Poetry is a creational activity. Something not there till then must be newly created. The reader’s ideas and imagination should be extended to new shores. Then only it would be new and fresh.
There are four poets I love and revere (I confess I could read only a few of Telugu poets)– two of them, Ajanta and Ismail are now no more. Of the two alive, one is Mukunda Rama Rao, an elderly man and the other is Vinnakota, the one living in the US for the last few decades, an electrical engineer. The first is Ajanta (P.V.R.Sastry), the second is Ismail, called Tree Poet and the third Mukunda Rama Rao, both a poet and a translator and the fourth is the fifty-two year young poet this Vinnakota who wrote ‘kundi lo marrichettu’, the title which I rendered as ‘Banyan-tree in a Pot’. This is his first collection of poems published in 1993 for which Ismail wrote an introduction in 1992. The following is the last part of Ismail’s brief write-up.
Ravisankar’s bark of poetry does not get washed away in words. It has a goal. Life’s experience, the feelings of the heart – uniting these two poles he created electricity, this poet and electrical engineer. Poets like this would be rare. This is only his first book.
I quote a sample of Ismail’s poem, a very short one, about a cyclonic storm that devastated Avanigadda area in Andhra Pradesh which I translated as below to illustrate his poetic feeling and expression:
Godavari at Balusutippa
Endless is the river
Endless is the sky
Which is the river
And which is the sky?
The lone fisherman’s oar
Divides the sky by a river
Leaving as a remainder
A zero, the size of a universe.
To begin with I quote Ajanta, the poet with intense and wide creativity. He wrote about his conception of poetry, which I quote in full.
“Man is the cause of all and for that reason I like to see myself in every person. Man is just the same, whoever he is. From the very first moment when man’s steps are heard on the surface of the earth, this inner consciousness, the soul, is just one. I am in every person, in every one’s dream; in dream; in pain; in the burning lacerations of grief; in the cry of anguish of the person in the desert; in the compassionate hands that affectionately raise the person fallen. There are no shackles for alphabet and no dividing borders on this earth. The throb of the soul is one. The language one speaks is the centre of life force. Every alphabet is a person: every person is an alphabet. I believe that as man’s facial features alphabet have a shape, a stance, a posture and a movement to go with the feeling, a rhythm, a grace, a hue, a taste. This is the secret of Swapnalipi – dream script. My wondrous feats in the daily life’s horror are my prosody.”
There is no knowing when this was written by the great Telugu poet Ajanta (P.V.R.Sastry, 1929-1999) but this is used by him for the back cover blurb of his only collection of poems Swapnalipi put together by Tripuraneni Srinivas in 1993 under the aegis of Kavitwam Prachranalu. This collection is all the oeuvre we have of this unique poet, his magnum opus. The ‘intro’ to the collection that Ajanta wrote is his testament, his grand declaration, his exegesis of his conception of poetry – his apologia pro vita sua, a la the theories of poets like Sir Philip Sydney of the sixteenth century England. Ajanta did not believe in the evolution of the poet, his maturation or crystallisation. The entire work of this distinguished poet is an enviable number of just forty compositions. He never stored them for retrieval: never kept any notes or even the clippings of those published. If there was need he would just recapitulate and write down again. The twenty-nine poems in this collection are all that we have of him and if any could retrieve one or two from their personal clippings, glory to those lovers of the muse. This is about poet Ajanta’s sensitivity of poetic expression.
Underneath is the averment of the creative artist and the unique poet Vinnakota Ravisankar whom I lovingly call by his surname Vinnakota.
Creation of poetry and the feel of its flavour are not products of the equality as in democracy. The implication is that it does not go along with the agreement of the majority. Poesy is a dialogue between the reader and the poet. The experience is totally and basically emotive, individual and personal. As long as there are talent and sincerity this creation touches one or many. It is only the conviction that keeps alive both the poet and his reader.
Vinnakota published his first collection of poems at the age of twenty-six in 1992. He titled the collection taking his third poem as ‘Banyan-tree in a Pot’. The following is my rendering of the poem:
Somebody has stolen
The fullness of this tree’s life.
Its strength, hands,
Its roots, width
The fearlessness to attack the sky
Beautifully robbed it
Though beaten with the sledge hammers of wind
Unabated is her courage
They made her bend her head in obedience
With the tips of their touch.
