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Looking Within and Beyond

Perhaps it’s time to think what it means to be a poet writing in English in a country that hardly cares about poetry. Of course poetry collections keep appearing, mostly with the poets’ own money, in print and online, but reaching out to influential media and academia has been difficult. The general support is missing.

Power and politics apart, practicing poets and editors such as D C Chambial, P C K Prem, T V Reddy, P K Joy, I K Sharma, R K Singh, Angelee Deodhar, Atma Ram, H S Bhatia, Pronab K Majumder, P Raja, Sudhir K Arora, Abnish Singh Chauhan, C L Khatri, Shaleen Kumar Singh, K V Dominic, C L Khatri, and scores of others have been liberally supporting the potent voices that merit public and academic attention. Even as they demonstrate understanding of the poets’ relationship to both the present and the past, to the rich literary tradition, and to the sociopolitical system that negates their presence, the problem of literary mediation persists. Their muse struggles for space in the world of Literature.

Unless academic research on emerging and marginalized poets and writers in English locally, regionally, and nationally is promoted as policy, the native literary culture won’t develop. It would not only be difficult but also partial, exclusive, elitist, and negative to discuss contemporary trends and consciousness in creative writing without talking about hundreds of new voices that appeared post-Ezekiel.

If a poet like V V B Ramarao is noted, — he is an experienced academic, bilingual writer, and translator,– it is not only because of his ability to carry the message of Indian culture and heritage with dignity but also because of his ability to communicate. He sounds collaborative with contemporary life and society and writes with a purpose, which is both personal and social. Aware of the generational shift, he views the external world with a critical eye and tries to talk frankly. In the process he turns within to become religious, moral, and interpretative.

His manas, sensitive and matured as it is, creatively explores the conflict-ridden world-”killing, ripping, raping, mauling” with “strange codes for strange outrages”-and transforms into a life of love, goodness, and compassion: “Will vultures be transformed/into white doves, blue pigeons and black birds?” (‘The Seer’s Eye’), he suspects, but sounds reassuring, when he says, “Suffering needn’t necessarily degrade” (‘Vetting a Poet’).

As he exposes what he observes outside – “Threats of extinction wholesale are on the cards again,” with Laloosaurs, tyrannosaurs, psittacosaurus, Apatosaurus, saltosaurus, and so many other hydra-heads that challenge humanity everywhere (“Maybe the centre cannot hold, things are falling apart” -Pessimism), he demonstrates his strength inside: “But faith I’d never lose.” He turns positive and calls for order, for looking within, through the microscope of oneself, for seeing what he visualizes as “whiteness of mind” and “infant’s face.”

Most of his poems are replete with images and metaphors that reveal wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discerning insight: “What is without is within/Look for the infant’s face in the one you love:/Just look within” (‘Look Within’); “Ask not what the world has come to–/Realize what you have come to” (Mall Malady Moron); and “Blessed it is to be in solitude/A consummation devoutly to be wished/That’s all we need to know” (‘Bliss it is’).

The moralist and teacher in him is ever vigilant: “It is not enough to have a watch right on your wrist/You should know the value of time” (‘For Our Grandchildren’); “Spirituality needs wisdom and piety” (‘Seeing through I.C.U.’); “Days of deliverance recede far and farther/Hydra-heads cannot be decapitated at all” (‘Breasts of Prey’); “Between ism and feminism falls the shadow/For Hers is the kingdom/Time doesn’t heal: it only blunts./All is not vanity:/Pain is real” (‘Blunted’); and “Karmic suffering alone purges off dross” (‘Soul in transit’).

Ramarao’s didactic tone in many a poem may or may not appeal the new generation readership but the radiance of his thought may be felt by everyone. He tastes and shares liberally what he calls “delicatessen” in poesy via saintly wisdom: “Some tales in our scripture like epics are guidelines for all.”

Like a seer-poet, he movingly uses his metaphors to convey what may appear unpleasant but is true. He critically meditates on various social issues of the time and communicates his own personal vision, revealing the experienced scholar he has been and searching his own salvation. His poetry defines the way he perceives the world around him and demonstrates what lies inside him. There is a touch of faith in what he says. To that extent, his poetry is criticism, with clarity of thought and diction, and added humour, irony, satire, and moral tone that draws him to the ways of the self with the same zeal as he commits himself to bhakti or devotion to the divine.

In fact he flirts with the muse to experience the human and divine as a seeker (cf. ‘Winter Rain’ and ‘Foul Play’). In his ‘Winter Blossoms’ and other poems loaded with sex, he seeks to stress how “amorous sex” is a means of fulfillment. If one desires more and more of it, it is because, to quite J. Krishnamurti, “there is the cessation of self-consciousness, of the ‘me’… complete self-forgetfulness.” It’s a condition to free the self, a self-free spiritual state, “seeking to be free of conflict because with the cessation of conflict, there is joy. If there can be freedom from conflict, there is happiness at all different levels of existence.”

When Ramarao’s narrator talks about give and take, yearning for ebullient warmth, in absolute oneness of physical union, he seeks a greater continuity of pleasure, and an escape from the deadly sense of emptiness, isolation, loneliness. “Loneliness is hell,” says he. The poet seeks solace in the advait philosophy of unity, but cautions: “Libido is not all-it can ignite another flaming hell” (‘Vetting a Poet’). He continues:

“Hidden arsenals haunt a devil mind

Eager to add lusty continents to

The globe bursting at the seams.

No point chanting mantras for navigation benign.”

But love is its own eternity just as discovering the ways of the self through poetry is Ramarao’s meditation. The volume is a discovery of truth which everyone may relish. I am happy to be a part of it as a reader.

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