Bhaskaranand reviews the poetry of U Atreya Sharma and critiques his book Sunny Rain-n-Snow, exclusively for Different Truths.
Sunny Rain-n-Snow is a beautiful folio of sixty-three poems well-wrought by U Atreya Sarma, a seasoned writer, mature poet and impartial critic of contemporary times. Divided into twelve sections, the collection explores various themes – from gravity to levity, from anger to angst, from sympathy to empathy, from ardour to humour. Impregnated with his wide experiences and observations, all the poems are painstakingly presented with vivid visuals of various palaces he visited. It is unique in so many ways. To understand this fact of the book one has to delve deep into the poetic world of Sarma. Dr. Sunil Sharma, eminent poet and critic, has rightly called the book ‘a gentle cruise along routes, old and new…’ discovering fresh vistas of change; witnessing newer realms. As a matter of fact, the book, with its ‘inner rhythms, the energetic lines, the sonorous wordplay’ awakens us from a ‘dull reverie’ only to ‘perceive the common things vividly, in a new light’.
The first section ‘Femina’ throws light on the plight of woman in Indian society. The discussion on femininity is indeed sensitive and deserves insight into her world to empathise with her through all weal and woe. Through the four poems coming under this section the poet probes into her world and tries to bring to the fore the reality of her conditions. The very first poem talks about the marital and familial affairs of her life. It is very suggestive and an eye-opener. Man-woman relationships find a realistic portrayal. The sad voice of woman echoes in each and every line of the poem:
Once in three months, give me a day off;
And cook and serve me delicious home-made food
With your handsome hands.
Finally, treat me as your partner
Which I really am. Care for me
The way you care for yourself.
A housewife appeals to her husband to try the above tips “Before you or I turn out of this world.” She says:
Nothing more I desire, my dear!
It’s so simple in my small world.
This is my Women’s lib
This is my women’s emancipation
“‘WWW: Woman’s World of Woes“, one of the most striking poems, is a social commentary on a woman’s life- from being a girl to a woman. The hollowness of the male-dominated society is well exposed. She has to face a series of problems like’ ogling and seduction’ at every step of her life. Under ‘Damocles’ sword’, her life ever remains unsecured. Throughout her life, she keeps swinging in uncertainty and insecurity. The poet comments:
If she be lucky to escape –
Or doomed death –
She will be ready to conceive.
Risking her life
She gives life to a tiny being
To continue the process of creation.
The poet also describes the significance of woman and her inherent power boundless. She is a bundle of countless virtues. The poet weaves paean in honour of her in the latter half of the poem in question:
She is every virtue-
Love and tenderness
Patience and gentleness
Forbearance and forgiveness
Sympathy and empathy-
Sans whom our life would be petrified!
Then why worship distant angels unseen
When we have the woman on this earthly scene?
Of the two other poems, “Crush and finish it!” exposes man’s ‘use and throw’ mentality and sacrifice of girls ‘for the parental sin’ while “The dead mother blesses” expresses mother’s concerns about her child.
“Facets of Nature” is the second section. Here the poet expresses his love for nature for its beauty and bounty bestowed on mankind. He perceives in nature the presence of divinity. In his poem “Hills” he regards nature as the best creation of God and satirises those people who have no love and appreciation for nature, and who are out to defile its beauty for their greed:
And began blasting them.
“Aesthetic to the Bathetic” not only expresses the poet’s appreciation of natural beauty but also has a humour creating twist- bathos. The juxtaposition of two different attitudes of man is palpable here- a man with aesthetic sense and the one with no civic sense. While the poet is engrossed in the beauty of nature watching all its splendour, ‘a splash of paan spittle’ from a passing bus gives him a jolt. The poet does nothing but exclaim:
What a fall from a meridian aesthetic
To a galling mundane nadir so bathetic!
His poems are replete with sparks of divinity as perceived in objects of nature. For the picturesque beauty of the landscape he expresses his thankfulness to God in the poem “Cerulean cornucopia”:
Wow! The monsoon sky! A colourful cosmic cornucopia!
A tonic from the infinite divine pharmacopeia!
I bow to you in speechless awe, oh, the Divine Creator,
Architect, bowyer, fletcher and engineer rolled into one!
His poetry also makes us realize the fierce aspect of nature. Going against nature in an unnatural way might invite unpredictable and devastating repercussions. The poet is well aware of this stern reality. If nature, thanks to its elemental variations of seasons, provides ‘bagful of gifts-/jasmine, mangoes, watermelons, palm kernels’ during summer, the emperor of seasons,, it might, in form of floods, cause heavy toll of deaths. In the concluding stanza of the poem “Oh, Emperor of Seasons!”, the poet makes us alert:
Don’t blame me for the toll of deaths but your violation of Nature’s laws;
I ‘m not just a sweltering summer, but an agent of pure and clean water.
