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Oct 19, 2015

Shiv K.Kumar

                        Shiv K.Kumar As A Poet of The Body, Not The Soul
Bijay Kant Dubey

Each weekend, before Sunday rituals
remind them of old commitments,
even gods play truant.
How long can the soul’s breath vanquish
the red flame?

Here the sculptor’s hands
have forged wanton patterns
witnessed by bird, got and priest
as in every cosmic gyre
the entire creation participates.

Since any distance
between leaf and bud, bone and flesh
hand and breast, only whets appetite
these tones brook no restraint.
They flow into a confluence of navels,
legs and thighs, leaving blemishes
even on a lotus palm.

Aren’t there holes
even in sastras
that only the serpent can plug?
(Shiv K.Kumar, Woolgathering, Orient Longman, Hyderabad,1998, p.24)

Before we start the discussion, there conjure up the ideas and images with regard to the title, what it should be while dispening with Shiv K.Kumar and his poetry, should it be, Shiv K.Kumar As A Poet: A Study In Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra, Poems As The Frescoes of Khajuraho And Konark: A Study In Shiv K.Kumar’s Poetry, Man-woman Relationship As It Is In Shiv K.Kumar or The Poetry of Flesh And Blood, Attraction And Repulsion: A Study of Shiv K.Kumar & His Sensuality? Poetry as the terracottas of sex and sensuality; flesh and blood relationship, poetry as the sculptures in love representing intrinsic stone work is the first that comes to our mind. Poetry to Shiv K.Kumar is articulate silences, silences articulated and muffled down; poetry to him is woodpeckers pecking at, giving a shrill call, sounding the carpenter’s music. If not, poetry is subterfuges; broken columns and if that too is not, poetry is cobwebs glisening in the sunlight. But one must keep it in mind he is no romantic or a nature-lover. Shiv is confessional and autoiograhical, sensual and intuitional. This is what he held in the past, but of late he has turned to life poems as the title Where Have The Dead Gone? And Other Poems shows it. Poetry is subterfuges; woolgathering and he is a sleep-walker, a day-dreamer. His insomnia many have failed to comprehend. D.H.Lawrence’s Clara of Sons and Lovers seems to be the poetic protgonist of the poet. The White Peacock, Women in Love, The Rainbow, The Fox, The Virgin And The Gipsy, would have definitely enthralled him. The things of the unconsious mind get an upper hand and to judge him is to penetrate psychologically.  

Shiv K. Kumar is one of those lucky writers of Indian English verse whose names appear together with some others just as the exponents of so-called modernism and that too in the aftermath of India’s independence, after being liberated from the British shackles of slavery, when the university-bred, city-dwelling intelligentia took to writing sporadically and sparsely in English, if not as the harbingers can definitely be reckoned with on the basis of, as per the books published and brought out and tendered so far, from time to time, emboldening the stature, but it is a fact too side by side,  when they started to write, they had been aware of it that they were going to make a name and fame in the field of literature, as there was none to judge and evaluate and assess and to enter into, as does a literary surveyor or a registrar. When they set out on their journey as the friends and collegaues of P.Lal long back dabbling in verse, the slender and thin collections started to appear, tumble and trickle down from Writers Workshop as there was a dearth of literary talents. One used to smile and laugh after marking the slender, lean and thin poetry volumes consisting of just a handful of poems and similar had been the case with all of these. R.Parthasarathy, Keki N.Daruwalla, Jayanta  Mahapatra, Kamala Das, are the birds of the feather flocking together with and Shiv K.Kumar can be no exception to us for which history is a witness. If this be the case, one cannot be seen in isolation as they were of the same type and tenor. Shiv K.Kumar though he may be well-read and intellectual, but is a poet of the body, not the soul, as because he seems to be closer and drawn to the body of flesh and bones rather the soul of transcendental meditation and spiritual bliss. Vatsyayana, Sigmund Freud, D.H.Lawrence and Acharya Rajneesh take the things away from him and he seems to be looking up to them in thankfulness and gratitude. Sexual overtones and undertones lie muted in interspersing here and there and he takes the benefit of doubt. Whatever be that, the modern verse practiontioners were not so as they are today, there were no takers or buyers of their theories and them as they seem to be today. The anthology and credo published by P.Lal if one seeks to go through, peruse and scrutize will find that the novice and imamture ones figuring in as the practioners, not as the poets and his was an experiment with. All the modern poets whom we read today have evolved today, were not as we see them today. Modern Indian English poetry if one charters the course of it will come to mark it that it is a study in first-poem writers and first-book publishers and they made a name when they wrote their first poems and the first anthologies were on the anvil and they write the poems of the same sort and stuff.

