Whenever  I  go  through  Contemporary  Vibes,  I  often  come across a poem of Aju Mukhopadhyay, distinct in tone and tenor, lucid  in  expression  and  weighty  in  thought  and  meaning  and  so has the  distinction of being among those few modest poets  who are though unique in every sense of the word, excessive humility propels them to keep themselves in low-profile.

It  is  not  for  nothing  that  Aju  has  won  some  prestigious  awards for  his  poetry  both  in  India  and  abroad.  He  has  eight  books  of poems  in  English  and  two  in  Bengali  to  his  credit.  His  poems have been published in 24 anthologies that include an anthology of  poems  from  India as well as from Australia titled: ‘Poetic connections  and  The  Dance  of  the  Peacock’,  published  in Canada.  Despite  occupying  an  exalted  position  in  the  esteemed Indian and foreign journals, websites and e-zines, in anthologies of contemporary world haiku and also of Modern English Tanka, his  poems  find  a  significant  place  in  the  ‘Best  Poems Encyclopedia’,  Poetas  Del  Mundo  (Spanish),  World  Poetry Yearbook,   World   poetry   Society,   World   Haiku   Anthology, Margutte   (Italian),   Sketchbook(US),   Syndic   Literary   journal (US)  are  only some  magazines and journals,  though more  could be mentioned.

It is only after making great strides in the field of poetry that Aju has  sent  me  his latest anthology titled, ‘Time Whispers In My Ear’ for review. After going through the anthology I found that it is thought-provoking and  educative  as  it has enhanced my own knowledge at least of geography and history. Beneath the poet’s simplicity  of  expression  one  gets  to  see  ideas  and  thoughts  that are  universal  and  that  clinch  the  wise,  the  philosopher  and  the intelligentsia—all  alike.  It  is  a  style  that  is  transparent  like  a clear,  still or flowing  stream  through  which  its  bottom  could  be easily seen.

Some prominent features whereby I’m struck by the anthology are: nature,   pictorial   quality,   lyrical   melody,   psychological perception, highlights of corrupt scenario, moral philosophy and a  strong  sense  of  justice.  However,  almost  all  poems  are  shot through  and  through  with  the  strong  element  of  humanism, compassion, love and hope. As a champion of the underdog, the poet directly and sometimes indirectly conveys his deep concern for  the  poor,  the  weak  and  the  downtrodden.  Through  the anthology  the  poet  has  expressed  his  discontentment,  anguish and    dissatisfaction,    sometimes    implicitly    and    sometimes explicitly  with  the  ailing,  corrupt  and  seemingly  irredeemable system.  It seems  that I would be  able  to illustrate  the  poet’s thoughts  and  feelings  effectively,  more  precisely  and  clearly only through vital quotations from his anthology.

The  highly  pictorial nature poem, ‘Time Whispers in my Ear’ (p.11) also assumes a psycho-philosophical form as it progresses. In this, natural movements in nature are silhouetted against time, presenting  exquisite  Keatsian  pictorial  quality  and  sensuousness that  are  reflected  in  the  lines  like:  ‘susurrus  over  the  vast undulating  grass/tumbling  of  water….cracking  of  billy meandering    streams/flowing    of    molten    lava    down    the ravine/spewing  of  ash…..spread  of  forest  fire….spreading rapidly with the wind….rains…rolling of water bodies….seeds sprouting,  trees  growing  and  dying…..sibilation  of  nature’s shifting  phase;/nature  is  at  work…in  every  pore  and cell…..’Such keen and intense perception of nature quite aptly and  naturally  seeps  into  the  poet’s  sub-conscious   mind wherefrom instantly generates psycho-philosophical ideas vented metaphorically:  ‘time  whispers  in  my  ear/that  with  nature  it flows  with  all  its  belonging/to  the  events  forthcoming/while consciousness keeps its progress in everything/constantly rolling towards  the future…..that past never sits in its forlorn chair/but leaves its essence for assimilation….that the ethos of the bygone ages, their zeitgeist/can never be recovered by any strategist’. This fluid philosophical perception gets intensified by modifying and upgrading  Blake’s  highly  popular  imaginative  verse  with sharper insight: ‘To see the world in a grain of sand’. For Aju, ‘the world may be seen in the grain of sand/but the flow of sand is  constant;/infinity  may  be  guessed  in  the  palm  of  hand/but  it cannot be gripped by any standard;/time whispers in my ear/that everything passes on forever.’

