Book Review on Dr Dalip Khetarpal’s Ripping into Consciousness by Dr O P Arora

Dr Dalip Khetarpal is a luminary of contemporary Indian English Literature. He is an excellent poet and an insightful critic, a great academician and an eminent scholar. Ripping  into  Consciousness is  Dr  Khetarpal’s  second  collection  of  poems  which attempts  at  exploring  and  exposing  the  social,  cultural  and  psychic  contradictions that exist in the Indian society. His penetrating vision can go deep down the layers of  covers  that  have  always  tried  to  hide  the  dark  reality.  Thus  the  poet,  like  a prophet,  unfolds  the  mysteries  of  our  living  a  fake  life,  and  enlightens  the  reader and awakens his consciousness in relation to various problems infesting the Indian society.  Intensity  of  feeling  in  these  poems  makes  them  moving  and  soul-stirring, and the reader is inspired to look at the world in a different way. He is delighted to share the vision of the poet and swim in the currents and cross-currents of the flow of these poems.

The  beautiful  cover  design  of  the  book  is  symbolic  and  very  meaningful.  It  shows the evolutionary process of man from a chimp to a man standing tall on the snowy peaks. But has he really evolved? Dr Khetarpal moves with man and examines him from all angles in his different poems, looks deep into his consciousness, and finds, to his great dismay that he is hollow within. Physically he may have evolved into a giant  who  has  the  guts  to  say  that  he  has conquered  nature,  but  in  fact,  he  has shamed  nature.  He  has  completely  failed  to  evolve  morally,  spiritually  and humanely. His moral depravity, spiritual bankruptcy and barbaric ways have turned him into a mere grabber. In fact, he has looted Nature too and created all sorts of imbalances. If you care to look into his consciousness, without being blinded by the traditional  forms  and  frills,  you  will  easily  find  that  he  has  miserably  failed  to measure up to the canons of being even a human being. He is, in fact, worse than a beast. He is more beastly than even the most ferocious beast.

Poetry is life. If poetry does not reflect life around the poet, it becomes fanciful and serves no purpose. ‘Art for art sake’ may give satisfaction to the poet personally and he may create another world outside the real world, but that is not the world we live in. Dr Khetarpal’s world is the real world, our world, and we read his poems because  they  reflect  our  problems,  realistically,  poignantly,  and  bring  out  the inherent flaws in our nature, our thought-process, and enlighten us about how we miserably  fall  short  of  our  own  expectations.  The  gap  between  what  we  are  and what we should be is so gaping that the reader is bewildered and is forced to look within.  Dr  Khetarpal  has  the  extraordinary  ability  to  analytically  examine  man’s inner  self  and bring  to  the  surface  his  real  self  by  tearing  away  his  façade.  The masked man is unmasked and he stands completely   naked,   unable   to   hide himself  from  the  piercing  eyes  of  the  poet.  He  is  “a  choked  volcano”  and unrelentingly unleashes his energetic “abrupt thick trail / Of fiery embers and lava” in the form of “choked feelings and thoughts.” (1) The “intensity and sublimity” of the poet’s thoughts mesmerize the readers and they are awakened  to  the  reality which might not have been possible had it not been so.

In the poem, ‘Slashed Journey of Pitiable Truth’, the poet bemoans that truth is the first casualty in this hypocritical society. ‘Satyamev Jayte’ is the most ludicrous and theatrical slogan  because  truth  is  inconceivable  and  never  wins  here.  As  “all thoughts and feelings emanate / From the matrix of lies”, truth “has to die / The most unnatural, untimely death…” because the society is infested with “inhuman humans.” (5) He, therefore, calls upon people:

Garner guts, be bold and true

And hold to the truth

To feed the hungering soul  (6)

We only care for the material gains and starve our souls through falsehood, deceit and hypocrisy.

Masked man is the ruling norm in our society where all wear layers of masks, one upon the other, and it would be impossible to unmask any man. And “if mask is stripped / There could be death.” (7) So essential these masks have become even for  survival  that  sometimes  intimate  people  seem  “  intimate  strangers” while strangers appear as “ intimate friends”. All human relations, therefore, have lost their  meaning  in  this  emotionally-starved  and  deceitful  society.  The  poet  too  has become indifferent to all emotions:

Love and hate, so,

Affect me not,

Camouflage sex and kiss

Give no sensation,

A stroke or caress is nothing

But a brush past

Over my insensate skin(9)

Into which warm waves

And vibrations of feeling

Flow not.

Thus a sensitive man has been turned into a stone. The poet, therefore, concludes in ‘Can Man Ever Remain a Man?’ that in this mechanized society where man’s psyche is hooked up to “ the social key-board”, he can never retain his spontaneity and true feelings. He bewails that

Mankind that should be

infinitely complex And unfathomable

Has lost all his glory and aura of mystery.

 Bereft thus, of true human attributes,

 Can man ever remain A real man? (12)

Some  Dark  Shades  in  Bureaucracy’  is  a  very  powerful  poem  that  attacks  and satirizes  the  Indian  bureaucracy  which,  in  league  with  the  political  class,  has blatantly used its “insatiable hunger” for power and greed to deprive the common man  of  his  legitimate  rights.  In  fact,  the  bureaucracy  is  primarily  responsible, according to the poet, for degrading the entire system of governance because these officials are “Resourceful, dehumanized, ailing, intelligent.” (25)

In ‘The Power and Grit of Woman’ Dr Khetarpal expresses the obvious fact that woman enjoys immense power over man because he is rendered weak by his libido. She  knows  his  weakness  so  well  and exploits it to the maximum, and “She feels triumphant  /  To see  him  shamefully  degraded.”  (27)  And  poor  man!  He  feels ecstatic even when he falls:

As Adam felt ecstatic

In falling with Eve…

man when naively obsessed,

Always feels ecstatic In

 such a fall. (27)

The  tragedy  of  man-woman  relationship  is  heightened  when  even  a  wise  man becomes a victim of a foolish woman because his love “flares into sex.”

