Book Reviews

Kalpna's Bare Soul

- A Window into Self-Soul-Consciousness

Bare Soul (Poetry), Poet- Kalpna Singh-Chitnis,
Partridge, 2015, pages 102, Price PB Rs.299/- Kindle Rs.169/

Bare Soul is the first anthology of English poems of Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, said to be ‘one of India’s most revered and gifted living poets’. Honoured with “Bihar Rajbhasha Award”, and “Bihar Shri” for her big contributions to literature, she has received global accolades for her literary writings. Her other works are Chand Ka Paivand (Patch of Moon), Tafteesh Jari hai (The Investigation Continues) and Nishant (The Dawn)- all in Hindi. With two beautiful introductions by Janifer Reeser, a crtically acclaimed author and John Haricharan, an award winning author and encapsulating foreword by  Amata Natasha Goldie, an eminent poet and author that have her added extra feather to this collection,  Bare Soul is a collection of just nineteen poems presented in sequential patterns of thoughts and varying moods in response to different circumstances. All the poems are the valid documentation of her rumination over mundane and metaphysical affairs of existence- nature and its beauty, love and life, feel and thrill, human shrieks and shrills etc.

In the very first poem entitled ‘Jungle”, in four sections expresses her love for nature where her soul finds a free sail in the realm of thoughts, all along the meadows, dotted with flora and fauna and wants to re-establish the natural harmony of living beings. The second section of the very first poem presents a contrast, juxtaposition between the world of modernized life in the concrete cities – the crisscross of jungle, and the jungle with no cages at all. The jungle as a metaphor and symbol has perennial significance as it implies unending continuum, a cauldron of eternity that “greets the sacredness in us”. We need to” rise in gratitude” to God and “blossom like wild flowers”. The jungle is the real actuality of life. In the jungle of life, all kinds of beats live together in harmony. The poet lays emphasis on baring our soul and basking in the beauty of the jungle. She exhorts us:

let’s bare our souls,
and keep the sacredness of the jungle;
let’s discover now,
our wild inner beauty! (Jungle II)

The jungle to the poet is a ‘celebration’ as it has no “rules but discipline “ that paves the way for her to decipher the secret code of and meaning of life, gushing forth from “ outburst of our joy”. The tear of pain at the same time is a kind of “an offering to the river of eternity”. In the poems of jungle series, the poet also draws our attention to preservation of the forest. It is the afforestation that, in fact, takes us to the blissful lap of God. The harmonious relation of man with nature leads to God and this is the crux of existential identity of mankind. In tune with cosmic harmony, body, heart, mind and soul and of course consciousness-individual and cosmic- prosper and evolve for internalising the realisation of essence of human life with true beauty of heart and soul. Inner transformation is possible only through cultivating love for Nature, our eternal companion.

In the next section, the jungle of life has river of songs that soothe and comfort heart and mind beautifying our life. The river is symbol of equality and purgation, putting us to realise the reality of the world and thus provides inner succour to deal with stern reality. The poet rightly says-

the heart of a river
does not discriminate;
everything becomes pure
as the river flows...

Human life is a river. None can sail ‘boats of pride’ and come to the shore. We have to throw off the garb of pride and prejudice to transcend the river of life to get at the absolute reality. Poetic endeavour of the poet is to purge ourselves in the water of flowing river. It has purgatory connotation and teaches us to embrace the flow of life as it is. In this strain,  she  puts forth an  important maxim to bring home her point of view-

Truth is not always what is said;
truth is not always what is heard;
sometimes, the truth exists somewhere in the middle,
and flows with the course of life like a Silent River;

In her poetry deep feelings of love, love for nature, mundane things and spirituality, platonic form of love, mystical and ambiguity etc find beautiful expression. Most of her poems fantastically articulate love with its varied forms. It is true that love is the tenderest form of feeling. It is both physical and spiritual. It is a ‘gift from the heaven, wrapped in my breath’ as she opines. In her love poetry, she gets realistic rather than being an escapist unlike most of the love poets. She realises the true worth of earthly and mundane affairs of life. Her earthly sensibility is well reflected in the following lines grabbed from the poem “Ancient Love”-

I worship the ground
where we stood,
and saw the incarnation of our ancient love.

The poet wants to tread the path of love though she is well aware of the fact that it is ‘an island in the ocean of mysteries’. It is through realisation of life that one comes to understand one’s self. It is a’ cosmic magnet’. Her realistic actualisation of love is well manifested in these lines-

I’m nothing but an explosion in space and time,
my self is no longer mine,
and I seem to have no control over anything

"Coming Home" reveals familial plight of a beautiful beloved, her marital bliss and also her embittered relations.

