Anand Kumar, Eerie and Holy, Authorspress, ew Delhi, 2014, paperback, 148 pages, Price Rs 295/- $14/-
“The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.” — William Shakespeare
Good old bard of Stratford included many possibilities but poets have been going on bringing out new colours, new rhythms, new feelings, procrastinations and new devices of stimulating, captivating expressions. The one under this study has tried to set the Thames on fire. Read how.
‘Eerie and Holy’, by Anand Kumar chairing the department of Reproductive Biology in All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Fellow of the National Academy of medical Sciences, is unique. Here is book a tangled web of many things, objects, feelings and experiences, eerie, holy spiritual, otherworldly, sublime and mysteriously, refreshingly, enchantingly and frightfully new. Based firmly on mighty, florid, intellectuality – sometimes replete with mysticism, Sri Aurobindo is quoted as Foreword and Epilogue.
Poetry is not always a song or plain statement. A poem could be a conundrum, a mystifying expression, a trickster’s exhibition of a sleight of hand or a saint’s declaration. Newfangled things coming up fade away very soon and disappear. But Anand Kumar’s imagination expressed in words sinks deep in the reader’s mind and makes him/her think of things, situations, feelings and occurrences again and again sometimes suddenly opened up with a scalpel without any anaesthesia.
A poem is one but the opinions on that may be myriad: this is because good poetry lends itself to feelings galore and opinions not always the same. In the text the opinions (of seven – three women and four men – at the first page back) are a case in point. A deeply revered writer, Manoj Das (the work is dedicated to him), thinks of the book as moonlit valley, the renowned danseuse Sonal Mansingh is struck dumb with flat-footed epiphany in a single poem, and artist Aparna Caur is captivated by the uncommon visuals and the colours red, black and silver hovering over the verses.
Philosopher Christopher Macann (who edited the mss) sees in the book the poet’s attempt at exploring uncanny relation between the eerie and the holy, Eminent Delhi poet H. K. Kaul is happy seeing the music and mystery in the tapestry of this unusual work. Playwright Avijiit Dutt opines that the poet’s image taps in to the universal consciousness and opens to the wellspring of memory. Well-known poet Anamika remembers Blake and feels in this collection a meditation on the ironies of the contrary states of mind fluttering in search of a luminous centre. Opinions may come pouring in from various readers when imaginative exploration and exegesis come up in various explications of this captivating book.
Some of the poems in this collection appeared earlier in journals like The Apple Tree, The Screech Owl or in this poet’s own collection Opium Den, 2011. Poets are autocratic says rightly the Sanskrit declaration nirankushah kavayah, suggesting also elephants defying goads. This collection has ten parts each having three, four, five, six, seven or nine poems. Explanation of logistics is best postponed.
By way of ‘apologia’ the poet wrote about his concept and performance in poetic expression in his Poet’s Note.
I dabble with words
Create undefined structure
That’s certainly an art.
He is straight forward and self-effacing too.
Here is his pronouncement about himself:
At best, a seer of occult images,
A wanderer in the perfumed garden
Without discipline or a poet’s obligation.
After completing the (surely slow) reading of the book, the reader would consider the statement a matter of humility. What this poet writes is true of many a poet, for none accepts fetters and limits called boundaries. The joyously contented reader of this poet would say: others abide our question but Anand is free.
The first part ‘Holy’ is the composition of devout pen craft. ‘The One and the Many’ is holy in that it is an expression of the ultimate and everlasting truth – sarvam brahma mayam. Oneness in many and many in oneness is monism. The imagery and symbolism are relevantly truthful and inherently devout too.
Unfurl from the rhizome;
Twigs, like turtle’s limbs
Retract into a stone;
The pendulum swings
Up there, down here;
The nut and the tree
Run into one another:
And the conjunction
Are but one
At their beginning,
At their end.
(The One and the Many, pp.19-20)
The poet quotes durga saptashati and explicates that ‘vidya’ and ‘bhranti’ are one – both being the qualities of the Mother. In the same tenor he writes ‘God’, ‘Kaali’, and ‘Shiva’ and “Beauteous Tides: An Ode to the Ubiquitous Woman’ are all closely related as devotional paeans. Kaali, the one thirsty for blood of the veil ones, is a compassionate mother first. Shiva is hidden, unknowable, absolute reality intoxicated in bliss. His is the universe.
He benevolently distributes
Failure or success to each
In their pursuit of good
And the glory of evil.
(Shiva: In the Shroud, p.24)
Ma Durga is omnipresent and the poet describes Her person right from feet to forehead and head. Her all-pervading presence is a matter of explicit faith. In the invocation at the end the prayer is this, a devout submission.
