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A Butterfly Rides The Winds
by Prof. R. K. Bhushan
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[The Mind and Art of Dr. Rita Malhotra] 

The title must not be misconstrued in any way even by the remote stretch of imagination. My association with Dr. Rita Malhotra, a mathematician-poet, is very recent and I have found her prolific and abundant, very interesting to converse with on a variety of subjects, notwithstanding her shakiness in her ventures and frequently undervaluing herself, perhaps the modesty of the fair sex.

When evaluated fairly, her shakiness also appears to be a significant part of her envious level of proficiency, both as a teacher and a poet. Her creativity in poetry and her zealous participation in national and international poetry conferences, workshops and seminars have earned for Rita many laurels and have also added some feathers in her cap, if she wears it. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, French, Chinese etc. and they adore some reputed poetry anthologies also. Needless to say that Rita’s position among great pre-colonial and post-colonial Indian English poets like Sarojini Naidu, Toru Dutt, Kamla Das, Melanie Silgardo, Mamta Kalia, Eunice De Souza, Imtiaz Dharker, Sujata Bhatt etc. is secure. 

After reading her book-“I am not your woman and other poems”- I could not help reaching the conclusion. I found Rita touching upon the stark and stinking social realities, pleasant and refreshingly perfumed and colored love, passion, sex in memories, imprints and imagination perhaps and also observation. The rich and diverse variety of images becoming symbols and metaphors, simple and complex; her conscious use of small letters everywhere with absolutely negligible exceptions, lend unique force to her themes and stylistic devices and rhythmic tunes and tones. All poems are compact, compressed and short memorable lyrical pieces. I couldn’t decide easily on what aspect of Dr. Rita’s poetic accomplishment I should write till I remembered her poem, Silence (p64) which I found a poem of well-rehearsed parade of spontaneous reflections on the rhythm of dancing hues and fragrances, movements and sounds of all rich loveliness of creation. What a symphony of the spoils of moods, human and divine, authenticating the sanctity of life! She says:

“………………..
in the mirror of my eyes
beaming carnations
a riot of magic hues
roses blush wild as
the sea of red reflects
beautiful perfection
verdant blades in gentle sway
gold-winged butterflies
ride the winds………” Silence ( p 64)

Again Borrowed Bliss, simple, spontaneous and symphonic, is the poem of flights of a butterfly riding high on the highs, secure and ecstatic, viewing and reviewing, unscared and assured all the time. Its wings flap “above the ochre slopes”, “over desert hills” ,”over verdant forest pines” and then:

“I race past wayward winds
to join the night in revelry
I sway in a million golden shades….”
………………………………………
I commune with divinity

then fly back home
……………………….
into time’s open arms
into open dreams
with a share of borrowed bliss.” Borrowed Bliss (p58)

Thus the butterfly rides and rides into time and space, into dreams and desires, into society and its malaise, unrestrained and as long as she likes. It is from here that the poetry of Rita Malhotra is born, emerges or emanates. There is The sea within (p 65) which tells us about the poetry of interior landscape, interiorized to exteriorize her disturbed fathom. Rita’s concept of poetry is further clear when we read Poem and Poems ( pages 89&90). We learn that life is a disfigured poem with “the space between lines” and “the blanks between words” and these sing of love from where the ashes have been blown; blurred and bruised thoughts reject and abandon the pains of daily existence. However, as Rita tramples upon dry leaves and dead flowers, her emotions, delights, pains, concerns and reason express themselves in the incessant process of poetry. She says:

“ then fresh words appear
fresh desires grow

poems flow.” -Poem (p89)

Such a wonderful commencement of the process of Rita’s poetic creation reminds us of William Blake’s Introduction to Songs of Innocence when we read Rita’s Poems. Her range of poetry moves from the wealth and beauty of nature to the waste and barbarity of the nuclear age. Rita says-

“I plucked a poem
from the poetry tree
draped in rainbow hues,
……………………….
I reached for the second
that ran in feline leaps
…………………………..
the next one watched
snow-peaked heights
…………………………
so went on a poem-filled trek
through nature’s lavish bounty
……………………………….
sad lines echoed agony
spoke of monster-man
of nuclear war and ghoulish death,
of shells landing on bamboo groves
…………………………………………..
Chaos tore the heart.” Poems (p90)

That is how I thought of assigning this title to the article. This furthers my interest in studying the mind and art of Dr. Rita Malhotra. Her interest in poetic compositions is so ardent that sometimes I wonder how she finds time to fulfill her other personal and professional responsibilities and obligations. Dr. Rita has prodigious energy and enthusiasm to accomplish herself in whatever she chooses to take up. I have noticed that she has a strong urge to create challenging tasks and situations for herself and meets them with equal dignity, grace and success.