When on the threshold of fifty, Shiv K.Kumar turned to poetry-writing after being moonstruck with the Cupid’s arrow. Had the seeds been sown earlier, he could have been more emotional  and passionate about, but irnoy and sex twitched him otherwise and he took to the women in love and relaionship, love and hate theme, attraction and repulsion story. Man-woman relationship held parleys with and he gave time to. Lady Chatterley’s Lover engaged him and he found favours with. Had he started earlier, would have been spontaneous and natural. If to see the whole panorama otherwise, Shiv K.Kumar is but Lady Chatterley’s lover.

Born in Lahore, British India in 1921, Kumar matriculated from Dayanand Anglo Vedic High School in 1937, studied his B.A. at Governement College, Lahore and his M.A. at Forman Christian College, Lahore in 1943 and in the same year of his passing, he joined D.A.V. College, Lahore as lecturer, but moved to Delhi during the Partition.  After a brief stint as lecturer at Hansraj College, Delhi and as programme officer at the All India Radio, Delhi, he left India to join Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge 1950. In 1956 he received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Cambridge for his topic of dissertation 'Bergson and the Stream of Consciousness Novel' under the research supervision of Professor David Daiches. Even F.R.Leavis hs tutored him during his stay in Cambridge. After his sojourn and return from, he taught English Literature at Osmania University and the university of Hyderabad and in 1972-74 as a UGC National Lecturer in English. Later, he worked in various capacities as Head of the Department of English, Dean of the School of Humanities and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad. Apart from all this, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Universities of Oklahoma and Northern Iowa, Visiting Professor at the Universities of Drake, Hofstra, Marshall, etc. and  also a Visiting Fulbright Fellow at Yale University and was nominated member of the Jury for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (USA, 1981).

Poetry Works:
Articulate Silences, Writers Workshop,Calcutta, 1970
Cobwebs in the Sun, Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi, 1974
Subterfuges, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1976
Woodpeckers,Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1979
Trapfalls in the Sky, Macmillan, Madras, 1986
Woolgathering, Orient L:ongman, Hyderabad, 1995
Thus Spake the Buddha, UBSPD, New Delhi, 2001
Losing My Way, Peacock Books, New Delhi, 2008
Voice of Buddha: A Poetic Transcreation of The Dhammapada, Atlantic, New Delhi, 2008
Which of My Selves Do You Wish to Speak to? Selected Poems, Penguin, New Delhi, 2011
Where Have the Dead Gone? And Other Poems, Authorpress, New Delhi, 2015

His collegues continue to prod in the styles of their type, quite private and personal and it is no different from, as modernity, urbanity, city-culture form the crux of his poetry; the core-content of what he has seen in India and what he has America and comparing them both for poetic effects. Where have The Dead Gone? And Other Poems is a collection of its type where the ageing poet ruminates over the terror and horror of death in a different way, where he has to go by being transported to the world of the spirit, ghost, shadow and the wind. The images of his make us remember of Donne, Tennyson, Tagore, Keats, Lamb and Mare. Shiv K.Kumar as a poet is spiritually sick and the meditative strain lies it blood-stained. What Donne discusses in his poem, Death, Be Not Proud and Tennyson in Crossing The Bar, similar is the version of his story of going said or unsaid.

A picture of the Indian Women
Shiv K.Kumar draws it rightly keping in view their life and liberty. A life of ghettos and taboos is before her to follow and she cannot cross the Lakshmanrekha circling the courtyard and she is none but Ghumtawalli, Burquawalli, Purdahwalli.

In this triple-baked continent
women don’t etch angry eyebrows
on mud walls.
   Patiently they sit
   like empty pitchers
   on the mouth of the village well
pleating hope in each braid
of their mississippi-long hair
looking deep into the water’s mirror
   for the moisture in their eyes.
   With zodiac doodlings on the sands
   they guard their tattooed thighs
waiting for their men’s return
till even the shadows
roll up their contours
   and are gone
   beyond the hills.

---Indian Women By Shiv K.Kumar                                                           
(Chosen And Edited By R.Parthasarthy, Ten Twentieth Century Indian Poets, Oxford University Press, 2002, p.34)

The first collection which he published in 1970 namely Articulate Silences just contains in 34 pages in total and this is what made his beginning for and from this one can envisage how the present poets and poetesses had been then. The good ones never tried to put in as for taking English to be one of the sahibs, not their own and for choosing an alien tongue to write in, but we are doing with the mediocre ones and this much gives satisfaction to us in being with the whiffs and wisps of Indian English poetry. The terracotta plates of love and sensuality, clay baked and  picturesque can oputdo the verses laced with love and sensuality. There is nothing barring the female talk; the feminine attraction. Life around sex is the main thing of his poetry. Silences too conpire and construe the things in his poetry and he misunderstands and misreads them, so much intriguing.  