Bestow the vision
Of your* beauteous form.
(“Beauteous Tides: An Ode to the Ubiquitous Woman’, p.30)
The demonstration of your* supreme might!
Was it your puissant choice?
(‘My God! p.31)
(*Not using the capital before pronouns for the divine is the poet’s prerogative.)
Explaining a fact may be easy but putting across a powerful feeling in words is not. The poet’s feelings, many a time, cannot be put across in vocabulary, which is not limitless like fancy or thought. Sometimes it is for the reader to piece out the feeling.
‘The Truth and the Lie’ is a case in point:
In the twilight
When a fact seems a dream
And dream a fact
Which one is the truth,
And which is then* phantasm?
(Inversion denied by the poet.)
(‘The Truth and the Lie’p.33)
The devout reader while reading and thinking about these poems remembers the grand declaration, mahaa vaakya, in Chandogya Upanishad sarvam khalvidam brahma.
The second part is ‘Love and Passion’ – which has six poems. ‘Un-worded Punctuations’ is a serious poem with a difference. Ideas, feelings and fancies come and go: they are all un-worded punctuation marks and unlinked words.
For you, only you, know
Your unlinked letters
In the turbulent sheet of space
Flowing across the marks.
(‘Un-worded Punctuations’, p.37)
‘A Ship’s Song to the Water of a Volcanic Island’ is full of rich and captivating images. The ship sings:
Around your crown
Hiss at winds from the sea;
You look ever,
Ever more angelic
Even after an aeon.
The ship wants to go again and again for
Gorgon isn’t around
That I must turn back
Once and twice
And says at the end
I ride the tide across the horizon
Merrier than the sheep (sic) flying onto the sea,
Sadder than boats at the sea’s last post.
‘A Ship’s Song to the Water of a Volcanic Island’, p.39-40)
Bringing in Gorgons of Greek mythology is delightful for those who appreciate the poet’s interest in the mythology and the lore of different countries. ‘Lover’s Silence’ brings in the painter Leonardo da Vinci, the diviner’s Delphic oracle and the distant Aegean Sea – all can be deciphered only by the cognoscenti. The note at the end is a good help for the unknowing. ‘Hope I’ is about the estranged who separated their ways, their dreams crumbling like a house of cards but still there is hope, for, as another poet says, is a thing with feathers:
A wind will blow,
Fallen cards will rise,
Sand-boats will sail on tides;
Prodigals will return
To the abandoned heart;
We shall greet each other
As aliens, yet familiar
Under the déjà vu of love.
(Hope I, p. 44)
The last is fascinating and suggestive – true love never dies. It is significant that this was published in Opium Den taking the reader, as it did the poet, to the region of imaginative fervour. In fact it is the poet’s forte.
In the third part ‘Eerie’ ‘Tantra: Deepavali at Manikarnika’ is fabulous in thoughtful observation and bringing in the Styx, the Pharaoh, Salome and Herod. The illusions rouse the reader’s imagination carrying him/her to Salome’s intelligent demand and John’s head coming floating. Christian lore, ghosts, Stygian nooks, Pharaoh’s procession and alongside Manikarnika Ghat, Shivaganas take the eerie to its forbidding heights of thought, belief and action. Was it a mere coincidence that the poem was written on Deepavali! All the other poems in this part are things eerie. Writing eerie parables is no mean achievement. We are told in ‘Locks for the Key’ that the key fixed the crow’s sight and stiffened its neck. The poet makes a collage of Dadaism (arrangement of unrelated objects and words in an illogical fashion), Surrealism and Salvador Dali. These are workings of the unconscious mind synthesized with the conscious. Here there is an attempt to liberate the mind from logic and even reason. The mystery is snapped in the note at the end about the graves of the Sultans of Delhi. The poem was first published in Creative Mind.
He* forged the locks,
But not enough complicated
As the one he wanted
For this artefact.
(* The crow)
(‘Locks for the Key’ p. 58)
‘Wisdom’ is the fourth part has only four poems. Knowledge and wisdom are dimly related but are two things miles apart. Here is the poet’s assessment of knowledge:
The nude book says,
‘This is the sum
Of your quest,
If you have understood
Gold, purple and red
Lay strewn on the path.
The poet’s mood is the just the same in the next poem ‘The Book Shelf’ but definitely more pungent. The oblique references to Greece, Rome, Columbus, Cleopatra, Darwin, Tagore, Nostradamus make the reader rethink about his idea of books.