Some persons have the rare gift of crossing the boundaries of their chosen field and venture into another pursuit and that pursuit becomes their first love, though they honor their commitments to the chosen field also with unflagging zeal. The abilities and capabilities of such persons are further sharpened and these get a strong boost. Then the pursuit overshadows, if not eclipses, the chosen field. When these two strains are incompatible and the person concerned strains every nerve to reconcile the recalcitrant opposites, it consciously takes a heavy toll on the total personality. But unswerving resolve to pull through to push the pursuit to the pinnacles where the fresh glow of the each ray of the new dawn everyday welcomes and embraces the pilgrim when the fatigued pilgrim sits aplomb to relax and look back at the steep paths trodden with the abundant load of appreciation, praise and reward. Such a person is genius redefined leading the arts, pursuits and professions to the new horizons. Dr. Rita Malhotra scrambling for quite long against the odds and obligations of her life, profession and pursuit to show to the world that life has a concrete meaning, a noble purpose, charming dream, transcending vision and, above all, an aura of accomplishment. All lies compact before us in her ability to create and cope with challenges and to defeat them and still embracing them. This is done with the accuracy and exactness of mathematical calculations and certainties well observed, sensitively guzzled and artistically defined in her poetic creations. Rita says-

“we versify life
Bathed in its beautiful sufferings.” Images (p 65)

Where-

“kaleidoscope of dreams afloat,
Folded hands gently urge
“solitude” forsake me not.” Silence (p 64)

And also-

“the sea within churns
Frenzied foam-lined waves soar
Shivering, trembling.” The sea within (p65)

Yes, the poetry and the profession of Rita and also whatever she professes is “the sea within” which keeps on churning ever to whip up soaring, shivering and trembling frenzied foam-lined waves in their crystalline settlements on the vast infinite shores of her poetic activity. It is impressive splendid parade of the numberless small segments of a huge army out to celebrate the triumph of effort over ennui and existence. She says-

“she is victorious
yet defeated.” Masks (p67)
“to map the tomorrows
in fresh garden-green
optimism.” Memory Map (p66)

Dr. Rita is invincible in her impressions when she enjoys the delicacies of the lavish feast of life-

“I can feel the earth open wings
I feel the skies touch ground.” Feast (p68)

Rita assures us that life can be and will be a lavish feast only if it is cradled in Cupid’s arms; the trance is more lavish in such a mood. At the same time, her agony flutters her soul in Orphan (p 68). This is a poem of heart-felt concern, sympathy and worry which reveals the poet’s ever-alive humanity. The girl-child, an orphan-

“a frost-bitten flower”

is ready to plunge into her “turmoiled tomorrows”. It is highly suggestive and evocative. She expresses herself frankly and honestly and without any inhibition. This is a great quality of the artist and Rita boldly shares what she feels is the truth or the everyday reality.

What strikes the reader the most in Rita’s poetic endeavors is her painful concern for the wrongs and crimes inflicted on children, especially girls, and women whatever be their status. Dr. Rita’s attitude in this respect is sociological and humanistic. She is sensitive to the insensitivities of society against them in its delights in sexual exploitation, selling women in marriage or otherwise, child abuse, tragic plight of widows etc. The poet in Rita wakes up to a mission to threaten such a society with exposure and excoriating indictment. In most of her poems on this theme, we encounter situations which depict debasing and disgusting social realities in a variety of images to rouse the slumbering conscience of our daily world delighting in such wrongs and crimes and goes scot-free to mock at efforts and sanctions. In Child Rape, she portrays the rape of a child of seven staying home to look after the toddler while the parents were out to fight their battle of survival. Only a week ago, she had been admitted to school-

“to be distanced from
the indignity of existence….” Child Rape (p100)

Today, corpse’s clothing draped her white uniform the sight of which maddened the helpless mother whose laughter-

“echoes like strings of an instrument gone wild.” -do-

Dr. Rita, in a remarkably controlled emotion, tells that-

“injuries of time continue to be inflicted
claws of a diseased society continue to
advance, engulf and haunt.”

