Monto, the long poem in eleven sections, comes at the end of P.C.K. Prem’s first collection published as Among the Shadows by Narinder Publications, Delhi, 1989. Monto is ambitious, pleasure loving and blatantly selfish. The poet presents a convincingly interesting picture of to-day’s well-to-do satyr, unscrupulous but extremely attractive man. Each section deals with an aspect of the persona’s diurnal activities.
It starts with Monto still in bed on a Dunlop mattress, his body stretched wide. The sounds of washing and rustling in the kitchen, water flowing down from the tap and the rustle of clothes being washed by the maid are being heard by the slothful master of the house. A ringing of the telephone makes him wake up unwillingly and angrily. This is how the poet begins the show. Monto howls, rages and cries – revealing to the reader his pride and anger. But this is not a simple poem though certain things like his breathing, the way he wakes up listening to the ringing of the phone are.
he languished in sermons,
and like Bhishma
wishes to advise the God of Death
to come during Uttarayan,
so he avoids death
for he has done enough
and does not want rebirth.
It is embellished with assertions
voice full and hoarse, sometimes ringing. (I, ll. 17-26)
Very soon the reader understands and appreciates the irony of the poet we call narrator hereafter. The man is an exact opposite of the scriptural character but he would not accept being compared to any one lesser. The narrator knows that. It is quickly added that at other gentle times Monto knows
He pauses, listens, hears and speaks. (I, l.28)
We are given his traits briefly:
He knows he is an intellectual
he understands, he is a modern
no doubt, no explanations
he is gone with her train
such a hindrance slow, sluggish. (I, ll.29-33)
The reader is given an aid at the end of the section which explains many things.
Not writhing with passion but a machine
it is love without warmth
she is wife but not a woman, Monto laughs. (I, ll.34-35)
The wife is not a wife as Monto wants to be but a machine not writhing with passion. The reader is told that Monto wants a woman seething with passion, not a female machine. His laughter is for his getting his chance to have love (read lust) with warmth. This is just a sample by way of indicating the poet’s style of presentation in the rest of the narration in the succeeding ten sections.
The second section shows us Monto’ study table cluttered like a studious scholar’s, writer’s and so on. He is a reading man, a thinker, high-flier and a brooder too. He thinks high of himself a Moses. Like the Mahatma he leads a Dandi march:
And he launches a marathon dandi
all Gods walk into the room
they are his friends he exhorts,
his tuneful tongue hums a song
Of piety, faith and God. (II, ll, 13-17)
To impress visitors is not a very small motive:
Decorated fortunes around
Sparkle and splatter and he looks,
The door is opened. (II, ll, 18-20)
But it is only the house cleaner
His house cleaner making sounds
Doing odds, and he remembers tickles soothingly
her body calming him down at night,
it was her journey into a life experience
when a virgin is made a woman over night.
He shivers not with guilt but with pleasure and victory
it was her journey Monto feels. (II, ll, 21-20)
His desire satiated in the night, Monto thinks he is a saviour, Messiah (to the maid and others of that type) and this makes him a thinker thinking very deep and with high ideals. Wife away put into a train by himself, the first thing he does like a pious devotee is to make obeisance in the morning to the deities hanging on the walls, his mind at peace in joy swiftly saluting image after image. He is thoroughly satisfied thinking of himself as a Solomon himself as praised by God Himself.
This house cleaner was so satisfying
it was passion fulfilled
it was lust and virginity
and a virgin wittingly laughing away
to lust with recompense. (III, ll, 13-17)
A bedmate for free is a joy for ever for him. He thinks that she is pleased with him though he does not know as to why he is her alter ego. He is elated beyond measure:
Monto is the strength, the society
he boasted, spoke and wrote
in speeches and writings
such freak romances and a few jumps
hall marks of a genius he inferred. (III, ll, 21-25)
As fascinated and as proud as his creator, Monto feels he is Rama and Krishna too and draws a parallel relation if only with a little selectiveness. The creator created him thus but Monto knows that he is cunningly brave, studious and diplomatic.
Monto is cunning and finds support
from history and scripture and I alone see and lament
for Monto has started building a temple
for when I thought of this character (III, ll, 35-38)
He lives within and mocks me
and always pushes me aside to walk ahead. (III, ll, 39-40)
The child pooh-poohs the brain which thought of it.
Thinking of the bedmate as a succulent wench and fully awake now, Monto needs a cup of tea. He mumbles loudly and waits after she appears till she comes before him. He is a consummate player. Outwardly shy and gentle he is exposed enough to know the facts.
