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Sep 26, 2016

Her Hand: Mahapatra

Her Hand - Poem by Jayanta Mahapatra
Bijay Kant Dubey

Even a few of the poets have said, what Jayanta Mahapatra has in this small poem of ready reference and delving, really a great poem to contain in present-day child abuse, moral depravity and sexual exploitation. Just out of filial love and expression, he says many a thing apart from the wish of holding the hand of the small girl. How to hold it, as guilt hangs heavy over, as the body lies it abused? The streetlights too seem to be conspiring against the gruesome acts. Is this the picture of India where female feticide is done? Is this the India where the daughter is considered to be a curse, a debt? Is this the India where the rape cases are increasing?

Her Hand is no doubt a representative poem of Jayanta wherein the poet taxes with his gruesome observation of the small daughter-like girl. The title is charming indeed, but the heart of the matter pathetic and painful. Even the palmist will be afraid to see her hand, what to say of the poet? Her fate-line devastating, how to re-orient and re-structure it, my God? Her suffering and agony, how to describe it? Is India not good for daughters?

The little girl's hand is made of darkness
How will I hold it?

The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads
Blood opens that terrible door between us

The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain
while its body writhes on its bed of nails

This little girl has just her raped body
for me to reach her

The weight of my guilt is unable
to overcome my resistance to hug her

The little girl’s hand is made of darkness, how to hold her? The first line strikes us differently to think why to feel it otherwise after holding the hand of the little girl? Why can it be not out of filial love? The streetlamps appear to be decapitated heads; the second stanza adds to the misery and pity of the theme and aggravates it. We shudder at imagining the thing; the heart of the matter. What is it that forms the crux of his subject-matter? Perhaps rape, violence, female feticide, abortion, moral depravity, sexual abuse, etc. form the crux of the matter which he means to reveal to as we often avert the gaze from hardcore realities.

The theme has not ended with the description of the decapitated heads. Apart from decapitation, blood oozes out and opens the door to view the landscape and we appalled to see it. The wide mouth of the whole country is clamped in pain and the body held aloft on the bed of nails adding to human pathos and pity, misery and woe.

This girl too has just been raped and her bruised body, how to view it? How to approach her? The weight of the guilt is unable to contain in his conscience and he too wavers in hugging the victim. How to overcome resistance to hug her?

To read the poem is to be taxed and burdensome; is to bear the load and brunt of. To read it is to feel it, is this the India where the small daughters are not reared properly, is this the India where domestic violence is taking a toll upon womankind?

We do not know where have we come to, where are we going? When will domestic violence stop? When will child abuse come to a stop? How to give moral support to an abused girl?  

The poem is psychological as well as sociological fraught with trauma and tension it releases. Who is at fault? Our conscience itself is guilty. What works, functions it when, who can but say it whether the dark consciousness or the sub-consciousness? Human psyche is indeed a complex thing what it undergoes within, who can but? Ours is a guilty mind always suspicious.

What did we promise while making a tryst with India’s independence? What have we done for the women, widows and children? Have we been able to banish poverty, hunger, underdevelopment, illiteracy and superstition? 

Sep 23, 2016

Freedom: Mahapatra

Freedom by Jayanta Mahapatra
Bijay Kant Dubey

Freedom by Jayanta Mahapatra is like the Freedom essay, radio-talk delivered by G.B.Shaw on the B.B.C., London wherein the dramatist discusses it what it is freedom, who a freeman and what the attributes of it? The dramatist as an anti-thesis giver, a playwright of ideas discusses it the types of slavery, natural slavery and man-made slavery. Similar is the case with Jayanta Mahapatra who also seeks to know what it is freedom. Should it be corroborated with the independence of India and the installation of democracy? How the meaning of it varies from man to man? If freedom means something to one man it is differently to another man.

What did we promise making a tryst with India’s freedom? Today India is free, but what have we for the women, children and widows? Only false promises cannot give a strong foundation and the nation cannot progress just with the leaders’ white lies.

While delving in such an aspect, the poet takes a use of the sub-conscious and the dark conscious as because the fickle and abnormal mind of man keeps viewing and opining in its way. But when we speak, we try our best to filter such a thing and try to be social and measured in our stepping. But as far as the case of Jayanta Mahapatra is concerned, he even registers the incongruities and oddities while dispensing with the topic.

Sometimes when he watches, it appears to be that the country’s body goes floating on the river waters. Left alone he grows into a disembodied bamboo half sunk into and half flourishing on the banks. Here old widows and dying men cherish their freedom, bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

But while on the other the children cherish to be free and dream of a world so creative and dreamy and full of imagination. The poet too wants to be with them as he opines leisurely, taking a break from his routine life or busy schedule.

Nor with the wish to know the people lying unfed and unattended in the remote villages, just with little rice to tell of what we have in the aftermath freedom these long years who even do not know it what freedom is actually. When did India become free? What in Parliament House? Who sitting then, who now? These concern them least as they have nothing to do with. He is also not there to see the uncaught, bloodies lights of sunsets catching the tall and white pillars of Parliament House.

In a temple built new, the priest enjoys liberty whereas the gods seem to be hiding in the dark like an alien. This is not the ended of the story. The poet has something more to say.

And apart from, each day he keeps looking for the light which but the shadows fail to contain in. Only freedom that he knows is the freedom of the body when it is alone. The lines are very meaningful:
Trying to find the only freedom I know,
the freedom of the body when it's alone.

The fickle mind seems to be at work; the abnormal mind. Sometimes in abnormalities lies it the kernel of a great thought is the thing here. Geniuses are found to be with the streaks of abnormality which add to really in making them great and extraordinary. The poet means to say that what we take to be something is nothing and vice versa. Freedom is not what we actually mean for. Freedom is the freedom of the body, the freedom of the soul and spirit. Freedom is the state of being free and unrestricted without any barrier and binding, where the mind goes or flies to or catches its dream and reflection. But say you, who is free? Are we? What we want, are we able to do without hindrances and hitches? Do we ever take the mind and the heart into good faith? What is human mind? How the composition of it and the reveries? Our impulses are inhibited; unrestricted.

