Book Reviews

Decoding Waves of Existence

... in Binod Mishra’s Multiple Waves

Contemporary Indian English Poetry has witnessed several tremendous developments. Several new voices emerged on the poetic horizon with their sensibilities, arresting the attention of the world. They share their vision and mission, their emotions and their aspirations through their writings. It has come of age in terms of global recognition, quality, variety and quantity. Contemporary poets also explore various aspects namely, subject matter, language used, and craftsmanship. Especially their poetry is an expression of full-flowering and maturity of a large number of Indo-Anglian poets whose poetic fires and creativity deserve our attention for their proper evaluation. Their writings are fresh and inventive. There is a long list of contemporary poets writing in English. Among them Dr Binod Mishra deserves our special attention. He has emerged as one of the celebrated poetic voices of twenty first century Indo - English Poetry.

Dr Binod Mishra is a serious, sensible, sincere and highly prolific poet of humane thoughts and sensibility, with a keen insight into the contemporary realities of the world. He has to his credit 22 books (16 edited and 06 authored) on various aspects of English language and literature. Silent Steps and Other Poems (2011), his first poetry collection in English, was critically acclaimed across the world. He has now come up with his second anthology entitled Multiple Waves which is creating waves in the literary circles. His poetry flows like a wave in a myriad form, creating ripples in the heart and mind of his readers.

It is wise to highlight his poetic personality and output with an exploration of the social, familial, existential, environmental, religious concerns, and women and identity issues, as reflected in his poetry, with a special reference to the poems contained in Multiple Waves. The purpose of this paper is to study his heart and mind, realize his sensibility and analyse his poetic efforts made at par with his other counterparts.

Life is a series of waves- ups and downs. Each rise and fall in life gives us some experiences. Poets have been using the symbol of ‘sea’ and its ‘waves’ to represent life and its troubled times. The sea of life is said to have its daunting width and depth, quite calm sometimes and more raging and even deadly at other times. The waves, varying moods, symbolise diverse human conditions in emotional, social, cultural, familial, individual and universal contexts. It is through one’s extraordinary creative ability that a poet turns all these phenomena of existence and existential experiences thereof into artistic form for their sublimated expression. As a sensitive poet of minute observation, Dr Binod Mishra subtly captures these vicissitudes of life in his second poetry collection Multiple Waves.Prof Charu Sheel Singh, in the Foreword to Multiple Waves, writes:

“While he feels with his heart, he writes with his mind. Thus, his feelings don’t run amuck; they are beautifully bound in apt words and images. His expressions are loose; he rightly prefers restrain to profligacy.”

Multiple Waves contains 46 poems dealing with multiple thematic concerns veering around different vital issues of contemporary relevance. His poems are emotive and evocative, expressionistic and impressionistic, magical and intriguing, realistic and pessimistic, and philosophic and reflective. His poetry is a wonderful realistic depiction of contemporary social reality of each and every sphere of life. Prof CharuSheel Singh is right when he, in the Foreword, reveals that Dr Mishra’s poetry is ‘largely a response to occasions, situations, and moods’. As a matter of fact, multiple waves are symbolic of varying moods and feelings surging in the ocean of life. The poet has very successfully captured those moments in beautiful words and images. Poet and poetry, issues concerning women, observation of life, love and nature, environmental issues and concerns, life and death, human predicament, religiosity and God, familial affairs, philosophy, parents and children etc are the central preoccupations of his poetry. Ebbs and flows of life find an excellent articulation with great ease in his poetry. His poetic swash soothes us when we descend into the depth of his poetry.

The volume opens with “Night before theNew Year’ which throws light on the plight of woman as a victim of circumstances. The poet is saddened to see constant exploitation and humiliation of woman. He shows his disquietude over her predicament. He presents a contrast between the flickering lights of her days and darkness of her nights and the space in between is pregnant with her tears. The simile “pungent pills’ is quite remarkable here as it reveals everything about her, her ‘sobs and shrieks’. Years come and go but the deplorable condition of woman remains all the same. However, she, thanks her inbuilt mettle, and is all the more,

Resolved to stand and wait,
she decides to cast her glance
protesting her master’s advances;
the habitual grazes on her
decrepit body, her desiccated self
against her impenetrable mentor
who stops not and
proceeds nimbly even after a surfeit.