Monto needs a cup of tea
he mumbles loudly and a maid appears,
he waits, she is in front of him
shy and gentle but exposed and fact knowing
he marks her, each contour entices him,
sends waves of thrills
he speaks out her name without a voice
there she moves
and pounces on her
another attack of unending hunger
he eats up her again, food in plenty
she wriggles out, for he live great and grand he is. (IV, ll, 1-11)
Brevity, complexity, these are essential for the communication to be made powerfully expressive. Poets are free and authorized to take loving liberties with syntax, grammar and punctuation for making satisfying expression as can be seen many a time.
Now we know that Monto is a socialist, a communist to be justifiably precise.
Looks at today’s engagements
he has to speak at comrade’s(sic) meet
so he prepares a speech another hour on Marx
his communism and Capital, for it is 10A.M. (IV, ll, 16-19)
Now Monto thinks about Man’s destiny and the division of society into classes, creeds and creeds. And then there are wars even in civilized societies. He waxes philosophical. He believes in the dictum that the fittest survive. Even the Gita says it which strengthens his belief. The charioteer Krishna who knows no relation, no blood no obligation, no obligation says so too. For that reason the elimination of poor sure. Then he thinks of the injustice of even Rama:
Ravana was duped in a subtle way
convincingly he propounded and there were cheers,
socialism is a word for all to eat
for survival and life if poor is eliminated
who will live old worn out formulas,
all sham and falsehood, a clever move of a few rich
to hold on to power in the name of majority. (V, ll, 15-21)
The rich win and become majority and become powerful. The poor in consequence are relegated, thrown into the background. The rich get and get into power by hook or crook.
A baseless proposal that swings and lingers on
reigns deeps and carries out orders
of government majority and poor,
they remain poor in rags and hunger
homeless and spiritless they are murdered. (V, ll, 22-26)
Women become the property of the rich and are raped. The rich are few but they have the majority.
To fulfill a commitment women are raped
remain a property of luxury.
Enjoyed by a few in the system who pronounce majority,
a sustaining contradiction. (V, ll, 27-30)
Capitalism is the culprit. Under the Communist comradely exuberance, Monto believes that he has grown, rose to the highest peak. Now he is praised by his creator with tongue in cheek. He is Messiah, the saviour Jesus. He becomes eloquent and with ambition and hauteur speaks vehemently.
A messiah has risen from the ashes
he is standing like a liberator
a terrific experiment in liberty and equality. (VI, ll, 5-7)
The man’s erudition is resplendent.
He knows Issac and laughs
he behaves like Jacob and shows blessings
for Esau is cheated and so wept
Monto makes a long sweep (VI, ll, 8-11)
… ….. ….
Monto is double tongued and at the same time not single hearted.
…it was the grinding anguish
and interminable suffering,
a voice against gave another image
Monto chokes in fame and feels breathless,
in echoes the crowd thins out
comrades stand by him, he laughs. (VI, ll, 19-24)
He harangues on the theories of Marx, analyses revolutions and talks of 1917 and 1949 in a manner that electrifies the comrades, the listeners.
And discusses theories of Marx
how it came about
in China, Russia and such like countries,
he analyses revolutions, talks of 1917 and 1949
dates he remembers, arguments spell silence,
he is entertained, lavish tea and lunch
over soft drinks and drinks unknown
and then seminars in a hotel room
he understands the darkness of night. (VI, ll, 25-20)
He is a concupiscent and loves women most. His weakness for the fair sex is all inclusive right from a maid to a princess. Ethics are for ordinary men and lesser mortals. Monto’s ethics are unique, distinguished and marked with extensive voluptuousness. He is Samson unshaven by Philistines.
His ethics give him insight into scriptures and religions
he laughs at manipulations, he succeeds, none knows
and nobody shall know when he shall concentrate in a hotel,
with a comrades’ daughter it is teaching without boundaries
he knows that, and the comrade understands,
his daughter pays the fees, an experience that remains
unforgettable, Monto is great and supreme. (VI, ll, 38-44)
His knowledge of the world famous in all types and categories, rulers, fighters, lovers and statesmen political philosophers is surprisingly extensive.