What the abnormal mind says that too should be taken into confidence sometimes and if take we, something extraordinary we shall opine to pride over as our finding.

While elucidating freedom, Jayanta Mahapatra says that in India, the old widows and dying men cherish it, bowing in obstinate prayers. All through their lives, they remain under restrictions. The Indian widows fail to mix freely, eat and live freely. Similarly the dying men too see it as a liberation from.

Only Parliament House with the historicity and constitutionality of it cannot guarantee it freedom. Only the making of it cannot be the charter of our natural freedom. Freedom is what we take, what we believe in privately and personally. Freedom is the freedom of the mind, of the heart and the soul; of the spirit, the liberation from, complete deliverance. The unconscious mind is the screen on which figure the impressions of the heart and the soul. Impulses are the harbinger, but we need to distil them as for being social. Mark it that from the dark layer of the coalfield, is got the diamond. So is our dark consciousness from where originates it all:

Here, old widows and dying men
cherish their freedom,
bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

Blakian innocence is childish vision and with their dream and imagination, they want to transform the world, but the hardcore realities contrasting indeed, which the children know it not that freedom lies it restricted here:

While children scream
with this desire for freedom
to transform the world
without even laying hands on it.

The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal, are the beds of streams of the sleeping god as he  keeps the ashes away, tries not to wear them on his forehead. Which is what, who can say?

The things of Jayanta Mahapatra’s poetry the talks of the unconscious mind.


At times, as I watch,
it seems as though my country's body
floats down somewhere on the river.

Left alone, I grow into
a half-disembodied bamboo,
its lower part sunk
into itself on the bank.

Here, old widows and dying men
cherish their freedom,
bowing time after time in obstinate prayers.

While children scream
with this desire for freedom
to transform the world
without even laying hands on it.

In my blindness, at times I fear
I'd wander back to either of them.
In order for me not to lose face,
it is necessary for me to be alone.

Not to meet the woman and her child
in that remote village in the hills
who never had even a little rice
for their one daily meal these fifty years.

And not to see the uncaught, bloodied light
of sunsets cling to the tall white columns
of Parliament House.

In the new temple man has built nearby,
the priest is the one who knows freedom,
while God hides in the dark like an alien.

And each day I keep looking for the light
shadows find excuses to keep.

Trying to find the only freedom I know,
the freedom of the body when it's alone.

The freedom of the silent shale, the moonless coal,
the beds of streams of the sleeping god.

I keep the ashes away,
try not to wear them on my forehead.

Sep 19, 2016

Twilight: Mahapatra

Twilight  by Jayanta Mahapatra
Bijay Kant Dubey

An orange flare
lights the pale panes of the hospital
in a final wish of daylight.
It's not yet dark.

In the children’s ward
under a mother's face
the dead, always so young.
Water startles in the river's throat.

Its cry:
a plea to share in its curse?

Somewhere, this twilight shall fall
and hide the whiteness of jasmines about to bloom.

Newly-lit lamps
in the houses across the street
make me look out at the wet August evening
that holds up the vast unknown
in such small delicate hands.

Before writing about Twilight, one needs to know it that Jayanta Mahapatra is not a simple writer to be taken simply as is tedious and complex, hard to comprehend and mean. If one knows him not or has no idea with regard to his traits, one may not comprehend him in full as because nihilism and existentialism take the readings away from him. A poet who plays with words and images is very often seemingly meaningless as do come and light and darkness breaking upon and retreating back, as is the creation of the universe is, the break of the sound, who can ever resolve the mystery of life and the world? What is that permanent and durable here and lasting? Everything but short-lived, be that human glory or noteworthy attainment. Nothing, nothing, a poet of nothing and nothingness, nihilism and existentialism, he walks down the ways never trodden, never laid it bare where words mean it not.

So many evenings, mornings, dawn breaks, twilights, dusks, eve falls, night falls and midnights constitute the crux of his poetry so the moods after taking in various turns and twists of thought and idea and reflection. There is not one, so many poems named as Twilight, which Twilight is it, the matter will tell you, you need to know it by the body of the poem, not the title. Her the twilight he is relaying is one falling on the window-panes of a hospital with a flare, flashing upon and picturing the patients and the wards and the waiting or attending relatives, the kith and kin, the near and dear. An afflicted mother glancing or staring at the dead young tells a different story of pain and anguish.

Jayanta Mahaptara as a poet writes not for our pleasure and joy, but to tax the mid and brain with his observation and the other thing that he means to say is this that the things of the world and Nature go in their own way and they nave nothing to be penitent or broodful about. The other aspect too is that there is a vacuum all around. What it is written here? How to write the unwritten? Life of moments, hours, years and decades and each of the moment is passing by. Everything lies it in a contradictory position. This moment we feel something with, the next moment not with is the thing.

The hospital wards with the children and morose mothers lighted by the orange flare of the twilight are the first imagery that we come across. Again, the scene shifts and takes sides with another set imagery. The jasmines blooming in the hide of the twilight, about break open and spread a redolence of own, is another set of imagery and reflection.

Again, the newly-lit lamps in the houses of the street make him look at the wet August evening holding the vast space and vacuum to be lifted into such  delicate hands.

Twilight is an excellent poem from Jayanta Mahapatra wherein the imagery is splendid and extraordinary. It is a poem to see and feel rather than meaning it. The words used in the poem are beautiful, as such, orange flare, hospital pane, final wish of daylight, children’s ward, mother’s face, whiteness of jasmines, newly-lit lamps in the houses, the vast unknown, delicate hands, etc.

Twilight as  a poem does not remain a literary piece, but turns into an image, as the children do while attempting to draw, sketch and paint, pencil it. A small poem it says many a thing unsaid and undescribed. The language employed for the imagery is excellent and a brief poem can contain in so much amazes us.

