strength. He has many a time written about such romances in his writings and talked in his speeches. The reader comes to know that
Monto is the strength, the society
He boasted, spoke and wrote
In speeches and writings
Such freak romances and a few jumps
With flesh and sex
Were hallmarks of a genius (59)
His social ethics becomes apparent, when he calls such sexual acts as “jumps with flesh and sex”. For him, loss of one’s virginity means “a few jumps”. He takes pride in it and calls it characteristic trait of his genius.
The fifth stanza has only four lines:
He consoled and laughed
Forays into history
Speak of such blatant assaults
Enigmatic yet clear adaptations. (59)
He consoles himself and laughs over the episode. He remembers that there are many instances of such sexual lapses in human history. These still remain mysterious and unfathomable, but are perfect variations of human acts and ethical lapses.
The narrator, in the next stanza, calls Monto his Krishna. Like Lord Krishna, he has delivered him and his likes, because “Who won Mitraviwida and Lakshmana / With seven ‘Strong bulls’ he fought” for their deliverance. For this act of his, king was also pleased. With this allusion in mind Monto also considered himself Krishna and “draws a parallel relation” not happily, but only “with reluctance.” Perhaps, he himself knows his own frailties of character and mind. However, there are entries in respect of Mitra and Mithra from Vedic Hinduism and Indo- Iranian myths (BRRE). It notes:
is one of the gods in the category of Adityas, or sovereign principles of the universe. He represents friendship, integrity, harmony, and all other qualities necessary to maintain order in human existence. He is usually paired with Varuna, the guardian of the cosmic order, whose powers he complements as guardian of the human order. As spirit of the day, he is sometimes associated with the sun. His Iranian counterpart is MITHRA … born bearing a torch and armed with a knife, beside a sacred stream and under a sacred tree, a child of the earth itself. He soon rode, and later killed, the life-giving cosmic bull, whose blood fertilizes all vegetation. This deed became the prototype for a bull-slaying fertility ritual. As god of light, like the Hindu Mitra, Mithra was associated with the Greek Helios and the Roman Sol Invictus. Mithra was honoured as the patron of loyalty to the emperor in Persia.
The line, “And so was happy the king”, brings it closer to Indo-Iranian Mithra than the Hindu Mitra, for his loyalty to the king. He, like Krishna, also becomes one who fights against the prevalent evils.
The reader finds the cause, in the next stanza, of his “reluctance”, found in the last word of the sixth stanza. The reader is told that “Monto is so cunning and finds support / From history and scripture” for justifications of his acts, noble and ignoble. The narrator admits:
… I alone see and lament
For Monto has started building a Temple
For when I thought of this character
He lives within and mocks at me
And always pushes me aside
To walk ahead. (59)
It is the fate of the narrator, who avers that he is the creator of “this character” but he doesn’t care for him and, instead, relegates the narrator to gain prominence in the world by neglecting, making fun of and negating him.
The fourth section has three stanzas. Once again the narrator returns to tell us about Monto’s mental condition: “Monto needs a cup of tea”; so, he “mumbles soundly”. In response the maid, who had been working in the kitchen and at the tap, washing utensils and clothes: “old worn out / Towel and dirty linen” – that reminds us about his sexual escapade with the maid, appears and enters his room and presently stands “in front of him”. She feels shy and is gentle by nature, but the last act of the night has “exposed” her. Monto knows this fact. He stares at her. The poet has used the word “Marks” for his this act. The narrator informs the reader about his act and his state of mind:
He marks her
Each contour entices him
Send waves of thrills
He speaks out her name without voice
Tea she moves and he pounces on her (60)
She comes with a cup of tea for him. Once again the very sight of her urges his animal instinct. Then follows “Another attack of unending hunger / He eats up her again food in plenty/ She wriggles out.” The words describe her now as something edible. As she doesn’t resist, so he can have her to his fill; the word “aplenty” has been used very appropriately and intelligently to describe his voracious attack on her. And, when the act is over, “She wriggles out” – frees herself from him.