He is stunned at his fantasy
of success and so he justifies. (VI, ll.51-52)
His mental ability and astuteness, cogency in argument and depth of thought are unparalleled and sublime at the same time. The Marxist ideologue is long and bewildering. He continues long and the narrator, Monto’s creator comments:
And discussion ends nowhere
he talks of labour on roads,
farmers working in fields, skeletons loading and unloading,
beggars in tattered clothes, children with begging bowls
of hunger and poverty, of corruption and exploitation,
of sufferings and deaths, of palaces and huts. (VII,ll,1-6)
The narrator is the one flabbergasted as Monto’s listeners in the crowd. He knows the ins and outs of his creation, his marionette. He cannot help commenting lest he be misunderstood.
It is neither a poet’s dream nor novelist’s world
neither God visualized it nor men thought of it
Monto repeats with passion that he poured out,
on comrades daughter, and maid
for they do not want his strength. (VII, ll, 11-15)
A slight compunction bothering him, he tells himself as one who knows all, that the world is stupid. People and society are somnolent and there is nothing he can do about it beyond pleasing himself.
He knows an evil and lie but who is he to disclaim
when world digests it as a truth,
he understands the roaming pulse
and slumbering intellect of people and society.
He scans the world around he stands around
and midst legends,
a very high and tall, my Monto is a man of dreams
who went out without warning. (VII, ll, 16-23)
After the meet of the comrades, in the next section Monto walks out to attend a literary symposium since he is a lover of literature himself being a writer too. In the assemblage Monto discusses men and matters, poets and fiction, culture, tradition and all kinds of writings and penmanship. He extols litterateurs as persons of the brave new world, goes to Keats and reminds the listeners that beauty is truth and truth beauty, of course not going beyond to say that it is all they need and need to know. That is because the maid and the comrade’s daughter are there for him to enjoy and he needs that enjoyment. Then he speaks about peace and harmony. The dictum he mouths aloud with strong emphasis is impeccable. He is cocksure that as blood is red, society should be casteless and creedless. As the world is just one there can not be two religions. Since Man is all one and the same – equality and sameness is implied – there could be only one truth. The narrator himself is impressed. Rama is not the real hero for his act of sending his wife on exile leads him to Ahalya, not affected by a curse at all. There could none to find fault with his belief and argument, he believes.
He is my Monto standing lofty I’m talking high
he is my dream of my making,
he is lord of a charming Ahalya, no effect of any curse,
He can send Seeta to exile and still laugh. (VIII, ll, 21-25)
Monto does not believe in one wife ideal or a single-wife thought a matter of just pride. He puts his wife on train as the reader already knows and wants women, not a machine-like wife. He delights in delectable flesh play with whoever he acquires free for she does the tasty necessary things and is not affected by any curse.
At this juncture his creator tries to satisfy himself but he is crestfallen:
I made him what he is but he stamped and killed me
I do not repent he is my child,
I breath through him Monto is great. (VIII, ll, 26-28)
Since Monto is great he salutes him. He is more, a machine an automaton:
He is an intellectual
he is leader, writer and ever thing,
he knows how to live in world
of lies and hatred.
He is my computer he organizes and prophecies
he kills, he enjoys
he is stoutly walking into eternity
world knows him and knows not,
that is his victory and my defeat
My Monto I salute who lives cleverly in this world. (VIII, ll, 29-39)
Monto’s creator talks about writers and poets:
Poets speak of ideas they feel not
writers write of men they never met,
fiction is created without truth, it is rootless.
It teaches many things, creates vacuum
it writes of man and berates him
writings do not create culture. (IX, ll, 1-6)
Writers are of a special category while creating works of poetry or fiction with their own purposes to become attractive and famous.
But feed sex and violence
cheap emotions, simple traditions,
writers smoke and in smoke
they see a philosophy in cozy rooms,
they think of sunburnt faces
in warm cushions talk of beggars,
such is a living of surviving ethos
it must be killed. (IX, ll, 7-14)
Monto is rewarded for his gab. A macho he has no scruples and his pride is limitless. His principles are enunciated not so much in the gift of the gab alone but in his actions as well. Most profitably for him, a young poetess is enamoured of his eloquence and comes to him. His lasciviousness ignited, he grows high and:
.. and moves forward
and teaches the young poetess
the art of emotions through experience
and becomes Vatsayana,
and gives her a kiss unasked
for he hashit eye of fish and so has won her
Monto is wanton but nobody knows. (IX, ll, 21-26)
Thus accomplished most unexpectedly (some have all the luck in the world) he goes for his next achievement:
This is a grand dinner
Monto is the chief guest
All reformers and rascals assembled here
he meets power and politics,
generates goodwill and seeks a treaty
as if a war without reasons (X, ll, 1-6)
The assemblage is high and great as the poet describes. Most important are the officers, those who hold power and help the crooked devils known by the people who vote them to power for a bottle of cheap liquor or a bank note. But the poet does not use words that are not to his taste.
