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Unwinding Self by Susheel Kumar Sharma


Unwinding Self by Susheel Kumar Sharma

Reviewed by

Dr. Prakash Chandra Pradhan


Department of English

Banaras Hindu University

Uttar Pradesh, India

Unwinding Self | Poems | Susheel Kumar Sharma |

Vishvanatha Kaviraja Institute, 2020, pp. 152, INR 250, $15

ISBN: 978-81-943450-3-9

Unwinding Self: A Collection of Poems, written by Susheel Kumar Sharma records the poet’s conflicts, doubts, and dilemmas. The persona’s compassion towards human suffering in a chaotic world is noteworthy. Sharma’s search for understanding ‘self’ and the world through his poetic sensibility is surely appreciable. He has tried to explore his ‘self’ through multiple encounters with a number of situations which are beyond the comprehension of the poetic self. Sharma has made efforts to capture the mysteries and irrationalities in the world to a considerable degree. His book can therefore provide a pleasurable reading experience. It explores the complexities of human nature and life. The collection of poems, though grounded in Hindu cultural tradition of India, also points towards the poet’s training in English literary tradition. The book has included seven reviews of the book itself, and a glossary that can help the readers who have no much acquaintance with Indian culture and tradition. The poems are meditative and reflective. They are sometimes ambiguous since Sharma embodies different layers of meaning into them.

Susheel Sharma’s poems delineate myriad experiences because of his wide-ranging travel to different places in India as well as abroad. His sincerity as a poet lies in his representing his authentic experiences through his first-hand observation. Sharma’s delineation of a thematic pattern is complex. Let us consider the poem “Durga Puja in 2013” in which so many issues have been presented to connect to the mythic representation Ma Durga and Mahishasura : the poet’s mother, monumental pandal at Kalibari, raining  and darkness, darkness’s association with birds, tigers, dolphins and seagulls, memory of destructive Phailan cyclone and serene beauty of Gopalpur on sea. All of them contribute to the fragmentation of mental reflections of a sensitive self in the contemporary world. The poem  “ On Reading Langston  Hughes’  ‘Theme For English B’” explores the pathos of a poor  boy willing to learn in a  glorious University  where  he is “treated like  dirt”  (pp 9). The poem obliquely referring to Dronacharya-Eklabya episode of The Mahabharata brings out the pathos of millions of poor and deprived students whose dreams wither in their futile struggles to be successful in life because of the callous education system. The bias for a foreign education and White culture has the disapproval of the poetic self in the poems, namely “The Destitute”, “The Black Experience” and   “Me, A Black Doxy”. The poet understands well the racial bias in a globalized world despite liberal values. He denounces the colour bias, and pleads for human values and hopes for the end of discriminations. Moreover, the miseries of a black prostitute evoke emotions, pathos and compassion in the poem “Me, A Black Doxy”. Another beautiful poem in the Collection is “Thus Spake a Woman” which deals with   the changing nature of life despite the fact that basic tenets of life never change: “Life was fine. / Life is fine/ Each one of us has to die.” (pp 19).. Often Sharma’s anger and dissatisfaction are marked in the poems to correct the wrong trends and ethos in a chaotic world. However, he presents the stories of his characters with utmost sympathy and empathy as well. His compassion towards human suffering is obvious in his treatment of Bubli, the girl, in “Bubli Poems”, the woman dreaming in the poem “ Thus Spake a Woman”, a black prostitute in the poem “ Me, A Black Doxy” and the migrants in “The Destitute” and “The Black Experience”.

 The speaker in the first poem “Snapshots” reflects on a number of spectacles, a myriad of scenes/activities observed. Coming to the last poem “Stories of the Mahabharata” we understand that the poet touches upon most of the episodes of the epic, The Mahabharata, in 25 stanzas. Going through the two poems, it is obvious that the poet tries to find out meaning of life by contemplating the self in fragments. Commenting on the diminishing vision of eye-sight by the passage of time, the speaker in the poem “ The End of the Road” expresses  his sadness: “ One’s reality becomes another man’s burden/ If one loses one’s eyesight” (pp 4). Sharma’s poetic self is introspective in the poem “Endless Wait”. He comments on how certain books  in the book shelf  wait for a pretty long time  without being opened up for a reading  by certain intellectuals  who have kept them in their home library: “Some have turned yellow/ waiting for me for ages” ( pp 60). Here we mark a satirical note in the tone of the poem. Sharma’s use of metaphors and imagery is brilliant in many poems in the Collection: For example, the poem “ The Soul with a New Hat” attains beauty and power because of the use of a number of images joined together to evoke rich symbolic meaning:  candle, house, wind, tunnel, fog and so on. Believing in the  concept of rebirth , the speaker perhaps thinks of spreading light of knowledge and noble deeds  so that he can  have a better life in the next birth: “ My next life will be decided /By my karma or devotion /To the cathedral” (pp 62). Sharma delineates the pathos and sacrifice of a poor mother for her son’s wellbeing in his life in the poem “Renewed Hope”: “She could pass days and nights /Praying for him. With empty stomach/Invocation brings results quickly” (pp 63).