If one asks, what is verse to Shiv K.Kumar, one will feel oneself in an awkward position. Poetry to Kumar is columns, broken columns of verse; poetry to Kumar is intuition gathering strength over intellect and scholarship, it is but sex, sexual love and imagery which prevails upon the poetic self and he longs for an expression to channelize it otherwise. Had he gone through Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra, it would have been better; had he the frescoes of Khajuraho and of Konark, it woud have jolted him for an impact to mark and see the erotica and sensuality carved and chiselled as sculptures of love and lust in stone and pottery.The erotic scenery laced with love-making and hugging, cuddling and passionate embrace delight him internally which appears to be psychically emboldening and elevating enough. A Rajneeshite yogan seems to be the poetic protagonist and mouthpiece of Shiv K.Kumar. Sexual dissatisfaction may be another cause of his dabbling or may be it there is some sort of love and betrayal felt in his life which he has experienced and that he refers to indirectly in his poetry. The libido is the source of his inspiration and it comes in the form of poetic urge to contribute to. Poetry to him is a visit to Ajanta and Ellora, Khajuraho and Konark as the poet keeps marking the frescoes in love and relationship. The hanging breasts and tattooed thighs are the source of his delight.

Shiv.K.Kumar covers the picures and images of different landscapes which he carries it with himself and it is visible in his writings. The names of the places picture frequently as he keeps moving from Lahore to Delhi to Cambridge to Hyderabad. A refugee he had a trying time which he felt and experienced it himself while moving out in the aftermath of the Partition. The trauma  and tragedy of living, the pain and suffering he could not discern it seconded by his divorce and the litigation expected.

What he was he will remain so unto the last, a Punjabi-speaking poet, he carried the refugee’s voice, angst and bewilderment, rootlessness and search for identity to drown it all into the waters of sexuality and sexual pleasure. A poet of kaam-vasanaa, lust, infatuation and yearning, he is sensual, erotic, bodily and physical. The love of the body is the main thing of his poetry. Perhaps Shiv K.Kumar too like D.H.Lawrence attaches not it to over intellectualization and rationalization of thought and idea. His saga of divorce too has ruffled him and he is both a refugee and a divorcee.

Losing My Way as a collection contains in so many, starting from Sunday Morning, Shimla; Stones; Hamlet; Weeds; Ruins at Agra; Adam to God; The Suns Eye; Losing My Way; Vandana Weds Ramesh; Wall Clock; The Garden; Dj Vu; A Nightmare; Walking in the Rain; Two Strangers on a Train; Whisperings of Immortality; Listening to Shiv Sharma’s Santoor; Siesta; As He Lay Dying; Casino at Las Vegas; Triveni; At the Circus; Birth of a Poem; The Snail; The Coconut Tree; Peacocks Mating; Bhishampitamah to Yudhishter Dharamaraj, etc in its own. The Moving Finger; Window-shopping; Learning to Walk; Brooding; The Survivors; Lying Low; Street Children; On Reading Dostoevskys Notes from Underground; A Tiger Skin at the Country Club; In Memory of Begum Akhtar; A Circuitous Road; Paper Boats; Lightning; Riding a Horse; Telling Beads; Crossing the Street; A Love Letter to My Wife; An Anonymous Letter; I’m Still Waiting for You; Words; The Mist; A Poets Meet; A Letter to Kabir; I’m Afraid of Tomorrow; A Cock-fight; Feeding the Pigeons; Finale, all these tell a saga of some sort.

It is often charged that Shiv K.Kumar is bodily and physical rather than loveful and metaphysical as is amorous and sensual at the same time.  A poet of hugs, embraces and clasps, his is a story of relationship. The lusrous eyes, luscious lips and appleyish cheeks tempt him and he gets lured away. Eve’s temptation he can never drive away and is guilty equally. Even if debarred and banned to taste, he will like to taste the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. Man’s fall and the first act of disobedience is the point of his choice. As Kamala is so is Shiv, both of them bodily and physical. The mind cannot rise beyond the spectrum and dimension of sex. For Shiv, a woman’s beauty is in sex; flesh and blood. Shiv cannot love the soul at all. The parts of the womanly body are the things of his deliberation. A poet of the vigin whiteness, the fair sex, the better half is he Shiv K.Kumar. Sexual love and imagery is the chief property of the poet and he delights in.  Shiv K.Kumar if to change the metaphor is but not a yogi, but a bhogi; a sadhu with ganja and ladki in the ashrama as was Khushwant Singh deliberating upon daru, ladki and sex jocularly in his columns and in the novel The Company of Women. Sex is the ganja of Kumar. We do not know if Shiv K.Kumar is the Bluntschli or Sergius of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man in search of Raina or Louka.

