Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Poetry from India: poetry of Arbind Kumar Choudhary

It is always a big surprise to receive post from abroad. It’s always a bigger surprise to discover that inside there are more than one poetry books which arrived directly from thousands of kilometres away! This happened to me recently as I received an envelope from India and discovered three poetry collections from the hand of poet Arbind Kumar Choudhary.

I shall start with a direct reference to The Poet’s Preface written by Choudhary himself regarding the role of the critic: the work of the critic should aim towards “upgradation [his words] rather than humiliation.” It is this that I shall try to do in my brief reflection on the three books.

The three poetry collections were all published in 2011 and are the following: Love, The Poet and Nature. A.K. Choudhary’s poetry is concise: the three collections are made of individual quatrains; in all, the poet from India has gathered 682 of them. A quatrain is a stanza with four lines (one line longer than the haiku!); however, like the haiku, Choudhary’s quatrains are deep, profound and pose a real challenge to the reader, even though on the other hand the later is all the time asking himself is Choudhary is in reality joking or playing with words as if he was a child playing with a new toy, or in reality expressing deep thoughts. Reading Choudhary’s poems the reader feels that he is at the same time both near and far away from the answer, the real meaning behind the many tongue-twisters.

I must admit that as a reader from central Europe I did not find it easy to understand the what initially seemed to be an Anglo-Indian register used by A.K. Choudhary.  His poetry is based on a continuous play on words which for us Europeans may seem either neologisms created by the same author, linguistic idiosyncracies, or hybrids coined by A.K. Choudhary himself borrowing from different languages such as Greek or Latin (“enchiridion”, “odium”, “fide at amore”, “imperium”, “arcanum”, “zeugma”, “pontifex”, “pater noster”, “rhetor”), French (“parterre”, “belle”, “paysage”, “petit bourgeois”, “monde”, “litterateur”, “billet-doux”, “Ballader”, “chanson”, “affaire d’amour”, “raconteur”), Spanish (“desperado”, “pina colada”, “enchilada”) and Italian (“intaglio”, “maestro”, “tardo”, “maremma”, “Padre”, “fata morgana”). After thoroughly analyzing Choudhary’s use of diction I must say that the poet is totally in control of Language: the majority of the “whiz-words” exist in reality and can be found in the dictionary! In Nature this mixture of languages reflects the different colours (mainly gold and azure) and moods of Mother Nature during different seasons. In Love it reflects the different moments – physical, intimate, spiritual, sometimes even perverse – lovers experience together. In The Poet it manifests the poet as craftsman, the one who works with words and Language.

However, this did not serve always as an obstacle (the fact that I frequently was asking myself what may be the meaning of certain words chosen by the poet) but also as an advantage (the fact that all poetry is open to interpretation; thus A.K. Choudhary’s choice of diction making his poetry more open to interpretation, reflection, and, may I say “positive speculation”, but also one hundred percent intriguing). Choudhary himself believes that the “ultimate goal of the poet is to arouse the sensation, to fire the imagination and to mould the race even at the cost of his own life.” (Preface to The Poet)

Poetic intensity is the prime element for Choudhary. He manages to do this through a myriad of poetical mechanisms which he himself mentions in his quatrains, elements which “Bring to light the poetic paysage”: euphemisms, pun, paradox, imagery (many of Choudhary’s imagery is personal, original, even cerebral), hyperbole, metonymy, irony, litotes, synecdoche, hypallage, and symbolism, but also assonance, alliteration (both taken to the extreme) and mono-rhyme (which serves as an echo which continues in the reader’s mind). Thus that of Choudhary is also poetry as sound. At times Choudhary just changes the position of words from one quatrain to the next, thus changing meaning and opening doors to fresh interpretations. However, for Choudhary all these poetical devices take second place in the creation of his poetry.

