Thachom Poyil Rajeevan's bilingual collection takes the reader along a stream of poetic memories.
It isn't easy to review love poetry. Almost every image or metaphor rings familiar because poets have approached it from a myriad aesthetic, cultural, historical, creative perspectives over centuries.
Love poetry also evokes very personal responses in the reader and distancing oneself as a critic should, becomes a challenge.
Yet, Thachom Poyil Rajeevan's latest bilingual collection of verse, Pranayasatakam (a collection of 100 poems on love) appeals for the way it took me along a stream of poetic memories, reminding me of several other love poems. Amir Khusro, Agha Shahid Ali, Eunice De Souza were but some of the poets whose verse came to mind, as I read Rajeevan.
“Time, like Love, wears a mask in this story./And Love? My blind spot. Piercing me to the brain.” (from ‘As Ever', The Veiled Suite, The Collected Poems of Agha Shahid Ali, Penguin Books, 2009)
In Pranayasatakam, perhaps it is the beloved who wears a mask as the poet dedicates the poems to “her and her deceptive manifestations”.
Rajeevan crafts Love's story mainly using couplets and short verse in Malayalam and English. Predictably, themes of longing, admiration, sensuality, beauty and nature abound. The power, however, lies in the terse intensity, as in this couplet: “It was you who taught me to forget/But you I just can't forget.” Surrender is absolute in “All the ways/I lost so far/Have been to you”; yet another arresting poem.
However, equally predictably, the intense love of the other is punctuated with self-love. “The car the bus/The train the ship the air plane/The cloud the dream/I travel by/Never reaches you, I pray./I would rather journey towards you/Than actually come to you.” The journey with the self seems more desirable than joining the beloved. But this could also be a feminine reading of masculine notions of love.
The Malayalam verse occasionally charms more for its lyrical quality. For, the English translations seem slightly stilted at times. Look at these lines:
“… Like the moon dreaming/In the dew-drop on grass blades at midnight,/You are always awake/At the look out on my pupils.” The last sentence is far more beautiful in Malayalam.
Rajeevan's English exudes Kerala's fragrance. The richness of the rural landscape punctuates many an image: “You didn't tell me you're coming,/But this elanji tree announced it much before/Shedding dewdrops.”
The original ‘elanji' remains untranslated which, on one hand, lends charm but on the other, could leave a non-Keralite reader wondering. Similarly, we have “kaitha palms”, “kanikkonna flowers”, “a lone vaka tree” which turn into gentle, native, love images.
The landscape shifts to the city as the poems progress and with the urban, comes an intense feeling of loneliness and exile: “I don't know if there is a place called Mcleodganj. Even if it's, I don't know the way there./Still, I reach there in each birth as your refugee.”
As the collection winds its way down the rapturous yet weary paths of love, the exile ends. The lover is almost God. Ecstasy, sheer madness and a certain arrogance emerge in this concluding poem: “Were I a god/I'd create another god,/Entrust all my duties as god/To that god/Then I'll sit/Just looking into your eyes.”
I liked these last few lines also for the implicit and subtle sense of humour. Perhaps, the beloved would respond, “But you're not a god, so you're not going to sit, looking into my eyes, are you?”
Nissim Ezekiel said, “After a night of love I turned to love… through all the centuries of darkened loveliness” (‘Two Nights of Love', 60 Indian Poets, ed. Jeet Thayil).
Perhaps, after reading Rajeevan's Pranayasatakam, the reader would turn to love in these days of darkened lovelessness?
Pranayasatakam; Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, Mathrubhumi Books, Rs 100.