The second stanza of this section apprises the reader that Monto considers it her, as well as his, enthusiastic compliance before getting up. He is late in rising. This fact is told by referring to sun: “rays of sun enter” the room where he was sleeping. Have a look at these lines:
Monto thinks it was willingness
That moved him to bed and tea
And rays of sun enter
He gets up
With a cup of tea in hand. (60)
The third stanza brings the reader face to face with Monto’s appointments for that particular day:
Looks at today’s engagements
He has to speak at comrades’ meet
So he prepares a speech
Another hour on Marx
His communism and Capital
For it is 10 AM
That he shall move out. (60)
These lines inform the reader about his political leanings and faith. He is a communist. And he has to deliver a speech in a meeting organised by them. So, before going there, he spends sufficient time in recapitulating on Carl Marx and his book Das Capital to project himself as a true Marxist.
Section five opens with man’s division: in individuality as well as in society and ultimately believes in Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” of human development. The narrator comments:
Such is the destiny of man
In society he stands divided
In caste creed and colour
In classes there is war
War of survival
Class-war shall continue
In civilised and savage societies (60)
He presents the eternal truth of human society in all parts of the globe that men have never stood together as Man; they have, ever since the beginning of human clans and societies, been divided on the basis of “caste creed and colour”. Different societies have always been engaged in wars to gain supremacy, and this “war of survival” will continue, he asserts, till eternity, till the humanity survives. This is not the fate of only savage but also of civilised societies. He says that “survival of the fittest” is time tested. He also adds that Hindu scriptures including the Gita also assert this truism. He puts it thus:
But survival of fittest is the
Dictum and old tested result
It is said in scriptures
Gita also proclaims.
In the second stanza of three lines, Sarthi, Krishna, also tells Arjuna in the Gita that this philosophy of the survival of the fittest while performing one’s dharma is above blood, relation and obligation; it is not bound by these. The allusion to the Gita, here, also becomes justified.
The third stanza reminds Monto’s views on Rama’s war against Ravana, socialism, continuance of poverty, and the political murder of the poor for the rich and the survival of the powerful. He begins his speech with reference to Sita’s abduction by Ravana, but calls it shrewdness as given below:
It was cunningness practised
Monto said loud mouthed
For a woman arrow waged a war
Ravana was duped in a subtle way
He finds Ravana tricked, (he wants to justify his own escapades with women that the audience doesn’t know), in the war waged by Rama, in Lanka, for Sita. Here, he considers women as an object to be enjoyed by men and this idea belies Indian cultural respect for women and religion, (communists maintain that they don’t believe in any religion); here, he apparently gives voice to the communist philosophy in the “comrades’ meet”. All this he spoke with confidence to impress his audience that he, like a true comrade, does not believe in religion. It earns, for him, great applaud from the audience: “Convincingly he propounded / And there were cheers”. However, in the same stanza, the narrator comments on socialists’ “worn out formulas” to deceive the poor which is all charade and untruth by the rich to stay in power in “the name of majority”:
Socialism is a word
For all to eat
For survival and life
If poor is eliminated
Who will live
Old worn out formulas
All sham and falsehood
A clever move of a few rich
To hold on to power
In the name of majority
He terms it useless suggestion by the politicians to follow in any government. The truth is otherwise: the poor are still poor and get nothing to eat and cover their bodies in summer and winter:
A baseless proposal
That swings and lingers on
Reigns deep and carries out orders
Of government majority and poor
They remain poor
In rags and hunger
Homeless and spiritless
They are murdered. (61)
In fact, the kind of treatment they meet at the hands of our policy makers is no better than “murder”.
In the last stanza of this section, the narrator goes on with his musings on the present state of affairs:
To fulfil a commitment
Women are raped
Remain a property of luxury
Enjoyed by a few in the system
Who pronounce majority
It remains a “sustaining contradiction” and “perpetual headache” for the society. Monto continues his speech that elicits loud approval from the audience.
Sixth section also apprises the reader with Monto’s Marxist philosophy. In the first stanza he guarantees to wipe out social evils, corruption, and inequitable distribution of wealth: “Monto shall root out / Evil corruption inequality / Economic disparity shall bid good-bye / He swears three cheers” (62). For the people he is a messiah determined to bring about liberty and equality to all in the present political and social set up. His audience think:
A messiah has risen
From the ashes
He is standing like a liberator
A terrific experiment
In liberty and equality. (62)
The next stanza shows Monto touching the tender nerves of the audience by referring to Issac, Jacob and Esau: “He knows Issac and laughs / He behaves like Jacob shows Blessings / For Esau is cheated and so wept / Monto makes a long sweep.” Monto alludes to the Bible. Jacob, the son of Isaac, is considered the traditional ancestor of the people of Israel. The younger twin brother of Esau, he used trickery to get Isaac’s blessings. Here, Monto’s sham and dishonesty betrays him in these allusions. The next stanza shows that his speech is a great success and he feels very excited:
There is clamour, noise and cheer
So Monto rose to dizzy heights
of fame and glory
It was his speech
That made him a giant
A tribute to his intellect.
