Studying the Idea of Spirituality in the poetry of Dr. J S Anand
Dr. J S Anand is a prolific writer and poet at the same time. He is an internationally known scholar, poet environmentalist, philosopher, spiritualist and critic. Beyond Life Beyond Death is a fantabulous poetical corpus of splendid poems of Dr. J S Anand, an award winning poet of contemporary Indian writing in English. He has won several awards like -Dr. M. S. Randhwa Award given to him by Prof. Mohan Singh International Foundation for what he has contributed in the field of Art and Culture of Punjab. He has also got the International Education Excellence Award-2006,Best Educationalist Award-2008 and Penguin Rising Personalities of India Award-2009. There are so many other awards. Apart from it, he is the founder co- chairperson of World Foundation for Peace and a member of a hundred Poetry societies across the world. He is the Head of Creative Impulse: International Journal of Poetry and national vice president of international Human Rights Observatory [HQ Lebanon] as well. He has been the Member of Senate and Syndicate of Punjabi University, Patiala, and Member of Board of Studies at Guru Kasha University, Talwandi Sabo.
Dr. Anand was born in 1956 at Alamgir, Distt. Ludhiyana Panjab. He proved himself to be an unusually brilliant and devoted student from the earliest student career. He got his early education at his parental village Longowal (Distt. Sangrur, Punjab) and graduated in the first division from S. D. Govt. College, Ludhiana. At the Punjabi University, Patiala he took his Master Degree by securing the second position. He was conferred his doctoral degree by Panjab University, Chandigarh for his thesis on “A Comparative Study of Mysticism in the Poetry of Walt Whitman and Prof. Puran Singh.” He started his professional career as a Lecturer of English at the GGN Khalsa College, Ludhiana in 1979. After that in 1981 he joined Guru Nanak College, Kiilianwali and worked there till 2000. Thereafter, he had a successful teaching career at Department of English at D. A. V. College Bathinda, the institution he came to head in 2004 and retired as its Principal in 2015. Presently he is serving with the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee as founding Principal of its prestigious educational institution Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa College, Bhagta Bhai Ka[Bathinda]. He is a great titanic personality who achieved a lot of respect and honour among the modern poets due to his continuous service and efforts in the field of literature.
J. S. Anand's career as a literary figure began with the publication of Confession of a Corpse, a collection of short stories, published by Writers Workshop, Kolkata in 1989. The whole body of his literary creation contains of about 34 books along with poetry, fiction, non-fiction and spirituality and criticism. His greatness has not been imposed on him. He deserves it by virtue of his performance as a poet. He is internationally published bilingual poet. A MILLION DESTINIES, BEYOND WORDS (2013), BLISS; THE ULTIMATE MAGIC (2007), THE APOCALYPSE (2013), THE MONSTER WITHIN (1991), I BELONG TO YOU (2011) are some of his significant woks. His works attracted international interest with the publication of some articles written on his creativeness by an Iranian scholar Dr.Roghayeh Farsi, from Neyshabur University. Bliss: The Ultimate Magic, is one of his major works which earned him worldwide fame and name. Impressed byits spiritual elements, Dr.Roghayeh Farsi have compared Bliss? with The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, in her article.
He is a versatile poet with distinctive poetic quality who has contributed for some anthologies of international poetry and provided a global platform for the new poets. Besides it, he is still working as the compiler of some other anthologies. His recently published book is Creative Consciusness? which is the bedrock of his philosophical contribution to the theory of criticism: i.e. his theory of biotext. Poems included in Beyond Life Beyond Death are the reflections of the spiritually dead materialist's life. In this anthology a good number of poems have been discerned and identified and some of them are enumerated and discussed in this paper. Many of his poetical elements are indefinable. Materialist's life signifies an end of real life because modern age is the age of mental strife, sickness and divided aims. There is total breakup of old faith and tradition due to the impact of materialism. The poet ponders that the experience of anybody moments self-realization can never be revoked even by an age of scientific reason. In some poems the poet laments seeing materialist's apathy to the beauty of nature (one of the spiritual sources) on account of physical satisfaction.