Big babus are the stream
of continuity and balance
in charges and progress
Again a contradiction
women deride him as a cast off
he ridicules the opinion maker
he is a sucker, is seductive and handsome (X, ll, 7-13)
Handsome is the point and the sex is sometimes weaker some say. A poet is a poet, a creator who creates something or somebody to free himself from nagging thoughts, concepts, visions, and so on. He cannot be merely an exegete being the one makes, creates and wins people’s fancies:
Between wine and a woman
ruler and a business tycoon,
lingers a shadow. (X, ll, 19-21)
Monto too talks like a babu, he is not understood by the one who wields power for the one who acts is the mechanic, the driver, the charioteer and the virtual master. With his erudition which goes right above every head. Karl Marx, Ruskin and Keats are at the tip of his tongue and he talks of all resounding things. On them all hinges the grandeur of Man and the glory of God’s creation.
his spiritual win and bodily death
love languishes in his feelings
when Monto sees his bygone years. (X, ll, 26-29)
Wife of a high officer, when her hubby is away on important tour of business sent by his boss, calls Monto to a corner and professes an undying crush for him. Monto is too heroic to disappoint her after all with such a small reward:
he goes with the woman, unattached
and scores another point,
for he has so many lagos with him. (X, ll, 34-36)
A vague mist of compunction does come but Monto heroically blows it away. This is stupidly pedestrian. Here is a poetic expression:
I have never wept tears like these before
Both sweet and bitter’
thoughts of sadness come to Monto
but he gives a big laugh (X, ll, 38-42)
We are provided two great achievers, Salieri, the Italian classic composer and Pushkin the great Russian. The literary symposium, the banquet and wonderful speeches are over. With this we come to the end of the tenth section. The eleventh and the last is quick, fulsome conclusion. Monto returns home walking:
His laughter continues on barren deserted street
he finds an empty consolation
and the road provides sympathy,
he has talked much, lived a full day
without conceding a point living each moment,
in a counter point of love and argument. (XI, ll, 1-6)
Monto’s condition while on his way back home walking is abject in the next eight lines with dogs barking, asses braying and jackals roaring besides many other despicable things happening.
My Monto sadly walks and I feel pity
My creation fails me and I tremble and shudder. (XI, ll, 15-16)
The fall of the puppet-like hero inflicts a twang of pain on the player, the creator of the persona. He has nothing left to play with the strings left in his hands. The creator, however, has mercy for his brainchild. He is hopeful and hope lasts longer than anything. It is a thing with feathers as a poet said.
Life of a world that exist for everyone
and I weep and bemoan, for my Monto died,
to make me live another world of dreams
and thus I pray alone
for another Monto to rise again. (XI, ll,33-38)
For this poem there could not possibly be love at first sight – reading – in this matter for all. Surely a second reading or a third reading would communicate the very fine and deeply lovable nuances and the work would be understood, felt and appreciated. Normally all good poems do not appeal the most at the very first reading.
Prem is a scholar’s poet. His Monto is today is a sequel to the wasteland of earlier years being a waste macho. References to Salieri, Pushkin, Karl Marx, Ruskin sand Keats when understood give joy to the reader as are the references to Rama, Krishna and Ahalya for all the scripture-knowing though their references are not virtue promoting . The reader on reading this carefully would find this a rich poem with references to scriptural giant heroes and the masters of the west in various fields. Music, poetry, politics, statecraft are all here. The pretentious socialist, the haughty Communist the socialite free sex-lovers presented here are both amusing and thought-provoking. Morality is not valuable just for the age-advanced. The mannequin and the player, the puppet and the fashionable fair sex are all lovable to the mischievous imagination and delectable expressionist. Leg pulling is an art that requires not only gumption but also consummate skill. This poet’s sardonic humour at times accentuates the scathing criticism of the politicians and their babus revealing his sensitive understanding and competent expression. D.C. Chambial, a critic went to the extent of relating Monto to the ancient Hindu law-giver Manu, the one who ordained the Manu Smriti. He wrote: “The central character Monto, a distortion of the Hindu mythical character, Manu, the first man, symbolizes the modern aspiring man.”