The poet then provides strong succour to her to steer clear of ‘the cobwebs of worldly pangs’and supports her, saying;

Light may not be her delight
yet she revels in her ugly sight,
that lends a pillow to all pale desires
a bed to unquenched thirsts, the deadly hunger of the poor
a shoulder to mothers, who
have lost their children in calamities,
a balm to unrequited lovers, a coffin to black desires
a palki to new born babes bewildering at times
as in Kubla Khan’s dreams.

In “A Child’s Family”, he talks about a child’s innocence and the latent potentiality and highlights his/ her talent to fructify in the days to come. This is a remarkable poem as it contains the essence of the saying – “A child is the father of man”. The poet rightly writes-...she sparkles with a vision/even adults fail to foresee”

In most of his poems, the poet raises woman-centric issues and tries to resolve them. “Woman” is an inspiring poem dealing with her wretched plight and her revolutionary zeal to rise from the ashes. As a protesting voice of woman, she boldly avers-

I am but born a woman since ages
‘Becoming’ is not in my fate
a tireless traveller against troubled times.
Giver at all times
sometimes receiver though
of heat, hate and harshness.

Further, he speaks of the important roles a woman plays at the same time. In spite of performing various roles, she remains ‘a caged bird’, her only ‘being’. The poet is disheartened to see her pitiable condition and her unheard ‘groan and grumble’, ‘just to raise civilization after civilization’. Nevertheless, as a mother she has eyes sparkling in glee for her children. In “Mother”, she mirrors her pathos and affection, love and care and enjoys experiential bliss as her past-the cuddles, clasps and cries/vying to turn innocence into experience.

Another distinct feature of his poetry is his plausible perspective on poetic process and creativity. His poems reflect his views on the aesthetics and art of poetry. He has composed many more poems on the process of poetic creation. With the help of stirring metaphors, he redefines a poem and the role of a poet whose objectivity lies in his reader’s becoming from what he is to what he should be- a worthy human being. In his “A Poem”, he writes-

A poem is not a medley of words
but a music of thoughts
not a circumference but a circuit,
a poem is a half-clad moon
an alley leading to highway,
a song of the silence, a discovery of truth
a series of wounds waiting to be healed.

A poet has to face a lot of hardships- physical, mental, psychological, and emotional. He undergoes a series of anguishes and agony and has experiential understanding of the intricate way of the world. The volcanic eruption of his eclectic emotions and tender feelings in him releases and relieves him of all his pain and pangs in the form of his poetic expression. The role of a poet is very significant as he weighs ‘despair and delight with equanimity’, and sheds ‘tears in isolation and finally

Forges a balance between known and unknown,
thinks of mountains and seas;
A poet in the making,
they envy his suppressed smirk
and call him a quirk.

“The Laugh of a Poem” reflects his poetic creativity and shows his craftsmanship in presenting poem as an appealing and appeasing maiden. He singles out befitting poetic colours from plethora of colours enlisted in the catalogue of God or nature and further weaves a beautiful tapestry for the creation of his poem.

--------- a well-clad maiden
spreading her youthful fragrance,
her bewitching smile
lending poets to wage a war with words
eulogizing her in different forms.

Dr Mishra is a sensitive poet of keen observation. Endowed with an extra sense of perception and extraordinary ability of minute observation of life, he observes life and everything around and garners day- to- day experiences to express them with a vivid account. “Her Bag” is full of such a fantastic observation of a school going child who manages everything and grows up by being expert and adept in life, achieving success after success. However, the poet is concerned because love is getting depleted from his/ her life for running after the mad pursuits. Moreover, when a girl is grown up, her marriage is a big issue of concern. In a society torn by various social evils, dowry is an alarming one for a father. He poses a vital question-

How can business transaction allow
Love to get some room between
things sold and things bought?

Nostalgia, generation gap, the clash between the old and the new, are also apparent in the poetry of Dr Mishra. His poetry is a kind of social commentary. He resorts to sarcasm to make fun of the stagnant social mores. “Grown up” is a brilliant poem in this regard. The poet recalls ‘the past crippling like small children/ ready to perform nothing’. He is unable to understand the mentality of youngsters. That’s why he avers: “I shrink in shame and shriek in pain/They are grown up now.”