Monto is himself wonderstruck at his success. It was because of the pain and suffering of the masses that he had spoken in his speech. It had touched them. The crowd disappears. Now, only the “comrades stand by him”. This situation makes him laugh in sleeves. He talked about “theories of Marx” and how they became successful in China, Russia and many other communist countries of the world. He presents his analyses of communist revolutions of 1917 in Russia and 1949 in China. He is deft in presenting his arguments with accurate dates and other information. Thereafter, for his successful oratory
He is entertained
Lavish tea and lunch
Over soft drinks and drinks unknown
and then seminars in a hotel room
He understands. (63)
The next stanza tells about those present there in the seminar and also betrays his weakness in these words: “There are men and women / He falls for women / From a maid to a princess / A genius weakness that strengthens.” The reader comes to know about Monto’s weak point for women; women of any social status – “maid to princess”. He considers woman as the failing of genius, but it certainly whets his imagination and thinking. He thinks that sex is must for a man of intellect and he never lets any opportunity go down the drain.
The eighth stanza familiarises the reader with his moral scruples. It is because of these ethics that he gets an insight into “scriptures and religions”. He makes fun of his own manoeuvrings. He succeeds with them. “And nobody shall know / When he shall concentrate in a hotel with comrade’s daughter”. These lines ironically make a jibe on his character and his weakness for women. He will never spare even the comrade’s daughter who comes to him for learning about Marxism; he makes the most of this God sent opportunity for gratifying his bodily hunger and, of course, his intellect. About it, there is an ironical remark in the first line given below as his teaching is not restricted to the topic only; he can cross all boundaries including of human morality. The next lines of the stanza become more ironic in their tone:
It is teaching without boundaries
He knows that comrade understands
His daughter pays the fees
An experience that remains
Obviously, for which “Monto is great and supreme.”
The last stanza of this section tells that “He is Samson and a lover / But will not allow himself / To be shaven by Philistines / And get imprisoned” in the arms of any one woman. He feels satisfied with “his sweet voiceless maid / and comrade’s pretty daughter / Or like them are his Delilahas”. Samson is a man who is very big and strong. The name is derived from a character in the Bible who was an extremely strong man with long hair. A woman named Delilah cut off his hair while he was sleeping and this made him lose his strength. Philistine, according to Macmillan English Dictionary, is an insulting word for someone who dislikes or does not understand serious art, literature or music. But Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia gives this information about Samson, Delilah, and Philistines:
Israelite warrior hero of the Old Testament Book of Judges. His mother had been told by an angel that she would bear a son whose life would be dedicated to God and whose hair must never be cut. Samson performed many powerful acts, including slaying a lion and moving the gates of Gaza. When he to a Philistine woman, Delilah, that his hair was the source of his strength, she shaved his head while he was sleeping, leaving him powerless. He was blinded and enslaved by the Philistines, but later his strength was restored and he pulled down the pillars of a temple where 3,000 Philistines had gathered, killing them and himself.
In order to justify his (Monto’s) jaunts and strength, he alludes to Samson, the Biblical warrior, but tells that he is not a fool like him (Samson) to tell the source of his strength and greatness to his women, who, like Delilah, the Philistine woman, can render him powerless and to be captured and put him in prison. He, on the other hand, is very intelligent and can keep the secret of his intelligence concealed to himself. Thus the Biblical allusions to Samson, Delilah, and Philistines have been very aptly used by the poet to characterise Monto’s true self. He (Monto) himself is amazed at his own success and that is enough to justify his escapades with women.