Beyond Life Beyond Death symbolically discloses the petals of irony and philosophy of materialist's life in modern era by proving that modern man is spiritually dead. These poems are the outpourings of his practical savvy and the real vent of his inner soul and depth through which he succeeded to prove that modern man has enslaved to his desires and lust. Being in pensive mood the poet targets some evils pervading in contemporary society like mercantilism, depersonalisation, animalism and dehumanisation by depicting the philosophy of life, death, rise and fall of human nature, society, identity, and the most concerned passion of love. According to John Wilson he [J S Anand] is the "Most Readable Poet.” The views, phrases, or expressions used by the poet in these poems are the best stances of his ideology against the rapidly getting modernized society. It is significant amalgamation of J S Annand's varied personal experiences and vivid moods of love, joy, peace, sorrow and anticipation which paved the way of his spirituality.
The term spirituality is generally known as the quality of being concerned with the human spirit: The term spirituality has derived its meaning from middle French “spiritualite”, from Latin “spiritualitatem which means to concern with spirit”. In Biblical context, the term means being animated by God. The social meaning of spirituality is: “the ecclesiastical against the temporary possessions, the ecclesiastical against the secular authority, the clerical class against the secular class. “and psychologically its meaning is related to “the purity of motives, affections, intentions, inner dispositions, the psychology of spiritual life, the analysis of the feelings.” In Hindu philosophy, spirituality is defined as “spiritual practice (there are four ways of spiritual practice- Jnana Yoga (knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Karma Yoga (Works) Raja Yoga (contemplation and meditation) of one's journey towards Moksha, awareness of self, the discovery of higher truth, true nature of reality and consciousness that is liberated and contented.”
Guru Nanak described living an “active, creative, and practical life”of “truthfulness, fidelity, self-control and purity” as being higher than a purely contemplative life (Wikipedia) It is said that spirituality symbolises some practices including meditation, mindfulness, prayer, the contemplation of sacred texts, and one's inner development. Love and compassion are often described as the essential parts of spiritual development. But materialist possessions of these spiritual attributes.
In his Beyond Life Beyond Death, the poet expresses his laments seeing the pathetic condition of spiritually dead lovers of materialism. The book rhetorically begins with the poem the “INN “in which the inn symbolises to this world where man's coming and going in the manner; “weeping, We dawn / Crying withdrawn, and tears play an important role in expressing varied feelings of gratitude, pain, parting, grief and so on. To some extent, the poem seems didactic as the poet values spirituality by saying that people must focus on the deepest values and meanings of life by which they live. Their deeds while living in this temporary world lead them to the infinite divinity: An INN at the most, a short- living KISS this world is but a mixed BLISS.(Anand 14) He sarcastically says that materialist wants to ATTAIN everything but GOD. He perceives excited, gloomy angry and silent faces of unfulfilled desires “tears which contained crucibles of desires”(13) During their short or long stay in this INN, they must envision an inner path enabling them to discover the essence of their coming or existence: “that Columbus had, at last, been allowed/ to sail forth on a voyage of/ self-discovery.”(13)
All human beings come here with a certain aim of self-discovery just as Columbus had. It emphasises that everybody comes in this world for a temporary stay but with a meaningful purpose. Reminding on Lord Krishna's preaching in the Bhagwat Gita “the soul is immortal and perpetual it never dies” the “SELLER OF SOULS” represents a contrast that the soul of a materialist is dead like a robot that sees, hears but feels nothing. Hence the lack of spirituality disables the materialist to have the power of realization which is the medium of connectivity with God.
Being unaware of the value of spirituality, the poet calls all materialists: FAKE SOULS. Seeing there is no solitude, he laments by raising a question on the existence of soul: “Whose is this shadow?” The poet vehemently criticises the modern man's artificial soul and body because it is addressed as “it” not he or she) and suspects: Is it man's? /Why I doubt? it sees, hears, feels nothing.( Anand 15). It shows modern man is like robot without having emotions and feelings. In the opinion of Dr. Farsi “the word Salesman; this capitalization accords the status of the salesman the position of a prophet or even God”. Here, the poet criticises the dehumanized values on which modern man pays attention. Through his poetic device, he targets the social system which supports the spiritually barren world. Dr. Farsi aptly remarks; In depersonifictaion, Anand holds a dialogue with the dominant dehumanizing discourses of his context and thereby he attempts to convince the reader of the de-spiritualizing hold of marketization.