In addition to his personal feelings, the poet’s vivid objective observation is at its best in some of his poems, particularly when he depicts a poignant picture of a postman in the poem “The Postman”. Here, we get a feel of realistic parallelism between a postman and a poet. Both meet the same fate. He describes the postman as ‘a man of all seasons’ who ‘always wears the/on his khaki dress,/distributes rays of all hues.’ The poet presents him worth quoting:

“I am both colonizer and the colonized,
a poet in suspended animation
tropes and figures stare at me.
I watch the centre inching towards the margin
and the margin centring to write
new history for mankind.
The game, at times, makes my bag thin yet
being gamesome is my fate.”

The poet is a man of seasoned experiences. He creates a contrast between the older and new generation and shows his sympathy with the former and rebukes the latter. New generations have different choices, preferencesand points of views. Ideals, values, beliefs have different meaning for them. “The Rising Sun” is quite a remarkable poem that expresses the angst of the elderly people and their rebuke at the people of new generation’ fed on pasteurized milk and modified food’, who have no respect and regards for them. The poet becomes philosophic and talks about the eternal reality-“Both the sun and showers/are but Nature’s moods.”The deplorable condition of the old people is well depicted through the use of ‘winter’, symbolic of their anguish, in the following lines from the above poem-

The sunrays alone my cozy bed
to keep me warm and to forestall
all winters given by our children,
who cannot stop us
from reading the messages
of generations and yet keeping warm.

The above description really evokes a sense of pity for the helpless and hapless elderly people.

Love and nature are other important preoccupations of the poet who dwells upon these themes in his poetry. He explores man and nature relationship. The poet appears to be a self-made man who realises the true worth of love. Unlike the modern trend gripping today’s youth in the selfish grip of ‘passionate intensity’, he is ‘a silent lover’ who believes in positive, constructive and creative aspect of love that elevates , enables and ennobles him to stand to his feet in life. He never believes in the loving rendezvous of so-called ‘passionate lovers seeking chances in parks or movie world in unveiling longings’. He expresses the actuality of his love in his autobiographical poem “A Silent Lover”:

......I never bought pleasant moments
at the cost of my parents’ hard earned coins
given in the name of tuition fees
or career counselling.

“Whatshapp” is a beautiful poem containing the conception of love in today’s world of electronic and social media. The poet seems to be unearthing the hidden aspect of love that has gripped the romantic sensibility of youths today who are ‘flamboyant, spendthrift and a chatter box’, ’always a busy bee, pressing numbers frequently/on a slate-like cell phone’. He adds unique dimension to love and tries to reveal love in newer light:

Love-a word with different connotations
and dimensions, a cross-platform
of texting and imaging
with electronic vibrations titillating
bruised selves meditating
between the medium and messenger
where trust feels forsaken
like a tattered dress.

His love for nature is apparent in most of his poems. He adroitly interweaves various elements of nature with human experiences. Influence of romantic poets on his creative sensibility is palpable throughout his poetry. In his poem “Nature” he holds that nature is:“always keen, kind and compassionate/gratifying everyone’s needs/in all seasons.”

Nature is a great healer and comforting, a constant companion of ours. It alone helps us unburden ‘all our shrieks, sorrows and severity’. The poet reveals:“You receive them gladly without groans/and never deceive like humans/in love, friendship and brotherhood.”He also talks about the fierce aspect of nature. His “Flood” is a poignant poem that reveals the havoc of flood and wrath of nature. Dual aspect of nature is well captured here. The poet recalls the flood days when he had to face agonising pain due to its devastating nature. The poet is right when he says-“when the margin spews and speaks/it unleashes havoc and nothing remains.”In the concluding stanza of the same poem, the poet, despite the perennial rapport between man and nature, writes about the conflicts of nature due to bludgeoning industrialization:

Man is always at war with Nature
Land rovers and high towers alone future;
where noises of machines abuzz around
and merciless music rant the sky,
I greet everyone with my grating sound.

On the other hand, “Time’s Fool” talks about the drought affecting the common people. The imagery in the poem is brilliant and striking. Let’s see:

The cracks in the field
like the lines of anxiety on the farmer’s face
deepening every passing summer day
looking towards the azure sky
wishing it to turn black and beautiful
like lovers’ dismal face—tired of waiting.

In another poem “Desert” he delineates ‘desert’s cry’ and becomes suggestive:

Hope against hope- the only resort,
the desert waits for nothing but sunrays
that make its tiny particles shine though,
the emperor of an undivided kingdom
a godsend nightmare for its past deeds.