The seventh section of 41 lines is divided into four stanzas of varied lengths. His discussion continues on poor workers, begging children, corruption, exploitation, hoarders, blackmailers, smugglers, bootleggers, sadhus, system, in fact on everything that communists love and exploit human emotions. The poet writes:
And discussion ends nowhere
he talks of labour on roads
Farmers working in fields
Skeletons loading and unloading
Beggars in tattered clothes
Children with begging bowls
of hunger and poverty
of corruption and exploitation
of sufferings and deaths
of palaces and huts
He exploits the emotions
From a straw to a golden ring
of hoarders and blackmailers
of smugglers and bootleggers
of systems and sadhus. (64)
The twelfth line uses symbols, very aptly, of “straw” and “golden ring” to describe and discriminate between the poor and the rich.
The next stanza of seven lines tells about his mode of speech that is based on realty without any hiccups. This is what makes the society look true and real. The poet continues:
All make a society
that is corrupt and evil
he speaks fast and lucid
No mincing of words
And stretching of meaning
All facts away from fiction
But still so intimate.
The next stanza, of eight lines, continues with the description of his passion with which he spoke blending this passion with the reminiscence of passion “poured out / On comrade’s daughter and the maid”; for, both of them wanted his passion devoid of strength. So, his speech exhibited the same passion:
It is neither a poet’s dream
Nor a novelist’s world
Neither God visualised it
Nor man thought of it
Monto repeats full of passion
With passion that he poured out
On comrade’s daughter and maid
For they do not want his strength.
The pronoun “they” used in the last line, above, focuses not only on the two women referred to in the stanza but also on his audience listening to his speech.
The next and last stanza of this section tells the reader about his cunningness in duping women and his audience alike:
He knows an evil and a lie
But who is he to disclaim
When world digests it as a truth
He understands the roaming pulse
And slumbering intellect
Of people and society. (64)
These lines very aptly betray his cleverness in pointing out the difference between evil and lie, between “roaming pulse and slumbering intellect” when it is all accepted as true by the society in which they all live. All his forays, in his speech, into histories, legends and scriptures raise him in the eyes of the common man:
He scans the world around
He stands around and midst legends
And very high and tall
My Monto is a man of dreams
Who went out without warning. (65)
The narrator tells that after the speech in which the people raised him “very high and tall” for playing with their emotions and he knew the actual truth.
The eighth section has seven stanzas of varied lengths. When the “noise and rumble” cave in, he goes out to attend another “literary symposium”. There he discusses about worldly things besides poets and fiction and that “writers are the harbingers of a new order” in the society; so, they should speak about social concord and amity. The poet writes in the second stanza:
Monto attends a literary symposium
He discusses men and material
Poets and fiction
Culture and tradition
Which is celebrated as a “great event”; for,
Writers are harbingers of a new order
Torch bearers of truth and beauty
Not only Keats said
But so say the seers
A duty is enjoined upon
Those who write
Should speak of harmony and peace. (65)
In this stanza the poet alludes to John Keats, one of the great Romantic poets, who writes, in his poem, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (Garrod 210). Keats himself quotes the phrase on beauty and truth from others; so, the poet adds, “so say the peers”, to bring his point home to the reader(s). Any new thought is first imagined, well thought or churned in mind of the writer(s) that think(s) and, then is implemented in the society. Therefore, the poet is justified in calling writers as the “harbingers of new order”. They should write about what is true, on the universal or cosmic level. They are also called upon by the society to generate “harmony and peace” in the society against the prevalent disharmony and chaos.
The next stanza begins with “Man is one” and tells the truth. It also tells about ushering a classless society, as man everywhere is alike. The poet writes:
Make him classless
Blood is red and casteless
Emotions are similar
Make man God and no distinction
No cleavage among men
No chasm on caste and creed
No two religions for the world is one
Man is the same
Only one message of truth
Would do a long service (65)
It is how the poet puts forth his philosophy of unity of man and rejects all division based on class, creed and religions through Monto: “Monto is sure.” And continues in the same vein that Monto, is his creation – “my making”. Now the poet alludes to the myth of Ahalya, beautiful wife of sage Gautama, was desired by Indira, the Lord of devas. Despite knowing his deceptive simulation, she conceded to him and had to pay a heavy price in the form of Gautama’s curse and was delivered by Lord Rama. Monto, despite seducing so many women, seems to have “no effect of any curse”. It is immediately followed by another allusion to the Ramayana about the exile of Sita when she was exiled on the taunt of a low caste woman and, thereafter, lived with Maharshi Valmiki in his hermitage; Monto has no concern about such human aberrations, as he can “still laugh”:
He is my Monto
Standing high talking high
He is my dream of my making
He is lord of a charming Ahalya
No effect of any curse
He can send Sita to exile
And still laugh. (66)
The allusion to Ahalya – “He is a lord of a charming Ahalya” – shows that he likes every beautiful woman and wants to cohabit with her as Indira did with Ahalya in the myth.