In the “Ancient Quest” series of poems, thoughts of the poet shift from objective dimension of the creation to the mystical and mysterious, spiritual domain of the Creator. She has eternal quest to get mingled with the One, representing ‘vastness of the ocean’ after shattering her pride. She wants to get immortalised in the abode of the Divine, to feel warmth of ‘invisible embrace’ and ‘sip the night in ecstasy from the sacred lips of tranquillity and equanimity gushing forth from the ocean of divinity. Since life is an illusion where happiness cannot be shared nor sorrows expressed, the poet, after explaining the sweet and bitter sap of love and life, wishes to get at the ultimate haven of Heaven. She hails the divine forces of love-

Welcome to the humble abode of my soul,
that longs to hear your footfalls,
and hold you in my arms,
for eternity...!

She wants to quench her ‘ancient thirst’- transformation of her soul into super soul or being a part of it. She perceives the invisible forces of God in beautiful feel of human life. The perception of such an ecstatic feeling of beauty can be felt in the vivid imagery she deftly creates here-

paint the moon as a dot on my forehead;
and eyelids sparkle with stars

Other beautiful lines with wonderful portrayal of loving feeling can be witnessed in

the lava of centuries oozes from our hearts,
and we float into each other’s eyes.
like a twine in the candle,
we burn together, we light together!

“Ancient Remorse” contains well realised thoughts shaped up after undergoing experiences of the world. It has melancholic strains and hard realism. Her thoughts on kindness, love, ethics, hope, faith arrest our attention. Her question about good values of lives remains unanswered even by Jesus Christ. However, the poetic shelf of the poet understands the meaning of the world to see the smiles on His face. After identifying herself equalled with the divine entity, the poet comes to realise that Absolute Reality is the ‘echo’ in ‘void’, ‘dance’ in ‘music’, ‘sparkle’ in the ‘light’, and cosmic presence with no beginning and the end. She accepts the offer’ in the name of love and trust’, ‘arrogance and appreciation ‘and feels indebted to Him for giving-

........................... the glory of tasting
the sweetest venom of life
that I accept,

And realisation dawns on to her-

River of love, untamed by times
when floods,
only drowns
skillful swimmers like me...!

She tends to be reflective and philosophical. Material and existential concerns baffle her. Sorrow and suffering of life make her turn introspective and seek recourse to Him. She further reveals her soul’s sustained strive to fathom the depth of love and of course, spiritual aspect of love, and His grandeur-

Escaping the black holes of fears,
I try to reach you in your dark heavens,
seeking mutual salvation,
not scared of the past, not scared of the future,
my love so fearless, my love so pure,
 like a river of light...
breathing the moments,
walking on the milky way.

Her soul transcends the boundary of knowledge and ignorance leading to her inner realization and spiritual awareness.

She is an outstanding poetess imbued with feminine sensibility. Since she is wife, she better understands bonds of love, family affairs of life. Family bickering, ego clashes of spouses, oppositions of between two opposite sexes all find a pathetic mention in her poetry. She has given voice to the suppressed yet obedient, submissive, devoted and committed Indian wives who are undergoing acute mental and physical tortures but are not able to voice against their husbands. In spite of psychosomatic inflictions and frustrations, she loves her home possessed by her husband. Her feminine consciousness has uplifting capability. She is well aware of her responsibility as a woman, creative force of life. Woman in her is an enlightened soul. This is what is reflected in her poem “Rustling Wind”. All odds of life aside, she prays for safety of her husband –

My roof is to give the shade you need,
and my walls to keep you warm and safe,
without ever questioning your return.

Indian sensibility, her samskar, family and spousal values  are well articulated. Indianness is amply resounding in her poetic self.

She is a poet of firm determination and strong will power. Another beautiful aspect of her poetry lies in the recreating power of a feminine principle. She is well aware of woman's creative power. She highlights this timeless trait of woman-

Break me down,
bring me earthquakes,
reduce me to dust,
I shall recreate myself.
This time,
I shall sprout from the womb of a seed
hidden in me,
that you can’t see.
I will exist in a timeless tranquillity,
far, very far away from you...!

In her “ Rain” poems, she seems to be under the impression of Shelley. Like him she also believes in the healing power of Nature. It can be witnessed in some of her poems. Most of the lines of her poetry are reminiscences of Shelley. She calls upon

come down,
and be the angel of my salvation!

Like him, she also believes in redemptive power of natural forces like rain, air and fire that make no distinction between the people. At another place  she makes a plea to rain to

        drench me in your purity,
        make me vulnerable,
        soak me to perfection,
        so that one can see through my robe,
        a soul, bare naked behind all!

Because she holds the opinion that all have to come down to the dust at long last

to return to the warmth
and comfort of mother earth.

She poignantly describes the psychology of human relations with a confessional note in the poem “Touched by the Devils”

I’m a timeless enchantress,
with many faces,
hungry and deceitful.