The last three words heighten and emphasize the tragedy that occurs day in and day out engulfing the prey in its pain and agony, slur and stigma, torment and haunting all the time to come. What deepens the tragic tension is that such situations are unstopped and unstoppable. Rita’s message is clear and loud and even the clogged ears open to hear its cry and shriek.

In Dawn, she says with still deeper concern and greater anguish-

“she dies everyday
broken columns of thoughts
bleed memories
time advances, reason returns……” Dawn (p98)

Rita’s poems are pictures painted still and which become movies in readers’ minds. Sometimes they look to be the picture story tests to the readers as candidates to jolt their unconsciously ignored or hidden or consciously concealed sensibilities. Children are sacrificed at the altar of gods; they suffer such atrocity where in the chaotic clanging of temple bells, we hear the prayer of a girl child. In Earthquake Images, this child –

“is devoured alive
to the will of gods.”

And-

“in tearful frenzy she digs
into the ruins of a home that was
to flush out memories, if not lives…” Earthquake Images (p96)

Rita’s concern for the indignities and inhumanities inflicted on girl children and widows are more conspicuous than her treatment of love, passion and beauty. Her own response is heart-rending and poignant, emotive and rhetorical, compassionate and captivating. She is quite emphatic in her revelations and , while doing so, her abundant use of the wealth of similes and metaphors turns out to be a force to reckon with. Girls are sold in marriage and their plight is rarely realized but Rita exposes the unabashed acts of people who are the shame of society without their realizing it. Rita says-

“virginity huddled in surrender
she is a fragile bloom, fresh
in a dark cellar.” Sold (p41)

Her marital happiness lost its glow and fragrance in the stinking and detestable, false and shallow, adoring preparations and the sharply contrasted surroundings wherein we hear her-“hapless screams” and become a living witness to-

“she had just lived her first death.” Sold (p41)

Dr. Rita is ironical and sarcastic to awaken the reader that in a country or society which makes tall declarations and professions regarding its high adorations and honor given to women, this is the most dehumanizing treatment given in reality. This is a daring exposition of the society with a double face and double standards. Dr. Lee Kuei-shien, a Taiwanese Poet says, “Dr. Malhotra is very sensitive in poetic imagination with a certain abstract thinking in combination with deep concern about social reality.”

In Cookie –woman, Dr. Rita acquaintances us with one of her master strokes when she uses stark, violent images and metaphors to design a woman’s most pitiable and most miserable condition. Man is a master-baker whose “chocolate and raisin-studded” shapeless mass is shaped by “the oven’s volcanic fury.” And-

“woman, born, reborn
and born again
all in one birth
a function of man’s desire.
………………………………
relished bite by bite until
dream defeated,
she is a shapeless mass once more.”

Man obviously treats woman only as an instrument of sexual lust and she is rendered hollow inside out. This deterioration of her charm and beauty into a horrifying and deadening lump of flesh with no freshness leaves her a psychological wreck wrecked into a living death. She tries to rejuvenate her lost glamour by external aids and flattering comments of hungry man but fractured forties can’t be shaped into angelic fourteen and she becomes a “sour-bellied whore”, to use Shakespearean expression. I wrote Mangled Wits on a similar theme-

“Man misguides me into doles
And the illusion of model roles.
Flooded with fairy thoughts
My head swims.
Tortures and disgraces
Shadow and haunt me.
My idolized image taunts me……….” 
-Mangled Wits( p10) in “Rustling Leaves”

Woman is the biographical sketch of a woman, her life of struggle, fierce and ferocious, like a river assuming countless shades and shapes with fickle twists and turns-

“ravages of time ignored,
she advances, relentless
a swelling surging ripening tide….”

to-

“exoand into an ocean
liquid arms extended
in welcome embrace
to prayers, sins, ashes and all.” Woman (p36)

This is the psychological and physical, emotional and eternally tender behavior of a woman in goddesses and a goddess in woman. Rita’s feministic concerns and sympathies bear a stamp of authenticity and genuineness. That is what assures her a place beside the eloquent proponents of the cause of respect, freedom and dignity of woman from birth to the end of her life.