 ‘The  Day  is  Lost  In  The  Shimmering  Twilight’(p.50)  is  a didactic poem replete with various objects of nature and derives its   strength   from   its   well-knit,   metaphorical and   highly picturesque  qualities.  Its  lyrical  beauty  is  further  enhanced  by  a strong sense of natural justice, imparting to the gist of the poem a rather logical and universal meaning: ‘The opaque and dark evening sky/without a particular hue, defy/the reign of the Sun as it   goes   to   set/and   pulls   the   erstwhile   bright   warm   day straight/into    its    mysterious    unfathomable    womb.    These metaphorical lines  have  been  aptly brought vis-a-vis ‘those who rise  up  with  renewed  oomph/at  the  prospect  of  devouring  the evening  young…..sink  eventually  into  its  hazy  darkness….’ Likewise,  ‘….those  who never  look  at  the  hieroglyphs/of  the evening   sky   in   obscure   light/pulling   the   day   into   its   hold aright/and  the  majority  of  sheep/who  never  realize  that  the day…..is  kept  at  bay/to be   lost   forever   into   the   unknown fold…live  the  useless  life  of  ignoramus…..condemned  like  a Sisyphus.  The  image  of  Sisyphus  reinforces  the  effect  of  the comparison. Sisyphus was a cruel king of Corinth who offended Zeus  and  so  was  condemned  to  roll  a  huge boulder  up  a  hill  in Hades forever only to roll it down on nearing the top again. How a  day  is  born  to  die  in  no  time  is  explicated  metaphysically  by the ‘holocaust of time’ with exquisite poetic dexterity. ‘The day in  the  shimmering  twilight/in  its  ever  hopeful  flight/into  the mysterious womb of time/never to be reborn after melting of the time.’

The poet also views nature in all its mysteries and complexities. The   unique   and   mystifying   nature   of   Nature   is   vindicated through the poem, ‘Bumblebee Bamboozles’ (P.106). With his keen  observation  the  poet  discovers  how  a  bumblebee  violates the  aerodynamic  laws  and  bewilders  even  scientists  by  moving swiftly  with  light  wingspan  while  carrying  ‘its  heavy  body weight’. He finally concludes the poem rather wisely by hinting intelligently at the very abstruse nature of Nature:’ ….there are laws beyond assumption/More wonderment at every step beyond our  horizon,/Nature  has  more  in  store/To  shock  the  recalcitrant science’.  Through  picture  making  quality  the  poet  at  times, perceives nature from a philosophic angle as ‘At the river bank’ (p.  97)  evinces.  Through  his  picture-making  quality,  the  poet presents  a  vivid  picture  of  stillness  and  calm  that  has  been silhouetted  against  the  movement  and  din  of  life  which  also marks the philosophy of a chosen area of the poem: ‘And quiet flows the river/without a ripple or shiver/trees stand windless/not even  a  whiff  in  space/no  leaf  shakes,  no  sound,/fishes  are sleeping…halts at the bank of the river….’