Her poetry is characterized by a religious note. Timeless values aside, her staunch faith in God gets reflected in some of her poems. She is a God -fearing lady. In her poem of paradox, she confesses-

I shouldn’t play games,
and if I do, my nerve must be questioned,
and I must be tried in the heavens,

She is a visionary poet who can feel the presence of divinity in everything in the world. Vedantik philosophy of the divinity of soul and scientific theory of relativity or unified field theory coalesce into her poetic theory that paves the way for self-inquiry to attain and evolve insight into the journey of exploration of metaphysical entity of the Divine Being. Her spiritual vision through her poetic expression is best reflected in the poem "Being Nothing And Everything" -

Angels of my salvation,
I’m just a human,
and I must be honest about who I am,
a sheep in a lion’s clothing,
or a lion with all my pride!

Some of her poems are pessimistic, yet they are not the negation of life or, for that matter, escape from life. In fact, they reveal her consciousness of the miseries and suffering of human life. With her poetic thought she just transforms this human predicament into something positive, essential for broadening the horizon of her deep understanding of human life.  In her revealing poem “A Pale Monday Morning”, she avers:

ripples aren’t bad,
yet, it’s okay to feel sad,
only to understand the heart of a pond,
filled with sadness.

The poet's affirmation of life in all its shades is as 'undying celebration' of 'gratification', even though it remains an' unending quest' without destination'. Her awareness of the deliverance of soul from the bondage of sorrow and suffering still keeps her engaged in her search for the reality. It is through self-realization that one finds way to the ultimate reality. She is ‘a shade in the sun..... of isolation’, ‘ an obscure island, in ...... deepest emotions’, ‘a silent splash in the river of time’, ‘a note of love on a fateful shrine!’, ‘a drop in the heart of an endless ocean’, ‘eternal amidst all realizations’. Her poem “Conversation With a Friend" validates her quest and eternal spiritual realisation of self and soul-

an endless freedom
without emancipation;
and hidden in you
is a self-realization.

In another poem “On a Good Day”, she expresses her awareness of the bitter truth- transience of life. Life has to come to an end. All have to return to Him.  Recalling the good days of childhood, she wishes to spend rest of her life in a state of innocence, like a kid making boat and floating it in water. She divulges her sense of loneliness in life -

In the moments of my solitude,
I sit in front of my desk
and think about life.

She wants to utilise the rest of her times in poetic creativity as it brings heart and soul closer to God. That’s why has unlocked the door of her heart and soul for the people to come, her poetic, spiritual and metaphysical consciousness:

let me leave my door open;
in case someone comes
looking for me,
long after I’m gone...!

The titular poem” Bare Soul” is in fact the firstmost poem of the collection, containing all the cardinal and eternal questions, confusions, and doubts of an individual soul. The poetess seems to have put this elemental poem at last simply to heighten the poetic effect on a reader’s mind. Questions raised in this precious poem find their answers in the previous poems, particularly in “Being Nothing and Everything ‘. It is a kind of cinematographic presentation of thoughts unified with deepest feelings and emotions, coming to an end with a question mark that get their answers in the flashback poems appeared before. It is very unique of her effective style that she used it to generate more curiosity in readers to further reread the poems to comprehend the comprehensive essence of human existence at macro and micro levels.The primordial question Who am I?” leads the people to eternal oceans of knowledge and experience. The poetess is in quest of her true self, identity, her divinity, femininity, creativity. The cosmos- objective and subjective –is made of ‘panch mahabhotas’ (air, water, fire, earth, sky). Her ultimate realisation results from the answers provided in the poem “Being Nothing and Everything”-

If I’m fire
I must ignite.

If I’m wind
I must blow in a direction my heart indicates.

If I’m rain,
I must pour out to quench thirst of millions like me.

If I’m sky,
I must stretch my wings and fly.

To be Nothing, I must be “All”
and to be All, I must be “Nothing” at last...!

In the ultimate analysis, “Bare Soul” is a kaleidoscopic vision of perennial significance through which Kalpna Singh-Chitnis has expressed her intimate engagement with nature, love, humanity and longing for something beyond. It is a broadened horizon of her deep understanding of human life and pragmatic spirituality; an experienced expansion of her profound consciousness with her psycho-physical-spiritual existence with familial-religio-philosophical concerns. Her individual consciousness is indicative of collective consciousness functioning in the Cosmos- inside and outside.  She has successfully used internal suffering of mundane life in a positive manner and transformed her pain and sadness into sublimation with the divine light of enlightened consciousness. Her vision and mission, fluidity of thoughts, spontaneity of expression, sublimity of contents, style and technique, diction and imagery, put together, are a variegated beauty of the book.

The book is strongly recommended for the readers who wish to unlock their heart to let in the divine light of ‘Enlightened Consciousness” emanating from the land of Buddha.


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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Views: 3453      Comments: 2

Comment This is far more than a book review. A well-written scholarly article shedding light on the poems of this collection giving us the opportunity to understand them better through the deep analysis it provides. Kalpna is truly a visionary poet, as the writer affirms.

Nizar Sartawi
04-Jul-2016 16:03 PM

Comment Insight review of a beautiful poetry book.

Naseer Ahmed Nasir
04-Jul-2016 06:29 AM

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