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The Poet-Pilgrim’s Progress

by Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B. Bookmark and Share

Susheel Kumar Sharma’s Poetry

“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo.” Don Marquis [1]

Twelve years ago Susheel Kumar Sharma brought out his first collection of poems From the Core Within, Creative Publisher, New Delhi, 1999. The second collection The Door is Half Open was published in 2012, by Adhyayan Publisher New Delhi. A poet perceives things in his own imaginative way he considers best to communicate. In From the Core Within are shown signs of the rapid growth and development of spirituality. Before going to the second collection, a brief assessment of the first collection is necessary. ‘Spineless’ the first poem is about the speaker’s conscience. It is said to be dirty and stinking like his maid servant who never bathes, like his naughty son who never obeys. The cleanliness of conscience is essential for spirituality but it is said:

My conscience
Is like my
Blue parrot
Who does not sing
In a golden cage.

The imagery is suggestive and imaginative. Conscience cannot be active, calm and natural because of the cage which is above the ordinary kind of cage. In another poem In Search for the Brains the very beginning is satirical.

“The best brains
are collected in Delhi
to run the government.”

And then there is the sharp comment:

“Who says so?
It is a fools’ government
Run by fools, too.
If it’s KS’s Delhi ..
It is hermaphrodite.”

And then come Ezekiel, Siva’s Kamandala, Pi Pi Pi all veiled thinly referring to poets and the poem is concluded with the statement and even advice:

“They are not brain producers
but brain devourers

“Find your muse among ancient sages –
they tell you
“Tell me were you

not wandering for naught?”

The poem is hilarious. The ‘the’ before brains in the title is used not ungrammatically but for the poet’s emphasis. The critic Prema Nandakumar in her review of the book wrote: “An indictment that can lead us searching for our spines we lost ages ago is this Continent of Circe. Susheel Kumar Sharma has more of this shuddery inscape in From the Core Within. … fries Kushwant Singh, Nissim Ezekiel, Shiv K. Kumar and P.Lal in the hilarious ghee of frustration.” [6] Surprising is the way the poet started making his expression a shot pointblank. And then there is his feeling that the muse needs to be learnt from the sages and seers of yore.

The poet pilgrim’s progress begins with an impressive beginning and the readers see that here is a new and unique poet. Deep thinking and cerebration make the poet’s expression powerful. Just to give another example from the first collection, Seven Poems on the Gulf War would be the first choice. War and destruction are expressions of man’s stupidity, pride and thoughtlessness. It is a long poem with twenty uneven or verse paragraphs ranging from just one to seven stanzas in seven parts.

Birds not only weep
But die

We can read soldiers for birds. In the school the speaker is taught peace and to play carom and not the tricks of war, not to kill the innocent. It makes him wonder if the teachers were wrong. Now bothers the problem:

Then, where should I
Send my son for schooling
To my alma mater
To the Camper’s school?

War is not a problem for the fighters alone. A mother can be angry but the soldier cannot finish his letter to her. It turns red with gun-caused blood. The paper can take only tears:

Your tears only are there
on the piece of paper
trying to wash bloody spots.

Martial music in the streets transforms vehicles into tanks, armoured vans and fierce looking jeeps. Children are given masks in the place of sweets or chocolates.

And I,
Instead of making sand-houses
And collecting pebbles and shells on
The sea shore,
Started counting cockroaches
and collecting peeling-sand.

An adult, like the speaker answers when asked what peace is, comes to a simple explanation:

“Everyone gets work in peace,
In peace you hold a flute and not stem gun
In peace it is all calm and quiet
And no disorder, turmoil, rapine or
Perdition, mayhem, perturbation”

None can return the brother or the son lost forever. They went not to war but to get a loaf of bread standing in a queue. All words like peace, love, friendship, protection get meaningless. A hungry belly gets bullets and not bread – that is war.

The poet’s imagery lays down norms afresh; new myths are needed and along with them new rhythms and tunes too. War mongers think it easy to shoot or slay by putting enemies to starvation, destitution and thirst. The poet tells such with deep anguish:

I am a poet and not a dog
That for a image
I shall pull the intestines
Of an innocently crying child.
Nor am I an oyster
To fill up my belly
From the oozing blood of a wound
I am a man – neither a B… nor S …

B and S are not conundrums but things which not the war mongers believe as substantial or worthy – they are body and soul. The seriousness of the poet about things suffered is soul stirring. It has the job of a preacher, one devout and desirous of enlightening the ignorant. But who cares for wisdom in a war-torn and peace destroyed modern world which cannot think of higher things in human existence.