This is what differentiates from other poets. Jayanta Mahapatra has really come a long way from where it is difficult to look back. Into the poetry structure of a small poem, he fuses in art and craftsmanship with his master strokes of imagery and landscape-painting. Almost all the lines, words and images add to the poetic beauty of his poems. In the beginning one may not take to liking, but one keeps track of his poems, one will be definitely to comprehend his vision. A poet of nothing is what it seems to be and what it seems to be is nothing, he has miles and miles to go into the domain of poesy, this much we can assure about. What one can do is this that one may compare this Twilight with other poems if really one wants to make a comparative study and thinks to be endowed with.

Sep 12, 2016

Theme of Mahapatra

A Thematic  Study of Jayanta Mahapatra’s Poems
Bijay Kand Dubey

Jayanta Mahapatra is one of those poets of modern Indian English poetry whose bases are one of physics and the physicist-poet taking liberties with imagery, photography, penciled silhouette and word-play rather than literature, one of light and shade, astronomy and the origin of the universe, shadow space and random descent rather than poetical meaning and interpretation. As  swayamvara and indradhanush words are so are his poetic images, flimsy and frail like the dawn light. His poetry is just like the gossamer and the sunlight falling upon. Why to mean them if these mean it not? As we used to see pictures in kaleidoscopes is the case with his poetry. Man is but a negative photograph. See the negatives and think of his poetry, the images shadowed and blackened. An X-ray plate will be the best answer. He does not write for the sake of meaning to be understood and these poems are not for the Indian readers, but for the foreign audience, as some have opined about his poetry rightly. Poetry as the images of life forms the crux of his poems. What it lies ahead who can but say it? What is it substantial in life? His poetry is a study in nothingness; the void around; a poet of inner and outer vacuum. Where are we going, what are we doing? We don’t know is the answer. What is that lasts it here? Why does the same dawn break, the same twilight, the same morn, the same eve? Where does the light come from flashing? Where does darkness retreat back to finally? The universe is puzzling and life too riddled with uncertainties.

But Jayanta as a poet, it is difficult to take him into our clutch and stride. Though many call him an Oriya first, but he is not, first of all he is a professor of physics and physics his realm of study through which approaches he poetry and poetical studies. Secondly, is an imagist as his poems are studies in imagery, the imagery of nothingness and random descent, the blank space and the vacuum above. Who am I? What my name, my identity? To see it in the Shakespearean terms, ‘Man is a walking shadow.’ And then he is an Oriya or anything else, call him a realist, a feminist or a Nature poet. Apart from these, hunger, poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment, scarcity, depravity, etc. form the basis of his discussion. Love, sexuality, loneliness and man-woman relationship too twitch him for an expression. A visionary and a dreamer, he derives from art, history, culture and tradition. After we made a tryst with India’s independence, what have we for the women, children and widows? There was a timer when drought, famine and unnatural deaths used to maraud our self and the stories of hunger, depravity, superstition, scarcity and depression used to do the rounds. Now it is the time for reckoning, what have we as for what we had promised? And what have they got, we mean the poor people? What developmental schemes have we for their welfare and development? How much successful are we in their execution? If this be, why are there poverty, unemployment, food problem and so on still? What did Gandhi envisage and dream about and how far have their dreams come true? It is not that Gandhi dreamt one day.

Somewhere it is about the Oriyas and Oriya culture, art and tradition; rocks, stones and trees, somewhere about Puri, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Balasore, somewhere about Jagannath Puri temple, Dhaulagiri and Khandagiri; the Konark Sun-temple, somewhere about the Chilika lake, rivers and bird sanctuaries, somewhere about hunger, moral depravity and scarcity of food, somewhere about sexuality, sensuality and carnal desires, somewhere about flesh and blood contact, man-woman relationship, give and take and attraction and repulsion met in love, somewhere about flesh trade, woman trafficking and body business. It is flesh trade which he deals with in Hunger, it is myth which he trades in Myth, the nameless identity of a rural persona in A Nameless Person, the contrast between faith and doubt in Dawn At Puri. The old father tired of fishing, hurling the nets and gathering them with the retarding muscles sells her teenage fisher girl on the sea beach. How much pathetic and pitiable is the scene? Using the same title he has written so many poems, naming Twilight, Morning, Evening, A Rain of Rites. There are a few on Cuttack, Puri, Bhubaneswar encompassing poems where he has tried to catch the rhythm and beat of the towns throbbing and pulsating and keeping pace with. The architectural splendor of the rock-built temples and the sculptures carved upon, erotic and passionate tell a different tale. The rathyatras of Puri have always delighted him with its festivity and procession, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Krishna going out and returning back after a few days, the grotesque-grotesque bizarre gods and goddesses carved out from wooden logs looking puppet-like and with the ogling eyes. Somewhere the echoes of Vedic and Upanishadic chants going in the temples even by noon or thereafter have always found echoes with his poetry as muffled voices or music from the behind and this is but his Vedism, Upanishadism, the inward love for. Somewhere the hot and perspiring summers, the hot scorching suns, the sun-burnt countryside homes with the mother and the daughter sitting in the mango orchard, fanning and seeing the motherly hair for louse take the canvas from and he gives touches to those aspects which lie undescribed. Finally, where to go leaving Orissa and Orissan landscapes, Orissa the land of his birth, nativity and schooling?

A Nameless Person
In the darkened room
a woman
cannot find her reflection in the mirror

waiting as usual
at the edge of sleep

In her hands she holds
the oil lamp
whose drunken yellow flames
know where her lonely body hides

An Indian village lady tattooed, call her a purdahwalli, ghumtawalli or burkhawalli is the persona depicted in. The tongue cannot click the name of her lord. She passes her days in anonymity just like a persona without a name and identity. A home keeper or a housewife, call we, but she should be with an identity of her own.

With an oil lamp burning into the hands of hers, burning somehow, she keeps waiting or moving to and fro whose drunken flames know it where the body hides. She is feeling sleepy, but instead of keeps waiting for the return of the master.

Dawn At Puri
Endless crow noises
A skull in the holy sands
tilts its empty country towards hunger.

