“Man is the cause of all and for that reason I like to see myself in every person. Man is just the same, whoever he is. From the very first moment when man’s steps are heard on the surface of the earth, this inner consciousness, the soul, is just one. I am in every person, in every person‘s dream; in dream beauty; in pain; in the burning lacerations of grief; in the cry of anguish of the person in the desert; in the compassionate hands that affectionately raise the person fallen. There are no shackles for alphabet and no dividing borders on this earth. The throb of the soul is one. The language one speaks is the centre of life force. Every alphabet is a person: every person is an alphabet. I believe that as man’s facial features alphabet have a shape, a stance, a posture and a movement to go with the feeling, a rhythm, a grace, a hue, a taste. This is the secret of Swapnalipi – dream script. My wondrous feats in the daily life’s horror are my prosody.”
There is no knowing when this was written by the great Telugu poet Ajanta (P.V.R.Sastry, b.1929) but this is used by him for the back cover blurb of his only collection of poems Swapnalipi put together by Tripuraneni Srinivas in 1993 under the aegis of Kavitwam Prachranalu. This collection is all the oeuvre we have of this unique poet, his magnum opus. The ‘intro’ to the collection that Ajanta wrote is his testament, his grand declaration, his exegesis of his conception of poetry – his apologia pro vita sua, a la the theories of poets like Sir Philip Sydney of the sixteenth century England. Ajanta did not believe in the evolution of the poet, his maturation or crystallisation. The entire work of this distinguished poet is an enviable number of just forty compositions. He never stored them for retrieval: never kept any notes or even the clippings of those published, if there was need he would just recapitulate and write down again. The twenty-nine poems in this collection are all that we have of him and if any could retrieve one or two from their personal clippings, glory to those lovers of the muse. A pensive, melancholy man with head in the stars all the time, I had the great good fortune of having met him while he was bringing out the Vizianagaram Edition of Andhra Prabha Daily as News editor decades ago and a few days later at a function got up to felicitate my esteemed teacher Ronanki. (I was asked to speak as his student and colleague. Ajanta was the first to congratulate me for my ‘talk’ after the occasion.)
The ‘Intro” is a valuable document, as valuable as the brief pieces of the brilliant poet Ajanta. “If we consider poetry as an endless stream, the water in the current is just the same, anywhere, at any time. No chemical flaw would touch the alphabet that flows out. just cleaving the heart. In Ajanta’s perception and understanding “Poetry is thousand-faced – whatever the idea, whatever the quality of its body- language according to the time and architecture – aren’t these the most important?’
Sahitya Akademi awarded this poet Poetry Prize in Telugu for the year 1997. Sastry breathed his last on Christmas Day 1999. The poet’s friend wrote a poem as an obituary and called the man “the one who walked away with a crown of thorns”. Ajanta lives for all time.
Remembering him fondly I have here two poems in my rendering, one by the poet by himself and the other by his dear friend Sri Munipalle Raju.
Anguished Repentance of the Renounced
Telugu original: Ajanta (From: Swapnalipi)
English rendering Dr V. V. B. Rama Rao
Little brother, how fare you?
Are you paying worship, at least, to books?
Without harassing mother and father
Without rendering them to tears flowing down
Are you, at least bringing good name to family?
How many New Year days, epoch beginnings, have come and gone,
how many fatal accidents I nearly met with,
I cannot narrate to you in detail, but
Not knowing when any moment the sky comes down crashing on my head
Not knowing when the electric pole would twist round my neck
Right now, however, I’m fine in a small-sized hell...
Me standing somewhere far away from you on a parallel line
Unable to recognise myself, I’ve been thousands miles away
I’ve spread over myself my own atmosphere as smoke
My recent routine is just one - interring the dream virgins in night times
Eve then, I cannot say still for certain
as to in which fertile cremation ground my foot print falls
Meanwhile you cannot help listening to these disastrous things
Unless I reveal to you the fears that dog me all the while, my fright wouldn’t abate
I dread looking at my own face in the mirror,
It’s frightful looking at the letters in my own signature
My pointing finger is ever towards the fear...
Most importantly, I’d tell you about one wonder, listen
Suppose when I was going along, someone gets involved in an accident on the road.
The crowd collected around stares at me in surprise:
“What a wonder: the two look just alike!”
Why that far, I saw my own corpse on the road a thousand times.
Believe it or not, my little brother, I tell you the truth
I saw with my own eyes, on the day I came to this city,
The Sun throwing up blood
Poisonous gases all round and lotus phalanxes
Roads throwing dust in the eyes, persons who’d just make men vanish
All a great illusion, enchantment
Even so what’s the use digging up the past now?
Isn’t it so that the decisions made are inviolable?
I didn’t pay heed to mother’s word while she was lighting up a lamp on the dais of tribulations and joys
I haven’t seen danger in the oblique shade thrown by the lamp
It is a hopeless impossibility to pull down the self-created hell.
Life hereafter is just emptiness
Perhaps you wouldn’t remember it now
One evening I drew tears in the eyes of mother and father
Then you weren’t even ten
From the enveloping darknesses shedding tears they told me:
“You are the bridge across our tribulations!”
That was the day I saw you for the last time.
I nipped their hopes in the very bud
I transformed them literally into tears.
While adoring the beauties of the rainbows
I got entangled in the wilds of untruths
I fell down unconscious under the fragrance of the sky flower
The flame of this pain can shine with effulgence for any length of time
My tale might continue for a distance of thousands of alphabet
Even then ... some hope
That night would lift: better days set in.
Little, brother, show them this very hope
Install in my name peace in the house for a moment
Ask mother and father to bless me with their cool hands
sending up a prayer to God for me at a cool time.
A Poem by Munipalle Raju
Ajanta in the throes of creation
Not day, night doesn’t come
No dividing line no sleep
Shade of Evening doesn’t leave
Line is not rounded
Poem doesn’t rise from the grave
Tune of hanging sword right on front
Beyond the wall spherical starlight
Far away Arunachal that doesn’t move
Which is radiance? Which is black, which is dusk?
None of the signs visible on the Mount
Enemy closes in Century is changing
No sign of any friends
Syllabic metres unforgettable
Gales of swampy, compelling symbols
Aggravation of loud images and reflections
Cataclysmic vibration of letter shapes
Between the five fires of word and word
Penance standing on a single foot
From the pit of sacrificial fire poem is emerging
Already Death is giving audience as a lamp
To Ajanta the Twentieth Century is bidding farewell
(To the poet who ran down terms and titles like mahakavi, the one who used to go on polishing each line and each poem for years
before putting it to paper. Munipalle Raju).
English translation: V.V.B.Rama Rao