Articles /Interviews

The Anatomy of Love


A Quick Look as a Prepublication Review
of Poet Khandelwal’s volume:
21st Century Love Poems - Love is a Lot of Work

You are present
In your absence
And absent
By the conditioning
Of the senses
(Spoilt by Conditioning)

Rajiv Khandelwal is an enthusiastic and competent poet with just one published volume of poetry. Conch Shells And Cowries (Indian Publishers & Distributors, Delhi, was published in 1998.) A trained engineer and a technocrat-poet and Khandelwal’s next love is highly imaginative poetry, the first being his love for his two daughters Vertica and Vernica. In the Author’s preface to his first collection he has some confessions to make, which I quote here, for the benefit of budding poets bubbling with enthusiasm to become bards of excellence.

“It is extremely important for me to mention the difference that positive comments did to me, remember that I was a student of Engineering just minimally associated with literature. The positive comments inspired me and I continued writing. A couple of months later I came in contact with another doyen of Indian English poetry and he commented on my writing “Please learn the basics, because poetry is not chopped up prose.”

Though a septuagenarian moving upward fast, I cannot write what the basics of poetry are. I hasten to add that the chopped up prose is the very first and only basis and beginning to make an effort. Imagination, feeling and a capacity for facile expression may be termed basics which I see in any budding poet who has a feeling mind and an adequate command over language. The first collection of Khandelwal’s convinces the reader that this poet has poetic/imaginative qualities and a thirst for being a first rate poet. His poems on poetry itself are ubiquitous in his first collection and I can cull only a few by way of illustrating his competence.

He is fascinated by imagination and searches for words with competence:

I searched for you
In every corner
Under the sofa
Amongst the flowers
In the Upanishads
Beneath the kamasutra
On the heaving bed
Couldn’t find
(p.1. Conch Shells and Cowries)

He has flair of titillating expression but it is not just for titillation.

“I searched and searched
And then
At the end of the rainbow
Amongst the pregnant cows
I found you, dear
Allowing yourself
To be seduced”
(Ibid, p.2)

Searching for words for the description of coloured rainbow like flashes in imagination is surely the beginning of the makings of a poet. For one thing this is humility, devoutly to be wished for instead of saying oysters and pearls a step higher for diamonds in the deeps looking for conch shells and cowries is surely a spring board for imaginative surfing. Khandelwal thinks about the sad condition of poets in his “Condolences to the Poet”. This is no time for poetry and poets have little to do. What he does is not taken seriously or effectively

The pen mightier than the sword
He a poet recorded
The dehumanizing aspects of the system
That bugged him
Believing that
His confrontational writings
Would have a corrective effect
On the shallow society
Voicing hope
Only to find
That he has been stacked
With much fan fare and hype
On the shelves
Titled ‘fiction’
(Ibid, p.6)

The condition of today’s poets is further described in “Failure”

No swanky cars
No foreign trips
Nor a permanent invitee
To the city’s exclusive parties
No direct political connection
Children no geniuses
No big bank balances
To top it up
The guy’s a poet
Who cares if he is happy?
Satisfied with life
Has a good wife
People look up to him for advice
Gives free social service with price
I can see the stamp of failure
Can’t I?
(Ibid, p.7)

Poesy thoughts of wit intense feeling in a number of ways now recalled:

They are the days when
The thoughts could burst
Like the butterfly from its
Bright and kaleidoscopically coloured
The days when thoughts
Are like the much sought after
Raindrops falling and soothing
The soil of the self.
(Ibid, p.8)

There is his experience - an engineer’s encounter with a la belle dame in “An Encounter”

The moment my eyes recorded your image
And my brain registered your ‘Hello’
The audio waves of your voice
Created transverse ripples in my ear
And my ear drums started resonation
With your musical ‘hello’
(Ibid, p. 10)

With all science vocabulary of mechanics and sciences, he moves into an area of laughter in the poem “An Encounter”

The face, an index of the mind
Soul and body
Like a mirror reflected it all
And I became the talk of the town
As if
I was, the best seller paper back
Of the year
(Ibid, p.11)

The speaker of the poem “Today”, obviously a poet today thinks off writing a letter to his lady love in a musical scenario:

The winds are whispering
Sweet nothings into my ear
The claret is on the table
The lute leans against the door
(Ibid, .12)

The poet becomes a musician and musical instruments are there and enthused and pepped up he declares and finally thinks of making a proposal with gusto:

I must
Elevate myself
From the nadir
Of my languorous state
And garner
Enough courage
To ask you tomorrow
Will you be my Eve?
(Ibid, p.13)

The joke is that still the languor and cowardice are still there and the lover only decides to propose the next morning. A realistic situation is of the youthful man still in adolescence. This is the title of the new poem “Hope at Sixteen” – a poem on poetry and the poet composing it. Here is the bombast of being flabbergasted by a mere smile. World famous painter, sculptor, lark and a poet all are remembered in adolescent exuberance making the reader smile – “she favoured me with a smile” (Ibid, p.14)

The love feelings and imaginative outbursts of poetic imagination offer the spring board (which took nearly for fifteen years to produce in the new millennium) to produce love poems. This fact leads to the realization that love involves a lot of hard work.

