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The village drips with her escapade

We struggle to match the sensuality of 7th century rain poetry

The best way to write a real Indian (Bharati) poem on the rains, meaning on Bhadon and Shrawan, is to imitate the two fine Sanskrit poets of the 7th century AD, Yogeswara and Abhinanda. So, here goes:

The rain gods betrayed us last night.

The thunder woke her parents,

lightning showed her stealing from my

door.

Such a commotion there was

that despite disturbance in the skies

I heard wooden bolts unfastened

on neighbour’s doors,

and saw women peeping out.

The rain has stopped today

but the village drips with her

escapade.

Well, what do you say? “Good, na?”

Rains meant sensual or sexual poetry. Taking a wet sari off the beloved’s drenched body was the hottest thing this side of 7th-century blue films. Now read a real Yogeswara poem rather than a Daruwallian pastiche.

When an adventuress comes visiting

upon a rainy day,

her make-up washed by raindrops

from her eyes

and thin blue sari clinging to her

breasts,

showing the natural beauty of her

body;

blessed is the lucky lover

who helps her change her dress.

(Trans: Daniel H.H. Ingalls, Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara’s “Treasury”)

‘A score of silent raindrops’

Our own poets are not half as venturesome. For them rain is rain, baarish, barkha, megh, varsad. Sigh. Read Usha Akella on the Hyderabad rains: ‘…the monsoon/ descends through the sky like a lament so thick/ a neighbour’s house undulates like an Arabian dancer’s/ belly...’ Lovely lines, aren’t they?

Then she spoils it all by bringing Ravana into the next line. Lady, stay with the belly dancer’s belly please, muscles rippling, drums banging, the tambour stringing away, and hypnotic Arab music in the background.

Let me put you wise on history (for us Bharatis, manufactured myths are history)—Ravana never managed to get to the Cairo Marriott within reach of a belly dancer! I don’t think there are any belly dancers in Cairo now, what with Morsi’s regime and the Arab spring turning winter.

Akella makes some amends in the poem, ‘Music of Quiet’:

The fence wiring is ethereal in this

morning light,

an intent slight as a spider’s web.

It is a matrix of music; a score of silent

raindrops

rest on the wires pregnant with light;

this arrangement

is like meditating Buddha’s in perfect

equipoise.

Again, I’m not happy at Lord Buddha’s intervention. Other poets are a bit more down to earth, too down to earth. Anju Makhija, playwright-poet, gets into the nitty-gritties: ‘The stench of damp grain fills the air/ The grocer ages a hundred years/ Isher Bai finds her TV set wet/ in the flood of uncertainty.’ I feel uncertain whether this was what I was looking for. Menka Shivdasani has a ghazal, or what looks like a ghazal. I am still caught in a flood of uncertainty.

The thought of a watery grave can

drive us insane

But that is to be left unsaid—until after

the rain.

Sridala Swami writes in ‘Nocturne’:

A high wind blew last night

and wiped the stars from the sky.

Now all here is wicked and fanciful.

When we pick up white flowers

our hands turn into brown puddles.

Lizards chase iambic worms down

under the leafy beds. Feathers fall in

garlands and owls blink and huddle

in the raindrops that will not slide

down the windshield.

Landscape has never been our forte. I fished out my Poetry Chicago journals from the 60s. They cost a dollar each in those days, that is, seven Nehruvian rupees.

Here are two lovely lines by C.A. Trypanis: ‘Some landscapes live because they roam/ Across the world rooted in dreams.’

Smita Agarwal, Professor of English at the University of Allahabad, has come out with “Mofussil Notebook” (date unmentioned, why?). All her better poems appear at the end of the book. In the earlier ones she tries ‘chutnification’. Why?

Intractable wall

But let us go to the good poems: ‘I shall remember you/ As a fine line oscillating/ Between desire and renunciation’. Why didn’t she start with such lines?

In a poem, ‘Guru Mantra’, she writes, ‘The slim fingers of a slanting sun/ Play havoc with your hair./ You rant, The world always wins…/ Lesson by lesson, I strike my head/ Against the world’s/ intractable wall.

Yes, lady, we all come up against this intractable wall. She has a fine poem, ‘A Grass Widow’s Prayer’. She is in the fine habit of starting a poem by first looking at the landscape, ‘hill speckled with pine/ The air scented. Again I / undertake the ascent up/ the spiralling way to your temple/ It is Navaratra.

But back to the round of the seasons. Abhinanda talks of the day’s end in early winter (Hemantha): ‘threshing circles scattered on the common/ for treading of the heaped up rice.

Of winter, Yogeswara says, ‘the sesamum has ripened… wind scatters the hemp/ and makes the body shiver with drops of sleet/ while travellers quarrel over the public fire.’

The West is not too far behind. Here’s Delmore Schwartz:

For finally summer knowledge is not knowledge at all; it is second nature,/ First nature skilled and fulfilled, a new birth and a new death for the new birth and the new morning, soaring and rising out of the flames of burning October/

‘And blazing in the falling fires of burning November and all/ The crimson, the immanence, the vividness of the red and the bronze/ and the brown of the long descending brilliance of Fall.”

The author is a poet and novelist.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 12:16:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-village-drips-with-her-escapade/article19426711.ece

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