Made her believe innocently that this life,
Here alone would be beautiful and attractive.
With courage and strength
Hundred miles as a thousand
Would she expand and extend her empire
They fixed her in a mud pot,
In a fistful of mud
Into eyes searching for a little water;
They reduced her full life,
Somebody has robbed her.
The princely buxom, beautiful and ever-expanding tree is reduced to a helpless pigmy. Is this love of nature? Is this for the appreciation of an onlooker? Man’s conscience was dead when putting the banyan in a pot. Human depravity is the cause for this ‘fashion’ thanks to the pursuit of bonsai.
This is a first collection, a book containing just 29 short poems. In his introduction, the reputed poet Ismail wrote:
Ravisankar has interest, honesty and valour to turn the pages of life to the very end. He is not a poet who goes on singing aloud. He has so much of the variety of experience as depth. … With sorrow, joy, enthusiasm and affection, he offered many bits of life that make our old memories shine brilliant, burning and glittering with splendour.
After leaving to the US in 1999, he brought out ‘Rendo paatra’the second collection describing the lives of foreigners in the US, usually called pravaaslu. “VEsavi Vaana”,(Summer Rain) is his latest collection containing forty selected poems written during 1993 and 2002. Here are the renderings of some poems out of the forty:
This evening when sunshine turned into rain
How much happiness is this creating!
Sweeter than jasmine perfume is the mud’s smell
How intoxicating is this to the mind-hearts!
A volcanic mountain
Suddenly changing its mind
Appears to have become a snow mountain
The cloud umbrella that served as a protector from the heat
Is getting holes under the piercing rain drops
Drenched in sweat all long the day
How wonderful is thus becoming frozen in rain drops!
The fan in the room throwing around it wings
After raising hands showing its helplessness to cool
The evening rain having thrown a little magic
How beautiful is that rain
In minutes changing the whole town into an air conditioner!
There is no knowing when and who would take mercy
No knowing who gives breath to this dead flute
Having been exhausted and tired
For me who thought I had gone dry
My hopes these rain drops raised
How wondrous is this! (p. 17)) (Vesavi vaana)
We must all reach home any how this night
We must reach the shore
From the distance, we have thrown ourselves
Though birds without wings – in the morning
We are those who have gone
To various sides for a living
We must somehow reach home by any way to our nest
We are those who move along
Becoming the pendulum
To make the city life’s clock run
Without being delayed
We must reach the other corner
There is worry for not having reached the goal.
No thought comes of who achieved what.
Every day between artificial goals
We are those that are running
Today we must reach the final goal somehow.
Waiting for us, at least there are two eyes without sleep
Somehow light up those we must without fail. (p27) (Vesavi vaana)
Since no small flame stretching lips
At least have not kissed even softly
For this wick in the oil saucer
The experience of heat and light has elided, cut off
If lighted up with love once –
It flares up enough with desire
None need teach the lamp.
Pitying, if the four fingers open
The cage doors
Fluttering its wings, it sings songs
None teach it to the little bird
Only because no warm palm
Hs touched it
On this shoulder, loneliness
Has frozen it this hard. (p.39) (Vesavi vaana)
There is not much time
With radiance available as rays and rays
I cannot fathom these dig these caves of darkness
Not knowing which key is for which padlock
I cannot open numberless prisons.
Leaving one disturbed shore
The boat sailed to reach another shore
To reach another cradle
This hand has left another cradle.
For an adventurous change
I cannot wait even for a moment
Believing all is an offence
It’s an offence too to lose beliefs.
For doubts blowing like fierce winds
This light that is surviving winds
I cannot save with my burnt palms.
With eye that does not move,
I should recognize what is needed
With a sharp beak suddenly catch in a jiffy
There isn’t much time
For the exhausted wings
No longer is the sky a playground. (p.63) (Vesavi vaana)
Hide and Seek
For this child playing
Hyde and seek with me is her lone delight
In the mirror of my small room to the secret place
The moon caught her in it
Behind the blue curtain of clouds
Playing hide and seek a favourite.
With feet tottering, to the secret place walking noisily
Feels she that she has showed me a wrong way.
Coming like a whirl wind
This very girl goes around me
Holding her breath
She is found sitting in a corner.
Even though I know where she is
She wants me to find her anew.
This fabulous treasure which cannot go far
I have to reach with my effort.
