Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The oral quality of Mukhopadhyay’s poems is notable

Sketchbook Review of Aju Mukhopadhyay's Poems Contact: Aju Mukhopadhyay: ajum24@gmail.com - Book Fair Featured Books of the Month the Book Fair - Aju Mukhopadhyay's Poems on Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. ISBN 978-81-7977-326-0 Prakash Book Depot, Bara Bazar, Bareilly 243 003, India. Contact: Aju Mukhopadhyay: ajum24@gmail.com

Aju Mukhopadhyay is a bilingual poet, essayist, feature and fiction writer. He is a member of the Research Board of Advisors of the American Biographical Institute and many other renowned institutions and international poetry societies. He has been awarded by various institutions like The Writers Bureau, Manchester, The International Library of Poetry, USA , Poets International, Bangalore and others for his creative works. A devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Aju Mukhopadhyay has permanently settled in Pondicherry where the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was established. He has studied and researched, has written a large number of essays on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in daily newspapers and magazines in both Bangla and English. He has translated them, written poems on them and has edited some compilation of their works. He has a book on the Mother in English, Mother of All Beings, and an essay on Sri Aurobindo titled Sri Aurobindo's Ideal of Freedom and Human Unity, besides their biographies written by him in Bangla.

Opinions of some poets and well known critics
Mukhopadhyay is an intelligent, daring and emotionally charged poet and his poems deal with many aspects of modern life. —Patricia Prime

Aju Mukhopadhyay is an Aurobindonian scholar, the spiritual strains in his poetry are much inspired from Sri Aurobindo and his philosophy. —Dr. Shaleen Kumar Singh

He is already a renowned poet and poetry lovers will draw inspiration from him to write poems on Nature in the future. —Damal Kannan

Aju possesses heart, therein fair feeling. Athenian eyes and as cool as a cucumber. He is a prominent figure in Indian English poetry. The author and publisher of several books, he has emerged as an eminent poet in the field of poetry and a writer whose work defies categorization. —Dr. Shujaat Hussain

Aju Mukhopadhyay’s Poems on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Aju Mukhopadhyay. Prakash Book Depot, Bareilly, India. 2009. 48 pp. ISBN 978-81-7977-326-0. Rs. 50; US$3
Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Aju Mukhopadhyay’s new collection of poems on Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical presence of these two people, and in the bafflement of the human predicament. This work is breathtakingly immediate, redemptive, and wise, as we see in the short opening poem “Fireborn” about the birth of Sri Aurobindo, and the foretelling of his future:

With a fire glowing within he was born
Consumed in his own fire bright
Destined to emit a brilliant light –
Who could stop it?
The light shall shine for ever
Like a polestar
To guide the eager traveller
Towards a morning yet to be born.

Mukhopadhyay’s familiar themes are here – the voice of truth, Indian Freedom, the revolution, Pondicherry – in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: the natural world, the violence of history, the power and limits of the seer; and, as in his other books, spirituality, inspirational thoughts and the ideas of freedom and unity. New themes emerge as well: the essence of memory and time, personalities and the presence of goodness. The personality of the seer is captured in the second poem “Sri Aurobindo”:

Like a tree he was peaceful, unhurried and calm with perseverance
Among the thousand resounding words his existence was silence
In his body sat the God, his face revealed the eternity
Out of intense love for men he sat away from humanity.

The works here look at the birth of Sri Aurobindo, the birth of Indian Freedom, the seer’s life as poet, revolutionary, yogi, journalist, writer and thinker and his death. The poems dwell too on the Mother, comparing her with a “many faceted diamond with myriad moods.” We are offered glimpses of a vibrant post-war India; of modern Indian politics; of the “cusp of a road,” a white lotus, and a “seed of light,” all brought into a vivid present and with a passionate meditation on what it is and has been to be alive. It is Mukhopadhyay’s aim to get into his poetry the whole man and woman, head and heart and hands and everything else. “A Date in Mother’s Life” explores how the Mother came to her own spirituality through the example of Sri Aurobindo:

The idea of Sri Aurobindo
And its relevance to her spiritual agenda
Percolated into her through all pours and strata
Her divine love for Sri Aurobindo
Guided her choice of India as the venue
Helped her path to set, it’s true.