The next stanza informs that Monto is some I’s creation. Who is this “I”? Perhaps, the public! Perhaps the poet! Monto is killing his creator due to his treachery, but the creator doesn’t feel sorry. He is, after all, his child and calls Monto great. The poet writes:
I made him what he is
But stabbed me and killed me
I don’t repent
He is my child
I breathe through him
Monto is great.
The next stanza tells about him as his capabilities:
He is intellectual
He is leader, a writer and everything
He knows how to live in a world
of lies and hatred.
He is my computer
He organises, he prophesies
He kills, he enjoys
He is stoutly walking into eternity
World knows him and knows not
That is his victory and defeat
My Monto I salute
Monto lives cleverly in this world. (66)
The ninth section commences with remarks about poets and fiction writers. What they write, the protagonist posits, is all fake and false:
Poets speak of ideas
They feel not
Writers write of men they never met
Fiction is created without truth
It is rootless. (66)
He argues that such literature berates man, “creates vacuum”. His raillery doesn’t stop here, but continues and states that it only feeds “sex and violence”; writers think in “cosy rooms” and “talk of beggars”; such fake “surviving ethos” must be killed. The poet puts it thus in the third stanza:
It teaches many things, creates vacuum
It writes of man and berates him
Writings do not create culture
But feed sex and violence
Cheap emotions, simple traditions
Writers smoke and in smoke
The see a philosophy in cosy rooms
They think of sunburnt faces
In warm cushions talk of beggars
Such is a living of surviving ethos
It must be killed. (66-7)
The poet, through these lines, makes a jibe at the gratuitous literature, ethos and wishes to say farewell to such kind of literature. He fails to find concordance with such well-off writers, who have never tasted a whit of poverty, not even seen them properly, putting forth theories to eradicate poverty.
The next stanza informs about Monto’s new Principles and introduces writers and their writings. He seems to conduct the stage. A young poetess comes to the stage to recite her poem. Taste these lines yourself to know Monto’s snesuality:
Exceptions are there but rare
Monto enunciates new principles
And so he finishes amidst cheers
A young poetess comes
He greets her
He discusses writers and writings
Cultures and religions
All are enamoured. (67)
His introduction of new poets and writers and their writings is so charming that all present feel infatuated.
The last stanza, of this section, shows Monto rising from his seat to teach the poetess, who is on the stage, the art of emotions through experience. The stanza itself becomes the epitome of Monto’s pragmatic approach to life; he doesn’t feel shy; he can do it in private and in open, at night and in broad-day light:
My Monto rises high and moves forward
And teaches the young poetess
The art of emotions through experience
And becomes her Vastsayan
And gives her a kiss unasked
For he has hit eye of a fish
And so has won her
Monto is wanton
But nobody knows
He rises to the sky. (67)
Here the poet has alluded to Vatsayan, the writer of Kamsutra, who details the art of love-making in this book with pictures. Perhaps, Monto wants to show the superiority of art and it must be respected. He also uses the phrase “eye of a fish” that brings to mind Arjuna’s hitting the eye of a revolving fish by looking in a cauldron of oil; the allusion comes from the Mahabharata. Monto, like Arjuna, is also very skilled in his art of love expression. Thus both these allusions become pertinent in the context.
Tenth section has seven stanzas and discusses about the dinner over which Monto presides; the change and progress represented by Babus/Bureaucrats, for which they consider themselves as instruments of social development, about contradiction, that reigns there, Monto’s enigmatic destiny, talk about Marx and Ruskin, invitation to Monto by a beautiful lady in the absence of her husband, thoughts of sadness, etc.
The narrator tells about the dinner:
This is a grand dinner
Monto is the chief guest
All reformers and rascals assembled here
He meets power and politics
Generates goodwill and seeks a treaty
As if a war without reasons. (67)
In this dinner both types of people – good and bad – have been invited who belong to wield power and represent polity. Among the hot discussions that Monto spawns; controversies arise and Monto pacifies the factions to bring about harmony. The poet has used the word “treaty’ taken from history to give this discussion a semblance of historical agreement reached at between the opposite factions at the end of some war fought won or lost.
