Book Reviews

Karamat Ali Karamat: Selected Poems

Karamat Ali Karamat:
Selected Poems of Karamat Ali Karamat
Translated from Urdu by: 
Jayant Mahapatra & Others

Educational Publishing House, Delhi. 2012
Pages 112 | Price Rs 150 | US$10

Outpourings of a sensitive heart
Here is a book of unique poetry aglow with reflections of a deeply churned soul, ruminations of an inquiring mind, sieved observations of an analytical brain, logical insights of a keen intellect, and outpourings of a sensitive heart. It is a compilation of 28 selected poems originally written in Urdu by Karamat Ali Karamat, here translated into English by 10 eminent writers – Jayant Mahapatra, A Russell, Rajinder Singh Verma, Laxmi Narayan Mahapatra, Prafulla Kumar Mohanty, P Asit Kumar, Sailendra Narayan Tripathy, Kamal Masoompuri, Zohra Jabeen and MA Ahad. No wonder, the poems in translation have a smooth and compulsive flow.
Dr Karamat Ali Karamat, an academic in mathematics (retired in 1995) is a renowned poet and critic in Urdu literature, besides being a competent translator, having won the Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize 2004 for rendering Sitakant Mahapatra’s Odia collection of poems Shabdara Aakasha into Urdu.
The distinction of Karamat lies in moving far beneath the meretricious into the deeply contemplative and meditative. In the essentially Indian ethos of spiritual enquiry, he raises pointed metaphysical questions.
My own self
Who am I? ...
I questioned myself which part is called Karamat
My body? Or my soul? ...
That there was another “I”
Inside “I” of myself, which
Makes me to (sic) say ‘Your name is Karamat’
And This “I” is a drop of that ocean.
~ (I wish if...)
The Sanskrit verse “Kastvam ko-aham kuta aayaatah” by Surendra, a disciple of Adi Sankara immediately wafts into the mind.
Whether it is the “I” or “you” or “it” everything is a product of agony. Be it the childbirth, a finished ornament of gold, a piece of wooden furniture, the yield of a crop, the best in the civilisation and culture, or even spiritual or mystical elevation, we know they are all but a result of sweat and struggle, clash of minds or even clash within the same mind. After all, life is a no-pain no-gain formula. That’s why Karamat calls it oxymoronically “ecstasy of agony.”
He, who’s devoid of the ecstasy of agony
Ignorant of the thrill of the heart’s wounds,
Tell him, the world’s come from agony.
~ (Agony)
And having taken birth, humans, endowed as they are with higher mental faculties, should not simply vegetate but meditate on higher things. Whether we grasp the life’s aetiology or not, we should keep moving with unquestioned dutifulness. To drive this point home the poet brings in the analogies of a few cosmic constituents – clouds,  raindrops, breeze, saplings and stars – in what may be called a healthy and dynamic philosophy of life.
The life of man trapped in the workshop
Of present and of past
Keeps moving night and day
Towards a destiny never known
And it will never know
What logic prods it on:  
Yet it treks the way and it must.
~ (The Mystery Not Yet Unveiled)
However much we try to fathom the meaning of the world, it continues to be elusive and enigmatic; we will just be caught in an endless cycle of conjectures and back-to-square-one dialectic. The poet relentlessly probes from one layer to another only to agree that life is just an unsolved mystery.
Then unfold me please the mystery of ‘world’
Best you know, it is naught but a maze of ‘riddles’
~ (Maze of Riddles)
Yes, “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” adapting the words of Winston Churchill, but he adds “perhaps there is a key.” What is that key? Just press forward tirelessly.
I walked and walked tirelessly
Till I got beyond
The bounds of my imaginings and thought.
~ (The Story of the Way)
Countless of humans have tried to delve into the mysteries of creation for aeons. That’s why we had the Ulysses of Tennyson who resolved “To follow knowledge like a sinking star / Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
But then the life’s walk can’t always be a vista of roses, it could be pretty much rugged. That shouldn’t deter us from action, a well thought out action, whatever the consequences for which we alone are responsible. In the life’s voyage, sometimes, we may have even to plough our lonely furrow. See how strikingly Karamat clothes this idea:
You are a corpse which carries
Its coffin on its shoulders.
~ (Who says?)
To be tough in the odyssey of life we should train our entire psycho-somatic system – body, mind, heart and soul, keeping in view the mind-over-matter phenomenon. We should consciously develop a positive spirit which is readily infectious. Otherwise the negative emotions infect and inflict us. Karamat’s poem “Void within and without” reflects these ideas. If there is a void within us, the world without also will look void. If the mind is happy, it finds its happiness resonating in every outside physical or natural phenomenon or activity, as Andrew Marvell in his ‘Garden’ has beautifully put it: “The mind, that Ocean where each kind /Does straight its own resemblance find.”
Some of the poems are subliminal and multilayered. There are also possibly cases of spiritualisation of the materialistic (Homeless at Home). Poems like “Word Drops” have rich metaphorical fluency to describe the course of ‘words’ by using a mist-to-sea spectrum of analogies.
Notwithstanding what Sitakant Mahapatra says in the Preface, “Judging translation of poetry becomes difficult, as here in my case, if one does not know the original language,” the poems do offer a smooth, unimpeded and enjoyable reading to the general readers whether they know Urdu or not, since these poems are mostly based on intrinsic merit and richness of thought and not on verbal flourish or jugglery.
At the same time, the poems are not devoid of euphony. For example, in the poem “The Mystery Not Yet Unveiled” each stanza ends in a lyrically melodious refrain. So also there are a few alliterative flashes like “dew drops dazzle in the dawn” (The Story of the Way).
If at all some of us feel a certain difficulty in comprehending some of the lines or parts of the poems as it happens with many good poems of many good poets, it’s not because of recondite language but because of the profundity of thoughts expressed in a succinct manner. And it will be worthwhile for the reader to endeavour a bit to rise to the level of the poet’s perception.
(Originally published in The Hans India, June 9, 2013)


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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