White-clad widowed Women
past the centers of their lives
are waiting to enter the Great Temple

Their austere eyes
stare like those caught in a net
hanging by the dawn's shining strands of faith.

The fail early light catches
ruined, leprous shells leaning against one another,
a mass of crouched faces without names,

and suddenly breaks out of my hide
into the smoky blaze of a sullen solitary pyre
that fills my aging mother:

her last wish to be cremated here
twisting uncertainly like light
on the shifting sands

Dawn at Puri is a poem of faith and doubt stranded on the vast seashore of Puri marking the funeral pyre burning, the black crows crowing, the holy skull lying on the sands, the widows queued up to enter the Great Temple and the lepers scrambling as nameless figures. Crows and the skull picture a world raked by hunger, scarcity, heat, dust and thirst; depravity, mismanagement and trouble. The white-clad women are in rows to enter the temple who have nothing left with them, the eyes looking waterless. What to ask for from the deity, deliverance or something else? The dawn light flashes upon and shifts to, frail and shaky in its presence. The lepers assembled add to the pity and misery of the poem and contrast faith with doubt and suspense. Where actually is faith? Why does God not see it all? Again the dawn light dazzles over the pyre burning on the sands. The sudden blaze lights up the sky and it reminds him of the wish of the mother who too likes it to be cremated here as Puri is the swargadwara. As dawn light is frail and shaky in its presence so is human faith staggering. Nothing is certain here, everything but temporary and transitory.

It was hard to believe the flesh was heavy on my back.
The fisherman said: Will you have her, carelessly,
trailing his nets and his nerves, as though his words
sanctified the purpose with which he faced himself.
I saw his white bone thrash his eyes.

I followed him across the sprawling sands,
my mind thumping in the flesh's sling.
Hope lay perhaps in burning the house I lived in.
Silence gripped my sleeves; his body clawed at the froth
his old nets had only dragged up from the seas.

In the flickering dark his lean-to opened like a wound.
The wind was I, and the days and nights before.
Palm fronds scratched my skin. Inside the shack
an oil lamp splayed the hours bunched to those walls.
Over and over the sticky soot crossed the space of my mind.

I heard him say: My daughter, she's just turned fifteen...
Feel her. I'll be back soon, your bus leaves at nine.
The sky fell on me, and a father's exhausted wile.
Long and lean, her years were cold as rubber.
She opened her wormy legs wide. I felt the hunger there,
the other one, the fish slithering, turning inside.

Hunger as a poem is a poem of not the hunger of the belly, but the hunger of the flesh and blood. What it startles us is this that a father can sell her daughter for money, that is a poor and old  fisherman offering his teenage daughter and the author persona taking the privilege of the situation. Here the sensual desires of the poet come to the fore side by side it pictures the poor living conditions and hard works of the seafaring poor folks like those of the fishermen and boatmen braving the winds, waves, surfs, foams and fatal aquatic animals they keep hurling the nets and trying. But here is a tale of an old, retarded, poor and miserable fisherman whose nerves work it not more, nets draw it not to meet up his demands. The poor shack built from haystacks and palm leaves and the soot from the dimly burning oil-lamp add to the description of poverty-stricken lives.
When the father says that she is just fifteen to feel her, the sky falls on him as he leaps towards her undecidedly but with a yearning within to quench the thirst, to extinguish the bodily fire burning him.

Years drift sluggishly through the air:
a chanting, the long years, an incense.
Face upon face returns to the barbed horizons
of the foggy temple; here lies
a crumpled leaf, a filthy scarlet flower
out of placeless pasts, on the motionless stairs.

                               Old brassy bells
moulded by memories, dark, unfulfilled,
to make the year come back again --
               a recurring prayer.

The stairs seem endless, lifelong,
and those peaks too, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri;
uncertain, impressive as gods.
               I dare not go
into the dark, dank sanctum
where the myth shifts
swiftly from hand to hand, eye to eye.
The dried, sacrificed flowers smile at me.
               I have become;
a diamond in my eye

Vague grieving years pit against
               the distant peaks
like a dying butterfly
as a bearded, saffron-robed man
               asks me, firmly:
Are you a Hindu?

Myth as a poem is not a myth of Orissa, but of ancient India, its thought and tradition, the snow-capped mountains and forested where meditated it the sadhus and yogis, into the caves turning years into penance, winning over the self. When we read the poem, the mystery of the caps and the myth of the yogis in sadhna do the rounds. The temples resounding with chanting and prayer add incense like aroma to it. But the crumpled leaves and flowers too have a song to sing. Why to pluck them for mere faith, ravish their beauty? The poet does not want to enter the temple, climb up as the bearded, saffron-robed man asks him if he is a Hindoo and here lies in the truth that he is a Christian convert.
The poem is one such which can even fail the mythical ones by William Butler Yeats as is the poetic quality of the lines. None can describe the mystery of the snow-capped peaks and caves and the myth of age-old meditation in such a way as he has taking in the old brassy bells and its tolls.
Indian Summer

Over the soughing of the sombre wind
priests chant louder than ever.
the mouth of India opens :

Crocodiles move into deeper waters.

The good wife
lies on my bed
through the long afternoon;
dreaming still, not exhausted
by the deep roar of funeral pyres.

Peculiarly private and personal, he takes to in his typical way of reflection. When the somber wind keeps soughing, the priests of India chant louder. The mouth of India opens at that time when heat and dust parch it up, the earth burns, the blazing summer with the Mercury soars up and even during that time, rituals continue on. The priests can be seen praying, chanting mantras. Crocodiles move into deeper waters. People take a siesta during the summer noon. The sun blazes it hot and it becomes difficult to stand under the sun. The good wife lies he by his bed dreaming and oblivious of the pyres burning far and the choric voices unto in a muffled reverberation. 