Sharma has  made efforts to depict varieties  of his observations in  various poems in reference to society and personal experiences as we find in “The New Year Dawn”, “The New Age”, “The World in Words  in 2015”, “A Pond Nearby”, “The Kerala Flood 2018”, “Sahibs, Snobs and Sinners”, “Buy Books, Not Diamonds”,  “Lost Childhood”, “Crowded Locals”, “A Gush of Wind”, “Ram Setu” and “Cannaught Place”. Analysing these poems, one can have a deeper understanding of Sharma’s poetic self. The poet has interpreted the issues and problems with the sympathetic heart of a passionate poet rather than as a sceptic finding faults in others. Sharma sees a world of humanity helping each other in a busy place of trade and commerce:

            I see a world of humanity here

            Each vying to help each other

            In their efforts to survive even in the

            Competition to hook a customer. (Cannaught Place: pp 83)

In the poem “Ram Setu”, he imagines the creation of a new world where people of different communities and religious faiths can live together and respect each other:

            Interfaith respect and dialogue are waiting;

            Is it so difficult to make stones float and

            Create a liveable and loveable planet earth? (81)

 “The Fountain Square” seems to be an obscure poem as in it we find the speaker trying to connect the myths of The Mahabharata to certain contemporary issues through the employment of a number of disconnected metaphors: fountain, marble, sun, water, flute, dice and palace. Of course, Sharma has heightened the complexity of the poem entangling the various thematic strands. The complex strand is obvious in the following as an illustration:

            The wishes exuberantly dancing

            By the water in the musical fountain

            Look for the drummers, pianists,

Bass players and guitarists. Krishna

With his flute intact in his hip

Smiles and smiles. (78)

The two poems “Coffee” and “The Unborn Poem” are not so obscure and complex like “The Fountain Square”. However, the way these two poems deal with the vision of the poet is also peculiar: “Can good coffee be brewed/Without any whirling? / Does the coffee taste good? / What did I get by rivalling the snobbism/Of my wine drinking friend? /I have stopped asking silly questions;/I have learnt to live with it” (Coffee 76). Let us take an illustration from the poem “The Unborn Poem”: “Irony, satire, humour, jamboree/Stare at the enjambment./….The unsoiled paper/ Has silver hopes…The epitaph needs/To precede/The poem” (pp77). I find that the poet has attempted to convey his ideas and vision without being too much explicit. Right, a poet conveys his ideas obliquely; however sometimes Sharma becomes too much obscure and such obscurity affects precision and clarity of meaning. I wish, the poet should have pruned slightly in many of the poems. Nonetheless the poems also deal with Sharma’s keen observations about human life and society.

     The poet’s understanding of suffering of the poor is obvious in the poem “Like Father, Unlike Son” when he interrogates: “What is the point in burdening the dreams/ And packing them safely till the doomsday” (pp 64). The poet has employed the interrogative syntax as an important poetic strategy in many poems in the Collection: “Why should someone/ Pay me for/ Such thorny questions/And sedimented foot-falls?” (A Voice: pp 22). The same is the case in the following: “What is the use of/Coming thus for/For penance/ If one does not wish to lose life?” (Chasing a dream in the Ganges: pp 25). More examples can also be illustrated in other poems: “Why should a wife bow down to her husband?”….  “Why to lie prostrated before the Lord?”  (Bubli Poems: 44). Such interrogations are prominent in many poems because Sharma’s poetic self has perhaps been greatly perturbed by the way the world is governed. The self is not sure what is right or what is wrong. It seems that the poet is often disturbed since he finds that there is a kind of obscurity also in God’s Creation in the Universe.