Shiv K.Kumar is not a common man poet never easily comprehensible to the readers, but a complex one, highly intellectual and difficult as is the problem with the modern writers of verse and so is the case with him, what the moderns write they understand it best and none but they themselves can explain it in a better way rather than the practising critics in the absence of some canons or rules of criticism.

Somewhere Shiv K.Kumar outdoes us through his intuition and imagery where the element of sex and sexuality lessens it as for example, Kali,

Stone eyes of a mangled street dog
glare at my self’s patina.
The rufous tongue of a cobra
sticks out each time
I circle  round your ebony torso,
jabbed in the privates
by your devotees.

Beyond the priest’s monotone
a lamb bleats for the knife-edge.
A child clinging to famished
nipples will die anyway,
but your nectar is the blood
that jets from fresh arteries.

If the way to create
is the way to kill,
I have hoarded enough blood
in my throat
for all the hyenas to suck from.
(Ibid, p.58)

*Kali  Goddess of destruction to whom bloody sacrifices are offered.

The private and personal reflection of Kali, describing and delineating in such a way, painting, sketching and drawing is stupendous, magnificent enough to make a way for him into the realms of Indian English poesy and here lies in the poetic verve and talent of Shiv.K.Kumar. It is really astounding to explain Kali to the East and the West through such a syntax and phraseology. Who can else pen down such a poem, mystical and dark?


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  3. Trapfalls in the Sky includes in On Native Grounds, Mother Teresa Feeds her Lepers at her Home for the Destitute, Calcutta, An Indian Mother's Advice to her Daughter Before Marriage, To a Friend Who Died of Cancer, Bequeathing his Body to Research, A Tibetan Refugee Woman on a Delhi Pavement, Adolescence, At a Whorehouse, Divorce, A Woman Labourer Breast-feeding her Child during Lunch-break, Baptism of Fire, Tis Hazari Courts, Delhi, The Looking Glass, Solid Objects, Death of a Dog, Clouds, Self-obituary, Dal Lake: Srinagar, Cleansing Ganga, O Delhi!, Refugees, Daybreak, Sunset Over Simla Hills, Eunuchs, High Fever , A Wayside Shiva Temple, The Dead Can Speak, A Lonely Woman, etc. are the poems. A Stray Cow, Rain at Night, My adolescent Son's Room, Trapfalls in the Sky, Under Alien Skies, A Young Female Jogger, Trafalgar Square, Heathrow Airport: Immigration Checkpost, The Holocaust Survivor, A Reminiscence, Sunday Preacher on TV, Shakespeare Seminar: Fall 1981, Genesis, Birth of Adam, Birth of Eve, Serpent to Eve, Adam to Eve, Eve to Adam, After the Departure of Adam & Eve from Eden, continue to take the readers by stride. Kaam-vasana is the subject of his poetry.
    Apart from casual references to religion and philosophy, he is not a poet spiritual and metaphysical at all, but a poet of possessive love and male domination, man-woman relationship, attraction and repulsion, love and hate theme, flesh and blood contact. Sex is the food of his; the delicious plate and he relishing upon with delight. A guilty mind is always suspicious is the case with him. His is a poetry of intuition; not of the intellect, the twitches of the body; not the sacredness of the soul. To read him is to delve deep in the fall and temptation of man and his first disobedience; one of temptation, not of meditation and spirituality. The paradise can never be regained after reading Shiv. K.Kumar. The sculptures in love and relationship, passionate hugs and embraces, emotionally close to bodily are the images and love of his poems and he cannot without turning over the pages of Vatsyayana’s Kamsuttra. Khajuraho and Konark, Ajanta and Ellora are the loves of his which he seeks to convert into his poetry. The terracotta plates in love and affection, he will defnitely like to view, as is sensual and affectionate. Cupid’s arrow keeps him struck and he is moonstruck, a poet under painted lady infatuation and imagery.

    Shiv K.Kumar is but the Faustus of Christopher wanting to have a kiss of Helen. Let us hear from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus himself:

    Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
    And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
    Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
    Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies!
    Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
    Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
    And all is dross that is not Helena.
    I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
    Instead of Troy, shall Wittenberg be sack'd;
    And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
    And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
    Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
    And then return to Helen for a kiss.
    O, thou art fairer than the evening air
    Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
    Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
    When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
    More lovely than the monarch of the sky
    In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
    And none but thou shalt be my paramour!


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