Book Reviews

Unwinding Self - A Review

Unwinding Self – A Collection of Contemporary Spotlights
by Susheel Kumar Sharma
Vishvanatha Kaviraja Institute, Cuttack, India, 2020

The poet has gratefully dedicated the collection Unwinding Self to his teachers who inculcated the love of poetry in him. The title of the collection is really captivating as it captures my attention in the very first glance. It is a collection of forty two poems in which the poet unravels the beauties of the world in a gripping yet arresting narration. Imagery is as usual natural, serene and flowing. As one reads the poems, one gets the feeling that the poet is indeed taking a break from usual and routine life which showcases his restless journey. He takes recluse and gets rid of those tensions and anxieties. As a reader, I am particularly impressed by the poems like “Durga Puja in 2013, “The Destitute”, “Chasing A Dream on the Ganges”, Kabir’s Chadar”, “ The Kerala Flood”, “Sahibs, Snobs,, Sinners”, “ Renewed Hope” , “ Akshaya Tritya”, “Lost Childhood”, “A Family by the Road”, “ Ram Setu”, “Connaught Place”, and “ Stories from the Mahabharata”. I get the feeling that the poet has presented his first –hand experiences in poems that mark his caliber and observation. A keen observer, the poet penetrates into those painful and blissful experiences of the world. He exhibits consummate skill as a poet and his perception of the present world and its glaring realities is really evident of his artistic skill. The poet touches up on a wide range of issues and inner struggles in a realistic portrayal. I look up on the collection as something that caters to the contemporary taste by synthesizing between the worldliness and existence. However, the simplicity of language is the evidence of his mastery of poetic craftsmanship.

A Professor by vocation, Susheel Sharma possesses a heart filled with emotions, feelings and sentiments. His devotion to teaching has perhaps made him compose poetry. His passion for knowledge and poetic excellence has manifested itself in his poetry. He has revealed his love for divinity in a religious poem “Durga Puja”. It isn’t just a poem of spirituality but a projection of how and what Goddess Durga does every year. He longs to wait for her return as usual during the month of Ashvayuj, the month of Puja and Chanting of Bhajans. The poem begins with a question and ends with a question.. The year was precisely 2013.  The Phailan Cyclone devastated the arrangements and celebrations of Durga Puja in 2013.  The mighty Nature forcibly took away the celebrations. The poet was deeply hurt and his sentiments reflected the typical literary protest. The poet recollects the pandal construction for Ma for four days. He laments that the Goddess is poorly maintained and sometimes the devotees pay a very poor attention. He questions and bemoans the losing values and devotional spirit.

One finds the post –modern elements in the poem. It is a Navaratri festival in India. Poet appears traditional and blends the tradition with modernity in terms of celebrations. In yet another poem, “Destitute”, is a chronicler of events that led the poet to live in the aftermath of globalization. To be honest, globalization has ruined the lives of people across the world. In another dimension, the poem is a cultural clash between native and alien cultures. Different projections come out of the poem in the end. Lines like “In lieu of a few doses of medicines / that turn me a slave forever” add to his woes in contemporary times.

The poem “The World in Words in 2015” satirizes the world in manifold lifestyles. “We have five-star facilities / we arrange the best tours”. And “what is petrol? / What good is it? / What worth is it?” In such a world, words carry new meanings. Though the poem is sarcastic in tone and spirit, it is here and there praising some things which we see them in everyday life. The poet is at his innovative best in the poem.

Next, I am impressed by a poem “ Kabir’s Chadar”. Though religious in structure and theme, it has immense symbolic importance. The two Chadars mentioned in the poem makes a contrastive analysis between virtue and simplicity. At other side, it marks a typical world between complexity and hypocrisy. Susheel Sharma, as I see, must have presented his first hand experiences in the poem. “How Could Kabir / afford to return his chadars / As he had obtained it?”

Poem like “ Akshaya Tritya” stands for some new venture or business on this day which according to the age – old beliefs would bring in wealth. It is the most auspicious day for launching new business. The poet succinctly presents a few lively examples to substantiate his arguments in favor of “Akshay Tritya”. Common people are his poetic devices in the poem. In a contemporary scenario, he presents the importance of theme and application.

In yet another prominent poem, the poet focuses on the money minded approaches of people in “Buy Books Not Diamonds”. It is a poem of introspection. Again, it is a poem of message for world to live in. More thrust is given to preserve books than to procure diamonds. Diamonds, as the image suggests, may make one richer but accumulation of books would augur well for the world to live in eternal knowledge. The need of the hour is knowledge preservation than losing money on diamonds. In fact, diamonds don’t put an end to the starvations. Bookish knowledge would pave the way for the world to find lasting solutions. The poet is highly didactic and philosophical.

The poem “Lost childhood” is full of compassion for poor children who were thrown out in the streets. “The one who is disowned by a father” /  Has a heavenly father; / The one who is abandoned/ by a mother on the footpath / Needs a Daniel for Judgment”. This is where Susheeel Sharma excels in bringing out the burning issues of contemporary society. We witness such episodes in which people abandoned the new–born babies in the bushes beyond recognition. Some parents kill the new-born babies. The scenario is truly contemporary and it is unending yet.

