“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Enjoying Poetry

Among my collection of books on poetry ( poems as well as guides to the study of poems), there is one book I like much - 'The Forms of Poetry - A practical study guide for English by Peter Abbs & John Richardson ( Cambridge U P). It is meant for students aged 14 -18, but is useful for anyone who wants to understand and appreciate poetry. Poems of many kinds liberally scattered throughout, the book is hugely enjoyable. I just wanted to share some I liked.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn the nuances and beauty of poetry.

The Masochist's Week


******** Anon.


It sits, a moist ball of flesh in my hand.
Vulnerable, pressed belly close to my pink palm,
The ball of putty croaks,
Blowing out with care, his throat balloon taut.
He lets it go shriveling back into limp folds,
Like worn material .
He hangs his skin cravat under his chin and smiles.
Suddenly, his head jerks up
Sending black warts colliding down his back.
His eyes swivel
Full of wet black wonder
Exaggerated by the thin circlet of gold he wears around them.
Regally he stands
In wait for the worm, long pale pink innocence.
Then tongue whips the air and satisfaction slips down
His throat.
He presses his eyes down and shuffles his
membranous feet.
He smiles and rests his head flaccidly on my thumb.
Liza Robinson ( aged 13)


Don't you care for my love? she said bitterly.

I handed her the mirror, and said:
Please address these questions to the proper person!
Please make all requests to head-quarters!
In all matters of emotional importance
please approach the supreme authority direct! - 
So I handed her the mirror.

And she would have broken it over my head,
but she caught sight of her own reflection
and that held her spellbound for two seconds
while I fled.

********** D H Lawrence

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum 30/06/2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Art takes a step Backward

Meena Kandasamy courtesy http://dbnweb2.ukzn.ac.za

After centuries of discrimination, the 'low caste' Hindu, through several programmes of social justice and social emancipation, are getting their equal rights as citizens - the fact that they were kept far out of the mainstream society for generations, oppressed and enslaved and 'untouched' - it denied their children the oppertunities available to those of the 'upper castes'. Through reservation of seats in educational institutions and employment, reduced fees, lower merit requirements and other measures, those belonging to the untouchables/lower castes/ harijans/scheduled castes/Dalits are being ensured of equal rights. All this began after Independance in 1947. 65 years. And likely to continue for decades hence. Fine. Of course, the upper castes may grumble; there are socially/economically backward individuals among them - and now they in turn are robbed of their rights. So it will be.

But - can the same yardstick be applied to art? Lets say - A of the upper caste draws a picture of a dog; and so does B, a Dalit. If for all aesthetic standards, A's picture is better, but since B is a Dalit, should the prize go to B?

Can art be of the Dalit? Can art be of Women? Can art be of the Hindu/Moslem/Christian etc? Should we allow Art to bear such labels? How do you judge a work of art - a poem/ a sculpture/ a painting/ a song/ a story/ - whatever? Would it be for its quality as a work of art or for its political/communal/ jingoistic/parochial considerations? Would you rate a work of art by a man and a woman on the basis of sex? 

Meena Kandasamy is a Tamil Dalit poet. ( since when did we stop saying poetess/ actress? In what way do we discriminate here? Or does gender discrimination end if we say female actor? Is it sexist to identify a person on the basis of sex? If there are only actors, so be it, but awards should be only for the best actor,irrespective of sex ) She was in Trivandrum yesterday in connection with the release of the translated version of her collection of poems. Tamil Dalit poet. Tamil - you need that to distinguish the language she uses; it is also useful to understand the cultural milieu she belongs to. Dalit - it denotes she belongs to a group of communities - socially/economically/politically/ etclly backward. Do we need to know her caste to appreciate her art?

Maybe before you read a poem, you should learn the religion/community the poet is from - and set your mind accordingly.

I am writing this based on a report in the Malayalam daily, 'Mathrbhumi'. The Malayalam poet/activist, Smt Sugathakumari had been invited to do the honour of releasing the collection of poems ( translation by V S Bindu). Sugathakumari was given a copy of the book on the previous day of the function. After reading a poem in the book which was contemptuous of Mahatma Gandhi, Sugathakumari informed the organisers that it will be against her conscience to release a book that depicts Gandhiji badly. She refused to attend the function stating that she cannot be a party to it.