Different modes of depersonalisation abound in Anand's volume of poetry such as thingification, animalization, and bodification. “Seller of Souls”,the second poem of Beyond Life! Beyond Death!! (2001), challenges the market and marketization discourse. Being an emblem of Milton's Paradise Lost, the “Questionings” reminds us epical characters Adam, and Eve and Satan. Using the mode of comparison between the old and the modern generation, the poet expresses his grief for the lost glorious past: Yes I am less than Adam/ you are less than Eve/ and this earth is less than EDEN. The poet laments by saying The old generation(Adam and Eve) was in better condition than we (SUB- BEING) are because they had the sustaining power of Love: LOVE !thank God !(17) which “ SPARKS DIVINE.”(17) but in modern age” “ROMANCE has left its manly MANSIONS!” and Evil poisoned the sources of romance” (42). So they (materialists) are; perfectly polluted, rotten / and poisoned (17).
The damning impact of the industrial and scientific empire becomes evident when the poet writes; the DESTINY of a RESTLESS RACE. The materialist is the part of such a race that has no beginning and end: racing from nowhere/ perhaps to nowhere”. In this meaningless and aimless Race, they are working like machines by wasting their powers only for power and money and yearns; “to attain everything but GOD”(13) In this universe nothing has any existence but the soul so one must work to transcend one's soul by rising it from selfishness, sensual pleasure and worldly temptation in order to move towards god. Though materialist's soul ceased by the principles of materialism so he has given up all noble spiritual pursuits like: prayer to god, meditation etc. Physical and mental well-being and financial success are his priorities; these are all the cause of his spiritual death. These fake souls profaned the mysterious concept of God.
William Wordsworth also described this materialistic impact on modern men who have nothing to do with spiritual thoughts, beauty of nature and noble ideas. In his famous sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us” he writes: The world is too much with us; late and soon Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers, Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! (Sharma 148)
In Beyond Life Beyond Death describing life as a RACE, the poet says that materialist is ignorantly participating in a meaningless or aimless race by undertaking endless struggle for achieving worldly success and possessions. Hence, a race in which materialists are getting involved without gaining any tangible destination or conclusion. Many poets have made their observations on the materialistic life style just as famous critic; Matthew Arnold has expressed his grief towards this materialistic tendency of loss of faith in God or spiritual practices.
In “Dover Beach” he writes: …the world which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude nor peace, nor help for pain (Tilak122) Being spiritually dead, modern man himself has inherited this “DEVSTATED DEBAUCHED EARTH”(17). So he has been deprived of true love due to his notion of nullification towards Divine sources. The poet is right in his assertion that Satan should be happy now because he has succeeded in polluting the whole humanity.