Continuing his theme of frustration in love in ‘ How Can I Possess You ‘, the poet is bewildered  to  find  that  love  which  is  supreme  and  “  surmounts  and  defeats  all odds” becomes the cause of

Muzzling self-esteem, sacrifice

Devotion, dedication, truth,

And even all supreme divine values! (30)

 It  happens  when  man  gets  blind  and  deifies  a  worthless  woman.  As  he  is  a  true lover, he can neither leave her nor accept her superciliousness. Love kills you when you  glorify  an  undeserving  object.  Love  then  becomes  a  curse,  a  trap  for  you. ‘Painful Reticence’ reaffirms the poet’s view that “Woman defeats man / With  her simple indifference.” (34) The lover who wants response from the beloved but gets studied silence instead is tortured because “He can bear all tribulations on earth, / But not the torments of woman’s silence / Or her sphinxy looks.” (34)

Of course, it is not all dark. ‘The Paradox of Love and Sex’ presents a more pleasant picture  of  woman.  A  devoted  woman,  “even  though  unquenched  /  is  still  too forgiving.” (38)  and  is  ready  to  accommodate  him  for  his  failure  in  sex-act  where he is supposed to perform. ‘How Void Sometimes Assumes Form!’ is a beautiful love poem which attempts at unfolding the mystery of the process of love: How you are attracted  towards  the  other  person,  why  you  choose  or  love  a  particular  person over others and

…give each other faith, love,

Commitment, sacrifice, pleasure, ecstasy,

Comfort and peace

……incredibly, lifelong. (43)

The Second Coming—Ravana’s Rational Perception’ is one of the most iconoclastic poems on our “institutionalized religion”. Man has degenerated to the level that the faces of our revered deities are printed on tobacco wraps, clothing, ‘bidi’ packs or vitality pills:

Pitiable and shameful

That the names and images of Gods

Are used

Not as models of sublime ideals

But as a marketing strategy, (56)

Ravana,  the  symbol  of  evil  in  Indian  culture,  revisits  the  earth  and  is  horrified  to see  far  more  wicked  and  vicious  monsters  than  he  ever  was  masquerading  as innocent saviors of the human race:

Dexterous kidnappers

Ravenous rapists, killers, criminals,

Cheats and tricksters

Waltzing nude

Across the floors of sin,

Strangely with semblance innocent

But still were blindly, deeply loved and revered

By the fallen humans. (50)

In comparison to these vicious rapists and killers Ravana finds that he had almost been a saint. Sita lived in his confinement for a long time, and yet was unscathed while in today’s India “a kidnapped woman / is badly scathed / in the  blink  of  an eye.” (51) Andyet Sita had to undergo that “stupid test, ‘Agni Pariksha’ which was most  irrational  and  was  forced  on Sita  because  she  was  a  woman.  Even  the heavenly  societies  propagated  the  patriarchal  character  and  expected  “silence, obedience, submissiveness / And tolerance of a woman.” Ravana then

… simply jeered

At the senseless, rotten, heavenly culture,

Ram’s naivety, his lack of identity, wisdom, insight And sense of justice. (54)

He is shocked to observe that in the changed scenario “sinners were winners” and instead of burning his effigies

Why should not those living

(Not their effigies)

Be burnt on ‘Dussehra’ festival,

Especially, when they are beyond redemption

Or even contrition? (57)

Like every sensitive man, the poet too cannot hide his bitterness when he finds evil defeating  goodness  out-rightly,  without  any  scope  of  redemption  whatsoever. Goodness  watches  meekly,  hopelessly,  helplessly,  unable  even  to  raise  a  finger.

Even  the  greatest  intellectuals  submit  and  surrender  without  a  whimper.  He, therefore cries out:


Shed infinite blood,

…………. salvaging nothing.

The virtuous also today Salvage nothing. (61)

He  only sees emptiness  and  nothingness  overshadowing  the  heart and  the  soul  of man, and savagery ruling all around. Life has become simply absurd, and there is no  light  even  beyond  the  tunnel.  It  is  natural  for  the  poet,  in  the  light  of  his traumatic  experiences  with  evil,  to  question  the  existence,  influence  and  power  of God. How could He, if He is the creator and organizer of the universe, allow it to go into  the  hands  of  barbaric,  savage  thugs  who  have  made life  a  hell  for  those who seek spiritual enlightenment and divinity. The question has always tormented every rational person but the answer has never satisfied the seeker. Mystery shrouds the reality and we live on in illusion or delusion.

Iconoclastic, rational and hard-hitting like Bernard Shaw,  exposing  human hollowness like  T.  S.  Eliot in  a  simple but lucid  style  like  that  of  Whitman,  Dr Khetarpal  has  penned  some  wonderful  and  meaningful  poems  in  this  beautiful collection. These  poems  will  certainly  inspire  the  reader  and  are  bound  to  enlarge and enrich his vision; posterity will also surely reap its fruits.

Title: Ripping into Consciousness
Author:  Dr Dalip Khetarpal
Publisher: The Poetry Society of India
Available: Amazon

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