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|Profession and Practice: Chandramoni Narayanaswamy’s Poetry|
|by Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.|
There are Indian English poets who write well but, for several reasons do not publish their work extensively. The published output may be limited but the effort and accomplishment of many does not always get the attention it deserves. Chandramoni Narayanaswamy deserves both attention and acclaim for many reasons. Numero uno, she is very imaginative and very large-hearted, compassionate and merited. Secondly she is highly educated and worked in the high echelons of both administration and judicature. Poets like her do not rush into print till something happens to sprout the poetic imagination and enthuse them to express themselves if only sporadically. It is a matter of personality that makes one to rush to print or wait long for emotions and feelings to crystallize. Women usually do not express feelings and emotions in print as men do. That is reason for the comparative paucity of Indian English poetry by women.
Tears swelling drop by drop,
She describes this as a perennial hot spring, unseen, unknown, and unfathomable wherein the poet in her lives. This is a clue to her feeling in many of the poems. This is a condition in which the poet looks out, looks within and looks intensively. This is the poet’s basic imaginative stance. This is evident in “The Prick of the Golden Needle” too.
The pain is intense
There is only one who is called the loved one – God. God is loved deeply and intensely and He is known to be the cause. The speaker is large-hearted and wise with forbearance, the quality of the soft-thinking and the devout. Ratiocination is part of devotion in some. A Bagful of Coppers has this conclusion:
For the sovereign I could have bought
Death has the constancy of the never-failing lover. The one who knows this knows the end to the feeling of despair. Pain leads only to joy. Suffering softens and ennobles. This faith and absolute trust is expressed in the poem “The Never-failing Lover”:
At last when life seems worthless
“The Bloody Foot-Prints” expresses the same conviction:
I felt no pain while climbing
This is how the poet has the mental ballast of faith.
“Good-bye to Heaven” is a decision to do something meaningful, some work or service. All play and no work makes manas, the heart-mind, dull and dissatisfied. For work heaven is not the place:
It is all peace here
And then there is a prayer too to restore her to her mother at the end of the poem:
Be merciful, kind Father
The poem “On His Sixtieth Birthday” is a song in prayer and also a remembrance. The “He’ is mercurial and saintly but never at peace. The speaker does not obey her earthly lord and turns her face away from duty. The speaker does no wrong and prays:
Forgive my error, if so it was
“The First and Only Love” is a highly pensive poem, all introspective. The images of tear, oyster and pearl are all evocative when the speaker says:
I can break the oyster open
“You” is a lovely little poem just in three into three – nine lines about the vanished ‘You”. Memories sweet and memories which have been soul-satisfying of this ‘You’ sustained the speaker coming flying down the times:
When you first thought of
The poem “Heritage” is a memory of the parents, father and mother. Her father is a bibliophile, a scholar, a lover of poetry and music.
But more precious than all these
It is worth noting that the poet has dedicated this, her first collection, to her grandmother and the later, the second, to her mother. This reveals apart many other things, the close blood bond down the generations. After all memories and our love and understanding of our forefathers are always energizing, promoting kindness and compassion. The long poem Abhimanyu is not about the character from the Mahabharata but about the ambitious modern man. Abhimanyu was courageous, proud, ambitious and blessed. So is the modern man with his emotions and achievements. When physicians advised the Abhimnayu of this poem to ignore the cardiac murmurs, the palmists had a different prescription. When the surgery was done he went into a deep slumber and he felt no pain but never woke up.
Now shorn of my unsatiated ego
The important point is that modern man hardly tries to know where one would go after the loss of his breathing life and that the ego knows no satiation.
It was neither the rainbow
Small is beautiful and the shorter and stronger the image, the more exhilarating it would be remaining longer in the imagination of people.
Bees, birds, butterflies,
The poet is an ardent devotee of Durga. Considered by all of us Ma, Mother, She is the speaker of the poem teaching us all, all that is to be learnt, practiced and performed. She thirsts not for blood and is angry when dumb animals are beheaded:
Had you sacrificed the evil in you
The poet is full of compassion for the hungry and the downtrodden. People eating just leaves and tuber to keep them alive make her heart throb with anguish. “A Face I Saw in Kalahandi” is a powerful poem. Even democracy with people’s representatives in power could not do much except raising their hopes and hunger. Here is the heart throb:
I mind not the hunger
The poems on poverty reveal the sensibility of the poet to feel deep compassion and empathy for the hungry, penury ridden men and for women ill-treated also. “A Rickshaw Puller Looks Back” is a long poem. After he suffers a bone-breaking accident, his son becomes a rickshaw puller:
I too had watched it
“The Rag-Picker Laughs Last” is another heart-breaking poem. The man has the last laugh when the bottles he collects, washed, find their way to the stores and to the kitchens of houses. The Children of Shivakashi are kids thrown into the less paid labor of makings of fireworks at the risk of their lives. A child tells us:
I have burnt many hands
There is a story poem “Equal and Unequal”, of two boys, Ram and Shyam, the poor one and the rich one, both rendered poor after a super cyclone washed everything away:
To one and all the cyclone was
“Spring” is a poem of joy after poems like “The Roaring Sky”, “Rain”, “Monsoon” which convey sadness and sorrow. Spring is described as intoxication for the young, comfort for the old and pleasure for all. The poet honors the Drooping Deodar as the ascetic of the forest:
Majestic and tall
Towards the end of the collection there are four poems about the sad lot of women like devadasis, unfortunate ones widowed early and humiliated for the rest of life. The truth is said in the poem, It is a Man’s World. Widowed women’s plight is shown with great compassion in the poem “Alakshmi”. For no fault of hers she is ill-treated lifelong. The martyr is honored and sung but his wife meaningfully called Sukanya is driven to drown herself is brought home not draped in the tricolor as her husband was but differently.