I ‘m happy that all of you have received me with no serious gripe.
Now my joy knows no bounds, I just want to shed my tears of joy;
They are welling up in me, and will soon burst forth with the monsoons.
Elements of nature such as summer, winter, night, twilight, cloud, wind, have special meaning for the poet. They carry his thoughts and ideas that he gets them across. They are symbolic of shifts of thoughts from one point to another. However, in doing so, he creates the melody in his poetry with lyrical excellence and it is the major characteristic of his poetic writings. “Cloud’s Sibling” is one of the finest and chaste metaphorical poems of Atreya Sarma who presents objects and elements of nature as a wonderful family of nature so happy in the sky where ‘heavy-bellied Cloud is eager/ to be delivered of the Rain’, where ‘Brother Lightning’ helps her with his ‘dazzling torch’; ‘Ms Wind’ as the ‘midwife’ and ‘ Mrs Earth’ as the ‘foster mother’ spread out ‘the downy cradle down under’. Such a vivid description can only be given by none other than a man with a broader poetic vision, with a keen poetic insight, by a man who is adept in weaving words to wrap up the beauty of nature- all rolled into Atreya Sarma.
Some of his poems do underline the poet’s wish to live in the lap of nature. The narrative exposition of his love for nature is wonderfully manifested in these poems. He expresses his longing in the poem “In the bosom of a breezy hill”:
All along I have longed to live
Close across a lofty sylvan hill
For its lure of pleasant scenery
And clean, lilting, enlivening breeze.
In the same poem towards its end, he also reveals his earnest desire to transcend the scenic beauty of the world to get at the bottom of the ultimate Beauty. He regards his journey as an insightful exploration from the physical and objective world of nature to the subjective and metaphysical world to know the Reality:
I have only scaled for the delight of discovering
A wonder world lying on the other side of the divide,
In itself a portal again for yet another world beyond,
And for a much broader perspective of the one on my side.
As is apparent, seasons have specific meaning for the poet. “Summer & Spring bid adieu” sums up wonderfully the poet’s natural inwardness. Here, the poet celebrates seasonal carnival to recharge his body and spirits under the colourful canopy of ‘dazzling splendour’:
A gift of vernal charm of col’r and melody
A treat to your eyes with our verdant canopy
A feast to your smell with our sweep of fragrancy
A tickle to your palate with our fruits plenty.
And the last two lines reflect the equanimity to be sustained in all the varying seasons of life:
We would just wrap ourselves in cool comfort– no moans!
In a vast quilt of many-layered snow—no groans!
The poet tends to be ambivalent in his poetry. If he has a country sense of observing the scenic beauty of nature, the urban sense as well makes him capture the deep impact of this high-tech world which can be witnessed in the vivid description as given in the poem “Terrace Twilight” poems. He finds—
‘Mushrooming mobile towers dot the skylines as immobile witnesses;
Electric lights glimmer in their patchy sparseness on the metro marquee;
Buildings and buildings are strung together with mazes of telly cables
Also, ‘Psalms from temples’ and ‘azans from minarets’ of the mosques add secular cadence to the musicality of his experiential reflection.
Moving to the next section ‘Epiphanies’ we find certain revelations of the poet who has had a far-reaching influence of his experiences on his life. The poems under this segment are his personal outpourings.
“Iron maiden” embodies the poet’s suggestive approach to life to come to terms with the stern reality of existence, with a view to exhorting the people to develop in them the sense of endurance and forbearance, with philosophical insights. He begins the poem with a philosophical questioning-
Why at all people groan and grumble
When visited with physical pain
As if crying ends the suffering?
He himself replies to it as a beautiful message to the people-
You can’t wish away pain, a part of life;
So why not better learn to grin and bear?
His experiential methodology to turn ‘every spasm’ into ‘spiritual bliss’ is highly praiseworthy. The last two lines of the said poem deserve special attention:
Supernal sense-control does not issue from vagaries of indolence;
A routine of ruthless self-discipline alone yields a rock-like balance.
An element of sensuousness is palpable in the poem ‘Phantasmagoria’. He feels ‘the thrust of her finger’ on his cheek. He describes-
The frown on her face
And the curl on her lip
Loosened. Reading that
I had peeped out of my hibernation,
She sailed over, relieved,
Carrying along her jute bag
Laden with assortment of saris.
