Where do these ideas come from
Why do they get crammed in my skull
And ram it for an outlet?
… These ideas
Poetry basically is a thirst for self-expression. It is soul driven. It is a spark, a flash of lightning. For the very serious minded it may not always be very convincing of the attitude it may reveal. P. Raja has been writing poetry in English for the last fifteen or more years. In the first collection which came out in 1997 he wrote an essay ‘My Poems and I’. The poet has a penchant for playing with the gorgeous boneless domes absolutely virgin though stupidly called just prosaically breasts. The poem ‘Boneless Domes’ is a precursor to a bigger and luscious effort of listing thirteen ways to see, honor, touch, embrace etc., with them but that is a little later though. This essay is carried in his book For Your Ears Only, Busy Bee Books, Pondicherry, 1997) In it he expresses the creative process in him : ‘Once inspired, the flame leaps in me. I feel I am possessed. It is like virginal conception. And I try to be true to the flame.’ Most of his poems are in the first person and many appear to be titillating and erotic. For many readers for this reason his poetry is attractive and interesting. One is reminded of Rabelais, the French humanist poet with no prudery and a robust jie de vivre. The poet is fond of a sensuously poetic expression. ‘The Birth of a Poem’ starts with a bang and it is necessary to quote to it wholly:
The Birth of a Poem
Copulation is an
With the five senses
Of a fertile poet.
The orgasm haunts.
The foetus remains for a day
Labour pain in the cerebrum
Slight literary breeding
Ah! Indescribable horror.
Peeps the child of the brain
Crying and pushing it makes way.
A careful medicated wash
And it glisters.
Lo! Unaccountable bliss
The other enjoys
To see the poem trotting the glove
With the umbilical cord uncut forever.
- (p.101) For Your Eyes Only
This is not for prudes but for those who openly think of erotica in every action – even in the creation of poetry. Then there is the Tamilian way of being frank, jubilant even permitting and enjoying ribaldry in expression.
There is a poem ‘Conquest’ which many could not have understood in the first reading. Some of those who have understood it must have clicked their tongues in prudery.
“It is very slippery
Inside the cave”
“Only eels can
Slither their way.
The cave-digger smiled
With his hammer – strong tool.
“Hold the hand rails
Before you slip,”
“They are strong
They won’t come away.”
The rails were held tight.
The cave digger turned an eel.
- (p.39) The Lonely Grey hair
‘Boneless Domes’ deserves full appreciation.
Those boneless domes
Spring to life at the magic touch
Of the mystic masseur!
With the great alacrity
Did the tough twins
Out prop from the
Braving the juice of life!
… … …
Subdued, the threatening
Tough guys submerged,
The boneless domes
Turned a cushionFor the dizzy crown to rest.
- (p. 110, For your Eyes Only)
Then there is the long and brave poem ’13 Different Ways of Looking at Breasts Not Yet Manhandled’ The use of the words grenadiers , not yet manhandled – grenadier sturdy – being untouched and unhandled by man is mischievous. Spiked is very suggestive – exaggerated standing like pointed thimbles. It is not very easy to call them nipples like an anatomy professor. Juicy jugs – not yet manhandled so simply to be sucked – melons, goblets, pillows, fruit , sullen officers – little Raja is not a little child , restless companions vying . The layers and layers of mystic meanings all can be appreciated by those who enjoy reading our sage Vatsayana or the modern ones painting porno pictures. The poems could be porno if written by the old explicator of sensuous sutras, carefully hidden under the pillows not really to be read in singles.
Rabelaisian, ribald are not familiar to many but in this context our erotica specialist of yore Vatsayana can be remembered. The poet argues for himself that ribaldry is not always wrong or offensively erotic. He writes: “They branded me a bawdy bard. My poems smack of sex, they said. So what! I am not a hypocrite. I read pornography too. And when I read I don’t hide such books in large-sized magazines. When I write about almost all things under the sun and the moon, why should not I write about sex? Is not sex the very root of existence? A dozen or so of my poems are completely devoted to the preliminary act of seeing God…” (p.109) (For Your Eyes Only)
Apart from these poems sometimes (considered by some as scabrous or scatological not openly though psychologically at least, out of prudery), Raja has written poems that tickle and make even the serious-minded smile and chuckle. The poet goes on record saying “Primarily I am an entertainer. The eighteen years of experience I have on my back as a language teacher has taught me the art of entertaining others. My secondary purpose is to show you the world through my eyes, perhaps with a tinge of imagination. I want to show you something that you have failed to see. It matters little to me whether you nod your head with a smile or grit your teeth in contempt. Either way I have succeeded in evoking a response from you.” (p.102) For Your Eyes Only) There could be no further argument with the poet. We can say that there are three aspects: one the Vatsayana like flair for juicy life, the second is the idea to tickle the reader, and the third to show us what he saw or felt. Regarding the ticklers there are two poems about hair. ‘The Lonely Grey Hair’ is an illustration:
My forefinger and thumb
You now stand shivering
And bend in shame
Begging my pardon.