Freed of meaning,
Shipped on silverfish
Fragmented letters sink
In the Atlantis
Worms germinate in posterity
With new leaves on a fresh tree
Seemingly a new discovery
Of ships in the Aegian,
Columbus on waves
Physics and politics.
(‘The Book Shelf’ pp.66-67)
This erudite creation of meaningful poetry makes the up and coming aspirants delve the depths of the muse that they must expand their areas of knowledge though book shelves may not help the job. The poem ‘The Bat’s Search for Light’ is again a sharp dig at mere reading. When the druid offers a phial (of light) that bat thinks of its tumbler. The druid offers the bat a river. The druid stretched his hand but the bat hops back into the bookshelf saying:
‘Thank you, Wizard.
For now I think, just
A drop would do.’
What a great fable! the sincere reader would exclaim.
‘The Supramoral’ shows convincingly how morality is corruption of nature and God is over and beyond and absolutely amoral.
The fifth section ‘Maya’ with five poems ‘False Scare’, ‘The Blink and the Breath’, ‘Shangri-La’, ‘The Maya’ and ‘Wet Shadow’ are about the absurdity of thinking of reality for all is actuality and what matters is the uncommon common sense, right understanding and attitude. ‘False Scare’ is a word of good advice for being fearless:
Once there was a tremor and the poet tells us that though the furniture rocked it did not fall on his head:
It seemed a benign earthquake
When the earth does a wet-dog-shake
For sheer fun.
(A doc’s use of benign is against malignant)
‘The Blink and Breath’ is again a piece of advice, an assurance. Everything disappears in a blink and even breath is that:
With that last puff
And with it
The Almighty’s universe.
(‘The Blink and Breath’, p.76)
‘Shangri-La’ assures us that even time would lose its puissance. Things change, grow and simply disappear. The imagined paradise would come. All is a matter of thinking:
Eternity has arrived.
Shangri-La has set in.
‘The Maya’ is about the seeming, about real and unreal, a poem which a word picture of illusion, fascinating, wondersome. All, everything, appears and just fades. This could be taken as a story-poem too: Salmon raining the street and – poor old women following a VIP’s cortege loot and chop – fresh fish put on sale.
Was soon forgotten
As they noisily bargained
… …. ….
all others on road
were sketched on the air
by a stub of kohl.
Only this poet could have ended a poem on the subject thus. Kudos – sorry a cliché nowadays – to the poet’s technique. The poem was published first in The Screech Owl, Sussex UK. 2013.
The sixth section, ‘Love and Passion’ is a repetition of an earlier title containing seven poems. The repetition is justifiable for these are elemental. ‘Touch’ is expressive of passion communicated to the beloved and ‘Keep in Touch’ is about that
Into a green glow
On the head
Of the yellow butterfly.
Keep us in touch.
More than one.
(‘Keep in Touch’p.85)
There are myriad ways of communicating the feeling and ‘Love’ is a short poem which declares that it is delusion of mind and an illusion of the eye – which is true too. ‘The Stair Case’ takes up the feeling of going up and down. First the first:
Arms wrapped up shoulders
Bosom pressed breast
Oozed fluid smelled
Sweeter than sweat.
(The Stair Case, p.87)
There is a very sensitive expression of feeling in ‘You’ about the sweet heart in the statement that she treads like memory untouched, unheard and un-shared likened to a dream hung over the parapet. In ‘Transformation’ the muse is remembered describing the passion enjoyed by organless (with no musical instruments) gods in eternal and endless joy. ‘Birth Days’ is a special poem, a very special thought. There is a rhetorical question and a request at the end:
Would each whorl
Before the last tie
And creases of the time after,
On the celebratory fire rising to the heavens
Carrying good wishes
Of dear friends?
Would a birthday come again?
Friends, if you love me
Wish me the end.
In ‘Love and Passion’ the concoction is a new way, perhaps, of paying old debts. The feeling towards love poetry in the earlier section is the same, perhaps for both those satiated and insatiate.
The seventh section – call it a part if you will – is ‘Places, Cities, Sea and Volcano’ for which the poems in the next part, ‘Death of Time’, ‘India Gate’, ‘The History’ and ‘Reincarnation’ could be added for quick summing up. All these display emotional exuberance at times sentimental. Here are a few examples:
For my city
Neither the sky
Nor water, to fill colours in.
Konarak, the Sun temple and Chandrabhaga are presented in the title with the river’s name:
Loudly in silence,
Silver manes of the dark waters flare,
Of the stone horses
Holding the sun
In its temple.
