Syam Sudhakar’s first venture into English poetry writing yields strange and beautiful imagery

It is a world inhabited by friendly vampires, wise ants and suicidal spiders. You might stumble upon a betel-nut chewing Yakshi, a demoness who seduces men, on your way to the village temple. Souls climb ropes, statues post letters to each other and birds quietly build nests of alphabets. Surreal images, ancient myths and childhood memories make up Drenched by the Sun, a collection of 41 poems in English by Syam Sudhakar, a guest lecturer in English literature at Christ College, Kerala.

The book, dedicated to his friend Liz Jom Bastin from Madras University, who died of cancer a few years before he published his poems, begins with the foreword by poet, K. Satchidanandan. “Syam has an eye for the strange and uncanny and a way of building translucent metaphors,” he writes. Indeed, his poems are filled with the unusual. Take ‘The Prayer’, where a sinking boatman plucks a rainbow and turns it into a boat, or ‘In The Orchard’, where the poet talks of a place filled with cheese-cakes for stepping stones.

Bright, moving images on the television also have influenced his poetry, says the 30-year-old poet. “I was born in the early 80s. There was a house near my village which had a television. The entire neighbourhood would assemble there to watch Ramayana. Television has radically altered the way we look at the world; even changed the way we dream.” In ‘Once An Ant’, the author zooms the reader’s vision onto a determined ant, fighting for its life. “The familiar, common ant appears bigger and assumes an identity, through the microscopic narration,” Syam explains.

Syam’s fascination for animals becomes clear as you read ‘Annual Meeting’ where  the wild dogs, ants, cats, rabbits, frogs and crickets gather for a meeting; or in ‘Lady Spider’s Suicide Note’ where she says, “I came to know of it/ only this morning/ We cannot have families.”   Syam says he was a voracious reader of Ted Hughes’ animal poems.

His poetry reflects powerful childhood images. Swaying paddy fields and the enchanting yakshi get a fresh lease of life in his work. In fact, he wrote many of his poems in Malayalam first. “I spent my childhood in Kerala. Malayalam writers such as Mahakavi Kumaranasan and Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon have deeply influenced me. And my home, was surrounded by fields shining in the blazing sun. I have grown up with ghost stories and colourful folk tales. All of them find a space in my work, which is my way of connecting with my roots.”

Myths help us connect to our past, traditions and ancestors, feels Syam. “That is why my favourites are European writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Rimbaud and Joseph Brodsky. Their poetry is anchored in their countries’ reality and myths. For instance, W.B. Yeats redefined English poetry, using the Irish tales and legends.”

Regional literature has so many possibilities and they can add a new dimension to the English language. But sadly there are no distributors for it in the country. “It is sad that so many great regional writers go unnoticed, only because they do not get good translators. Even well known publishing houses do not show interest, fearing there will not be enough profit.”

Indian English writing still continues to be an elitist genre, believes Syam. “If you want to know what India is you need to read the regional literature. Otherwise we will end up with a monolithic picture of India. We are a country that throbs with diverse realties of family, kinship, gods, devils, caste and religion, and they will come alive only through the pen of the regional writer. And, it is time for the regional writer to howl.”   

Drenched By The Sun

Publisher: New Century Book House

Price: Rs. 40.

Other works of Syam Sudhakar:

Eerpam (2001)

Syam Sudhakar Kavithaikal, a collection of poems translated into Tamil by Yuma Vasuki (2008)

Slicing the Moon, an audio visual rendition of his poetry, directed and edited by Lis James (2013)

Avasanathe Kollimeen which will be published this year.