- (p. 10 The Lonely Grey Hair)
The poor grey hair actually shudders at what the master could do in haste and anger. He asks the slim , sly and sacred one as to whether he has done anything to justify its misdemeanor. Oiling, shampooing, protecting and perfuming he did his best and someone must have bribed it. He declares:
The dishonest and the unfaithful
Deserve no place in my realm.
Out you go
O, my one-time friend and now my foe
The forefinger and the thumb must have axed it. Then there is another poem playing the role of the heirs. When writing aggressively as it were, being an academic, he gave the pedagogic twang to the twin poems – one being an ode and the other a palinode. While ode is a song, the palinode is kind of recantation in which the poet retracts or makes an effort to give counter balance to a statement in the earlier poem. The title of the poem is
To The Poet From His Hairs
Are we your slaves?
To dance to your comb?
On your head we sit.
Who else can be your masters?
The hairs feel humiliated, insulted and even shorn. And comes the furious threat.
Aplogize and behave yourself
Lest we should desert you
With your kith and kin
And give pension to your comb?
- (pp.10-11 To the Lonely Grey Hair)
In ‘A Place of My Own’, for the bibliophile poetic feeling and love of fun are important and he is not bothered about his surroundings. Critics cannot distract him and other comments are not paid any attention. He has a place of his own at home away from the maddening mixie and the droning doorbell. He calls critics degrading souls who call a phoenix a goose. Killer time is the worst watch. The fancies and conceits convey his feelings which are the joy of a poet. The writer at home brings to the fore the continuous friction between the poet’s cerebral excitement and the prosaic practicalities of his not very good better half.
Raja’s poems are mostly about the poet, his better half, the critics and the small creatures like cockroaches. They are entertaining and humorous.
Born with anxiety, a writer
Lives with it and dies with it.
Most mornings go waste in
Waiting for the postman.
- (p.24 ‘A Budding Writer’)
The poet never gives up hope. Rejection slips do not hurt him or stop him from exercising mind and wielding his quill.
A journey’s end lights up another
Md.Ghazini is the patron soul of writers.
Acceptance and resilience are the hallmarks of poets and writers. The poets jocular treatment of himself as well as of his fans is seen in the poem ‘My Fans’:
‘Oh! What a great poet I am!
Don’t my fans, the worms
Tell me that my books
Are worthy enough
To be chewed and digested?
What is fame if not this?’
- p.27(‘Lonely Grey Hair’)
The poem ‘Indian Gods’ is satirical, making fun of people’s behaviour out of what they call their faith.
Tonnes of pure ghee drench our gods
To their very stones.
But hotels here display the board:
‘The sweet meats sold here
Are not made of pure ghee.’
- (p.34 ‘Lonely Grey Hair’)
Social awareness demands that a poet must sometimes have a tongue in cheek attitude to make his declaration effective. India that was only Bharat is not in her best either in its worth or glamour. Indian streets are a painful social reality. Naked urchins, thirsty women, dirty old men, disappointed young men, the wee ones with empty stomachs do not make the country proud. This is social realism that ends with a powerful barb, to call it so, again. Or, it must be the gods themselves screaming for their safety from bullet-battered temples.
A teacher is always a teacher. On many occasions Raja’s back is up when a doubt becomes too help-seeking. This is what many a teacher says many a time.
‘Knowledge is not sheep as you think
Certainly not as cheap as tap water
It’s well water in mid summer.’
- (p.37 ‘A Doubt cleared’)
This is educating the young fellow but the comment is piercing.
‘I can only tell you where the well is.
Don’t expect me to bail out water for you.
Even if I do, Will it be ever your own?’
The poet’s love of poetry comes from his love of books. The poem ‘Dust’ is the book lover’s confession of his frailty.