The poet’s heart often unconsciously  goes  out  to  the  suffering, uprooted  and  agonized  humanity,  revealing  his  profound  sense of  justice,  humanity,  love,  compassion,  empathy,  sympathy, anxiety  and  concern  for  the  entire  suffering  mankind.  ’In Reasonable  support  of  the  Hazara  people’ (p.55),  the  poet’s sensitive soul could hear the anguished cries of the Hazaras, ‘a distinct  ethnic  group’  of  Central  Asian  Afghanistan, ‘….relocated  in  other  countries  due  to  persecution  and fear/though they’ve every right to live in their land as live the others.’ He first speaks of natural justice, ‘all living beings are born  with  equal  birth  rights/to  be  taken  care  of  by  the  Mother Earth/none  has  the  right  to  dwarf  or  cull  others/unless  it  is Nature’s  spontaneous  action…..’Finding  the  helpless  Hazaras, hapless with no help conceivable from any corner of the earth, he exhorts his fellow poets and humanity in general to relieve their wretched condition and alleviate their agony: ‘It is the voice of the Poets, voice of Peace, voice of Love /for the Hazara people, appealing   to   all   who   have   been/so   far   persecuting   them, appealing  to  all  humans  throughout/the  globe  to  put  a  stop  to  it mainly  because  we’re  humans……Rise  up  brothers  to …..embrace brothers/be humane, not just dogs.’ To reinforce this idea  the  same theme is however, taken up in ‘The Uncivilized’ (p.61)  wherein  ‘Uigher,  a  nomadic  pastoral  tribe/of  Turkish origin  in  Xinjiang,/  find  it  difficult  to  survive/squeezed  out  by the  Han  Chinese…to  kill  the Tibetan  culture,  depopulate, destabilize/the   peaceful   Tibetan  Buddhist  race……’Further, ‘Creating tourism and villa in the land of Jarawas /leads to the extinction of the aboriginals’.

Man’s greed and loot that traverse from sea to earth and thence, to  heaven,  is  all  brazenly  ceaseless.  Natural  reserves,  like  oil, coal,  gold,  minerals  and  all  woodland  treasures  are  plundered inducing ecological disaster first and its wrath, later. Horrific and unabashed tales of loot and pillage, sometimes even in the name of  God  and  religion,  could  be  witnessed  in  all  ages.  Infusing poetic beauties into his bitter satire and irony, the poet explicates his expansive idea satirically thus: ‘Wherever minerals, oil or woodland  treasures  are  found/men  run  to  acquire  the  wealth profound/extinguishing   the   pristine   flora   and   fauna/and   the indigenous   people,   Nature   bound,/in   Amazonian,   Peruvian forests, hilly belts in India/in Indonesia, Philippines, Canada and Africa,/Moving    into    galaxies,    to    the    north    and    south poles/plundering  the  reserves  of  the  earth  and  heaven—feel victorious, but the soil they stand on shifts/for their pollutive role in human lives—civilized people are the most uncivilized.’

 In  ‘The  Adivasi’(p.62)  man’s  greed,  cruelty,  selfishness, deceitfulness   and   exploitation   are   graphically   elucidated   : ‘…greed/  For  gold  flashing   in   their   eyes,   swooped   with guns/And   swords   like   human   hawks   on   unknown   land… Columbus with Bahama Arawaks/And other tribes of Caribbean islands,/Cortes  in  Peru  with  the  Incus,/The  English  settlers  in America/With many tribes including the Pequots/And with many others  in  Australia/Following  James  Cook’s  visit  in  the year/1770,  so  savagely/Behaved  with  all  the  unarmed  innocent Adivasis  of  the  foreign  lands  who  welcomed  them,/That  made them ride the rough roller coaster/ To embrace certain death and devastation/  Original  Americans  were  pushed/  From  eastern Atlantic  to the  western/Pacific  for  burial in  the  ocean.  ’Most tragically,’  All  such  indigenous  human  beings/Who  were  so devastated,  sold  and  killed/Were  cultured  and  civilized,  lived fulfilled’. Despite the painful and shameful fact that ‘over the corpses  of  tribes  wealth’  was  ‘made/In  socialist,  capitalist countries,  it  becomes  a  farce  when  some  misguided  terrorists shine…’ even today. And it is deeply pathetic that the Adivasis are not lauded though they displayed unexampled determination and strength of will by not yielding to the callous invaders even after   being   threatened,   converted   and   brainwashed.   Further, advasis  being  the  ‘first  born  on  earth’,  are  the  most  original inhabitants, it would betotally absurd to ‘ogle at jarawas,/Oldest Andamanese, like the beast in cage’. It is also ridiculous, rather a ‘puffed  up  farce’  to  declare  ‘International  Day  of/World’s indigenous  people’  by  the  highest/World-body…’leading globalization  to  become  a  rather  permanent  ‘stain  on  human glory’. The long thought-provoking  poem  finally  ends  with  the externalization of the poet’s deep sense of justice supplemented by a bit of relevant counseling. He affirms that if the aboriginals were to be removed, it should have been done with their consent and they ‘must be compensated/Be aware man, awake; Honor Nature/To  be  honored  by  it,  to  live  better’.  ‘Fall  of  a Habitat’(p.107) is another moving poem that explicates how man has  shattered  the  joys  and  dreams  of  ‘lion-tailed  Macaque’, ’giant  Malabar  squirrels’,  ‘nilgirilangurs’  by  usurping  their natural   habitat.   Instead   of   sharing   their   habitat,   mankind, consisting of ‘adventurous, profit monger and corrupt’, rape and ravish ‘nature they live’ as ‘coffee, tea, rubber and minerals have stolen men’s hearts’. The evil in modern man is thus, sketched tellingly   and   effectively   with   certain   historical   facts   and instances by the poet through many poems.