Although she has not fixed the responsibility for such a sorry mess on any one or system, yet it is obvious that the paramount position of man and the resultant male-chauvinism are squarely to be blamed. What hurts us more is not the hurts and bruises he inflicts on woman but his delight and his Mephistophilian mock while so doing and after the damage with no sense of remorse. Perhaps that is the reason that we all and the law are the mute spectators to ever-rising graph of such wrongs and crimes in the land of Savitari and Sita, Durga, Lakshami and Saraswati and Kali etc.

In Mirror, Rita uses a more brutal image to depict a woman’s position-

“she is a mere cog
in the wheel of repression.” Mirror (p84)

And in Brothel Queen, she looks at this atrocity from another angle “angel of darkness”,

“ambushed by illicit desires
men, who move from
the powerless wife
to the powerful prostitute….”
“she is my defeated self.” Brothel Queen( p71)

In Unwed Mother, Rita portrays another sadder side of a woman’s life whose-

“hurt never lasts
grief never lasts
only memories do.” Unwed Mother ( p30)

We read more poems on these burning issues pertaining to the actual status of women in our society that adore millions of pages in literature, sociology, law, womanology and feministic studies, may be to enjoy wah wah and to be in the swim, but Rita doesn’t seem to have any such intentions. Her soul-stirring message is conveyed in Child Prostitute (p 16 ), Child Bride (p23), Widow (p 59) etc. are more devastating in this respect. Widow is a painful and poignant poem of the tragic plight of a widow helplessly trapped in the messy and sticky religious corruption where-

“unholiness emanates from
the holy city of pilgrimage and prayers.” Widow (p59)

She helplessly endures the feasting “animal eyes” of the vultures around and feeding them with “her sadness-nest”. The poem is full of live images richly wrapped in right and appropriate words invested with meanings that are a soulful delight of poetry. Child prostitution is a social evil, a crime, a slur on the guardian angels of society, an economic necessity that work at delicacy and decency. Child Prostitute is marked by artistic bluntness, naked images, helpless surrender to inhuman and detestable exploitation in utter social and moral degradation. The poem is a protest and also a high-sounding appeal to the slumberous conscience of society that happily allows it. In Child Bride, Rita’s artistry is at work more artistically. The title elaborates the situation in a straightforward manner wherein she tells us about life without love, passion without love, desire without love, marriage without love; all love hinges on- “the pungent smell/ of loveless desire” where “the music of/her kaleidoscopic glass bangles” breaks into the ruin of thousand colored fragments and remnants. Rita deserves to be decorated for espousing and relentlessly taking up the cause of feminism, femininity and womaninity. 

If Rita has an enduring passion justice to women in all walks of life so that they also feel that they are an indispensable and integral part of the evolution in this New Age, she is not without passions that are elemental and essential to feel life, fulfill life and initiate the dawn of happiness to enthuse the environment with brightness. Such poems are also her “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and rarely “emotions recollected in tranquility”. Perhaps she can’t escape from her personality and to design “poetic truth” and “poetic beauty”, she knows that poetry has to be “a turning loose of emotions” also. Sometimes. In Love, a poem of-

“reckless passion on rampage
the raving flames are red
as we make love” Love (p17)

because- “I am the proud canvas
on his easel
splashed in rainbow hues
of his proximity” Love (p17)

One is a short , simple lyric of deep passion wherein the poetess feels-

“you are happiness
you are love
inseparable, you and I…….” One (p28)

and in very fine, ornate and reflective metaphors, great signs of her poetic maturity, inspite of the “green minds”, Rita says-

“let dark green minds
dark as deep wells
sing their hate songs
we shall hum only anthems.” One (p28)

What an artistic linguistic twist! A reminder of Frost’s “Stopping By Woods.” Even Peter Thabit Jones, Editor, the Seventh Quarry, Wales, U.K. has observed-“Malhotra’s poems, often compact, display what the American poet Robert Frost referred to as “a careful casualness.”……It is through her poetic voice, honest, delicate, intelligent, individual yet universal that arrests the reader and leaves him or her with something truly profound and lasting.”

