On a poetic cruise
Unpretentious and appealing, Satchidanandan's poems sail through with felicity.
While I Write, K. Satchidanandan, HarperCollins India, Rs. 299
While I Write ( Jnaan Ezhuthumbol) presents K. Satchidanandan's selected Malayalam poems as translated by him into English. Dedicated to Ayyappa Paniker, its introduction showcases Satchidanandan's miniature autobiography, career graph, interests in painting, cinema, literature, and how he was roused into poetry inspired by Pollot, his beautiful village in Kerala.
The poems in the collection show Satchidanandan as a core romantic with surrealistic tensions. Along Satchidanandan's poetic cruise, his poems refer often to the gods, saints, philosophers, and the belt of Latin American poets and others by whom he is visibly, and even heavily influenced.
‘Sulekha' is one of the best poems in the collection. With so many wings, Sulekha, what are you doing there?/ The white robe of a divine bride, white rose, white dreams: I see everything. ( Sulekha). Satchidanandan turns sublimely sensuous and evocative in his poem on the Kashmiri mystic poet Lalleshwari “Lal Ded Speaks against Borders”. So I strip myself to attain my Shiva,/ naked like the breeze over the lake./ My lips are wicks that burn,/ my breasts, flowers/and my hips incense: / I am an offering./ Ask the peepal and the palash/ the soul has no religion;/ nature suckles everything/ The blue sky/ is the throat of the Neelkanth/.
Tenderly attractive lines lace the collection. The winter night trembling by the window/ is pale like garlic (Sulekha), I fly from word to word restless/ like a bird, its nest burnt out (The Prodigal Son), ‘Our brief day is a bird's tail on fire (We live on Islands).
There are times too, when lines turn poltergeist. Dorota, our words are ants/ that drag in only headless corpses, and times when the haunt fills an entire poem. A moon rises in the lake of her tears/ a bird bathes in it and/ a woman sees her own image. (The Panther in the City)
A sense of mystery envelops in poems as The Drum, or in Who Said? Who said that waiting is a railway station in north Malabar/ That a morning in uniform will arrive there in a coffin/. Alluring lines meet us in The footprint on the wet grass/ need not be death's/ perhaps a folk song had gone by (On wet grass), The wind was turning/ the pages of an apple tree (In Memory Of a Swedish Evening), You quietly placed your palm on mine/ like God polishing a rainbow/ and placing it in the azure sky (Infinite).
There are places where the poet is enmeshed in clichés or the mundane I hug you with my eyes/ you caress me with your wounds/ I peel off your garments/ (…)/ I suck your lips/(…)/.I rouse your nipples/ (Mon Amor) or You are reading poetry from the dais,/ with the same lips I had drunk from last night (Infinite). It looks as though Satchidanandan's love poems need to be better honed. Closures impress in Sulekha, Tiananmen 1994, To Prolong the Noon, though they appear unimpressive in The prodigal son, Loving A woman, The Mad, A Man with A Door, While I Write.
The repetitive chants of names (Sulekha, Dotora, Fyodor) in the memorial poems appear too monotonous. Another deterrent is the frequent throwing in of names of people, and places into the poetic field ranging from Ezhuthachan to Ritsos and from Rome to Gujarat. Allusions to names of flowers and plants in Malayalam (manchadi, palai, arali) without footnotes create dark spots especially as the poems are translations.
Finally, reading Satchidanandan's While I write has been a delightful experience. The book can be read as an original work in English. Honest, unpretentious, and appealing, rooted in reality, and a-blossom in the imagination, the poems sail through with felicity, creating for the author an enviable position among Indian poets writing in English today.
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