In “The Human Cauldron” the poet has employed the title to focus readers' attention on modern man's sexual depravity due to which materialists are devoted to bodily wants and gratification through senses. “The Human Cauldron” shows the excessive sexualized materialistic society full of anxieties and worries where only their lust is “fuming and fretting” by making air hot, turning man into “a desire/ fire/ all over” (21) and EVERYTHING SEES/ Voluptuous scenes.(21). Rest, love, peace, comfort and alleviation have lost in-between the doctrine of strenuous life and the torturous fires of lust raging all around: BURN! BURN! BURN!!!/ BURN, O FIRE (21). The soul is bereft of the virtues and achievements of human life because; MAN is circumscribed/ by his BODY:/ IMPRISONED in his PASSION/ SEES not beyond the EYES;/ FEELS not beyond the BODY/ THINKS not beyond the BRAIN”(36); the materialist's limited power has disabled him to think going beyond his body or brain due to lack of introspection. A man s mind is regarded to be the dwelling place of the pious soul: Mind is a temple/ shorn of the idol/where is the incense gone/ where is the burning Jyoti?/fires around spin like missiles./ Eyes fixed in time and space/ craves for visions forbidden.(29)
A person is a thinking philosopher if his mind works in the proper direction but the materialist's mind has lost its right path into his worldly gains, losses, desires etc. Here, the poet distinguishes “Jyoti” from the “Fire”, symbolising the divine light and materialist's lust respectively. Materialism has filled his mind with the darkness of worldly desires and passions making the “lighthouse is dead” (25) where “The focus is gone” (31). In this state of the absence of spirituality (jyoti or Divine light), the materialist is leading a life of a spiritual monster having lost his proper shape or identity (real human): Eyes mingle with the nose/ which tells not/ where the mouth begins/ nor knows where the chin expires/ mind is a running despair./ body a lost channel./ A dark tunnel bereft of light/ life/ heaving contourless sighs/ in shapeless shadows.(31). He negates that nature and man's soul appears as the manifestations of the same universal soul. Place for silence and meditation is far from the limitations of the materialist; that's why the poet calls the materialist a frame having “an unreal head”(24). The materialist could not recognize with the life of the cosmos because of the want of spiritual light or introspection. The body and the soul work as the substitute for each other and Divinity nurtures both of them but now as “the focus is gone (31) hence, body has lost its substantial entity; there is only a shapeless shadow(body) in a dark tunnel bereft of light. The materialist doesn't have faith in religion and God as a result of which, the soul is suffering within the body.“The Lost” depersonifies the materialist by referring him as only a “frame”: “ON this real frame / who has hung / an Unreal head?” (24). X XX “Is this body / reduced to a lie? / No feet to stand on/ No head to be vaulted by?” (24). It puts a question mark on the materialist's identity or existence that lives in the state of delusions and confusions having: “a shady story / of a body / in confusions cast / in delusions lost / moving away away away / from itself” ( 24).
Spirituality is like a chain that links mortal to the immortal and soul to the divine soul. But unfortunately the original unit-oversoul-reflects itself into so many egoistic minds (materialists) that they cannot be gathered to be considered one. By comparing this universe with “The Eternal Fashion Show” the poet condemns depersonified tendency of materialist who hides his real personality throughout his life by putting a mask on his face and by covering his body with clothes. That's why they are spiritual monsters whose appearances are humanistic but their deeds are animalistic: “The chasers / exploiters / killers / abductors / cheats / swindlers” where no one values the human traits “The humble the meek the damned the gone to the wall the cheated looted abducted raped and ravished of love, faith, desire buried unceremoniously alive. (22-23).
The materialists have put on the mask of humanity but their souls are quite out of the grip of spirituality. So it is shocking that they: “…on move around, look, see, whisper talk, gesture and gyrate like models on the ramp as if in a trance propelled by some invisible hand impelled by some unknown wish (18) Their souls are governed by materialism instead of the divine rules. Deprived of their spirituality, they have no concern with human values; rather they remain UNCONCERNED (18) That's why materialists are spiritual monsters; their languished souls are captivated by the “amalgamation of bones, flesh and blood.”In this de-spiritualized state, soul is sleeping only death can wake it up; where is thy SOUL? I inquire. /SLEEPING?/ who shall it wake?? DEATH? (19). So the poet craves for death.
The one valuable thing in the world is the active soul. The active soul should not be allowed to become the slave of these ideas. The active soul seeks truth, speaks truth and creates truth. But for materialists, souls languish deep below”(19). Being spiritually paralysed, they have brought themselves to this devastated state deprived of inner peace that forms a foundation for happiness. In “The Hunter and the Hunted”, the poet categorises human beings into two parts to show the materialistic tendency of depersonification. One must have to choose “either good or bad” because; there is no third division: If you are not Guru Gobind Singh You must be Aurangzeb if you are not Udham Singh you must be General Dyer if you don't follow Gandhi you are a dead cat of Empire. But the materialist seems to choose the second category not the first one; for the modern world is full of second raters. Depending on these animalistic features, the materialist has become such a thing different from real human being; on whose lips, smiles nestle not/in whose eyes, dreams rust and rot…”(23) they have: swollen eyes/ Aching limbs/ Languishing souls/ starved lips/ A CARAVAN OF CARES(49).