The Door is Half Open, a collection brought out after a long time gap, reveals further maturity and further understanding of life, its meaning, significance and purpose. The cover page has a significant picture of a half open door. A reviewer of this book wrote:

“… it displays the frontal view of an ancient temple door structure in medieval design; the architectural pattern not only shows stone carvings on both sides of the door frames, but also has the symbolic heads of the nava grahas (nine planets) as per Hindu mythology on the top of it. The door itself is half open and a peep into it shows the obvious terrace leading on to another entrance perhaps the sanctum sanctorum. So far as the title is concerned, the emphasis has been on the adverbial half open irresistibly tempts the reader to look into what remains unrevealed.” [13] This picture indicates the devout mind-set of the poet very impressively even before reading a poem, at the very first sight.

The first poem is an obeisance to the goddess: Ganga Mata – A Prayer. The prayer is replete with devotion, Indic ethos and humanism. Poetry as devotion climbing up to scale the heights of sublimity is part of our thinking attitude and behavior. Sanskrit texts are largely devotional in their content. The poem starts with utmost humility:

Like a bird in a tree on your shore
I want to sing your praise
Like a tortoise in your water
I want to play in your lap
Like a dolphin in your floods
I want to a small moorage
In an island created by you
. [14]

The poet starts the prayer inward looking as he is basically an intellectual and an introvert looking up spirituality and the supreme goddess. Standing before the Jahnavi he believes in Her compassion and in Her power and glory.

When I stand here
To have your darshana
I see only the white and the green waves
Piercing into each other
Like light into darkness
In a cloudy sky
You silently
Crush stones and push sand under
Your gorgeous feet
To help men raise
Buildings to touch the sky.

The important thing in Sharma’s poetry is the free and deliberate use of devbhasa which runs in the blood of the worshipful intellectuals in this country. For readers who are not Indian, Sanskrit words may be difficult at the beginning of their reading works produced by many here. But did we not learn words from almost all important languages like German, Russian, French etc., as we went along reading them in English works. For us devbhasha is familiar all over the country whatever might be our mother tongue. And then, a thoughtful professor friend of the poet, Prof H.D. Sharma prepared a glossary too. There are writers who spoke of the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome. Devbhasha is adored in the West too.

The first poem is sthuti, a paean in obeisance. The poet’s desire is pious and holy.

I don’t want to bury
The glories of the past;
The freedom of the past;
I don’t want to gag
The chanting of the rishis’ mantras;
I don’t want to hide
The development of the past;
I don’t want to ride
The jet of the present
I don’t want to bombard
The world with poison;
I don’t want to be a Blair
Or a Clinton to enchain the world
I just want my Ganga
To be my Ganga
Om jai Gange mahajaiii

Mundane things like comfort and possessions are not worth bothering for those thinking beyond earthly life with devotion.

From Kolkata to Gangotri
Just one scene –
Poverty squalor, dirt, sloth and melancholy.
Everyone is weeping bitterly
Everyone is crying hoarsely.
Everyone is worried unknowingly.
No one has a solution!
Yes, India is one!
United we stand
Divided we fall.

One voice
Ganga is ours –
Release Ganga
Mokshadayani Ganga!
Gange tav darshanan mukthi

Har har Gange;
Har har Gange
. [17]

These are lines revealing the speaker’s yearning for peace and joy. This is the realization acquired with deep devotion, with utter other worldliness.

Spines II is a sequel to the poet’s very first poem mentioned earlier, the theme of conscience acquiring further intensity. The earlier one is about the blue parrot in the golden cage. The parrot is the self and the golden cage the reference to riches and their shackles. Thus started, the thoughts are more intense now. The number of lines are increased in the last three. They are now increased to four all along.