The bureaucrats are termed as the instruments of social change by implementing the policies of the politicians: “Big babus are the stream / of continuity and balance / in change and progress.” About the disagreement that appears, the narrator comments:
Again a contradiction
Women deride him as a cast off
He ridicules the opinion maker
He is a sucker
He is seductive and handsome. (68)
The greatest challenge comes from women whose very nerve he seems to understand and teaches them emotional experience practically. They begin to mock at him and call him a social “cast off”. But, on his part, he laughs at the person who is the source of this idea. He is considered a dupe, enticing and fetching. So, he is addressed: “sucker … seductive and handsome.”
The third stanza shows Monto as emphatic. None dare argue with him. Officials fail but he goes own planning. He, according to the narrator, simulates Plato in political discussions and showering praises on Gandhi and explicates Aristotelian philosophy to the common man:
Brings Plato to life
Eulogises Gandhi, explains Aristotle
Monto casts a silent shroud
of mystery and enigma
that is his destiny.
His speeches are so emphatic that he casts a spell on his audience. His mysterious and enigmatic revelations become his providence.
He, in the next short stanza of three lines, hangs on like a shadow between “wine and a woman / Ruler and a business tycoon.” He seems indispensable everywhere and in every situation. The fifth stanza shows him talking about the poor, Das Capital and Ruskin’s Unto This Last. He talks of class war that is always going on in the society. He puts forth a hypothesis of “classless society”. Whoever talks about the uplift of the poor and a society where all are equal is considered a messiah: “… there hinges a perpetual / Glory of man’s progress”. All this turns into, for Monto, “spiritual win” but “bodily death”. The phrase “bodily death” tells his growing years which also becomes apparent in the last two lines of this stanza: “Love languishes his feelings / When Monto sees his bygone years.” The “bygone years”, the key phrase, hints at his age and the reason for his derision by women in the second stanza.
The penultimate stanza of this section once again insinuates his romance when a big officer’s wife calls him to a corner to express her abiding love for him. She invites him to her home “when her husband is on tour” – then, they will have sufficient time at their disposal for romancing. Here is a suggestion of the prevalent adultery and sexual perversion among the aristocracy. The narrator of the poem comments: “He goes with the women unattached / And scores another point / For he has so many Iagos within.” The word, “unattached”, reminds to mind the attachment that the Hindu scriptures, like the Gita especially, teach to discard. One should not feel attached to anyone and anything in this world; for, all these things are transient and elusive – Maya! So, Monto “goes with women unattached”. He doesn’t stick to one. The other allusion is to Iago,
The last stanza shows Monto repeating Salieri’s words in Pushkin – “I have never wept tears like these before / Both sweet and bitter”. He experiences a strange melange of joy and sorrow, and in this transitory world everything seems fleeting: “Thoughts of sadness come to Monto / But he gives a big laugh.” Monto’s behaviour brings him very close to justify Salieri’s words.
The eleventh and the last section of this long poem, has 62 lines arranged into five unequal stanzas. The first stanza shows him now all alone walking on “barren deserted streets” far away from the hum of people with whom he has been all this through. The following lines of the stanza throw sufficient light on him:
He finds an empty consolation
And the road provides full sympathy
He has talked much
Lived a full day
Without conceding a point
Living each moment
In a counter point
of love and argument. (69)
In the second stanza, when he is walking all alone, he appears like a drunken man. Read these lines to know his present state:
Dogs bark at him
Stray cows meet him
Cow dung spoils his shoes
Asses bray on the other side
Jackals roar it appears
Ghost like shadows fall
on the deserted lanes
when he rolls back
Roads are empty and streets forlorn
Shadows sojourn silent houses
A thin mist slowly descends
He watches and is sad now.
These lines tell more than what meets the eye about his life when he returns from the meeting, and attending the dinner given in his honour to commemorate his success as a progenitor of fantastic ideas that captivate and enamour the imagination of the public, living with beautiful women, getting invitations from beautiful young ladies. Nonetheless, eventually he turns melancholic.