            Another marked feature in Sharma’s poetry is an informal that enables the poet to express his ideas and vision in colloquial language, rhetorical questions, repetitions, inversions, parallel expressions, contrasts and a narrative often dominated by orality. Although some of the poems seem to be personal and localized, they are however original since the poet beautifully embodies his emotions and feelings into the local events with a considerable authenticity. The important aspect in Sharma’s poems is his approach to the contemporary issues to understand them in his own ways that enables him to write naturally with some kind of original flavour. In the poem “A Family by the Road”, the poet celebrates the happiness of a poor fellow who lives on the pavement along with members of his family. The repetitive syntax beautifully brings out the poet’s vision with emphasis:

            Let me enjoy my freedom

            I am proud of my poverty

            I am proud of my ignorance

            I am proud of my dirt. (pp 73)

We also find such repetitive and parallel syntax which beautifies the description and brings out emphasis as well: “I am the consciousness/ I am the reality, I am the water/ I am the land” (pp 72). The beautiful but functional repetitions are also found elsewhere in this poem: “You have to change your rules/You have to change your books/ You have to change your atlases” (pp 72). Besides, Sharma also employs contrast as a poetic strategy to heighten the effect and bring in variety and beauty to the description: “Deserts need camels, not planes” (pp 72). Repetition is perhaps a favourite stylistic marker in Sharma’s poetry. His poetry attains a kind of musicality and liquidity as in the following:

            Water alone does not make watermelons

            They need some pulp, some sugar

            Some strips and colour too. (pp 72)

Sharma delineates the miseries and poverty of the man living on the pavement with compassion an empathy; simultaneously the narrative is burdened with a touch of ironic note and satirical tone:

            We have befriended mosquitoes

            And the lice alike. Bugs too

            Give me company. So do the snakes?

            Who then is

            Affected by my poverty. (“A Family by the Road”73)

We can illustrate the varied stylistic features in Sharma’s poetry in reference to the poems in the Collection the poetic. These stylistic devices in his poetry add to the beauty of the descriptions and narrations. They are also serving a lot of important functions bringing in emphasis and vision powerfully.

            Reading the poems in the Collection is immensely useful, and provides a lot of pleasure when we understand the poet’s endless search for meaning of life. Since life is dynamic, and it has its own flow, the poet seems to be exhausted and he is in a dilemma whether he should search further or stop his search. Close analysis of the poems shows that the poet’s search has been inspired by rivers which flow on, and change their paths when their paths are obstructed. Sharma has understood well that mere intellectuality is inadequate to comprehend the mysteries of life. He therefore combines his intellectuality with passion and emotion for a first-hand understanding of the Universe. Despite crossing a long distance through his poetic sensibility, Sharma feels that he has failed to understand the tricks of the mysterious world. He therefore continues his poetic journey, and takes recourse to Indian myths and cultural tradition for a better understanding of contemporary issues, situations and crises through his poetic representations. Although he is not sure, he however explores the heritage of rich Indian culture grounded in Hindu tradition for an enduring solution to the conflicts of his self. Finally, Sharma therefore refers to the many complex episodes in The Mahabharatain the last poem of the book, and contemplates them thinking that the crises of the contemporary world might have an inevitable conclusion as in the case of The Mahabharata.

            Sharma’s exhaustive search for a meaning in life through his poetic renderings remains incomplete despite his continuous efforts. However, they are good attempts to raise human consciousness and awareness to many ills and complex issues that we come across in life. Sometimes, the poet is obscure because life itself is complex and obscure. Complexity cannot be resolved in a straight forward approach. It needs many contemplations and meditations.  The book can therefore impress the readers in the spiritual plane inculcating human values while entertaining them despite the occasional obscurity found in some of the poems. The Collection of poems in Unwinding Self is surely a plethora of meditations and contemplations of the speaker. The imagery, the metaphors, symbols and similes, the mythic representations and conceptual reflections found in different poems are not merely decorative and beautiful for the sake of art. They fairly contribute to the philosophy of the poet’s self: his reflections and doubts, his confusions and interrogations, his assertions and dilemmas, his joys and sadness, his rational mind and empathetic heart. Of course, a few of the poems are obscure because of a number of thematic strands in them found to be feebly connected. These poems however bring out the deeper experiences of the speaker and his psychic reflections. I therefore think that Sharma’s Collection of poems has the merits to stand top on its own, and can give the readers an enjoyable reading experience.