My conscience
Is like my pen
That exhausts its ink
In the examination hall
. [18]

The angst and helplessness, despair and bewilderment are given wider, more intense expression in a number of fresh comparisons:

My conscience
Is like my vintage car
That refuses to move
At the appointed hour

And then it is like the new tyre that bursts in the noon sun on the road to the village hospital; disappointing, failing him when most urgently needed. The fecklessness, disillusionments, and the disappointments and inadequacies are mentioned with pain at length. These are things that make the speaker feel spine-broken and hence spineless. It creates a mental state like the failures and inadequacies mentioned again and again in different ways. When trials fail and efforts come to a naught the feeling is obvious and unavoidable too. It needs a lot of courage to be on one’s feet again with a spine that stands stiff to be active.

The poem Crisis reveals how it is impossible to shift gears in personal, faith matters. A teetotaler cannot stand – nor sit – in cocktail parties. In places or situations where there are limits or boundaries of colour etc., the speaker says

I don’t have to look into
My wallet to find a paper
To know who I am and to
Wear a mask accordingly
I’ve embraced peace now
. [20]

Personal preferences, liberty and sticking to one’s own habits are very important. Family conventions need not be sacrificed.

In the poem Shattered Dreams there are three parts. In the first there is an un-enigmatic ‘You’, signifying God.

I have embraced my dreams.
You’ve converted them into reality
Which is far away as were the dreams.

These are obviously not happy or joyful dreams that are shattered. The collapse of the World Trade Centre and Bush gathering evidence against Bin Laden are reality far more intensely serious than horror dreams. For the destruction he experiences whom can he blame or punish? Perhaps psychoanalysis and psychiatrists can do something but the speaker has kept them at a distance for he does not want to try to record all those as prescribed.

My success will lie not in revealing
This much but in concealing that much
. [22]

The idea is to seek refuge in spirituality which requires revealing by the seer, the sage, the drashtha Carlyle called ‘vates sacer’. He alone is the one who can look deep as well as high and inside the heart-mind, intellect with antahkarana chatushthaya - manas, buddhi, chitta and ahankara. This throws light which dispels all darkness and washes away dross. Many of the poems are personal revealing or suggesting befuddlement. Cerebration, the first step in gaining spiritual heights, leads to dilemmas, confusion and dissatisfaction. The poem Dilemma arises in the speaker thinking of his father, grandfather and the latter’s father. His father and grandfather are diametrically opposite. His grandfather brought up his father to hold the head high and poverty need not make one servile, submissive or unenthusiastic. The speaker’s father could not please his grandfather and this leads the speaker to wonder

Is it really possible for one
To remain poor and
Also hold the head high?

The wonder based question can be answered only by faith with total devotion in God. (Kuchela held his head high since he reposed absolute trust in the divine.)

In Vicious Circle the speaker is one who underwent severe agony and anguish, a product of his penury again. He asks himself as to why his uncle went to Basra to fight a war or to earn for his family bread. The speaker too must have faced a feeling of helplessness. He tells us:


And olive green signal beckons me
To tread his path
I, too, have to earn bread for my family

The uncle is behind the poem One Step Together. He nephew had gone sixty years towards him but cannot travel any more. He tells himself:

No, the journey is not very long
Just one step more
And one grief more
And it’s all over

Camouflage is almost the same feeling that he wants to be out to take the nearest bed. Grief is the force behind the poetic expression. It is useless to try to wipe the poet’s tears. He is a loner. With this understanding readers go towards the door half open since grief is not the end of everything. But it signifies some movement, some motion which could be progress too. The same cerebration takes the poet to Strings. The rising smoke is live, the consciousness is not on the wane. The waxing certainly is to come soon. The sense of pain for the writers, particularly poets, is the same.

Bringing in new books is
Like bringing in an empty pistol
Useless, but to be presented
For the gratuitous movement

Dwellings is about despair, again out of penury. But for an understanding heart going to be more mature it is better. This is the hope that gets shattered and causes deep wounds in the skin. Then comes Meditation. It gives a chance for the mind to move inches forward to salvation. The speaker is troubled with the thought that he failed god. The greatest of the saint composer saint-like singer of South India, Thyagaraja, usually called Thyaga Brahma composed a keertan about the Lord. The Supreme Being suggests to the suffering believer: ‘If hurt, pained or troubled bear with it with endurance’ and then adds ‘don’t ever join those who are thoughtless and inconsiderate’. This wisdom can be acquired only in and with meditation.