The poet attacks the market values in this materialistic world. They are victim of society and proudly walk about as so many persons of great wickedness. Their souls are ruled by the notion to earn more and more money. In Mistaken Identities, the speaker talks like a prophet; his speech seems as a reminder of Tiresias in The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot. Tiresias believes that materialism makes man's life rootless: What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief; And the dry stone no sound of water.( lines 19-24)
In the waste land, the Tiresias suggests the materialist to come under the divine shadow. And here the speaker satirizes the materialistic merchant by addressing him; “YOU are a merchant /dealing in superfluities –/ A dealer of deceptions!” (39). He talks like a preacher by asking some questions; where were thou before thy birth? Where shall thou be after thy death? Weren?t thou woven out of these winds? Shaped out of this earth? Charged with a universal consciousness? And set afloat the ocean of time? (39).This world is a cob web and there is neither a beginning nor an end to the mysterious continuity of this web of God. The speaker like Tiresias shows the way of spirituality: “Water not dreams/Sow not desires/ You'll reap sighs/ roasted in fires. (46) Kill the hairy growth of PASSIONS(47) The Amarvel [a vine which thrives by sucking the sap of a tree] which swells/ sucking thy life blood./ in the watery deep, O SOUL!/ fish not for joys unbound / life is nothing but the debris/ of a satellite of JOYS shot in the cyber space/ with a heart made of flesh/and a body, of stone.(47) Desires are like amarvel which suck the restoring water of spirituality from life. He reminds the materialist that it is only: “man's intention, action count” (39) . He further says that it is religion that is in focus; not face name or body.
In “Monsters and the Mummy”, Anand depersonifies materialists by calling them spiritual monsters without having the gestures or guts of a monster. Ironically he writes that materialists are those monsters who have: NEITHER big jaws/ splattered with flesh and blood,/ Nor eyes spouting fire, not even nails sharp and coiled,/ nor at all a superhuman body(41); they have charming looks: “A monster of physical dimensions “who “wearing/ a civilized look,/ an everlasting smile/ hanging on insidious lips.”(41). The poet entitles them spiritual monsters who: “kill others / not in body / but in spirit;/ EVIL internalized (p. 41). Hence, materialist's soul is psychologically, emotionally and spiritually dead leading a dull life which has no smile, no laugh, no play or entertainment, and no real joy. This poem shows a mirror to the materialist by reflecting his haunted reflection in it.
Comparing the materialist with the animal in Grapes and the Fox, the poet not only criticises human wisdom but also heightened the status of an animal like fox by describing him wiser and cleverer than the materialist. He says that the fox ignores the grapes, finding them out of his access but materialist is a slave of his desires. Tempted by his desires, he yearns to achieve everything out of his control, even at the cost of procuring sufferings for himself. The fox leaves the grapes because they are beyond his reach and he gets satisfied thinking the grapes are sour. It demotes man's reasoning power against the fox. Because the ambitious man always follows his desires no matter how much troublesome they are “a man would shed tears and die / where a fox would leave after the try.” (45).
Man's thirst for achieving more and more never lets him remain satisfied with whatever he has. This brings him nearer to suffering and weans him away from comfort. Written in dialogue form, The Flower Girl? is another powerful attack on the materialistic mercantilism and its dehumanizing grip on modern man. The poet argues that due to lack of spirituality and morality in the modern market oriented life, materialists have lost their power to see the real beauty of nature. Being spiritually rich, the Flower girl always remains jubilant while the materialist never possesses such happiness that the flower girl has rather he remains in the circle of worries thinking about poverty, property, death etc. This poem appears to be reworking the themes embedded in William Wordsworth's poem- Ode on Intimations of Immortality in which he expresses his grief at the loss of spirituality in the world: Mighty Prophet! Seer Blest! On whom those truths do rest, Which we are tolling all our lives to find In darkness lost, the Darkness of grave Thou, over whom thy Immortality Broods like the Day, a master over a slave, A presence which is not to be put by (117) Here the poet laments that he has lost his power of perceiving glory in natural objects due to the maturity of mind. Now they do not appeal to his senses: “what though the radiance which was once so bright”(122).