The  poet,  however,  does  not  remain  focused  on  the  darker aspects  of  life  for, for him, every cloud has a silver lining. ‘A Woman Savior of Mankind’ (p.13), is a beautiful, but pathetic poem  based  on  the  sacrifice  of  a  22  year  old  café-worker  who ‘rising  to  the  occasion’  saved  ‘…children  and  half-dead  sea farers’ when the South Korean boat drowned. The poet becomes most lyrical while expressing her act of sacrifice: ‘Igniter of the sacrificial  fire/With  the  fire  glowing  within  her;/Inspired  by  the Divine will and bliss/She lives in man’s heart for her selfless sacrifice.’ Sacrifice, humanity  and  best  human  values  comprise the  essence  of  the  poem,  proving  how  hope  is  still  alive  and perceptible in this hopeless world. In ‘Hope’ (p.47) the poet rests his entire poem on hope ‘even amid terrorism and destruction’. He confidently asserts: ‘a hope  growing within/that catastrophe will  not  happen’.  In  ‘Nuclear  the  Evil  Force’  (p.84),  after describing  the  after  effects  of  atom  bomb,  the  poet  instills  a sense of hopefulness among humans by stressing how ‘Karma may be uplifted by human wisdom/To defeat the evils of life like nuclear fission/To keep high the flag of freedom’. In ‘Nelson Mandela…Victory’  (p.14),  sublime  values,  relentless  human struggle    and    all    humanitarian    traits    are    displayed    most spontaneously   by   Nelson   Mandela,  the   former   president   of Africa and the Noble Prize winner for peace. For a great freedom fighter,  an  ambassador  of  social  peace,  a  strong  man  with  iron will, 27 years of ‘jail was nothing to him’ whose ‘patience and perseverance  with  persistent  resolution/were  the  basis  ofhis lifelong struggle…he was unconquerable….’ His death in 2013 at the age of 95 sparked mourning around the globe.

Again  in  the  midst  of  rampant  corruption  and  evil,  the  poet discovers great humanitarian souls like ‘Sri Aurobindo’ (41) who ‘…was a lotusborn in mud, away from the mundane scene’, yet ‘the cascading Supramental light…touching the sky kept its foot on earth fixed’. It is the divine perception of the poet itself that enables  him  to  see  how  God  sits  in  the  body  of  his  seer  poet whose face reveals ‘the eternity…Out of intense love for men he sat away from eternity’. But, all the same, the poet does not lose sight of ‘Small fries in shallow water and surface gazers/were lost  in  his  fathomless  water.’  The  poet  further  illustrated  his positive  traits in ‘A complete human being’(p.44) to underline how  he  evolves  certain  qualities  to  enable  himself  to  serve  the cause of suffering humanity: ‘The inner being pushed him from one  to  the  other  theme/He  was  a  poet,  revolutionary,  yogi, journalist, writer and thinker…’ Likewise, in ‘Buddha Purnima’ (18), the poet delineates Lord Buddha’s ‘sympathetic attitude’, his ‘benevolence’, message of ‘love and peace; desire-less boon’ that touch ‘our soul/is not an enigma’. The poet’s eulogy of all these  icons  is  not only  appropriate,  but  also  commendable.  He could  foresee  a  beacon  of  hope  even  where  there  is  pitch-darkness which also vindicates his bi-focal vision.