“The mermaid’ and “Nocturnal Bliss’ are the significant poems carrying the personal experiences of the poet. Sights, colours and sounds are the poetic confluence where his experience is bathed afresh.
In the next segment “Americana” Atreya Sarma weaves a magical and enchanting expression around some places – Greenfield, Bear Lake of Colorado, and Lincoln of Nebraska- of America where he spent some quality times. His keen and minute observation of the foreign surrounds makes him pen down the landscape of his feeling and emotions. “A different game of hearts” is a penetrating juxtaposition of two different places- ‘here’ and ‘there’ symbolically standing for the places he lives and the ones he visited. He finds some different takes-on and attitudes of the people towards love in particular. He pinpoints:
You’ve to spurn every wooing heart and even the willing queen.
You should pick the best and deck her out onto the altar.
The poet sums up:
That’s how we play game of hearts
There with a pack of cards like that;
And here like this in the real life.
The poet very skilfully adds a universal dimension to his observation and thoughts.
Another beautiful poem “Freeze this moment is the celebration of moments of life. Written in the backdrop of the festive time of Vijaya Dasami, the poem speaks of enjoyment of the festivities in the midst of the all the inevitable setbacks. The poet boldly declares:
Let it howl and growl into my years full
Let it wobble, buffer or down me pull
Let it freeze me into an obelisk
I won’t move or flinch or shrink back or slink.
Then, what’s it that you want?
Be a part of this draft!
Lose myself into it!
Le the moment be stilled!
In the above lines, the internal rhyme with the cadence of semantic melody is remarkable, thus echoing the poetic musicality of his poetry.
His poem “My Swan queen” is a beautiful recollection of the poet’s trip to Niagara falls titillating him through ‘its gorgeous and giggling gurgles cascading’ observed ‘from over the dense and serene sylvan coves’. He finds his lady love in the enchanting beauty of ‘ Niagara Maid’:
As I sight you sail across like a swan queen enchanting
In your sheer grace into the bliss of my heart for you throbbing…
I can’t contain my desire; I can’t wish away my longing
To draw you into my ardent arms with fervour
And lock you up there in love for ever and ever.
The scenic beauty of Bloomington is wonderfully captured with all its picturesqueness in the poem ‘Tons of blooms’. The poet is mesmerized by this city with’ soft hilly terrain’,’ winding roads of vintage’,’ rustling windy beats’, ‘unique Indiana University’ with thousands of ‘scholars’. He is so happy to see the students from India, with ‘their qualities superior’. His sense of Indianness is indeed noteworthy here.
Yet another poem “Wow, what a white magic”, composed on the heaviest snowstorms at Lincoln of Nebraska, is equally remarkable.
Next section ‘Musings on poesy’ encapsulates Atreya Sarma’s plausible perspective on poetic process and creativity. His poems reflect his views on the aesthetics and art of poetry. He has composed many more poems on the process of poetic creation but here what arrests our attention is his short poem “Cradle of Poesy”.
When flight of fancy
And a worthy wreath of words
Cohabit on a bed of aesthetics,
The labours of their union
Conceive the baby of poesy…
If everything goes well
A blooming baby is born
To the swinging delight
Of the cognoscenti.
In his ‘That my poetry is, too…’, he talks about his poetry. He avers that his poetry is ‘simple’ and ‘complex’, ‘high sounding’ and ‘mysterious’, ‘recondite’ and ‘ rough and gruff’, ‘soft and tender’ and ‘harsh and prolix’, ‘dismal and dreary’ and ‘dampening and sodden’, ‘stark and cold’ and ‘sound and fury’, ‘languorous, slow and sleepy’ and ‘hot and searing’, ‘verbose’ and ‘ plain’, ‘mild and bland’ and ‘rococo, rhyming and rhythmic’, ‘cynical’ and ‘negative’, ‘provocative’ and ‘direct and explicit. In the conclusion he declares:
That my poetry is too elaborate, they grumble.
Tell me if Nature and Creation are not humongous.
Now, my dear erudite connoisseurs, compeers and critics!
My muse is only as good or bad as Nature herself.
“Relations and Equations” is the fifth section comprising of three poems only that deal with the theme of love, relationships and friendships. In the poem “Ah, what a friendship”, he is all praise for selfless friendship. He compares friends with tree, sun, and candle and metaphorically explains the significance of friendship:
Trees give us flowers, fruit, shade and timber;
The sun gives everyone warmth, light and life,
Ne’er expecting any favour in return.
A candle spreads around its gentle light;
Yet to retain its life it would ne’er fight.