‘How can I be ever away
From dust when I am
Part and parcel of it.
. . . . . . . . . .
How can I ever cease inhaling dust
When I am dust and dust itself.’
This writer is reminded of a young poet who could never forget what a doyen of Indian English poetry said to him, ‘Please learn the basics, because poetry is not chapped up prose.’ True, but my question is how can one make lines? Raja is a doyen who must be guiding some budding poets and this must be his peroration too. ‘The Inner Voice’ is a poem with a Rajaic chuckle:
‘Why do you speak in languages,
Oh! My inner voice!
. . . . . . . . .
How am I to understand you,
Oh! My inner voice?
I wish to be a polyglot like you
Oh! My asthma!’
- (p.56 The Inner Voice’)
‘Tea with Belles’ is a poetic slur on women’s society/social ethos in the West. The speaker chats with Italian belles. Promiscuity and permissiveness are seen as followed/accepted behavioral patterns in the West. The Italian bellies are perhaps powerfully progressive.
‘Marriage and children,
May find no place
In the 21st century
- (p.369 Busy Bee Books, Contemporary Indian English Poetry, Pondichery, 2007)
This is the outcome of smoking a third cigarette while the earlier two stubs still smoulder in the ashtray. Our lady, we can’t call her a woman now thinks only of gays, for there is no harm or idea of procreation. The writer’s wife feels:
Or can compensate a thousand times
Then the question
Discussion on Italian courtesy.’
Pat comes the reply:
‘Is that why
You like to visit Italy?’
Ladies admiring their own fleshy domes is no wonder even for the poet. The speaker’s poet-wife says that it is the quality/virtue/weakness of Bharat that has become India.
The poet’s fascination for nasal beauty is next only to that of the scintillating domes. He remembers Einstein’s world bewildering theory on the nose stud. In ‘Theory of relativity’ the poet is lost, his heart pounding with a poser which only perhaps his sweetheart alone can answer to his satisfaction.
‘Whether by your nose,
The gem is graced or
By the gem
Your nose is graced.
And there is a poem on ‘Your Nose’. Nose beautiful, all beautiful, ever beautiful decides and determines great beauty. The poet declares it with aplomb.
I for one believe that
A lovely nose speaks
For all its pendants
The nose in its proper place,
Then everything else in their proper places.
After nose it is the dental attraction that is the most fascinating. This has started in the poem about Italian belle first: ‘gleaming teeth over shadowing the flashing light of the camera click’. (p.370)
‘At Close Quarters’ is a poem in which a damsel’s ivory teeth vie with the splendor and radiance of a women’s skin. The poet is a lover of beauty in the various areas, parts and anatomical regions and it is his greatness he does not care about his critics and their bile. The speaker of the poem concludes with a demure expression the description of a women’s voice also.
‘Don’t you know now, my doe, my love
Why I go dumb and deaf
When you want me to speak to you
Or listen to your whispering.
‘The Woman Behind’ is another lighthearted memory of a woman who the speaker says made him a somebody of a nobody making him love himself by tailoring his clothes. ‘Sometimes counsel and sometimes tea’ of Alexander Pope comes into the readers’ minds. Humour tickles those who enjoy life and it is a boon to have a sense of humour. ‘In the Journalist’s Life’ is about the clock and its two hands. The journalist’s tribulations are softened because of his wife’s contribution. The job and its urgencies keep the man on tenterhooks being on his toes all the time. The goal is only one - to increase the bank balance.
Callously gobbling up
My pathetically earned time
Without any qualms
- (P.373 Ibid)
The only blessing is the angel’s smile to begin with. The speaker of the poem confesses
“I would have gone mad,
Had I not found you
At this half hour of my life.”
Anything that interferes remains a block, a haddi in the kabaab, a fly in sherbet. Lovers with sweet lips would ever be eager to taste each other’s soft, slightly oozing nectar. But the alien cap called a hat stands in the way of cashing in during stolen moments. Caps interfere above are like the slippers below. Both are detestable for the youthful lovers. ‘Paradise Lost’ tells us
Caps and slippers provide protection
Yet they deny us of
The boon the nature
Has in store for us
With them on, it is Paradise Lost.
- (p.374 Ibid)
Raja’s love poems are sweet and delectable if only the reader basically has an imaginative mind and understanding of human nature. ‘To Live in High Love is a lover’s passionate expression of a deep yearning for togetherness.