Storm, a well-conceived short and tender love lyric, is suggestive and evocative; the very title itself is a poem. It does raise a storm in the tranquil hearts-

“love trembles
breasts burn with
autumnal passion
seraphic glow on lily face…..”

and “fragrance of a promise
fills the air
as carnations open petals.” Storm (p29)

These are highly sensual images which hold a powerful appeal to the eye, ear, sight and smell without any oblique reference. Similarly, after storm, there is Tempest in which-

“the mirror co-operates
as she stands disrobed
wearing only his love…” Tempest (p45)

After this, what happens is a delectable experience when body and soul meet and unite and achieve the trance of heavens-

“night traverses the highway of rapture
stars linger to let love fulfill itself
then reluctantly grew dim
the song of dawn
sings a lullaby to them” Tempest (p 45)

Browning says in “The Last Ride Together”-
“Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?”

Yes, when the stars also grow dim, though in utmost reluctance, the fresh song of dawn sings a lullaby to the lovers rolling in the ultimate bliss. Well done, Rita! Only Keats could create it to the level of consummation! In Kiss, Dr. Rita tells us about the miracle of kiss in completely overwhelming bliss. There is no need for preparation; it is the first kiss is highly inflammable. Of course, the firsts in life have charming memories, even beyond the grave. The short, delicate and violent lyric has a direct and dramatic opening-

“the first kiss sets them ablaze

…………………………….
two enslaved bodies
passion chained
one wild rhythm
the flood of fire surges
through numerous mystery-bonds
untamed, unashamed.’ Kiss (p52)

The next stanza is meant seriously to be enjoyed and experienced otherwise don’t read it! This reminds us of Keats’ “Ode to Psyche and “Eve of St. Agnes”. These emotional stirrings and passionate arousals must throw us into-

“unbridled ripples of ecstasy”

till the flame ebbs in “the ocean of dark damp desire” and “cupid’s eyes fall in deep sleep.” After reading Rita’s protests against crimes against children, women and widows and appeals for social respect, dignity and freedom untroubled and unmarred by advances and overtures, when we read her love songs and lyrics to be sung and relived, we are oblivious of what the hell goes around and these lyrics mesmerize the reader and also disturb to the very essence. 

Other mild doses in different ways can be had in Plea, Picture Perfect, I am not your woman, Desire, I do not smell of dead flowers, Funeral, House and Home, Void, Cyber-Love, Feast, Ameena, Belonging, Wine-sweet etc. Dr. Rita Malhotra plays different tunes on the instrument of love like Spenser, Donne, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Morris, Lawrence and Yeats. However, her love lyrics are short enough to reveal the subject and she is unconventional in her treatment, images, metaphors and devices. At first reading, one may not be prepared to believe that Rita is a love poet of this stature. Ruth Wildes Schuler, Editor, Prophetic Voices, U.S.A. has rightly said, “Rita Malhotra’s poetry explodes with passion and beauty. Even the darkest despair lightens under the magic of her pen. Metaphors dance through raging storms and sunsets to quicken the reader’s heart. Here is an unforgettable poet.”

Dr. Rita, like the American poet, E. E. Cummings, seems determined not to use capital letters in her poems. May be the titles of the poems and the use of ‘I’ are the sole exceptions. I told her once to remove these exceptions totally from her poems. She thought that my simple suggestion was deceptive. But I convinced her in all honesty. Hopefully she remembers. Even if she doesn’t, she has ensured for herself a place among the immortals of Indian English Poetry and can be indisputably ranked among the moderns of the moderns in her rationale, spirit and content and device of poetry. Some greater than herself have been genuinely inspired to translate her poems into French, Chinese, Spanish etc. and she deservingly is an honorable guest at national and international poetry festivals, workshops, seminars, and even, poetry lectures and evenings. How does she have such a poetic strength to endure that much load with all the mathematics around? A lavish poetic play of life’s mathematics with everyday realities!

September 27, 2009

More by : Prof. R. K. Bhushan

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