Jayanta Mahapatra is not a poet whose poetry is pleasurable and joy-giving and instead of taxes and waylays us. To read him is not to feel free. There is very much of nothingness, existentialism, nihilism in him which but we know it not, the drama of the absurd. This life is a waiting and we keep for the turn of things. Where we are going, what are we doing, we know it not. What is it false, what is it real, how to say it as the things keep swapping positions and places? The shape of the things continues to change and situations are not alike in the duration of time envisaged. Everything is but a matter of time, time all-powerful, all-pervasive.  

The twilight falling on the hospital panes, just as a pale flare, lighting up and picturing the children’s ward and the mothers sad and dejected wailing for the loss is scenic otherwise as it twitches us with a note of dejection. Again the same takes to a different recourse allowing the jasmines to crack open and bloom and spread sweet redolence all but in hide. Let us mark the images that lie in contrast.


An orange flare
lights the pale panes of the hospital
in a final wish of daylight.
It's not yet dark.

In the children’s ward
under a mother's face
the dead, always so young.
Water startles in the river's throat.

Its cry:
a plea to share in its curse?

Somewhere, this twilight shall fall
and hide the whiteness of jasmines about to bloom.

Newly-lit lamps
in the houses across the street
make me look out at the wet August evening
that holds up the vast unknown
in such small delicate hands.

Sep 8, 2016

The Tiger and the Deer by Aurobindo

The Tiger and the Deer by Maharshi Aurobindo
Bijay Kant Dubey

Brilliant, crouching, slouching, what crept through the green heart of the forest,
Gleaming eyes and mighty chest and soft soundless paws of grandeur and murder?
The wind slipped through the leaves as if afraid lest its voice and the noise of its steps perturb the pitiless Splendour,
Hardly daring to breathe. But the great beast crouched and crept, and crept and crouched a last time, noiseless, fatal,
Till suddenly death leaped on the beautiful wild deer as it drank
Unsuspecting at the great pool in the forest’s coolness and shadow,
And it fell and, torn, died remembering its mate left sole in the deep woodland,—
Destroyed, the mild harmless beauty by the strong cruel beauty in Nature.
But a day may yet come when the tiger crouches and leaps no more in the dangerous heart of the forest,
As the mammoth shakes no more the plains of Asia;
Still then shall the beautiful wild deer drink from the coolness of great pools in the leaves’ shadow.
The mighty perish in their might;
The slain survive the slayer.

Is it The Tiger of William Blake picked from Songs of Experience written in contrast with Songs of Innocence or a remix of the same with the experiences of sadhna and tantrical realization? Or, may be the vision of a saint and seer confronting a tiger into the hills and the mountains? Herein lies it the philosophy, the Hindu view of life held over down the ages, right from the start of civilization and culture. Though the influence of Milton hangs heavy over Savitri infusing in Western and Oriental philosophies, the version is Sanskritic, but the language and style derived from Paradise Lost and in that invocation and cadence, he starts and finishes the poem running into several editions and volumes and edited and revised from time to time as did they Wordsworth Tintern Abbey and Whitman Leaves of Grass. The poem is no exception to that as the influence of William Blake hangs heavy over it together with the imagery of the lamb and the tiger symbolizing innocence and experience. Toeing the same line and length, the poem is a variation from the same and can be called a parody of that. But something lies in added to it and that is Indian hermitage and the things associated with that. The poet as a sadhaka and yogi deals with mysticism; marks the elements of Nature and its wilds lying in contrasts and variations. The tiger and the deer elements have always engaged their mindscapes.Such a thing it is there in Hopkins’ Pied Beauty. The great saints and sadhus, yogis and fakiras of India have felt it while meditating in the forests and mountains. The tiger is the brute force bloody and brutal, ferocious and wild whereas the deer is splendid and serene.

The tiger waits for the deer to come and to pounce upon the poor creature into the wilds of Nature representing it what is dark in it, brutal and bloody, animal and horrific, wild and tempestuous, beastly and deadly, terrifying and cataclysmic. What it is that has crept through the green heart of the forest brilliant, crouching and slouching? What is that breaking the calm and splendor of it with a commotion and clamour turning noisy? The tiger lying in wait for to grab and catch the deer for a kill is definitely another perspective of life and the world, originating from the questions pertaining to the creation, the purpose and prudence of it, what the ways of the Divine, who can but say it, answer them to settle the odd scores? The gleaming eyes of the brute of the jungle, burning and sparking and it with the jaws and claws of its own coming slowly without making a sound, as when on the prowl. The chest is mighty and the paws of grandeur and murder and the beast coming with the soundless steps of its own. Tennysonian Nature red in tooth and claw, Shelleyian west wind swift, tameless and proud, Hughesian hawk going for a kill, these can never be upturned down. The wind slips through the leaves as if held in awe and suspense, tranquility to be ruffled strangely. Without disturbing the plan and scheme, it goes for a kill, a catch silently without making a noise and sound. The moment is one of hardly anyone daring to breathe, but to see in awe and astonishment, horror and terror what it going to take place and strike. The great beast is crouching and creeping, creeping and crouching to pounce upon and strike the poor creature while taking water at the pool or the stream in the wild unsuspectful of the coolness and shadows of the forest tract. The deer falls down and is torn to death while the mate of it straying far off in the deep woodland. This is but the law of Nature as the terror and the mild both form the facets of it. The mild harmless beauty is destroyed by the elements terrific and horrible which but the eyes cannot see it. But a day will come when the destructive forces will meet a disastrous and abrupt end, will never walk in the dangerous heart of the ignorant forest. But the deer will continue to drink water from the cool shade of the water pools into the forest of life. The mighty will perish in their might and the slain will survive the slayer.

The Tiger and the Deer is really one of the most beautiful poems of Aurobindo which remind us of the duality of Nature and Creation, what the purpose, how the ways of it to man and creatures, who can but say it? Nature at the same is swift, fragile and cool and calm, but at the tameless, swift and windy. Sometimes placid and sometimes horrific, tempestuous and terrible is it unexpectedly. The tiger and the deer elements are the aspects of the same creation. How to upturn the process? What it is beautiful remains it not so unto the last. What it strikes us is this that beauty is throttled and destroyed untimely. The mighty believing in the victory of the sword finish it all in prowess, taking them timid and cowardly. But that day too is not far from when the mighty will perish in their might. They will appear helpless before and will have to hang their swords.