The poem begins by saying that it is incorrect to call him 'Mahatma'. It says that Gandhi's laugh is 'eerie' (Bhayanakam). The poem ends with 'Bapu, Bapu, kodiya vanchaka, njangal ningale verukkunnu' - Bapu, Bapu, you big fraud, we hate you. She calls Gandhiji a sadist, impure, imposter etc. Meena was 17 when she wrote this. She says she wrote it after reading Sylvia Plath's Daddy.

Meena writes:

Gone half-cuckoo, you called us names,
You dubbed us pariahs—“Harijans”
goody-goody guys of a bigot god
Ram Ram Hey Ram—boo.

But they killed you, the naked you,
your blood with mud was gooey goo.
Sadist fool, you killed your body
many times before this too.

In her speech Meena Kandasamy criticized Sugathakumari for refusing to release the book. Sugathakumari said she has her own values and principles and considers Gandhiji as her Guru and nobody can demand that she destroy her values.
Meena Kandasamy has won awards and accolades for her poetry. She has a PhD in Sociolinguistics.
Gandhiji brought all the 'Untouchables' together and called them Harijans; the children of God. they now call themselves Dalits. Who bears the stigma? Who still carries the brunt of casteism in their minds? All of them; upper and lower, Brahmin and Dalit.   When the name is changed from Harijan to Dalit, would the pain and hurt vanish?  So long as one identifies him/herself as 'belonging' to a caste, this schism would persist.  If it was not for Gandhiji, what would have been the history of the present Dalits?

I have read Meena's poems and found some quite good. And that has nothing to do with the fact that she is a Dalit or that she is an attractive young woman. But Gandhi-bashing is quite fashionable among Dalits, it seems. It gets you applauds and cheers from some members of the Dalit communities.

To me, since the time when world began there have been the oppressor and the oppressed. In some countries it is White and Black, in some Shia and Sunni, in some Protestant and Catholic; in most, the rich and the poor. One day it is the Brahmin and the Dalit, next day the roles reversed

*************** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 28.06.2012
SEE :http://newindianexpress.com/cities/thiruvananthapuram/article553077.ece

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Passion Poetry

http://www.kmadisonmooreartistportfolio.com   Painting by K Madison Moore

Recently I wrote to 'Writers Workshop', Kolkota, asking whether they would be interested in bringing out another collection of my poems. Ms.Lal, granddaughter of late Prof.P Lal, warmly replied that they'd consider it. 

My poems are scattered among many files; perhaps the only page where I can find most of them would be the blog. Down with fever and cough ( what better excuse to take leave and stay home!), I started browsing through my files to compile those poems which haven't appeared in the first collection.  I considered which poem should be the 'title poem'. 

Except for a rare deviation, my poems are morbidly personal; they are too intimate, ad nauseum. The few exceptions are about trees or dogs or nature in general. I hardly write anything political or social or something that concern humanity in a large scale. To me, poetry is a tool with which I learn more about myself; by expressing my analyses in words, I am clearer to myself; and in most cases, I am able to connect with the larger world through this process of self-learning. 

I am no different from any other creative writer in contending that some of what I have written are, simply put, beautiful. Especially those on love and passion.  Among the nearly 300 plus poems I have written, there are a few which are so so close to me.   'Blue Moon' is one. 

It is typical of its genre, lost love. Years ago, I accidentally got in touch with my girl friend of decades back.  One day I asked her ( email) whether she reads my blog, my poems. I had a reason to ask; because most of the intensely passionate poems were written around her.  I wanted to know whether I could convey what I couldn't when I should have.  One need not harbour real feelings to write truly; even the memories of real feelings can enthuse one to write as genuine.  And she replied - 'Oh, once in a blue moon'. 

Into the little aquarium at home, I drop a stone, smoothly rounded, that I had picked up from a riverbed. 'Thunk'! it goes down and settles on the sand-bed. 

I might give 'Blue Moon' as the title for the next collection of poems - if published! 