There we shall walk hand in hand
On the shores of ever active sea
And melodious notes
That no maestro endeavoured to play
… … …
Under greenwood trees we shall bed,
To count every tiny mole and bulging wart
And grace all with our roving lips,
Before we dovetail in a tight embrace.
The lines are about heart related love at its most sublime peak. The jealousy of society is painful for the lovers and detestable for the knowing ones.
There, my love, we shall forget forever
The green eyed society we left behind
And live merrily in high love till
Cruel Death lays his icy hands
There are echoes of English poetic expressions like under the greenwood tree – death lays his icy hands. This is natural for the poet is a teacher of English poetry too. The mental state of a love crazy loner is felt in the poem ‘A Lonely Man Foresees His Death.’ The gnawing fear is insufferable and the speaker wonders:
Will the lonely man
Be left to his loneliness again?
Will the woman
Whom he considers Heaven sent
Prove to be a bird of passage
The day she leaves him
Will be the day of his funeral
‘Sweet Fifty’ is another amorous poem. The loving husband remembers the years of long cohabitation with his sweet heart wife. He gleefully says
Ah! Will fifty million sovereigns of gold
Ever equal one of the fifty
You’ve showered on me
With all your love!
The totally delighted hubby pays a sumptuous and rich compliment to his angelic wife’s innumerable varieties cuisine. This surely is the Hindu concept that a woman wins her hubby with her cuisine most. The sweet fifty goes on and on year after year adding taste to time.
The speaker of the poem ‘Woman Power’ is a jubilant woman who loves her hubby with all her heart-mind-intellect called manas. She is grateful and says it so in many words. She remembers Adam becoming his Eve before the fall. But for her husband she would not feel known, respected and remembered for women power. Here is her heartfelt compliment which makes her hubby delighted soulfully.
For divulging my woman power
O my man!
I will forever remain
Your prized possession
There are three poems among those chosen from Raja’s poetry in Busy Bee Books volume that deserve special appreciation. These reveal his humanism. ‘A Balance Lost’ is a poem on the natural disaster, the horrible earth quake in Bhuj in Gujarat on January 26, 2001. People killed are killed and lost forever. But the pain of the survivors is heart rending.
The clock died of a heart attack
At 5.30 on Jan 26, 2001
… …. ….
Blessed are the buried dead
For they have no tears to wipe
…. …. …
Think of the maimed
Think of the bruises
Think of the orphaned,
The destitute and the damned
‘Traitor’ is about Iscariot Judas who betrayed Jesus for a handful of silver.
Dreaming his good fortune
He strode. Cheerfully they jingled
At the wallet at his belt
Swayed with each step.
- (p. 383)
Hopelessly sin-perturbed he can take recourse only to suicide.
He found sand in a piece of rope
The all powerful discs laughed
With their eyes at the heavy heart
Of the dangling Judas Iscariot
Only Jesus could have shed tears with the largeness of His heart.
Still another is a poem with social awareness on smoking. ‘Cigarette’ starts with a woman again. The dreadful white whore is described thus:
A submissive white woman
Braving any weather
All for the kiss of manly lips
And a ruffian touch.
The poet knows that this kiss is of manly lips. But cigarette lovers are some women too as he described in the poem on the Italian belles.
Raja’s poems are mischievously humorous and titillating and concupiscent. Some may read bawdiness in them but the poet is strong in his own argument. Man’s enchantment for woman is not unnatural. Rabelais is not just ribald and then in each language in our country there our own tales, songs, jokes and poems. Our ancient Sanskrit poet Hala wrote Gaadhaa Saptashati which all knowledgeable readers cherish as wondrous writing even today in the age of computers. Bharat now called India has its own natural and much admired quality of ribaldry. Lasciviousness is not a virtue, true, but concupiscence is not always a sin. The highest reward for any poet is to understand his work first in the proper spirit. Raja has got the reward we can say quite high.
1. Raja P, For Your Eyes Only, Busy Bee Books, Pondicherry, 1997
2. Raja P, To The Lonely Grey Hair, Busy Bee Books, Pondicherry, 1997
3.Raja P, To Live in Love, Busy Bee Books, Pondicherry, 2003
4.Raja P and R.N. Keshari (Ed), Contemporary Indian English Poetry, Pondicherry, 2007