The poem may be an anecdote of Indian sadhaka doing sadhna into the secluded domains of Nature and the wild or the mountainous regions. The poet wants to say that what it is bloody will meets its end in blood, what it is mild will remain appreciated unto the last. But how to strike the duality of the universe, the rule of the jungle? The law of the jungle is different from that of culture and civilization. The brute force too is an element of Nature, bloody, bestial and fierce combining with the horror and terror element.

The Tiger and the Deer is without any doubt a Blakian poem where the lambish element has been contrasted with the tigerly ferocity. Many great sadhakas of India have done sadhna in the midst of it all down the ages which is but a hidden fact. The mystical duality of the creation, how to explain it? The poem can make meaning if it is compared with Blake’s The Tiger and we think the one by the English poet more beautiful than that of Aurobindo.

Sep 3, 2016

Irony And Caricature In Nissim Ezekiel

Irony And Caricature In Nissim Ezekiel
Bijay Kant Dubey

Of all the modern poets and poetesses whom we study into the realm of Indian English poetry, Nissim Ezekiel as a poet is best known for his use of irony and caricature, fun and joke, humour and laughter, chuckle and mockery. Even his friends are not able to regale and recreate as he does in his poetry just like the mimic man or a pantomime artiste. A writer of literary polish and etiquette, he wants to be a modern man; a modern Indian and this is the image to carry it along with. To do the caricature is the hidden art of Nissim and he does it so successfully.  It will not be wrong to say if we call him the caricature man of Indian English poetry as he does it so remarkably. To salt and spice the statements is his job; to hear the Indians using and applying English. How do they use it Angrezi, the patriot’s English, Miss Pushpa’s English, the geography department Prof. Sheth’s English, the freedom fighter’s English? How the weak in English advocating for Angrezi hatao? English is  English, King’s English, Queen’s Standard, but it is Indian English also, somehow added and tagged, sentences framed and translated and spoken in English, conversation carried on with hitches haltingly and the stress, pitch and accent falling here and there.

As the green-necked parrots imitate the sounds, Sita-Ram, Sita-Ram, in a few rural Indian households or those of the astrologers, lying caged so do the Indians copy and imitate English, but the vernaculars come in between, the far-flung domains and the lack of resources. Time, distance, thing and custom too put in hurdles in going cosmopolitan not, but at least modern. The exotic lands and domains were not connected and the resources were not available in the poor rural countryside. Pushpa’s English is a type in whom can hear about the varieties of English, Gujarati English, Marathi English, Bihari English, Bengali English, Punjabi English, Bhojpurian English, tribal English. Nissim Ezekiel should know it we even falter in pronouncing some words and the naming ones too, for example, psalm, pneumonia, cholera, Alsatian, porcupine, paradigm, Job, Maupassant, Maugham and so on.

A poet of Bene Israel origin, Nissim Ezekiel did his schooling and college education in Bombay before moving to England and on his return journey taught and worked in different capacities before joining Bombay University. He was an editor, an art critic and what not. Time To Change, 1952, The Third,1959, The Unfinished Man, 1960,The Exact Name, 1965, Hymns in Darkness, 1976, Latter-Day Psalms,1982, Collected Poems 1952-88, 1989, etc. are the works which he has authored from time to time. A poet of the modern age and times, he found solace in modernism rather than Indianness envisaged in Indian thought, culture, tradition and philosophy. A poster boy of modernism, he frolicked with dead conventions which he never approved of. But himself was a Jew, a Maharashtrian Jew from Bombay so detached from Indian thought and culture, tradition and philosophy, religion and spirituality, metaphysics and cosmology, theology and ethics, morality and didacticism though the concepts of  karma and dharma struck him down and drew so close. But is strongly one of Bombay, the place of birth, nativity and all other contacts and connects.

Background, Casually by Nissim Ezekiel is an autobiographical piece wherein he tells us about his life, schooling, marriage and so on. The poet introduces himself poetically and the poem is a caricature of his own, as to crack jokes, recreate humour, laugh and smile, chuckle and comment is his job. A poet rascal clown was born luckily, is the way he introduces himself. It is none but he himself who goes calling his names and it too is a style of introduction. The convent boys and girls while thinking themselves laden with studies or taking to be Englishmen and women, do it so. One can mark it when the English school breaks up, getting the taste of England and Englishes with the varieties of Englishness.

The poem Background, Casually may be quoted for our ready reference:

A poet-rascal-clown was born,
The frightened child who would not eat
Or sleep, a boy of meagre bone.
He never learnt to fly a kite,
His borrowed top refused to spin.

I went to Roman Catholic school,
A mugging Jew among the wolves.
They told me I had killed the Christ,
That year I won the scripture prize.
A Muslim sportsman boxed my ears.

I grew in terror of the strong
But undernourished Hindu lads,
Their prepositions always wrong,
Repelled me by passivity.
One noisy day I used a knife.

At home on Friday nights the prayers
Were said. My morals had declined,
I heard of Yoga and of Zen.
Could I, perhaps, be rabbi-saint?
The more I searched, the less I found

Twenty-two: time to go abroad.
First, the decision, then a friend
To pay the fare. Philosophy,
Poverty and Poetry, three
Companions shared my basement room.


The London seasons passed me by.
I lay in bed two years alone,
And then a Woman came to tell
My willing ears I was the Son
Of Man. I knew that I had failed

In everything, a bitter thought.
So, in an English cargo-ship
Taking French guns and mortar shells
To Indo-China, scrubbed the decks,
And learned to laugh again at home.

How to feel it home, was the point
Some reading had been done, but what
Had I observed, except my own
Exasperation? All Hindus are
Like that, my father used to say,

When someone talked too loudly, or
Knocked at the door like the Devil.
They hawked and spat. They sprawled around.
I prepared for the worst. Married,
Changed jobs, and saw myself a fool.