Across the Lethe is the remembrance of the deceased father whom the speaker of the poem can never forget. Asthi nimajjana, the immersing of bones and ashes of the dead one, is a ritual with serious value and significance for the devout. In the drawing room the vase is kept. The most telling part of the poem is this:

But everywhere it catches the
Attention of the new comers
Who stare at its emptiness
Though it is full to the brim
With memories – sweet and sour

There is joy in Tiny Tot for it is joyful to be so young since there can be no anguish. There is no thinking about the past or the future - the poet calls them rewinding and free forward in terms of tape-playing. There are poems which are complex like Handcuffed or very straight forward like the Lap of Nature. The brief poem Reason is about web posting of poetry.

Poverty is a major, important and oft repeated theme in Sharma’s poetry. Poverty- Some Scenes is a poem in eight parts with 144 lines. It is poverty everywhere. Hunger is ubiquitous in world class litterateurs like Shakespeare, Dickens and Shaw. Kalahandhi in Odisha our country, is the arch type which faces more hunger than Uganda. There are many disastrous calamities Katrinas, Tsunamies, hurricanes and tornadoes - all hunger inflicting. Only patience, forbearance and tolerance are usually preached but hunger is to be endured all the time by the unfortunate, the helpless sufferers. The poet pictures them all inclusively. The poet’s quiver is full of agony and pain that inspire and provide the gist for his creative mill. Even Dharmarja and Dhananjay are not exceptions when agony has to be silently swallowed. The poet cries for words and expressions:

Clad in unblemished white
Saraswati does not oblige
She is busy riding a golden peacoc
k [28]

Masquerade is a poem which is light hearted.

Now you can discuss
Aristotle or Vatsayan.
No foul smell from
My mouth – nor from
My ar.
.. [29]

The poem Relationships on a Holiday is rumination about a letter possibly from a sweet heart or a friend as you will. But such are few and far between. Serious cerebration is poet Sharma’s cup of tea and sometimes gives happiness as in the poem Left to Right. It is said at the opening of the poem that the town being spoken about is now no more a town but a city. It could be Allahabad too for people go there to become ashes or to be immersed in the triveni sangam. They bring out stories about saints

Or about J or I
Or about M or K
Or about the moving spirit
The rebel spirit
The crowned spirit

J.I. and M.K are not for obfuscation but for joyous mischief to make the reader guess the obvious.

Swan Song is a poem of dreams which the poet says sells to the world. Since there is nothing to give to the hungry, naked, homeless and downtrodden, dreams would be Hobson’s choice. For the pilot whose plane is hit we are pointed out:

All was burnt
Save my dream
To make India
Proud and
Brave and
Strong and

At this stage Sanjay Gandhi may be remembered. The irony in Mirage is scathing. We should be taken to the moon to quench our thirst. In the poem Nithari Yaksha is brought down from the celestials in the higher plane and asked not to look for the snow-clad peaks and the like when there is a place where the skulls of little children are found in the drain behind an affluent house in Noida.

Atrocities are many though not all are like Nithari cases though they are as or more painful for the right thinking. The poet addresses a paean for a bride who thinks of suicide and tells what brides are and what they are not meant for. Surely they are not made for taking away their lives. The legislation made is becoming dysfunctional.

Brides are the carriers of tradition
Brides are the need for civilization
Brides are the solace of bleeding hearts
Not to be trampled and kicked
But to be embalmed with care

Contemplation is a poem which has a thought provoking subject about man’s preoccupation in exercising his mind. The same moon is seen by different men in the form of a fable one looking for a way out in the jungle, another for drinking water and still another doing a penance for retribution and yet another for rescuing a child drowning in a river. Finally comes the one drifting along with wind to catch a feather – he is the resident of utopia, the poet. Questions unasked are the best. If any his sisters and friends pester him the speaker says

The skeins would reveal
Multi-coloured pattern
If unwound and unwound

Purgation in five parts is about cleansing one’s own self. But it is not easy. The speaker finds it impossible to throw away sorrow. It comes back trying to teach him to hang himself with the birth cord not trying to dispel and dissolve it. The third section deals with the speaker’s memory compared to Halley’s Comet to make him feel he has not grown an inch unlike the wild fire. Memory being talked about being slow and unprogressive is a powerful anti-simile. For some this may appear obscurantism. God in kindness allows him to have a dream, in fact many dreams one after another. He waits for the sparkling dream to come true. God cannot be keep only blessed in dreams. Only fire consumes sins. Vishnu rising from the lotus has the design of the world on His conch. The world is a burning jungle, burning sin and virtues too. Only after this, when nothing remains after the purgation, Jana, Brahma stands revealed. The symbols conch and jungle demand deep penetrating imagination, while contributing to the brevity and intensity of thought.