The poem “Divorce” is about the nature of change. The flame of love; like a candle slowly and slowly burnt seeps out something; then leads to a nondescript portion remaining. This leads to the idea expressed in the poem “life” that in the vast expanse of life, eerie silence and stillness forebodes the coming of the storm. The speaker of the poem wonders:

Who needs
Life or death
When life precariously balanced
Like the see saw
One way or the other
(p.33 Ibid)

This is deeply serious thought demanding the chopping of lines in the poem. The poet is immensely disturbed and influenced by not mere chopped up thought. It took him fifteen years to produce another book of poems (to be published this year) 21st Century Love Poems - Love is a Lot of Work. There is mellowness of feeling and understanding of the condition of human life in which love is the important impetus to nature psychologically. As Reginald Massey in his forward says: “In these poems I detect a new voice singing songs of love to the new generation of the new world”

The first poem “My First Memory of You” shares the depth of the speaker’s understanding of the human emotion of love as described by the poets of the past right from Keats and Donne up to Walter Savage . The Poet’s picture of memory is of the love sublime of Beatrice and Dante which is Divine Comedy. Sublimity is the enduring quality of great love and love is a lot of work. The wonder of the lady love’s silence is thought provoking making the lover look deep within himself is clearly explained here:

It is irrelevant
That devouring
Medically prohibited
Chocolate pastry
Gave me intense pleasure.
(p.2 Love is a Lot of Work)

Sublime love is in the mind beyond the flesh, skin and the body, it is in thinking

What is of dying importance
Is why
She did not communicate

It is beyond today, beyond time – hence is a lot of ‘work’. The basis of true, sublime and divine love is Dante’s love for Beatrice Portinari, it is the greatest of unrequited – distant love, the basic details are awe inspiring. Dante was betrothed at 12 and married later at 22. Beatrice married a year later and dies at the age of 24. Devastated, Dante remained devoted to Beatrice for the rest of his life, Dante wrote a poem La Vita Nuora – the new life. This is not carnal, not youthful love, but divine and everlasting. When Dante was 18 in 1283 Beatrice spoke to him once as they saw each other while passing in the street. Her greeting filled him with ecstasy which inspired him to write the greatest love poem, the Italian “La Vita Nuora”. The first poem “My First Memory of You” with this backdrop in the poet’s mind set his theme perspective. Sublime love is not always the subject of Khandelwal’s poems. His “Recession Hits Love” is a case in Point. Some loves are jinxed like the one here:

Dwindling contact
Three months waiting
And when the wait
Gets almost pickled in formaldehyde
I finally get to hear from her
She says: Can no more
Log onto Skype or E-mail
As she is doing seven people’s jobs all by herself
Most of the staff got fired
But she’s elated
Got a salary rise with
Home loan approval
… …. …
Recession hit
For the finish
(p.3 Recession Hit Love)

“Love poet Khandelwal (b.1957) waits like a bird watcher staying far away unobtrusively observing the flutter and the flight of the bird “– the editor of this collection Bhupinder Parihar writes. “Work is the cardinal feature of love as an act of seeing, recalling and anticipating, so the words become welcome visitors and the language of poetry ’an act of the mind’”. It would be just to call it an act of benediction too.

The dreams of the lover in the poem “A Dream Away” are slightly different and so more meaningful. It is not simply a dream job, dream car or owning a dream corporate company.

While you are always away
I hope it’s your mail
So that
We can again feel together
Grieve together
Hope together
(Ibid, p.4)

The oneness of the feeling, grieving and hoping together is all about love – especially in the present scenario of life. Learning strategies differ from business to business and effort to effort. The strategies to scale the peaks of sublimity are simple – even in the present new millennium for this poet:

While thinking of you
I frequently
Tie myself into knots
And each knot
Ties itself
Into further knots
As I struggle
In vain
To untie
(Ibid, p.5)

The thirst for lady love never changes in the poem “Nothing has changed”

When I hear
A subtle knock
Echo of fading footsteps
Sounds of laughter
I hope it’s you
(p.6 Ibid)

Holding hands in the dark in the theatre is a love-image which makes the lovers mind feasting in the music of love remembering the saying ‘if music be the food of love, play on’. In several places at different points of time Dante’s thoughts/feelings/ecstatic moments come in Khandelwal’s hero. When the well of want in him overflows as shown in his poem “You Came” stereotyped love, the lust package is not really lovable for it is no love in the real sense. The speaker says that he wouldn’t say “I love you”, “I like you” or “I have you” – the love is in his heart – mind - soul (manas) is the absolute sublime which can say briefly:

Let me look back
Without malice
Without mischief
(Ibid, p.8)

At another peak among the ubiquitous the lover says:

“Nothing is simple
When the trigger-happy heart
And the fire-balled mind
Passing through stages of destruction
For inheritance of pain
(Ibid, p.9)

The images of the cannon and the gun can lead only to pain which has no relevance for the soul felt amour. Finding an old photograph ought to have been a simple affair but it reminds the speaker of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and he asks:

“Must I die a hundred deaths
And you launch a thousand ships?”