Interestingly, there is one Elvis song,  'Blue moon,  you saw me standing alone...'

Blue Moon

Blue Moon!
How would thee be?
Blue, like the skies over the mountains
Or the sea a hundred fathoms deep?
Would thee be a lavender blue
Or a fragrance of Satchmo’s jazz?

Nights –
I do not remember days anymore –
Nights –
Rattle of toddy cats on the roof
Rustle of the mango tree in the breeze
The howl of my dogs
Pining for love.
Through the window
A moon, waxing and waning
Clouded out.

She said she would glance at my words
Once in a blue moon.

I seek thee, Blue Moon!
How would thee come?
On the fourteenth night
Thy anklets tittering,
Lifting thy veil
And -
Looking at me with love?

******  Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 06-02-2009

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Monocular Views

Turning it inward, the first thing I noticed
Was the paleness of the Blue.
As I scanned, colours of different hues appeared
A bright saffron Red that excited me,
Greens, strange, I always felt erotic
Browns of barren lands and then
The White of the snow-capped hills.

I shook the Glass and Viola'! it turned
To a Kalaiedoscope.
Sparklers and bangle pieces
Tinted glass and tiny beads - I shake -
And marvel at the myriad  of love.

Love, in its infinite patterns, Love
That I knew, and that I didn't
Each design, falling into place
So different from the other, so unique!

I shake, I roll and yet another appears
How disturbing, how fragile, how tender it is!

I stand still, lest my arms shake,
And trying to forget, at least for the moment
That the beauty before me
Is of broken pieces of glass...

******** Balachandran V, Trivandrum, 17.06.2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Being an Indian

It is not about nationality or religion. There are certain icons   embedded  in one's subconscience; however one may try to raise oneself out of the confines of the country and belief system that one was born into, however universal one is, the spiritual umbilical cord with your nativity cannot be cut. Icons such as  Ganga, Himalayas, Kasi, Bharatapuzha, etc, are so ingrained in me; I find great solace in them. I consider myself an Indian just because I have been fortunate to be born in this land. If I consider myself a Hindu ( which I don't, in the religious sense) it is only because of the historical and spiritual baggage that I carry as  an Indian; anytime better than an American or British baggage!

Below is an unpublished poem I wrote long ago. I was in Varanasi, with my mother's ashes. I was not there due to religious reasons; I had never before visited this place and my mother's death was an excuse. During my 4 or 5 days stay in Varanasi, I wandered around the city, watched bodies being cremated, visited BHU and the Palace across the Ganges.

Despite its filth and crowds and ugliness, Benaras/Kasi/Varanasi left an indelible impression in my mind. I wouldn't mind visiting it again; I would love to sit on the banks of Ganges on a full moon night, alone.

To Kasi, With Thanks

Kasi/ Benaras/Varanasi. The ancient, holy city in India. Since ages, Kasi has been the final resting place en route heaven – or hell.

Amidst the filth, fury of the heat,
Amidst the chaos of men and machines
Amidst the riot of raggedly people
Amidst the stench of putrefying land.

What do I take from thee, Kasi?
For my wife, a couple of sarees
For my son, a couple of Kurtas
For my friend, an antique in bronze
For me? Just you in my heart.

Who are you, Kasi, are you the one
Languishing by the river? Or
Benaras, of the dilapidated palace?
Or Varanasi, the leprous one?

Kasi, why did you let it slide
Into this vortex of Hell?
You could’ve let it be
Your ancient soul and shadows.

For, if it were you, Kasi
I’d have strolled in your narrow galies,
Savouring the shade and smell of dung
Touching the cool stones with my heart.

If it were you, Kasi
I’d have swum in the Ganges
Touched the drop that long ago
I let flow at Vasudhara1 Falls.

If it were you, Kasi
I’d have met all those who left
Who walked away from my home afar
To you, to never return.

If only it were you, Kasi!
I’d have walked with all those
Who still run in my blood.
For you, Kasi, is what I am, what I were
What my son would be.
Varanasi 27/10/2004

  1. A waterfall near Badrinath, high in the Himalayas.

            Courtesy mbjesq