The song of my experience sung,
I knew that all was yet to sing.
My ancestors, among the castes,
Were aliens crushing seed for bread
(The hooded bullock made his rounds)


One among them fought and taught,
A Major bearing British arms.
He told my father sad stories
Of the Boer War. I dreamed that
Fierce men had bound my feet and hands.

The later dreams were all of words.
I did not know that words betray
But let the poems come, and lost
That grip on things the worldly prize.
I would not suffer that again.

I look about me now, and try
To formulate a plainer view:
The wise survive and serve to play
The fool, to cash in on
The inner and the outer storms.

The Indian landscape sears my eyes.
I have become a part of it
To be observed by foreigners.
They say that I am singular,
Their letters overstate the case.

I have made my commitments now.
This is one: to stay where I am,
As others choose to give themselves
In some remote and backward place.
My backward place is where I am.

The poet as a schoolboy went to Roman Catholic school, a Jew in the midst of the Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians. The Christians said it that he had killed Christ, but never did he. The same year he got the scripture prize. A Muslim came and boxed his ears. He just amuses with these memoirs and reflections. Background, Casually is a poem taken to be lightly, not seriously at all. A modern man, how can he dream of becoming a rabbi? His morals have declined considerably. So he does not feel it the guts of becoming. Apart from being a Jew he has also heard of Yoga and Zen. Nissim as a poet is a light writer and in his lightness lies it the seriousness of thought and idea and vice versa.

The London days though had bouts of romantic frill and nostalgia went off singly and he could not take for an English girl. He had definitely inclination for, but he suppressed it the matter, curtailed it the reel of his life censoring to be leaked to his Indian wife.
The starting lines of the Goodbye Party For Miss Pushpa T.S. tell of Pushpa one from Gujarat is going to foreign and Nissim trying to caricature her under the pretext of giving her a goodbye party. Let us see how he makes the announcement without even a microphone:

our dear sister
is departing for foreign
in two three days,
we are meeting today
to wish her bon voyage.

You are all knowing, friends,
What sweetness is in Miss Pushpa.
I don't mean only external sweetness
but internal sweetness.
Miss Pushpa is smiling and smiling
even for no reason but simply because
she is feeling.

The poet outwits us when he says there is sweetness in Pushpa which but all do not know it, not only external, but internal sweetness. Nissim is but a ripe mango full of juice.

The concluding lines of the Goodbye Party For Miss Pushpa T.S. have a movement and recourse of own, developing in the likewise manner of narration where the poet has tried to catch the rhythms of speech, the local nuances and idiosyncrasies of Indian English which the speakers speak it not, try to write it and even though speak they, but ridiculously:

Coming back to Miss Pushpa
she is most popular lady
with men also and ladies also.

Whenever I asked her to do anything,
she was saying, 'Just now only
I will do it.' That is showing
good spirit. I am always
appreciating the good spirit.

Pushpa Miss is never saying no.
Whatever I or anybody is asking
she is always saying yes,
and today she is going
to improve her prospect
and we are wishing her bon voyage.
Now I ask other speakers to speak
and afterwards Miss Pushpa
will do summing up.

A few beginning stanzas of Jewish Wedding In Bombay will state it clearly how entertaining he is personally. On marking the bride sitting before, he can also caricature with the words, ‘Don’t be silly.’ It is a matter of prestige for the bridegroom if she smiles and breaks into laughter after marking him toning her down.

Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn't really
crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
sympathized, and said don't be silly.

Her brothers had a shoe of mine and made me pay
to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours'
children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
bridegroom of the day.

There was no dowry because they knew I was 'modern'
and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
When I said I didn't know, he laughed it off.

The final stanzas of the poem tell the rest story of his marriage and the marriage party. After the  marriage comes off, they go to the world class studio reputed for making wedding photographs:

Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes,
world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
we lay on a floor-matress in the kitchen of my wife's
family apartment and though it was part midnight she
kept saying let's do it darling let's do it darling
so we did it.

More than ten years passed before she told me that
she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.

During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
returned it, but not one of the books I had read
instructed me how.

But there comes a time in his life when the wife after the quarrel asks him to return her virginity. The poet too outwits her with his readymade answers. There is no book at all read in London or India instructing him to do if it is possible. Even the foolish will smile on hearing him that an educated man can reason as thus which is but the joy of reading him.

We may take the poem Marriage. Lovers when they marry feel it that they will never separate from each other as it was in their fate and God arranged it in heaven and they are perhaps the most lucky men:

Lovers, when they marry, face
Eternity with touching grace.
Complacent at being fated
Never to be separated.

The bride is always pretty, the groom
A lucky man. The darkened room
Roars out the joy of flesh and blood.
The use of nakedness is good.

I went through this, believing all,
Our love denied the Primal Fall.
Wordless, we walked among the trees,
And felt immortal as the breeze.

However many times we came
Apart, we came together. The same
Thing over and over again.
Then suddenly the mark of Cain  
Began to show on her and me.

Why should I rain the mystery
By harping on the suffering rest,
Myself a frequent wedding guest?

The bride is always pretty and the bridegroom a lucky man and Nissim keeps relishing upon, drawing and deriving pleasures oblivious of the suffering to make inroads, displeasure and discomfort to grow and the cracks to figure in mutual relationships finally readying for a departure from all that as love does not remain love at that time, attraction dispels it, goes away. But as he himself is a wedding guest of several occasions and festivities who had been a party to it and saw them as a witness, how can he distract others as per his observation? After having married, how can he, don’t marry and be happy?

Poet, Lover, Birdwatcher by Nissim Ezekiel is an elaboration of the Coleridgean dictum, ‘The best poets wait for the best words’ and its remixing with the art of making love, ornithology and poetry.

To force the pace and never to be still
Is not the way of those who study birds
Or women. The best poets wait for words.
The hunt is not an exercise of will
But patient love relaxing on a hill
To note the movement of a timid wing;
Until the one who knows that she is loved
No longer waits but risks surrendering -
In this the poet finds his moral proved
Who never spoke before his spirit moved.