The impassioned lover remembers his lady love taking her pet canine running amok to the canine doctor, if not to the four lettered bliss called love in the poem “You Do Nothing”. The poet has abstract painting in his mind:

Well, you did what you have to
But doesn’t it ever bother you
When my heart goes wild
You do nothing.
(ibid, p.11)

“The hidden-in-plain-sight view,
Fleeting and realistic
Like in a dream
Is peppered
All over
With slices of you”

There is the image of motorbike swishing fast and disappearing from the view in his thinking of his lady love. Here’s the lover’s heart throb:

And in that split second
The sweet-smelling sweet-scented smell
The enigmatic amor smile
The braided, bound wavy tresses
Precipitated the mawkish heart
To beat out of rhythm
(p.15, The Receding Strand)

In poem after poem – “Girl Swooshes By”, “Motorbike Moves Away”, “Something About That Girl” “Fusion”, “Charges Of Solicitation” ”Girl On The Motorbike”, “Your Look Alike Speeds By” the lady love appears in a flash, fleshy, flashy, fantasy rising love seen in all these poems:

The bandhej sari
Jingling glass bangles
The huge red bindi
Fleeting fragments –
… ….. ….. …..
Intoxicated thoughts
Desires unlimited
Extract bottles
Sells it back
In a fadt forward mode
As the motorbike moves away”
(p.17 Motorbike Moves Away)

Then another such flash of feeling:

There is something
About the girl on the motorbike
Which gives uninvited entrée?
To anatomical low-cut
(p.18 Something About That Girl)

And there is fusion of many desires:

“Everything is make believe
An Illusion
A Dream
…. ….. ….. …
One look is all it takes
For disruption of reality”
(p.19 Fusion)

Then there is the libido on an overdrive:

For insatiable desired
With oozing Ajanta Breasts
And a tummy
In urgent need of a tuck in
Opens itself
To charges of solicitation
When your look-alike on the motorbike
Speeds away
(p20, Charges of Solicitation)

The lover thinks only of his heart-throb when he sees a girl on the motorbike:

Your look-alike on the motorbike
Speeds away
Smiling in a strange way
(p.23Your Look-alike Speeds By)

These are only various aspects of feelings in the 21st century love poems. Delcious, sensitively sensuous sweet love, not carnal love or just worldly – this is love with a difference in the scenario of corporate business and fast flashing lily ponds are there in some more poems.

The lily pond
That day
You embraced me
With your eyes
(p.74 That Day)

Sensuous sensibility always fascinates:

The cooing
Of mating birds
Gives free rein
To tender cravings
(p.75) Not that Pond)

There are a number of remembrances and sweet recollections of sensuality and passion in this poem:

It’s the one place
Where nature
And I
In harmony
.... …… …..
The lily knows
It was my first kiss
And the place
Where I lost myself
(p.79 Lily Pond And Your Call)

This experience is unforgettably sensuous

I walk the lily pond park
Relationship residue
(p.81 Alone)

This is no chopped up prose except for the mere eyes with no heart- mind -soul. manas.

Sweet words, dialogues, monologues and feelings are all amour centered, remembered thirsted for and experienced. There is love in departmental stores, super markets and in the corporate business meetings. Language and the vocabulary wise the poems are not always easy for the new reader. But, for the experienced ones and imaginative enthusiasts the poems are manna; the poet is influenced by Kamasutra too – not simply with Marcel Proust or Dr. Faustus. Proust tells us of the power and efficacy of the olfactory sense and amygdale.

There is a short poem “Drinking Coffee With You”:

Coffee aroma floats
Mugs gaze starry eyed
With a Proust effect
Liquid heat flows into inertia
Bunch of racehorse dreams
Get together
Have fun
(p.43. Drinking Coffee With You)

The references to Pheidippides , Greek King Tantalus and the techniques of monytage, Taoism and the concept of action through inaction , naturalness are all brought in sometime slyly and subtly and sometimes quite openly enriching the expression with imagery with aplomb. There appears to be an urgent need to provide a brief Glossary and notes for the benefit of neo poetry enthusiasts. Not all poems are heavy with absolutely important references.

There is the element of nativism, the main and the most important specialty in Indian English Poetry as in the concluding poem in this collection – “Malhar” Imaginative sensitivity goes back and forth and around all, Indian, Western, ancient, modern, plebian and Fabian. This needs to be here by way of a conclusion:

Large grey Clouds
Appearing dark
Over the venue
Local priests wed frogs
In mystical weddings
….. …. …….
Like them
I pray
Come back
And stay
(p.108 Malhar)

A hundred poems in 108 pages (the number has a significance in religion) could have been a boulder instead of a string of pearls. But the poet is an autocrat in all languages, especially in Bharat: kavayoh nirankushah). The complexity is manifold: science, technology, philosophy, corporate business, lust, lechery, dream, fantasy and abstract reality all are brought in. The poet deserves a pat on the back!

Works cited

  1. Khandelwal Rajiv, Conch shells and Cowries, The Indian Publishers Distributors, Delhi, 1998
  2. Khandelwal Rajiv, 21st Century Love Poems – Love is lot of work, 2013

More by : Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.
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