Nevertheless, his poem “The Inner Eye” encourages and inspires us to ‘remain firm against all odds’. Thus, his poetry presents contrasts and conflicts- both mental and natural alike.

Environmental issues are also manifested in the poetry of Dr Mishra. The poet tends to lose his nerves to see all around various wastes scattered and floating, thus defiling the beauty of nature. In the world of rank materialism, people have turned indifferent to the beauty of nature. He skilfully employs objects of nature to bring forth his ideas through his suggestive symbols and images.

Water is one of the significant elements of nature. The poet calls it’ Nature’s first girl child’, who is ‘formless’ yet has ‘numerous forms’, conveying various ‘feelings of love, lust and sorrow’. The poet is concerned with depleting power and abundance of water. The world is faced with water crisis. The poet expresses his concern over the pollution of water due to growing industrialization. In “What Water Says”, he highlights the deteriorating plight of water and shares its grievances:

I too can have my private tears
that ooze out of my soggy shape
shouldering my own chimera to a forlorn land
where none can hear my woeful ballad
where the heights alone can hide my depth
where gods along can save my chastity.

“Funeral Song” is yet another poem expressing his ecological concern. Water pollution poses an alarming situation in the world. Rivers are littered with human filths- from industrial wastes to electronic wastes which are threat to nature. His “Funeral Song” echoes the voice of rivers:

Once a mother to several civilizations
my sterile womb-a mere skeleton
my bed a litter of electronic wastes where
neither wind finds space not night sneaks in
where frustrated desires of a civilized world
write my funeral song.

‘The River and the Bridge” is another heart-touching poem dealing with the impact of man-made pollution, and “human greed” that renders the river with ‘dirt, depravity and debris only’ to be officially declared- ‘Abandoned’  after their selfish purpose is served.

Life and Death are other significant themes that carry Mishra’s perspective on them with a beautiful articulation. “Penalty” is a reflective poem which highlights the idea of life and death through a woman. Life –both outside and inside journey-is lived all alone with an unflinching faith in the Almighty. Through her, the poet expresses:

......mortals have but little choice;
they simply wait to bow before
The Almighty, even cruel at times,
still called the kindest.

“The Sandalwood Tree is” a metaphoric poem expressing his view on vicissitudes of life. Our life always oscillates between hard reality and unpredictability. Nothing is certain in life wherein we often fall a victim to circumstances. More often we are faced with struggles. However, it is our constant endeavour for pursuing our desired pursuits that make us sustain our existence. In fact, life is ‘a short time’, the ‘space’ of someone else but ‘we unknowingly call our own’.  It is a game of ‘climb and fall’. The poet opens our eyes:

Life is but a game of snakes and ladders
we play at leisure jut for pleasure
mostly practising the freaks of fate.

There is also a Shelleyan touch in the following lines of the poem “Life”:“Let us look back and grieve for what is lost/for that alone can stir innovation and life.”Death is a hard reality of life. In the same poem, the poet brings this fact to our notice, through the metaphor of football game:

Death is but a reality
we all know yet evade.
Our advances, passes and pulls
fail often to enter the goalpost
yet the penalty shot gets rewarded
as it gets your nod, O lord.

Dr Mishra’s poetry gives an insight into introspection, self-discovery, self-realization, and vital search for identity of self and soul. His poem “Identity” presents the authentic identity crisis of modern man as ‘Identity changes every minute now’. He describes “identity’ as ‘a misnomer’/ one fames, flames and fumes/yet assumes a new identity.’ He writes:

Identity now is in a flux
fixed one rusts and fair one fouls.
Innocence fled to spiritual world
Shyness found in smithereens
Beauty bidding adieu to branded smiles
shopped, sold and sheltered by
unsheltered avatars.

“Height and Wight” is a symbolic poem dealing with a brilliant juxtaposition of ‘deadly opposites’. A perfect control between the two opposites is indicative of fostering harmony in the world. The poet here talks about the equality- social, existential, political- between individual and collective consciousness. If not, these opposites might’ invoke catastrophes’ and ‘unleash havoc’. Let’s see what he says:“Height blurs vision on earth/And weight eats away all the mirth.”