The slow movement seems, somehow, to say much more.
To watch the rarer birds, you have to go
Along deserted lanes and where the rivers flow
In silence near the source, or by a shore
Remote and thorny like the heart's dark floor.
And there the women slowly turn around,
Not only flesh and bone but myths of light
With darkness at the core, and sense is found
But poets lost in crooked, restless flight,
The deaf can hear, the blind recover sight.

Let us mark the Indian patriot’s English, the Gandhian freedom fighter’s. The patriot  as a Ram-bhakta hanuman of Gandhi gives his opinions and views in the likewise manner. Few of the freedom fighters were educated, but most of them were lathi-wielding fellows, strangely dedicated and devoted to Gandhi. If Gandhi says, stand on your feet, they will stand up to do that, but meaning he it not, but asking to be self-reliant. A vegetarian, teetotaler non-violent and truthful will fail it even the hanuman in its bhakti to Ram-Sita as the Gandhian patriots did they. His references to Mahatma Gandhi, Nehruji and Indira Behn all hint to loyalty, political hierarchy; a politics of the icons and scions. If to take him, the modern man is a drunkard as he takes cold drinks and wine instead of health-giving lassi. But the Gandhian freedom fighter knows it not that the Indian milkman mixes too much water into milk, not even the tap water, but the pond  water and blotting paper as for the skim, fat and cream and sells the adulterated milk and the same today are turning into foolish ministers.

 I am standing for peace and non-violence.
 Why world is fighting fighting
 Why all people of world
 Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
 I am simply not understanding.
 Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
 I should say even 200% correct,
 But modern generation is neglecting-
 Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

 Other day I'm reading newspaper
 (Every day I'm reading Times of India
 To improve my English Language)
 How one goonda fellow
 Threw stone at Indirabehn.
 Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
 Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
 Lend me the ears.
 Everything is coming -
 Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
 Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

 You want one glass lassi?
 Very good for digestion.
 With little salt, lovely drink,
 Better than wine;
 Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
 I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
 But I say
 Wine is for the drunkards only.

 What you think of prospects of world peace?
 Pakistan behaving like this,
 China behaving like that,
 It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
 Really, most harassing me.
 All men are brothers, no?
 In India also
 Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
 All brothers -
 Though some are having funny habits.
 Still, you tolerate me,
 I tolerate you,
 One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

 You are going?
 But you will visit again
 Any time, any day,
 I am not believing in ceremony
 Always I am enjoying your company.

The Professor is a very interesting poem of Nissim wherein he caricatures the talks of the geography department retired professor with his ex-student whom he meets by chance. His English is not good, but instead of keeps trying, gossiping and carrying it forward. The middle class vanity, hypocrisy and ego have been taken into consideration. Who can speak in India and how the language employed for? Whether you know English or not, just go on showing is the thing, but Nissim too must know it that English is not spoken in the streets so there is no fault in trying to speak in. But to show hypocrisy is not good and it happens in our society.

Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
Once I taught you geography. Now
I am retired, though my health is good.
My wife died some years back.
By God's grace, all my children
Are well settled in life.
One is Sales Manager,
One is Bank Manager,
Both have cars.
Other also doing well, though not so well.
Every family must have black sheep.
Sarala and Tarala are married,
Their husbands are very nice boys.
You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
How many issues you have? Three?
That is good. These are days of family planning.
I am not against. We have to change with times.
Whole world is changing. In India also
We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
Old values are going, new values are coming.
Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
I am going out rarely, now and then
Only, this is price of old age
But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
This is because of sound habits in youth.
How is your health keeping?
Nicely? I am happy for that.
This year I am sixty-nine
and hope to score a century.
You were so thin, like stick,
Now you are man of weight and consequence.
That is good joke.
If you are coming again this side by chance,
Visit please my humble residence also.
I am living just on opposite house's backside.

Nissim is a poet of overtones, romantic overtones and undertones, ironic modes and their application, humorous chuckle of laughter and mockery. His bouts with mockery, irony and laughter are known to everybody and sometimes strikes, hits below the belly. To crack jokes is the chief property of the poet. There are many facets of his poetry; some discuss him as a romantic, some as a poet-lover, some as a poet of irony and caricature and some as an alien insider which is but the marvel of our discussion. When we read The Patriot, the picture of a khadi dhoti and kurta wearing freedom fighter with a turban around the head and a lathi going dances before the mind’s eye, a Lady Gregorian patriot not, we mean an Irish balladeer in the guise of nor the loyal Irish sergeant working for the British Govt. and that too a patriot of some kind whether the dramatist calls him or not. The Professor is a ditto professor sahib, not the English, but the brown sahib speaking in Hindustani English, not Pakistani, doing the morning walks and meeting and gossiping with his ex-student whom he taught long ago. A retired fellow he passes his time, but not retired from life and the world. The last of all, Nissim too is a lover, a romantic of his kind amusing with his talks of love marriage, romantic gossips, birthday parties, marriage parties, goodbye parties and partying is his job, no life without. In the park he wants to meet stealthily, in the library under the pretext of reading books or exchanging them, a writer of  love letters and birthday sweets packs and gifts. The poet persona likes to go to the pictures and the theatre with her by his side and says it he has not loved a girl.

Colloquial Hindustani English is the central point of his discussion and he takes liberties with it apart from making a cartoon of or imitating the speech with the staggering and faltering sound patterns. The Indian users of the English language like to pronounce wrongly without taking into note right pronunciation. Men and their manners, the wide world and its varying ways, societal living standards and talks, modernity and its impact, this forms a major chunk of his poetry. Basically, a funny man he delves into the funnier aspects of living. How to joke and poke into another’s domain is the subject-matter of his art; his chief priority. To read him is to burst into a laughter and with him poetry turns into a laughing matter, full of fun, smiles, comics, joviality, turns and twists all for pleasure sake, not to be serious, but to be light. But somewhere he attracts our attention towards poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, underdevelopment, human misery, pity and pathos. 
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