The narrator in the third stanza feels pity at Monto’s depression. He feels betrayed by Monto:
My creation fails me
I tremble and shudder
I pull apart the strings
But Monto does not respond
He breaks the rope
And thus runs amuck. (69)
Monto’s creator, “weep(s) without mercy” for him. He is shown having reached his home walking “with glory and tears / And he knocks at the door”. The maid has been waiting for him all this time. She “asks him to make her his wife / He is shocked no, not now / he gets angry” at this proposal. He has another dream to realise in this wide world – “Another world of facts”. He cannot deceive his wife. He exhorts his maid to live together “these moments” that are at their disposal and surmises if they could, together, lead a happy and perfect life.
In this manner he deceives and refuses to make her his wife but wants to live together as they are and as they have been living in the absence of his wife. The narrator divulges: “And so duping her / Monto takes her to bed anew / To make her a woman again / of his pleasure and her aim” (70). He further discloses:
So Monto lives away from me
In a world
Created by him for him
and noisy forlorn cemeteries
of hope and faith
of death and another life
Life of a world
That exists for everyone (70)
Monto has now distanced himself from his creator and lives in a different world of his dreaming of weird “hope and faith” and a world that “exists for everyone” including himself and his creator. But now the creator, the common man, laments:
And I weep and bemoan
For my Monto died to make me live
Another world of dreams
And thus I pray alone
For another Monto to rise again. (70)
Throughout his life, Monto struggled for the common man giving him new hopes of a new world with new ideas about class struggle and nurtured them on the Marxist philosophy of bringing about equality by diminishing all the man made walls.
Technically, the lack of proper and deliberate punctuation, in the entire poem, suggests the whole scene on the stage of this world, in which Monto grows, develops his theories, and displays his character, moves in the poet’s mind like a trance. The periods, only at the end of stanzas, seem as breather in the imaginative race that he runs. The entire poem is like a stream-of-conscious technique: looking ahead and relapsing into time gone by – a back and forth movement of his imagination into time and apace.
It can be said that Monto is Prem’s ambitious poem which lets out his philosophic outlook on the present day rampant political sham besides such other evils that dog human society. Mrs Kamla Vyas very aptly identifies good and bad elements in league. She infers: “The striking contrasts strengthen the poem. The reformers and rascals assemble, which indicates their mutual league” (IBC 23). In fact, the so called messiahs are only the devourers. None thinks about the common man and nobody wants to end poverty; otherwise, who will be left for them to seduce, induce and bamboozle in this world full of chasms, hiatuses and walls that are as high as the Wall of China.
It deserves comparison with Eliot’s The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is “concerned with both the development and the decline of religious feeling in modern man” (Williamson 154); Prem’s Monto aims at highlighting the modern man’s desire to be at the hub of every human activity: social, political, religious, etc. Both the poems copiously demonstrate “surrender to passion, not love” (Williamson 151). I am tempted to say that Monto’s intellectual scope baffles as one discerns a distinctive quality of realistic and rational outlook of Bachhan, amazing perception of Ageya, Tripathi and Shamsher Bahadur –notable names in Hindi Literature- who still wield lasting influence on the collective conscience of people of India. The poet is genuinely worried about the contemporary sufferings, injustice and sense of discrimination prevailing in the society.
In this regard, in nut shell, Monto, evinces coherence of thought as does the unity of time that is limited to one day, from morning to night. It is the hypothesis of an angry young man frustrated and disillusioned with the system exposing social evils and the baseless theories to eliminate poverty from the face of Earth, the recalcitrant behaviour of men who wield power with politics to serve only a lollipop of phony promises; or else, how they should remain in power and whom to exploit. The poem also gives the impression of being written under the powerful sway of imagination guided by the knowledge of and his sympathies with Marxism and social realism of John Ruskin, the Victorian aesthetician and political economist.*
Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia. 10 Vols. (Special edition for South Asia.) Editors of Encylopedia Britannica, Inc. New Delhi: Encyclopedia Britannica (India) Pvt. Ltd. 2005.
Garrod, H. W. Ed. Keats: Poetical Works. London: OUP (PB) 1973. Rpt. Of Garrod, H. W., ed. Keats: Poetical Works. 1956.
Prem, PCK. Among the Shadows. Delhi: Narindra Publications, 1989. The references to text are from this edition and digits after the quotes refer to page numbers of this edition.
Williamson, George. A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot: A Poem-by-Poem Analysis.1955. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971. Print.
Vyas, Mrs Kamla. Rev of Among the Shadows. Indian Book Chronicle (Jan 1993): 22-23. Print.