The titles of the three collections themselves are revealing: Love, Nature and The Poet. They are three very important aspects in the life of Arbind Kumar Choudhary. The poet in general is a sensitive person and cannot escape reflecting on and pondering about everything that surrounds him. This is no pastime for the sensitive poet as he frequently feels what the common people feel, good and bad. In his Preface to The Poet, Choudhary writes that “it is the poet who pierces the nebulosity of mind and the heart of Tom, Dick and Harry” and “Like an expert surgeon the poet peeps not only into the unfathomed grief of the ailing souls but also suggests for the betterment of life.” Thus the poet is also “the surgeon of mind and heart”. Moreover, the poet’s “prime purpose is to lit the candle of wisdom amidst the nights of ignorance.” Some of Choudhary’s quatrains about the virtues of poetry are:

“Keat’s fragrance
Is a saving grace
Even for that dunce
Lining in somnolence.”;
“The hackneyed pah
Of the sloth
Breaks with
The poetic zenith.”;
“Keat’s solitude
Supersedes the horde.”;
“Milton’s glittern
Is a malediction
For the tavern
Of the grime person.”

By nature poetry is life, energy, light, thrilling, divine, but also a gift which can be appreciated by an elected minority.

The poet is a by nature a good being, thus one of the main themes is Love. And love in Choudhary’s poetry is not only that between man and woman, but also love towards society in general. The poet expresses his love towards society even by bringing to the foreground its main problems. In this matter Choudhary’s poetry does not lack social consciousness.

Poet and nature are always presented in harmony. Nature is the space where the poet rests both physically and mentally, thus dedicating time to reflection and the creation of poetry. Nature is the “pious place” which Choudhary writes about in the Preface to his collection The Poet. It is also “the treasury of the spiritual wealth that spreads the message of love and peace amidst the sensitive minds to its utmost degree.” (Preface to Nature) Moreover, in this space the poet gets “immense pleasure at heart and soul”, with all its colours and sounds. Choudhary admits that nature is a friend, a well-wisher, mainly a source of his spiritual sensitivity. Thus, as in Romantic poetry, nature is a space which totally opposes the urban space where life is tough and rough. In Choudhary’s words, nature is no space for the “insensitive chaps”. In nature dwells also the spirit of love. Thus, again I return to the equation: nature=love=poet.

In nature live different non-human beings, mainly legendary, classical, Hindi, and mythological creatures (Pan, Cupid, Jove, Chhath – a sun god -, Ganga – the sacred river -, Majuli – a river where is believed to have played with his friends -, Lama – historically a term used for venerated spiritual masters -, Indra – god of war and thunderstorms). Choudhary’s nature is made up of both macro- and microcosmic beings. It is also a place where the “freakish” can also be “divine” (“The freakish flower/ Fires the power/ For the shower/ Of divine safflower.”). Nature is inhabited by flowers, insects, trees, birds, but also but the sun, the rainbow, the moon, canyons, waves, stars, meadows, rain, the ether itself. All of these inspire the poet and acquire meanings which go beyond the literary meaning and the physical world. This happens because Choudhary’s starting point is nature, but the real destination is reflection about different aspects of everyday life – birth, death, fate, love, passion, the relation with the gods, the state of being feminine, puberty, but also war, corruption and politics, concupiscence, fornication, incrimination, infidelity, hypocrisy, the abuse of power, and the social chasm between “affluent gentry” and “people’s misery”. In this light he calls the world a “valley of silly”, “a land of man without vision”, an “earth of sophistry”, a place where many go “without ego”, where “trash talk” and idlers rule the day. Faced with all this Choudhary writes:

“A guardian angel of the world
Is as good as gold
That flips lid
The eyelid of many a stupid.”

The present world is in great need of a guardian angel!

One can take hours speculating and ruminating on Choudhary’s quatrains. He himself writes that “To put up a good fight/ Is the writers might”. He does this in his poetry through wit and satire, but also through depth of thought and a lot of sensitivity. Choudhary’s poetry thus can also be understood as a fight and challenge.
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