(‘Chandrabhaga’ p. 98)
‘Death of Time’ is a picture of dismal destruction:
Vesuvius belching lava in the air,
Pets, men, the city,
Still in a photo-frame
On the wall of an empty room
Without a storyteller
Or a listening silence
In the lost eternity.
(‘Death of Time’p.101)
‘India Gate’, the monument, a must visit for tourists, in Delhi is a picture of pathos. The great soldiers of supreme sacrifice are remembered with tears welling up in the eyes:
In silence they cry together
For the brutal end
Of those who went to earn
Fame and fell.
(‘India Gate’, p.105)
The irony in ‘earn’ is perhaps unintended.
‘The History’ is a poem with a note on the instability of human glory. The composition is after visiting the tombs of Delhi sultans, of their pathetic ends:
A grey kite, a wild thought
Swoop down in the wilderness,
‘Necessity delivers Alamgirs to dust.’
‘Reincarnation’ is penned after seeing Safdarjang’s tomb:
Like the spiky hair on the head
Of the newborn chick
Blighted, bald twigs
And a lone hawk
Join the melancholy
Of the nawab’s tomb.
The eighth section is ‘Eerie’ a second time with nine more poems. The poet is fascinated with things, sights and feelings eerie. Here is a short and scintillating poem in imaging the feeling:
A deity oiled in vermilion,
With sixty-five sharp teeth,
A huge canine at the centre,
Holding arms in thirteen hands
In an eighty-three columned
Grants power to kill
The rage is in the tyrant who pierces the dreamer’s chest to complete a ritual. The tale is captivating, for the speaker is fearless – neither bleeding nor dead but he grows taller.
The oversized power of scimitar
Made impotent by its own rage
Like a giant severed
From its feet of clay.
‘The Spinning Wheel’ is a mystery poem. The very first line reminded me of Penelope but this has nothing to do with that queen or her lord Odysseus. Here is a different story, the tale of a queen with a spinning wheel:
If he ever wishes to break her spell
He must battle
To win the loom
And the wheel.
He must give up
And return at the end of the day
To the step-well
Sunk ever deeper into the night
He wanted to escape.
(‘The Spinning Wheel’p.116)
There is another eerie poem this time very short;
Leafless dead trees
When the moon
Over the cenotaph.
(Horror Show, p.119)
‘Canonisation’ is the portrait of another weird queen:
The monster was canonised as a saint
In the chronicle of her religion.
A headless existence
Ruling a nation
With limbs only
Was proof enough.
Thank God! The poet said it was a dream/vision in the dawn hours of the early morning.
‘Hope II’ has just a great magician in it: Houdini.
Houdini in a box under deep waters
Without the key, without his power,
Harbouring only a vague hope.
(HOPE II, p.125)
And then there is hope radiant:
Someone will carbon-date sorrows, fears,
And joys of the extinguished cinders
Blooming in nascent lives,
Fat from the bank of the river.
(‘Hope II’, p.125)
The ninth part ‘Art of God’ has a brain illumining vision in ‘A Vision’:
(‘A Vision’, p.129)
The tenth part ‘The Last Mile’ starts with ‘Dushyant’, the legendary father of our Bharatvarsha. The poet, the creator ends the ancient tale he set out to unravel:
Shakuntala and her son cried foul at Dushyant,
At the injustices offered by the holy trinity
Of man, time and God.
(‘Dushyant’ p. 138)
One of the good old greats of our poets Kalidasa is remembered when the knowing ones read this.
Towards the end of the collection there is this poem, ‘This Night is Too Dark’, a poem written under a spell of dyspnoea with high overtones:
This night is too dark.
It reeks of death.
Under its own shadow it hears
The cart creaking out of the inn,
Carrying frightened proletariat
To the slaughter house
To meet their end.
(‘This night is Too Dark’p.139)
‘Styx’ published first in The Apple Tree is about the river in Christian belief where the aliens stretch their arms to help the speaker of the poem arrive into the netherworld. Here’s speaker’s reply:
Let me travel the short moment slow.
‘The Door’ is about the book-shelf/library/study of the people behind creaking doors under cobweb shrouds.
Wrapped in neem leaves
To keep them green;
… ….. ..
(‘The Door’ p. 143)
‘The Damned” is the last poem, very easily the most tragic, sad and pathetic. The Jews and the Holocaust are too well-known to be explained, for the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis under Adolph Hitler.
‘Eko rasah karuNayeva’ said our Bhavabhuti, making aardrata the diadem of poetic imagination. The feeling is both nectar and potion of literary creation. The sixty-four poems in this collection would stand testimony to the development in fresh thinking. Anand Kumar’s collection of poems deserves high praise. He would surely come up high with his uniquely sensitive poetry.