A philosophically moralistic poem, ‘Pray that you Play your Part Best’ (p.33) has a lot to teach to mankind. The poet stresses how humans are mortal and how death equalizes all, ‘but blinded by pride’ men ‘do not see the beyond’. Further, ‘the world would not have progressed without death.’ As a deist he wisely goes on to  say  ‘If  you  cannot  admit  God,  do  not  explain  it  away  in Nature’s way’ and like an innocent child ‘pray that you can play the part best as you are assigned’. By implication the poet means that  one  should  conduct  oneself  well  without  allowing  one’s moral certitude to collapse. Corollary to this is ‘United in Camp-fire’  (p.34)  that  elucidates  unity,  harmony,  peace,  love  and universal   brotherhood.   The   poet   explicates   the   oneness   of humanity lyrically, symbolically and picturesquely: ‘we live in camps, united in camp-fire/for the world is a field of our sojourn divided in camps….’The poet finally advises us to shed ‘pride, domination or diplomacy’ and ‘embrace all with pure love/for that is the only sovereign unity’.

Some   poems   of   Aju   are   also   infused   with   deep   human psychology,  he  at  times,  project  the  inner  workings  of  the  sub-conscious mind. In ‘Invisibly with me’ (p.24) memories of idle days  with certain variations—sweet, bitter and sour creep up on the poet’s psyche while taking tea. The poet lyrically expresses his  thoughts  that  meet  his  heart ‘in various ways/flowing over me, through me/coming out of the doors of the body and behave ‘differently  at  different  times…  nature  changes  seasonally, endearingly,   roughly,   lovingly…presence   constantly….’ ‘Invisible  yet  perceptible’  (p.23)  is  infused  with    subtle psychology  covering  a  wide  range  of  human  existence  and activities  with  present,  past  and  future,  all  merging  into  one: ‘Age  is  pushing  them  with  feet/as  they  try  to  rise  from  the subconscious deep/the relationship, physical vital mental/heterosexual    or    asexual    or    obscure    camaraderie/ passionate  quagmire  from  the  oblivious  memory….’ ‘Inwardness’  is  also  written  in  almost  the  same  vein,  fusing present,  past  and  future  into  one,  covering  a  broad  spectrum  of activities  and  bringing  many  layers  of  consciousness  into  play ‘…Of time past in bitter-sweet taste/In erotic sense, with pain or pleasure/Fear  of  the  unknown,  hope  for  the  future,/Alone  yet  in company….’

The  anthology,  hence,  is  the  most  explicit  manifestation  of  the psyche  of  the  poet.  Doubtless,  Aju  carries  a  fertile  and  vibrant psyche thatbrims over with ideas, feelings and thoughts that are sometimes   weird,   sometimes   brilliant,   sometimes   abstruse, sometimes   mystical,   sometimes   deep,   sometimes   rational, sometimes  fanciful,  sometimes  psychological  and  sometimes philosophical.  The  anthology  also  covers  almost  all  gamut  of human thoughts and emotions and serves as a sumptuous mental and  emotional  food  for  the  entire  literati  all  over  the  world; posterity will also surely remember him as a great poet.

About the author

 Dr  Dalip  Khetarpal worked  as  a  Lecturer  in  English  at Manchanda  Delhi  Public  College,  Delhi.  He  worked  in various  capacities,  as  Lecturer,  Senior  Lecturer  and  H .O.   D   (English)   in   various   academic   institutes   in Haryana.  He  was  a  Dy.  Registrar and  Joint  Director  at the   Directorate   of   Technical   Education,   Haryana, Chandigarh. Dr  Dalip  has  also  started  a  new  genre  in  the  field  of poetry,  which  he  would  like  to  call  “psycho-psychic flints”.

Dr Dalip Khetarpal in conversation with Mr Khurshid alam