The same theme is reflected in the poetry of Dr. J.S.Anand. The world of nature lies far and wide around us. It is the shadow of the soul, the other aspect of self that hails man's coming in this world: winds were crooning melodious notes, Rivers in a chorus sang hymns And nightingales came to cheer me up, with their notes of welcome to a born fresh soul.(32) The poet believes that Nature doesn't deceive (41) But it is the materialists who are, as the poet says: We fail in perfect pairing/Wrong choice steps after steps/ multiply the agony/the despair of living;/ but we never tire/ of asserting human wisdom/ against divine providence.(38) . Such a man seeks money and power. Spiritual practice requires a longing for truth, which can never be attained through the mechanics of spiritual practice without meditating on the nature of Self and universal Truths. Bereft of peace and love, the materialist has no equanimity; so he wonders at the joyous mood of the flower girl thinking: what makes them so light/ and thee so bright?
The poet depersonifies the materialists through the speech of the girl that being spiritually dead, he has lost his power of realization of beauteous and joyful natural objects. The girl addresses him: “O Merchant of Materials!” and says “Can't you feel the joy of Being?/ Isn't this beautiful sky for you?(61) The materialist remains busy to fulfil worldly desires but all his money cannot bring joy and peace for him. To live with radiant and human experiences are out of materialist's access because of his loss of faith in divine soul. Materialism has eaten the mind of material man and left him in an unreal despicable shape different from that of God's creation. The speaker is really in despair about his own age . The Voyager, the concluding poem of Beyond Life! Beyond Death, reveals the truth that chaos and misery are inevitable parts of the materialist's life and he has been destined to it because in the present scenario: “Every walker, a desire rules / To come to halt at last / Far or near, matters little” (71).
The poet gives an aesthetic finish to this book with anti-climax aptly that suits to the story of materialist's life. The poems in BEYOND LIFE BEYOND DEATH are the manifestation of the materialistic man who is on the verge of spiritual termination. A close reading of this book suggests that Beyond Life Beyond Death appears to be an extension on the themes reflected by T S Eliot in his epochal work The Waste Land: Dig Dig my dear!/ Dig this body/ this earth/ water for water (30) have pity, O legs!/ Have sense, O arms!/ don't Budge, O hands! (25). The materialists are spiritually dead because of excessive devotion to materialism. The speaker seems to have the prophetic vision just as Tiresias had in The Waste Land who imagines that materialists have grown old and have been reduced to mere bags of bones because : MIND starved of peace/ BODY drained of Soul(58).
Modern man's thirst for earning money through trade and commerce can never be quenched. He is burning in the fire of sensual lust and selfishness because of the materialistic philosophy. They seek power because it is as good as money or money comes from power. The poet suggests that moral evil ultimately makes a man insane. The poet wants to say that man should have self-sublime feelings and thoughts of sacrifice for others: create whatever you can/ Endure whatever you may (26). Modern man is unable to imagine the spiritual world that functions as the nourishment for the soul. His ideas regarding religion are confined to the bodily pleasure and dry reason. Materialistic life is rootless and barren and all around it is full of misery.
Through Beyond Life! Beyond Death!! the poet opened the mental vista of the spiritual poetry for the modern man. Materialism keeps man uneasy and miserable all the time. Man wants to earn more and more money, amass wealth and go over for achieving financial success. But there are people like the speaker in this book who want to gain mental peace through spiritual elevation but materialism does not weaken its grip on his mind; so he is in a dilemma and craves for death. Lastly, with all these manifold sources of spiritualism and materialism, Dr.J.S. Anand has secured an honourable place in the core of his readers' heart. His use of rhetorical devices, metaphors, paradoxes, sarcastic views, intellectual and philosophic reflection, calm description of nature, innermost expression of varied and vivid moods with sobriety and serenity, precision of language, creative vision of beauty of nature etc. are sufficient to win for him a high and permanent place among the Indian English poets and Spiritualists.
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The present paper once has been published on LangLit (online journal) Vol 2, Issue 1)