Hope is the Last Thing to be Lost reminds us of Emily Dickinson’s poem about hope. Hope never dies - it cannot be put to death. It is something valued, loved and cherished however hard the conditions may be. There may be complexity – complexity is not obfuscation – in the lines:

The voice cracking the dream
Remained faint
The key could not be turned
The dream was not yet impregnated

God’s voice in a dream is weak and it cannot be made to deliver thought and action. Christianity is brought in with Pentecostal fire. The world does not listen to the praying mind but the plant does it with gaiety and so is saved. In the third section the poet goes to Buddha, and further towards praanaayam to enable him to know what to do and know what not to do. He realizes that one needs to know one’s own leading light. The fourth section reveals that sitting still is no small or easy task. He is adored by the world since has come a long way in devotion with faith. The fifth tells us that his hatred is gone and love remains. Finally hope comes in the last section from busy bee, hope radiates from the monk on the Ganga ghat.

Hope gives the speaker courage to enter the gates of god to accept retribution for his sins. This is consummation for anyone to be devoutly wished for.

The last poem is brief and is called Liberation at Varanasi. It is an expression of ecstasy in devotion. Kaashi is the ultimate end of the journey toward the goal, mukti or salvation. Now all shall be well and all manner of things as St Juliana of Norwich told the devout centuries earlier. The speaker earlier joyous with peace says this:

If I can survive by meditation
If I can survive by ‘Shivoham’
It is a call to find answers
On the banks of the Ganges and
In the narrow streets
That brings me to you, O Varansi

What needs to be changed is the mind with the belief that faith and devotion would lead to joy. The world would change eventually if people pray hard and even become sthita prajnaas with transcendental consciousness. Sharma’s poems are serious minded and the internal thought is to illuminate what is dark in himself. He is a pilgrim-poet in this sad, ugly, cruel and harsh world but hope, devotion and meditation lead him from a door half open to go further in from experience to a feeling of joy which would eventually lead all the devout to ecstasy.

Works Cited

1. Quoted by Sanjeev Kumar, in his introduction p.xiii, in Bricks and Bouquets, Creative Publisher, New Delhi 2004 (Donald Robert Marquis (1878-1937) was an American journalist, journalist and author.)
2. Sharma, Susheel Kumar, From the Core Within, Creative Books, New Delhi, 1999, p. 1
3. Ibid, p.3
4. Ibid, p.4
5. Ibid.
6. Nandkumar Prema, Indian Book Chronicle, XXV, 8 (August 2000), p.7. (Included in Bricks and Bouquets)
7. From the Core Within, p.22
8. Ibid, p.23
9. Ibid. p.25
10. Ibid, p.26
11. Idid.p.27
12. Ibid. p.30
13. Das Nikunj K, Replica, Jan- June , 2013
14. Ganga Mata – A Prayer, p.1.
15. Ibid pp.2-3
16. Ibid. pp.6-7
17. Ibid, p.9
18. Spineless II ll.1-4
19. Ibd. p.12
20. Crisis, p.12 ll-16-20
21. Shattered Dream, p.13
22. Ibid. p.14
23. Dilemma, p.17
24. Vicious Circle, p. 18
25. One Step Together, p. 19
26. Strings, p.22
27. Across the Lethe, p.25
28. Agony, p.46
29. Masquerade, p.48
30. From Left to Right, p.51
31. Swan Song, p52-53
32. For a Bride Who Thinks of Suicide, p.62
33. Contemplation, p.80
34. Hope is the Last Thing to be Lost, p.84
35. Liberation at Varanasi, 92

More by : Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.
Views: 3486      Comments: 2

Comments on this Poem Article

Comment Thank you so much for taking interest in my work and interpreting it on the correct lines.

Susheel Kumar Sharma
15-Oct-2014 00:00 AM

Comment Honoured to go through your venerable work,sir.May your prolific pen create many more endearing,enchanting articles of illumination.Best regards.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
06-Mar-2013 00:00 AM


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