Poetry is like life; hard to define.
I remember a verse from Bhavabhuti’s Ramayana, though it occurs in the context of Sumantara, the charioteer describing the love between two people. Translated it would read thus:
that has neither reason nor remedy
this thread of feeling that weaves together
the innermost, hidden parts."
What better could be said of poetry? Ever since man began using words, poetry has sought to be defined. If one thought it was emotion recollected in tranquility, another said it is overflowing emotion and yet another described it as what left them feeling so cold that no fire could warm and so on. The classic Indian story is of poetry being the instant response to intense grief.
I think, somewhere there is an agreement amongst all writers of poetry, or readers, that when we arrive at a definition of poetry which is complete and agreeable to all, we will stop writing or appreciating it. It captures an elusive wisp of a thought that walks through the poet’s mind and the readers are left to grapple with it (like I am setting myself to do now and at considerable risk as we shall see later!), trying to chase that wisp, and wondering for ever if this could mean that and that could mean this, for just as rare as poetry is, everything, everything, in life has its poetry. A poet is perhaps one who has the sensitivity to see that and give expression to it in words and sometimes in the silence between the words. Says Rajan:
Siddha’s charm or mosquito bite
Throw many anew light
In the poet’s mind
Nature’s challenge in every form
Gentle balm or mighty harm
Fires the poet’s mind
There is no single message often times
In the release of words and rhymes
From the poet’s mind
People analyse and search the words
Mighty academics search for swords
Emptying the poet’s mind
Y.S.Rajan is one endowed with that sensitivity. NASA Satellite, economics, a steel plant, a cigarette, just anything can bring out the poetry in him (or in the subject) and relate it to our existence at different levels; the sacred or the profane. In a sense it is not surprising because he comes from a tradition which reveled in poetry. Born in a family which practiced the oral poetry tradition, Rajan has not just been exposed but has been actually initiated into poetry and its metaphor in his growing years. Perhaps that is why verse and brevity have formed an integral part of his expression.
Sanskrit poetry deals with the most esoteric and complicated thought as well as the very ordinary or the frivolous. One example of such a verse should be telling:
Break a pot, tear your clothes/Ride a donkey is you may/But whatever the ways you adopt/Be sure to grab your share of fame.
The above verse may sound very simple and even blasé but has layers of meaning and is immediately communicative to the audience. It is this aspect that I see in Rajan’s poetry. Rajan talks of this same greed for fame in the following lines:
Aim at media glare
Have not time to spare
For thinking or to read
Or concentrate on deed!...(excerpt)
There is another short one which is similar in style: forthright, tongue in cheek and yet honest deep down. Says Rajan:
A great thinker says,
What’s after all knowledge
Nothing but common sense!
But sense does not dawn
Unless you raise mind yours
To a level so uncommon!
Empathy for those from different world, whether it is because they are not so fortunate to be able to use their minds fully or because of their physical circumstances is evident in these seemingly simple poem quoted above. This trend is noticeable in most of his poems. Here is a short one which has a wry laugh at our state of mind too:
I need a physical wall
When you are too near
Anyway I have a mental wall
When you are from me far
‘cause we don’t belong to each other
You are indeed too poor.
Through his poems one gets the feeling that Rajan is constantly aware of the opposites that define life. If tea is food for the poor, it is sophistication for the rich when they serve it fine crockery. His poem on salvation points at many who are stymied by ignorance and poverty through a Bonsai tree - relativity in perception, in reality. His volume titled Jumping Genes is characterized by this observation of his: multiplicity in oneness.
Frustration and angst is feeling we all experience at different times. A poet is one who is able to capture the question that wrings the heart in those times.
I hear you ask
"Is tear mere brine?"
Is it? Or when he says:
So do we cover the content with forms
To protect the content
To pride that it is ours
And to escape the brightness of its naked shine
That Rajan is not dissuaded by Omar Khayyam’s warning about not looking up at that impotent inverted bowl they call the sky is evident through all his poems; perhaps because he has turned those up there into his friends who counsel and interact with him on a day to day basis. If traditional Indian poetry used the symbolic 'sakhi' to be the trusted friend and the wise counsel, Rajan uses The Mother as his bridge between life and philosophy, thought and deed, reality and the norm. To Her he appeals, to Her he pleads at the injustices and pain that history may never record but the pages of his poetry book write down forever. Siva tantalizes him as can be seen from his poems on him.
One can discern distinct periods in Rajan’s poetry. His first book, Blossoms of the heart sees a younger poet who discovers some pleasures of life even while he is aware of some tribulations that come with them or without them. The second one Agony and Harmony shows an increase of indignation, an analysis of his own thoughts. The third and fourth are what Wordsworth was referring to: emotion recollected in tranquility. There are a lot of emotions in the last one ranging from disgust to anger to passion, but they are all sublimated by a mind that sees an inevitable pattern in human nature and the cosmic order.
To me these three books of poetry mean more than rhyme and meter. They are mirrors that the poet has held up to society... for us to ponder deeply now, for future to understand their past. Ordinary words, with or without meter become poetry because of the sensitivity and undying love for and undaunted hope in human life...