The harder I try
The more is her glee.
If I raise hands in helplessness
She has joy limitless.
Every day without let up
Drawing me in to the game this little one
Makes me feel that this is the never found
Delight of my life’s truth. (p.73-74) (Vesavi vaana)
After long a poem
Is attracted into this angle
Some word pictures
For this blind hook flicker becoming eyes
Under the water layers of the mind’s sea
Is the willing self-sacrifice
Of ever roaming strange creatures.
For the beautiful fish mermaid
This is the prohibited love of the world external.
Sparkling, and melting
One water dream
Two lines of poem
It makes walk on the floor.
She controls the world
This is captivating
The secret of poetry. (p.83) (Vesavi vaana)
Apart from being a poet with remarkably high sensitivity, imaginative excellence and romantic fervour, Vinnakota has done commendable service to the readers by his excellent study of many a contemporary poet writing free verse. This compilation is in two parts, one in about one hundred and seventy pages and the other in about 90 pages. Inspired by the distinctive poet Ismail, Vinnakota wrote for the internet journal ‘Eemaata’ (edited by K.V.S Rama Rao garu and Veluri Venkateswara Rao garu) and many articles on poets and their work for a long period. He also wrote for ‘Kaumudi’, run by Ms Kiran Praha, a series of articles on our poets, where besides his comment, assessment and literary appreciation the original poem in full is also presented. In 2016, Vanguri Foundation of America, Inc brought out his 290-page work of Vinnakota as “Kavitwam lo nEnu”. The book is a valuable addition to the enthusiasts’ book shelves. Here is a brief critique on that work too.
In an introduction to Subrahmaniam’s poetry collection Yeti Vodduna (On the shores of the Riverlet), Vinnakota makes several suggestions to poets and readers and expresses his opinions. Poetry, like life, preserves the bases necessary for its existence. In every generation, there are people who create poetry, worship poetry and work hard for it. Limited may be their strength but there are deathless. He says he sees in Subrahmaniam a craving and a great deal of enthusiasm. He had some searching mind and a desire to know something looking within himself. The author quotes Subrahmanyam:
Creating a telescope
If one looks with devotion into his innermost heart
He sees some scenes
I have seen within my heart
I am the one seeing the scene. (dhurbhini, p.82) (Kavitwam lo nenu)
Economy is a good quality, a device in writing poetry.
Some time ago in the burial ground
Death told me this
“Before the flute becomes bamboo
Sing and make your listeners listen all ragas”. (veNuvu veduru ga maaraka mundE p.82) (Kavitwam lo nenu)
Writing forewords or book reviews is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many of Vinnakota’s essays promise and state the growth and flowering of poets. There is seen a crystallisation of the sensibility of this book’s author.
Reading poetry is an intensely personal habit and for the practising poet it is his life breath. Vinnakota quoted Odysseus Elytis, a Nobel laureate and our countryman Sachidanandan while writing about the human body being a symbol in poetry for some. Symbolism is born out of creative sensitivity. It is verily an armoury, to put unpoetically but not bluntly since our Sri Sri, the creator of modernity in Telugu poetry, declared: kaadEdi kavitakanarham, meaning nothing is unqualified or improper for poetry.
Vinnakota wrote about almost all the poets he read first hand. He read Pasunuri Sridhar Babu who comments that poetry stems from an elevated mental state and spoke of Afsar, another poet, who wrote about music and playing the violin. In contemplation, there are no levels while holding the string round the finger and reaching the peak of the pinnacle. In one assessment, this author quotes Srirangam Narayana Babu of Vizianagaram, who praised the reputed violinist Dwaram Venkataswami Naidu (of the appellation Fidel Naidu garu) thus:
Mee sareeram akaasam
meee hastam harivillu
sreevaari vELLu (p.18) (kavitwam lo nEnu)
(*Ghanaraagapanchkam are five Thyagarajaswami’s lyrics in raagas of high eminence)
your fingers are the sublime five keertanas
your body the sky
Your hand the rainbow (of the Supreme deity)
wondrous and strange coloured are your worshipful’s fingers.
(This rendering is my attempt to show the colours in the rainbow!)