The poems follow the lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The story dives in and out of childhood, often pausing and expanding on situations: reflections on the quiet intellectual man and the equally fascinating woman; their relationship and their discoveries about spirituality. As we see in “Golden Mother,” the poet himself is influenced by a revelation of the Mother that appeared to him one night. She is more beautiful and radiant to him then any picture can portray:

Your images that appear umpteen numbers
are no more pictures;
they are you in flesh and blood, victorious –
flesh and blood wrapped in gold.
Mother of infinite love and grace
Golden Mother with a joyous face.

The narrative moves forward, pauses and reflects. So it develops, not in a singular, linear way, but with a sense of strangeness and unpredictability – the sense that you’re living within the narrative. It’s not just to tell a simple story, although there are many of them, but to explore the divine spark, that these stories are told. In “Mother the Divine Spark,” the poet illuminates us as to what happened after the Mother’s death, when she became part of everyone:

Your body spread itself into innumerable beings
like lightnings during ecstasied dreams;
the Divine Spark lives in us and vibrates
as each of us lives and sleeps and eats and ruminates.
The Mother is indeed always present in us.

Each of the poems has its contribution to make to the larger flow of the narrative, but they also have a stand-alone quality, like little performance pieces or stories embedded in the book’s landscape. The effect is to draw us in and take over our thoughts and feelings. The advice the Mother gives is embodied in “Her Advice”:

‘No words – acts.’ You said for
in peace and calm and silence
the world is born
to fulfil its divine essence.
Stirring water in a cup, you compared
to all rush and busyness,
not conductive to any real access.
We bow to your kind advice
all fulfilling divine devise.

At his best Mukhopadhyay has an idiosyncratic, unassuming transparently honest voice – one which brings out important concerns without affectation – and he can be adept at putting this to work in a range of modes. Many of his more sophisticated poems, with their political momentum, say something profound or significant. Mukhopadhyay, a lively, intelligent, erudite writer, has a timely sense of the need for poets to make their work reflect the exigencies of the times, as we see in “November Seventeenth” where, after the Mother has left this world:

Time stood still bewildered the moment you left
The reality humans could not penetrate
Hands stopped moving in a time piece
One committed suicide, confused by this
Some were struck by the time
Some were blinded by the sublime.

The poems ostensibly structure Mukhopadhyay’s concerns: India’s historical struggle for freedom, and how to negotiate this struggle personally and spiritually. As he addresses the Mother in “A Prayer,” we see his reverence, devotion and attitude towards her:

Let the flower-soft petals of your feet touch my chest
Let the fragrance of your lotus-presence perfume the rest
Let the ruby of your eyes illumine the depths of my being
Let the melody of your myriad sounds keep me vibrating

The oral quality of Mukhopadhyay’s poems is notable, and where he reins in sentimentalism or diffuseness he can structure this into fine work. “Talks about Immortality” is a lovely paean to flux: a chiasmus of central phrases, all evident in the first stanza, in which we learn that immortality can only be a distant dream for humans, because their lives are tied to things of the flesh:

Everything nascent we know, is destroyed
Everything is in a flux in this world;

Lord Buddha realized it as Unreal
To great Sankara it was a Divine Maya.
The yogis who lived for incredible years
Drew their breath of life from different planes
As they realized the divinity within
Beyond their corporeal frames.
They never adored the body, shunned it.
So the immortality seems to be
A distant dream to humanity.

The poem suggests some sort of faith in the notion of immortality. The last poem, “Lift us up,” uses prayer-like phrasing to bring out the plea to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother to enable people to overcome their failings and reach their goal in life:

Lift us up dear father
Sweet Divine Mother
From the world’s quagmire
To your secret bower.

The book is constantly playing with images and ideas built around the unexpectedly rich theme of two people with a single idea in their minds – trying to make each piece self-explanatory and beautiful, and then moving on and trying a different approach.

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