Human predicament is one of the major themes of Mishra’s poems. The poet is of the opinion that fate or destiny plays vital roles in our life. With joy comes sorrow which is an inevitable part of life. There are certain things we don’t have control over. ‘Despite Time’s chariot crossing many milestones’, one has to make compromises and move ahead while making terms with the stern realities of the world. We must ‘smile amidst all cruelties.’ His “Regulations” is a poem of philosophical musings over the hard reality of life. He avers:

No one knows our sorrows
bound to cause the raging fire and stir
visible only when crazy leopards enter our habitats
to terminate the growing greed of hungry generations
felling and fuelling their incessant fires.

A careful study of his poems reveals that Dr Mishra is a man of unflinching faith in God and religiosity. His “Jai Mata Di” is a poem of religious faith that gives a description of a spiritual sojourn of people to a holy pilgrimage. God is kind to oneand all and He makes no distinction between the rich and the poor, big and small. He points out-

the doors of deity never discriminate
between the mighty and the weak
rather embrace the weak before the mighty.

“Humble Prayer” is another poem showing his strong faith in prayer and God. He prays to God:

to grant us peace and rest assure
that those who follow the right karma
alone receive your grace and never
question your eternal ways.

The last two poems of the anthology are quite notable. While “To Buddha” is steeped in philosophical contemplations, “A Happy Man” is sarcastic and ironic, and reflects hard reality and human predicament. The poet satirises so-called rich people who struggle a lot, make money and spend them to exhibit their affluence. The poet observes the religious sentiment of these people and verbally depicts them with a caustic sarcasm:

His big bank balance made him visit
temples and mosques to give in alms
both cash and kind to needy ones
in every jagran and puja
went throwing grand parties
just to swell his pride and elites.

Mishra’s poetry is rooted in the family. He remembers his family members when they are not with him. Sense of loneliness engulfs him in absence of children. The poet touches upon these delicate themes in some of his poems. Marital relationship aside, missing of children-sons or daughters- is also the motif of the poet. His poem “Absence” throws light on the plight of parents caused by the absence of their children who are out to realise ‘their coveted dreams at the cost of parents’ loneliness’. The poet compares the lonely parents with a gardener rearing a plant or tree. The poet evokes mixed feelings in us when he questions:

Who could rather realize
the gardener’s mixed feelings
to see the tree blessing its fruits
not to the planter but to the passers by
who enjoy its shade and reap
the harvest of other’s toil?

The concluding stanza of the poem is heart-wrenching as it lays bare everything with a realistic poignancy:

Today I am all alone
you left me half way as others,
our children have lost our addresses.
I look for your belongings in every corner
and soothe myself in silence
with your absence marking your presence.

The poet is a man of conventional conviction in well-organised system of society. Be it arranged or love marriage, he believes that marriage is a union of two hearts on the social bedrock of acceptance. He holds that man –woman relationship is based on mutual understanding of each other’s needs and concerns. His idea is well-contained in his lovely poem “Arranged Marriage”:

Two souls eagerly await
to know each other’s minds
unravelling and unveiling their desires
exploring through their bodies
discovering the ecstasy of love.

In this way, on clear examination of Dr Binod Mishra’s poems, he appears to be a poet of moods and memories, and of observation and personal vision. His social consciousness, commitment to family, society and environment is what makes him a great poet of contemporary times. It is apparent that his poetry iscreative reactions and responses to immediate social and existential reality, personal and family relationships, philosophical and contemplative broodings over duality of life. He takes up the issues of woman and tries to resolve them with a sympathetic deftness. In his poetry he also raises some environmental issues and takes to task human greed and growing industrialization for defiling the beauty of nature and causing environmental pollution.  His poetry takes a ride into a gamut of emotions in the likes of love, life, hope, solitude, despair, quest in life and quest behind life.

Stylistically speaking, he draws his symbols and metaphors from the world of nature and technology and expresses human conditions in changing scenario of the world. He wants to establish in the world the traditional values and ideals for prosperity, harmony and peace everywhere. His imagery is striking and stirring and evokes required feelings in us. Simplicity of language as employed for his poetic articulation facilitates easy flow of thoughts and ideas making the readers grasp the essence. Impact of modern technology and gadgets on him can be seen in some of his poems. Typos in the titles of some poems, namely in “Whatshapp” intentional though lend aesthetic beauty to the anthology, which is well sustained both in terms of quality and quantity.

Works Cited

Mishra, Binod, Multiple Waves, New Delhi, Adhyayan Publishers & Distributors, 2017

An abridged version of this paper was published in Indian Journal of English Studies (IJES), Volume 55


More by :  Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar

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