Book Reviews

Art of Living

Anyway, Carry Your Shell, Selected Poems – Old and New,
J. Bhagyalakshmi,
Authors Press, 2017, Pages 106, PB, Price Rs295/- $15

Dr J. Bhagyalakshmi is formerly of Indian Information Service is well known as a journalist, media consultant and most fascinatingly as a poet. As of now, the blurb tells us, she has twelve poetry collections which included Happiness Unbound (1988,) A Knock at the Door (2004), When Fortune Smiles (2007) and Missing Woods (2014). Last year, her work was included in the book Femininity Poetic Endeavour, a collection of the work of the prominent poets of the fair sex. The book under review Anyway, Carry Your Shell is published recently, this year. Senior citizens, the topmost in the realm of the living, are venerable not for their calendar age alone but also for the sagacity they display in their art of living. Poetry too can be put to many uses by those wise writers, men or women.

In ‘Host not Found’ the computer trope impresses readers who work on personal computers day in and day out. Clutter and garbage make the system unworkable. It is impossible to have all the space one wanted. Megabytes may be limited. The speaker says:

First let me empty the bin
Well, wait, can I do it in a jiffy
By a press of a button
Or is it a lifelong process?
I think, I should e-mail
To the maker
Hello, are you there,
Or is it, “Host not found?” (p.17)

‘Thought for Thought’ is about deep thinking and looking heavenward.

But to receive you
All my modern means fail me
Just for once
Lend me yours
So that I may know
Word for word
And thought for thought. (p.18)

Bhagyalakshmi writes thought-provoking poetry with strong feelings of distress about the nullification of women. She is strengthened by her implicit faith in God. She has the strong tree as a trope. She knows about the elixir of life and living.

‘Riding a Tiger’ is living a life safely.
Anyway, have a ride while it lasts
Making it as joyful as you can
But always remember
You are riding a tiger. (p.24)

Crossing the limit is the point in ‘Insurrection’. The cruel perpetrator’s jaw drops when the resistance in the victim of cruelty is witnessed:

When the chains were tightened,
Day after day.
Making me immobile,
I knew it was not death
But near about death.
Choking yet not killing,
Stifling yet not snuffing out,
Death like life,
But not death itself.
When the chain around my neck
Started tightening
That is when I yelled
And let out a cry
Blood curdling and spine chilling cry,
Which made you still
In your tracks, dropping your jaw. (p.32)

Devotion demands self-surrender, taking things as they come. The speaker expresses her feelings of anguish, devotion and femininity.

In ‘Volcano’ several questions were raised:

Does grief purge one’s feeling?
… … …
Does it purge, elevate, ennoble?
Who can answer that howl,
That heart rending wail?
… … ..
(It)is as painful as
Facing a bursting volcano
No, grief does not ennoble
Nor pain can elevate one’s soul. (
‘Eternal Spring’ is a deep yearning. The evasive dream is the floating thought.
Let me try once again
To catch that
Evasive dream
… … …. …..
Let me feel it
Even if it rushes like wind
Let me wake it up
Even if it is in slumber
Let me melt it
Even if it is frozen
Let it be an eternal spring
In my heart for ever sprouting. (p.40)

Understanding of human failings and compassion too are there in some poems like ‘The Living and the Dead’:
….. ……
We overflow with ourselves
Filling nooks and corners
Leaving no room even for the living
And as for the dead,
May their souls rest in peace. (p.42)

The poems are revelations of moods, hurt and pained, very personal, and ever roaming in the higher regions of thought processes.

Bhagyalakshmi uses proverbs, maxims, witticisms and idioms too to record her poetic imagination. ‘Hobson’s Choice’ is one signifying that there is no alternative and this wisdom
…. … ….
Whatever strengths there are in the world
Whatever courage the man is blessed with
Whatever fortitude the divinity has bestowed
Gathered them all
To hold your head high
And face life
Because it is Hobson’s choice
And remember
Beggars are not choosers. (page no.51)

No avid reader of poetry mistakes the “I” in every poem as the poet. A poet diffuses his or her feelings, emotions and ideas through various persons who are transformed as speakers of the poems. The poems require careful and slow reading many a time for getting into the poet’s heart-mind-intellect, call it manas, if you will. The title is an eminent case in point. The entire text is here for the reader:

A Knock at the Door

It was past midnight
There was a knock at the door
I sat up
I could sense the storm outside
And the stillness within
Now this knock
No, I will not open the door
Come what may
I have locked from within
I know the doors are strong
And also pushed a few more things
To stop the entry
Of that unknown wind
Again, unmistakable knock
I should do all I can
To ward off that intruder
May be, I am secure
Perhaps the storm will abate
And the stranger will walk off
I may see the morning peace
And the whole new world before me. (p.54)

Past midnight is time for sleep – but not for the speaker at that moment. The knock is heard quickly. Storm felt raging is understandable. The identity of the intruder is left for the reader’s guess. Is the knock expected? ‘Come what may’ is from a guess ominous. Determination to be safe – door locked within. Additional precautions are taken too. Unknown wind, may be unexpected, may be unusual, and may be the routine – left to the reader’s imagination. The knock unmistakable – is it known, expected? The trespasser is an intruder, not one known. Hope of the storm abating is there. The stranger’s walking off is only a hope, a wish. With the dawn and morning, the whole world is open before the speaker. The ‘old world’ – of the storm, night, intruder are agitations. Was there something that happened earlier? The more the reader thinks the more the guess work for a number of alternatives. Good poetry always lends itself to interpretations. inquisitive/patient/diligent reader would surely be rewarded. And that is literary appreciation. A quick reading is not the right thing in trying to go to the heart of the matter. Quick reading is for crime fiction – the mind-heart races but in reading a poem the heart slows down and the mind thinks of the various possible alternatives. The poet does not expect the reader to rush; a poem is meant for slow chewing, for traversing back and forth to understand the import of imaginative writing.

The feelings expressed by Bhagyalakshmi are at ends of the canvas of thinking, sometimes sulking, sometimes sad and sometimes reflecting joie de vivre. “A Bird’s Eye View’ speaks of a bird – an excellent trope and no less expressive of poetic imagination:

The bird commits suicide:
… …. …
Striking against a wall
Eyeing its own image. (p.59)

Devotion is the nerve centre in this poet. In fact, in spite of all tribulations, it is devoutness that keeps life and makes life worth-living. This is the outcome of a life mixed with feelings sad, pensive and painful. Man or woman is only an actor obeying the director of the play who determines the roles and incidents. Dreams are also an active ingredient in thought processes. We are asked to dream and dream again and are told that dreams never fade.

Let there be a chance meeting
I will pour out all the dreams I lived
Watching the benign smile
Once again on your cherubic lips. (Dreams Never Fade, p.60)

The poet takes a special look at nature. The globe is a spinner extraordinary. Living is on different planes – wakeful and sleeping. The experiences in the two make them doubly rich. On the mountain – the roof top there is another experience

Above, the blue sprawling sky
Below, the pulsating life
Around, the freezing cold
But here the sun shines bright
Very bright and very sharp. (At the Rooftop of the World, p.63)

‘Parrot’s Tale’ subtly and painfully suggests the caged-woman by bringing in the fortune teller’s parrot its wings clipped.

The past was when
It was caught
The time was when
Its wing was clipped
Then time for
Rigours of training
Now its present,
Slavery from dawn to dusk
As for its future,
Drudgery and death.
We have those parrots
Aplenty and around
Trapped, clipped and trained
Never, never to take wing again. (p.82)

The poem ‘Adieu’ reveals the poet’s faith in God though it is bidding a goodbye.

Wherever I turned my eye
I could feel your watchful eyes—
… … …
When I held you in my arms
I held throbbing life itself
… …. …
Thank you for your brief stay
While traversing this universe (Adieu, p.101)

Protecting one’s own self is not just a human’s quality. The poet being a professional communicator basically takes the trope of the four-legged turtle to drive home a tact. Here is an excerpt from the text of the poem Anyway, Carry Your Shell for the special benefit of review readers:

Tortured, poisoned and killed
But try to dissuade a tortoise
Not to carry its shell.
However vulnerable they may be,
We should love to carry our shells,
That is how we face the world
With a smile
Though there is nothing to smile about.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

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