Book Reviews

It is Still Bleeding

The Murder of Gandhi - Fragments of Love, by P S Joseph
Blaze Media, Chennai

Music has no anger, no violence. Words, lyrics, can be angry but not music, I argued with my characteristic, if ridiculous, omniscience. My interlocutor was my daughter-in-law, Catherine, a trained music teacher. She demurred when I insisted music couldn’t contain anger. Anguish, yes, but anger, no, no music in anger nor anger in music. We suspended judgment.   

P S Joseph, poet and my former colleague in a news journal, forced me the other day into that hackneyed deliberation once again but not striking notes of music. Joseph drew me into his meditation on murder, murder of Gandhi, through his slender volume of poetry released last week. In a compulsive urge for publication, he put into circulation in the literary market not one but three anthologies all at once. There is, I learn, much more than money in poetry. 

Gandhi is dead but he remains, and will remain, a throbbing wound in our collective memory. A bullet is still ensconced in our hearts, Joseph says, a wound eternally open, still bleeding, bleeding. As it is contrarily germane to music, so it is to Gandhi, a frail but sturdy son of god who yearned to conquer anger and violence and ended up as its hapless victim. It is an inevitable tragedy of mankind, rendering every apostle a martyr. For some reason, Joseph supplants martyrdom with a Hindustani expression, shaheed. Every saint is a shaheed. Is there no redemption, no recovery of faith and peace on earth? The question hangs languorously through  the unembellished, austere pages of The Murder of Gandhi. 

A short poem has a proper noun for its title, Tees January Marg. Somewhere along that accursed street, I recall, is an old hotel, Claridges, wafting its colonial charm and beyond it is the prayer house where Gandhi, unusually late for the afternoon’s homily and recitation, was shot dead. Ironically, Godse bowed before his magnificent victim before showering on him far too many bullets. Was it a penitent gesture or a tactical act to let no one suspect that a crime against humanity was imminent? Godse was resolute, if it  indeed was resoluteness, but not remorseful before or after the assassination. 

The wound is still bleeding, says Joseph. Now and then comes a “broken whisper,” an  oxymoron chosen as the title of another Joseph anthology, exploring the rationale of the unmitigated crime of the killer and his accomplices. When Godse’s rejected appeal was heard by the Punjab bench, Justice G D Khosla observed that the deposition of the accused was stunning. If the jury system were in force, Godse’s plea and performance might have cast a spell on it, wresting its sympathy, said Justice Khosla in his memoirs. That was not a solitary view. Which makes appallingly redolent Joseph’s simple outcry that “it is still bleeding.”

This sanguinary publication, shall we say, is Joseph’s fourth anthology. One may say it is unlikely in so far as Joseph, whose working language is Malayalam, chose to convey his mental wounds and delights in English. Frankly, when I joined him for a professional association that lasted a year in the late nineteen seventies, I had not suspected a poet residing in him. Two thoughts struck me. First, journalism, with its deadlines and deadening preoccupations, hardly blended with poetic musings. Second, much as I had a flair for poetry, more as a reluctant reader than as an infatuated versifier, it would be tough to recollect emotions in tranquility in a language other than the one to which one was bone. 

Joseph was, I soon saw, a journalist-poet. I am not sure if he would like to be so labeled or, significantly alternatively, as a poet-journalist. Poetry is not an idea but a mood, an attitude, a creative experience couched in circumlocution, vakrokti, as our own aesthetician, Kunta, would have put it. Professionally, like Joseph, I was used to dissertations, impatient harangues, “the world’s pettiness and laughter” as a Malayalam poet and commentator, N V Krishna Warrier, described the content of our daily chronicles. I brought up Warrier for a valid reason. 

A few decades before Joseph came up with his view of the murder of the Mahatma, Warrier had written a carping poetic critique on Gandhi and Godse. It was the sarcastic  narrative of a socio-political metamorphosis, a famished  Gandhi reduced to waiting for the day’s ration rice and an affluent Godse driving around in his limousine.  How true, it is still bleeding, as Joseph says in a constant refrain. 

Long before I was introduced to Joseph’s poetry in English. I saved my potential readers from my turgid verses in Malayalam or English by not rattling them off. My poetic effrontery was short-lived. When I realized that poetry involved not an exquisition fit for paraphrasing, not a narrative which meant nothing more or less, but which suggested more than what it said, I asked myself to fold up and sleep or roar. If poetry is to be, and not to mean, as Archibald Mcleish said, I said I would do well by not exploring meaning. Joseph’s exploration will be, I am sure, greatly rewarding.

Joseph’s three anthologies have been brought out by Blaze Media, a Chennai-based publishing outfit born out of a professional association between him and his former colleague P K Sreenivasan, journalist, novelist and cinema enthusiast. Blaze Media’s inaugural volume was “Chennai: Memory Chips”, an unconventional attempt to read the city’s history through its proper nouns. The linkage between the poet and the publisher must learn to introduce new models of layout, avoiding what are usually dismissed as literals. Editors, not merely copy editors, can make a difference to their venture.   


More by :  K Govindan Kutty

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