Way back in 1958, P. Lal, along with Raghavendra Rao, put forward a manifesto, which was not unlike the “Movement” manifesto drafted by a group of nine poets, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, Thom Gunn, Philip Larkin,et al.A sort of wakeup call, it brought into sharp focus the urgent need to scout for new talents in Indo-Anglian poetry.

From then on, Writers Workshop has served as a successful launching pad for many aspiring poets who, as it turned out, made it big later in their writing career. It is hard to name any Indian poet of significance who did not find encouragement for his talent from the Writers Workshop: Vikram Seth, Pritish Nandy, Ruskin Bond, Nissim Ezekiel, A.K. Ramanujan, Keki Daruwalla, the list goes on and on…

Treading on Gnarled Sand,one such publication by it, is a collection of 58 short poems by K.S. Subramanian, his second volume. The title sounds like a metaphor on man’s journey through the knobbly and rough areas, recalling H.W. Longfellow’s oft-quoted expression, “footprints on the sands of time.” Only, Longfellow’s is a clarion call for faith and progress, while Subramanian’s is a nostalgic peep into the lost paradise. These poems, arranged in seven sections, cover a wide range of themes, personal and public.

“I Met my Tramp”, the first and the longest in the bunch, is in the nature of a dialogue between the protagonist and a tramp who is omniscience personified, resembling “a spread-eagled oak’s trunk.” Dense with philosophical ideas, it deals with the theme of mortality — hatred and fear that can only lead to the inevitable death. “... fear of brooding/hate swelling into clouds of poison; fear of /words of custom gnarled by their own emptiness...”

The poet lapses into a sentimental reverie when he notices the change that has overtaken Bangalore. Unwilling to accept the present-day reality, he despairs of the transformation of the “aroma of the flora and the fauna snuffed out by perforating concrete.”

“Eagle” deftly recaptures the aerial motion of the omnivorous bird, “wafting cosmic spirit into its deport” whose ‘home sweet home’ is the earth. “Stricken Bird-Time’s Lament”, in six rhymed stanzas, looks back on the passage of time, only to notice that man’s lot seems to be unaffected despite the efforts of saints, sages, and philosophers. “After a millennium, Adam is the same/only clad in faded jeans, not bearskins.”

The deserted crow with its broken wings left to die serves as a grim reminder of Nature’s inexorable ways: one has to fend for oneself; there is no super power that can come to one’s aid in distress. “My Father’s 81st Birthday” is a lyric in uneven stanzas, presenting a picture-portrait of the doting dad, and the final lines, with a striking simile, ring a tone of regret at what the son had failed by the father. “Somewhere lies an undetected regret/like dandruff or unerased coat of cobweb/in the ceiling. The festering spread of envy is sharply etched in a short poem.

Subramanian’s poems have the quality of roundness about them. And with choice expressions and verbal self-consciousness, they seldom fail to achieve poetic specificity.

Treading on Gnarled Sand: K.S. Subramanian; Writers Workshop Books, 162/92, Lake Gardens, Kolkata-700045.Price: Rs.150.

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