There is an article about rays of light in the wonders of the dark, in which the author quotes the poem of Kottapalli Satyasrimannarayana’s poem Saundaryaaraadhana, (Worshipping Beauty). The substance of the poem is this:
When the child cries when a drop of the soap-nut juice falls in the little one’s eye, the mother drops a little of her breast milk in the kid’s eye to relieve the pain while describing the beautiful birds that fly in the forest. Birds flying the calm forest are compared to the quietened kid after her mother’s treatment. Enjoying the beauty and the flavour of poetic expression is the quality of both the poet and the lover of poetry. Another poet Sikhamani, we are told, describes a boy a flower-seller, talking of the child’s selling, cutting the flower garland, measuring cubit-lengths.
Vinnakota writes about word pictures which need not necessarily have likening, comparisons or similes. A mere explanation suggesting a happening or scene could serve the purpose of a word picture. Word pictures may be economic and brief too. The nature of poetry is that it expands the domains both of language and imagination. Vinnakota cites the example of the poet ‘Mo’ who uses a simile like this which is a word picture. ‘A water melon put on the mother’s stomach is the baby.’ Then he quotes Yadukula Bhushan’s lines:
Salutations to Mumbai
Filled with Rambhas. (Mumbai) p. 35 (Kavitwam lo nEnu)
Rambha is the court dancer and an angel offering ‘entertainment’ to the king of heaven, Indra. Poetic expressions could flow not only from a poet but from anybody. He quotes Mega Star Chiranjeevi saying after visiting the US: ‘I was frightened that America is ‘class’ but it is ‘mass’ too. The author’s friend Ramana Jeevi, who drew the frontispiece to the book under description wrote this:
Two phone calls
At seven in the evening
One from a client
One from god
I think for long
God is one with no beginning or end
The client if he goes wouldn’t come again.
If I go to the client
He may be found dead with a heart-attack
God wouldn’t phone again in this life
Wouldn’t give the phone number either.
(Rendu pilupulu,p.41) (Kavitwam lo nEenu)
In the essay ‘The Song of the Loser’ the author wrote about Narayana Swamy’s poetry quoted his poem ‘Saaroo’ too.
More than the exhaustion in your voice
Your courage has not faded
When passing fingers with desire
A newness comes into the breath
Coming before you once again
To be born again
A huge wave goes into circles within. (p.86) (Kavitwam lo nEenu)
Childhood charms poets with their openness, innocence and seeing everything new and captivate. In his Mahaprasthanam Sri Sri wrote for the kids the poem Saisavageeti, “Song of Childhood”.
When lightning flashes
When rainbow comes up in the sky
All those are ours, you happily say;
Oh! Little Kids! (p.131) (Kavitwam lo nEnu)
In Vinnakota’s book there are lyrics from film songs, which are an inspiration for poetry and experiments. The author recorded his dialogue with Dr. Garimella Satyanarayana for an internet journal, Vakili. And in all there are twenty-two articles in a separate section, “With good poetry for a while”. All these are frank, fearless, informative and stimulating. Before concluding, I must tell the readers about Vinnakota’s essay on Ramana Jeevi about the depth of his philosophical outlook. Vinnakota praises Ramana Jeevi for the feeling expressed in the poem and the choice of his subject.
Light from a saucer of wood
Eyes never closing
Sleep that got caught in the cobweb.
The spider that hanged on breathing
Doesn’t move, doesn’t speak
Fireflies all over in the room
Sails of eyelids not closing
Stopped waves have risen
With all my powers, I try
With nerve regions
Still the waves do not bend
At last a nurse with her palm
Caresses two doves
A loud cry is heard. (p.273) (Kavitwam lo nEenu)
I conclude this article with a quotation from Ismail’s poetry which Vinnakota wrote under the title, “My Acquaintance with Ismail garu”. He esteemed Ismail the poet as the source of his poetic inspiration and wrote an essay for Eemaata in January 2004. He wrote that however far Ismail might have gone, there would never be a moment when he was mentally away and then quoted this poem.
In the night, I sat on the shore of the lake
Waves rose and stopped touching the shore
The shore isn’t moved
Though tapped it wouldn’t reply
This is death
With this end, all
The moving waters glitter in the moonlight
Beyond this you can’t do anything bright
Make your life bright
Till it touches the shore and stops. (p.123) (Kavitwam lo nEenu)
What Vinnakota quoted at the end is just brilliant. Ismail’s lines and his poetry live long, always and ever shining.