Nostalgic moments were cherished when the poet recollects his dreams on the Ganges in “ Chasing a dream on the Ganges”. Alakananda, Bhagirathi, Avantika Temple, Mansa Devi, Chandi Devi, Parmath Ashram, Swarga Ashram and Laxman Jhula Ghat figured prominently in the poem. If rivers symbolize ancient civilization in India, temples and ashrams make their way in the poem. Haridwar was how the poet described in the lines as “To perform a penance / I looked for solitude / On the Ganga Ghats / In Haridwar/ But the honking of / trucks and whizzing / of cars and speeding buses distracted me from / My mantra”. He uses a figure of speech ‘paradox’ to express the plight of devotees when they go to offer rituals. It is a scene in which Sharma was disturbed by the vehicles. A sort of distraction took away his meditative prayer through the chanting of mantras.

Usually, people get disturbed when they sit down for a silent prayer. Temples and rivers symbolize a life of utter contemplations. This distraction led the poet to end with a question for which there is no immediate answer. He asks that “what is the use of / For penance / if one does not wish to lose life?” This amply substantiates the poet’s experiences at Haridwar as a distracted devotee. At the end, this amounts to something one distraction followed by another distraction. His wanderings to accomplish the rituals ended in futility.

Sharma resented the Nature’s fury when Kerala, God’s own country in South India, was frequently attacked by floods in three successive years. The poet refers to the mayhem of 2018 floods when Idukki dam gates were opened. The low-lying areas were inundated. The flood waters wrecked havoc and the people were homeless. The poet refers to Gandhi, Amarya Sen and financial aid that came from UAE. It is a clash between material gains and ideological wars. In the end, the innocent people became victims of Indian politics. Pride and prejudices hold the key to natural disasters. It is a poem of elegancy and beauty in live sarcastic comments. Poets should protest the wrong-doings and Sharma did it exactly as a reformer.

Next, a poem “A Family by the Road” is a genuine portrayal of poet’s longing for natural world. The projection of thoughts together with natural world make a good but interesting read in the end. “Who is it pushing me into a house / what harm have I done? / Let me enjoy my freedom / I am proud of my poverty / I am proud of my ignorance/ I am proud of my dirt / I have a home because of these/ I am proud of my home”. The punches are clearly understood from the tone and setting of the poem.  

In the poem, “Rechristening City”, the poet looks at the fragmented names of the cities and states. It is a modern fashion to change the age –old names of those cities and states.  Sometimes, it is mythically done and sometimes, it is deliberately done. Fragmented walls create the new names in face of old ones.

“Crowded Locals” is another poem chiefly known for his experiences as a visitor in Mumbai in metro trains. Strangeness is the key to the poet’s observation that runs throughout the poem. It is familiarity versus unfamiliarity yet they move as if they were close people but in reality, they maintain strange relations. “I sometimes wonder / who is not a friend here - / All faces are so familiar, / all have dreams in their eyes / All exhausted from day’s work / all on the move to their destination”.

The wonders of time in timeless saga of world are finely described in a poem, “Saying Goodbye”. The poet takes the readers on the shores of magic spell of time. One can never be off from the time which is both the killer and preserver of life. Many inferences can be drawn from the poem. As the poet pens the verse “How is the moment un-enveloped / When the Curfew tolls the knell of the parting day / The sleeping man asks for euthanasia / where does this moment lie?”.  The poet substitutes the word ‘death’ with ‘euthanasia’.

Euthanasia is a Greek word to end life by a person on his own in order to relieve pain and suffering. The poet has meticulously used a Greek allusion to signify death. Goodbye is in fact to bid a farewell to someone whom we lose him or her.  Among the poems that impressed me most is “Endless Wait”.  It is a poem of books and book readers. Though humorous in style, it is a biting satire on those who procure books from e-shopping markets such as Flipcart and Amazon but they never care to give them a read. They invest hard –earned money on the purchase of books. A few of them have not opened the wrappers.  Really, the books are the treasure troves of immense knowledge. It is for the poet an endless wait in the sense of acquiring more books than one can read them in his lifetime.

I love reading the poem again and again for its inner meaning and outer beauties about books and their acquisition. If nature’s wondrous objects dominate this collection, it is equally Sharma’s adroit skill in beautifying them with a life force. Nature, realistic world, philosophy and spiritual saga of life and above all, images occupy the collection. To conclude, Susheel Kumar Sharma is a poet of robust thinking and profound observations. All the forty two poems bear the mark of time, relevance and sustenance. They are really spotlights on contemporary society.


More by :  Dr. P.V. Laxmiprasad

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Views: 463      Comments: 1

Comment It is a very good review on the poetry of Susheel Kumar Sharma, Professor of English from Allahabad University India. Dr.P.V.Laxmiprasad reviewed the poetry collection brilliantly. Congratyto the poet and the reviewer.

06-Aug-2023 00:43 AM

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