but in her own sari
“Aparajita” is about a little girl deceived, duped and molested but she behaves like an ideal, loving woman with the heart in the right place:
Yet you picked up
The poem “The Best is Yet to Be” is about the first born in the third millennium, year 2001 when things looked up for some, the blind can see, the deaf can hear and people may live longer. Science has done great things to make life merry and fast but destruction is approaching fast with growing distrust and mindless enmity:
If man can break that chain
The collection contains powerful and memorable poems since the unseen abode describes all the vicissitudes in the human life with a thinking mind and a feeling heart with empathy and compassion.
“Sunflower and Other Nature Poems” is the second collection of twenty-five sweet poems, sweet because they stem from love and affection, two concepts sweet in and by themselves. By way of an introduction in A Flashback the poet wrote: “Nature has always been a book to me; sometimes a picture book to be gazed at in sheer pleasure; at other times as the mood turned pensive or thoughtful, a book of philosophy to comprehend which a century is not enough. …I started reading that book as a child sitting on the eastern verandah of our house in the evening and spent hours trying to decode mysteries. … No book gave me the same thrill as sky-gazing in monsoon with the moon and the stars buried under the clouds. Given the chance I would indulge in that pastime even now …’  (p.i). The child like quality of being imaginative and contemplative with a deep love of nature is evident in the poet’s poems in the second collection. Love wins all: love is the ambrosia that sustains the universe. Love of Nature is closely related to Love of God. Pantheism is theism basically and nature love is nature worship. Sanatana Dharma, which came to be known as aarsha dharma and later as Hinduism (the words are used more by the aliens than by us) has this supreme pantheistic attitude. The Hindu pantheon is drawn largely from Nature. The panchabhootas are aspects of the Supreme as well as Nature, the manifestation of the Supreme Being.
The very first poem Sunflower reveals the poet’s childlike outspoken feeling:
I yearn turn and burn
Nature is God and God is nature. The poet with the milk of human kindness and compassion in her is a child, always pensive, thoughtful and loving, loving both nature and god. For her everything in nature is lovely and everything of Him and about Him is lovely and everything is a blessing devoutly to be wished. “Grass Seeds”, “Laughing waterfall”, “The River and the Stone” are all the titles of her poems and also the manifestations of God for her. The cactus and poppy are equally lovable by the one who knows love. Flowers and books of verses are equally fascinating. The Gold Beyond Reach reveals her lover of the yellow flower:
I take it home to capture the scent
Many of the poems read like fables and most reveal the poet’s earnestness in observation and analysis leading to valid, impressive conclusions. We live in an age of decadence in all walks of life: even Nature has come to be helpless. But the poet, though melancholic, does not lose faith. She has faith in goodness. A strong streak of devotion runs in all her poems.
The recurrent themes are very easy to identify tree, leaf, flower, thorn, champa, bird, a crow, sunflower, lotus, seed, pool, to cite a few, all nature-related. Most of these could be treated as the favorite symbols/metaphors of the poet. Salagram, bilva patra etc are brought in artistically and convincingly to buttress her themes and expression. There is moralizing that is soothing, reassuring and good intentioned. Here is a poem about a pool, The Lone Sentinel, which is a fine poetic word picture oozing sweet romanticism:
A pair of shadows hand in hand
Another poem which sounds intimately personal is ‘The Prying Poppy’ ending with:
So also a lone romance
‘The Queen of Many Hearts” is about a flower, the lotus again. (There is a printing mistake in the poem - ‘imageries’) It should have been ‘imagery’. This could be set right in the next edition. The concluding lines of the poem read like devotional poetry:
When the heart embedded in coarse flesh
‘The Garden Queen’ is also about a flower reminding us of Torulata Dutt’s poem Lotus. Here three flowers vie for supremacy, the Dahlia, the Gladiolus and the Chrysanthemum for their respective traits, size, multi-color and the color of gold. The poet’s imagination is as dainty as that of all the flowers;
At last the jurors came
And spotting the silent red rose, kissing it with tenderness they hummed in unison:
‘Our own darling Rose
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