The same theme is carried forward in “Faces of friendship”. On the other hand, “Made for each other” manifests marital co-operation and mutual understanding between wife and husband, lover and beloved. The lover is thankful to God for ‘the angel’ of his dream-‘in mind and body, in heart and soul with beauty blest’. The poet reveals:
Our attraction is not just physical or momentary,
But a two-in-one lifelong sacramental commentary –
On jointly taking on the life’s complex struggles and pulls,
On tackling its highs and lows, summers and winters full,
On co-authoring many a noble deed to our fill,
Worthy of a life blessed by the divine will.
The sixth section “Romantic peeps” is the poet’s peephole into the world of love and romance, fancies and fantasies. Poems such as “My dream girl’, “My simple song”, “Lip-lapping”, “Ouch, a forced bachelor!”, “Valentines” are exemplary of the romantic and imaginative exuberance of the poet who, looking into the eyes of his beloved/wife, finds the true meaning of love in life. In “My simple song’ he sings the spousal song of his blissful life:
Just you and me for each other.
We’ve seen seasons many; they’ve seasoned our life.
We’ve faced many a weather, and weathered all of them.
Just you and me for each other.
Our life goes on simply, with no question mark
But only an exclamation point!
Above lines highly portray the sense of togetherness through the semantic melody par excellence. The poet enjoys the conjugal celebration in the poem “Lip-lapping”. He very sensuously expresses his experience of the kiss of life:
As we lose ourselves in the distillery
As also lose every extra calorie
For a natural healthy recipe and therapy
Lips full, what a pull!
This labial liaison!
What a connubial celebration!
Next section “Reflectively Yours” presents the poet as a contemplative man of matured thoughts. Atreya Sarma reflects upon even small things, coloured or discoloured, of life and brings to the fore serious meaning out of his insightful reflections. The poems under this section are his profound musings. Sarma is a poet of colours. In addition to the objects of nature, colours are of paramount significance in his poetry. He draws his thoughts from nature and dips them in natural colours. Hence, his deep thoughts are multicoloured. For instance, his symbolical poem “ A riot of colours!” has ‘green leaves’, ‘red flowers’, ‘yellow fruits’, ‘white scowls’ etc. Each ‘color of the earth /And the creative world’ has its own meaning that finally adds to the glory of ‘Divine Rainbow’. Colours, in isolation, clash against one another. But if united, they create the rainbow of divinity. The poet’s Oracle demystifies:
“Hark, my dear ones, and mark my words.
You’re no foes to one another;
You’re siblings, the offspring of the Same.
Forget not that you’re all symbols of harmony.
Just look up, high up into your mirror!”
Illuminating so, the Oracle vanished
Leaving all the colours lavished
With…the Divine rainbow.
Another brilliant piece of the poet’s soulful reflection can be witnessed in his short didactic poem “Human orbits” which appeals to the people to stay firm and committed to their eternal course of action like the objects of nature:
Stars stay in their place;
Planets move within their orbits;
Seas sway over their assigned vastnesses;
Rivers flow through between their banks…
If they go astray
It wreaks havoc…
Let us the humans too,
Be well within our bounds.
Honouring space in between.
“Man…Powerful or powerless?” is a powerful expression of the infinite capability of the man who can leave no stone unturned if he/she wants to. The poet very meticulously describes many a quality, physical and mental, of the man who can delve ‘Deep into the myriad mysteries’ and go ’Beyond aeons-long light-years of galaxies’, ‘and ‘continents’. He alliteratively says that man can-
Ferret out flora-fauna facets,
Mince the minuscule molecules into atoms,
Subatomic particles, cause fusions, fissions-
In a quest to create, recreate, counter-create,
Be defiantly omniscient, omnipotent.
Besides, he also mentions ‘material man’, ‘avarice man’, ’arrant man’- all being powerless- who can never have control over some external forces. Furthermore, the above lines are a testimonial to the fact that scientific and technical lore of the poet helps him a lot to get across his point effectively.
“Sin under the Sun” is a caustic satire on the man’s sins he is committing in the world. Saddened by his evil deeds, the poet feels unbearable pang like the ‘tired’ and ‘defeated’ sun:
Unable to bear
The sinner’s burning glare,
The sun slipped behind a veil of clouds
And sank down fast
Closing his eyes…
“Tantrums of Nature” shows the duality of nature changing its moods through its various objects or elements such as wind, weather, rain, earth etc, which are ‘unruly themselves’. However, the poet suggests:
Mood or no mood, go on and ahead.
Don’t rust in test; use rest for your best.
Atreya Sarma is a philosophical poet who makes a bitter comment on the indifferent attitude of the people. In “Truth- A casualty”, he defines the truth in a different way:
Truth is a casualty
Where minds and hearts refuse to meet,
Where artifice and interests
Glibly play their role.
Truth is there just before you
But we walk past
And dump it by the wayside.
In the ninth section “Social bristles” the poet muses over some serious social, national and international issues –from terrorism to earthquake. Dealing with this grave theme his poetic exuberance coupled with immaculate and strong command over linguistic enrichment deserves our special appreciation. In the epilogue towards the end of the poem “A tryst with the terrorist” must be mentioned for it has double acrostic articulation about the problem of terrorism the world is faced with. The poet stands for ‘peace and harmony’ across the world. He boldly declares:
Reaction to terrorism, as Nature’s law, is bound to occur
In terms of eschatology, ‘Hells-where’, if not on earthly loci.
Symphony of divergent notes, symbiotic existence of all beings,
My dear brothers, is the Divine Design, whatever be our (sch)ism!
Another heart-touching poem “Let’s succour our Nepali brethren” expresses the poet’s sympathy for the affected people. He is aware that ‘lip sympathy won’t do, only acts can- little or big’. With a deep philosophy of life and principle of three aspects of God as propounded in Sanatan Dharma he suggests:
Let’s only try to live as safely as we can
By coming to terms with nature,
And coming to each one’s rescue.
Existence is, after all, a grand sum
Of Regeneration, Operation and Destruction!
With a yearning for global peace and harmony, his realisation of the ultimate reality is well articulated in “Shalom! Shalom! Shalom!”:
Memory into a reality; mind over matter
Diffusion into effusion; divergence into convergence;
Adversity into prosperity!
And then ardent love of native faith
Yet leavened with freedom and equality
And a yearning for abiding peace and harmony.
The section “Tongue-in-cheek” deals with the theme of hush-hush affairs of life. The poems of this section are full of wit, irony and sarcasm. “An exotic-n-quixotic affair” gives a vivid account of voyeurism, flirtation with women, seduction, extramarital affairs, getting sexually physical, etc. “Femmes fatales”, written for adults only, speaks is a documentation of plight of woman- physical and mental exploitation, marital torture, burning of brides, stalking, and suffering in a male-dominated society. However, towards the end of the poem, the poet becomes philosophic:
‘Life is here, life is there, life is everywhere.
All life is equal, all life is one,
All life is Brahman!”
The second last section “Occasional voices” is the poet’s take on some important festivals such as Holi, Rakhi and Makar Sankranti, etc., and also on the hairs-breadth escape of his brother and birthday celebration of his better half. ”To my birthday baby” is a lovely poem dedicated to his wife who taught him-
Heart is greater than mind, I came to know;
Sixth sense is sounder than logic, you’d show;
Feelings outshine words, hinted you my Love;
Looks are far better hooks than books, you’d prove.
Most of the poems of Atreya Sarma are written in free verse. However, the concluding section “Metrical forays” is worthy of attention for some metrical poesy. With a natural ease and clarity of meaning well maintained with a perfection, nine limericks (a humorous five-line poem with a rhyme scheme aabba), a sonnet, a ballad, a ballad (a poem consisting of one or more triplets of stanzas with a repeated refrain) showcased in the book establish him as a fantastic metrical poet.
In this way, we see that though imagination and meditation are the creative force behind his poems, science and spirituality, physics and metaphysics, chemical terms, humour, irony, national and international affairs, urban and rural issues, brooding over body, mind and soul, over all aspects of existence and the impact of contemporary milieu characterise Atreya Sarma’s poetry. His diction and its apt usage add extra flavour to his writings. His craftsmanship is indeed commendable and makes the reader enjoy his poems. He is a past master in creating images after images to communicate his thought-patterns. Tone and tenor, structure and superstructure of his poetic texts and contexts are really mind-blowing and properly create curiosity in poetry lovers. Dr Sunil Sharma has rightly pointed out about Atreya Sarma and his poetry:
“He can be comic, satiric, gloomy, edgy and philosophical in his musings, altering moods and tunes as per the requirements. An imagination literary; narrative styles variegated; an itinerant poesy and command over English—well, well, the alchemy is superb; so is the result!”
©Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar
Photos sourced by the author
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Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar is a trilingual poet (Maithili, Hindi, and English), short story writer, critic and reviewer, based in Kolkata. Published in various national and international magazines, both printed and online, his poetry springs straight from heart and mind as a unification of sensibility. One of his poems on Nelson Mandela is being taught to the school students of Philippines. Soothing Serenades: Straight From the Heart is his first volume of poems.