C L Khatri
For You to Decide
New Delhi: Authors Press. 2016
ISBN 978-93-5207- 406-8
Pages 82 | Rs 250
Vibrant Verses of a Vigorous Poet
With troubadour writer Bob Dylan’s rise to the peak of literary achievement, there is little doubt that poetry of any sort runs the risk of self-effacement, definition- defying exercise or self-identification. In this case, poetry fights a battle against the very foundational claim which, it is being perceived, as a subversion of the canonical standards of a poem to make things on an even scale. On both the fronts – offbeat and non-canonical – poetry getting its due and hard work of a serious campaigner for years – poetry is being served a world of good. The claims in support of poetry, “brevity is the soul of wit,” poetry provides staple of life or still, it serves as salad for the soul – are said not without significance. Poetry proves its worth time again, after every stern ordeal, with vigour, vitality and strength of character that a connoisseur of poetry can only conceive with little hesitation
The observation of Martin Heidegger in his celebrated essay “The Origin of Work of Art” that “what is pregiven to the poet, and how it is given, so that it can then be regiven in the poem” implies a strict adherence to phenomenological process of poetry and philosophy in relation to art and aesthetics. The traditional emotive and mimetic approach is repudiated in favour of the earth, the world and “happening of truth.” His work offers a philosophical inquiry into the aesthetic world. The origin of a work of art revolves around the artist; the poet becomes the consumable object being used by the process of poetic creation. Finally, the poem comes to forefront and the artist is pushed back to the background. The work exists in terms of “pure self-subsistence,” declaring the death of the author. Heidegger believes in the idea that both the artist and the work of art are self-sufficient in their own right. He goes on to say that the thingness of a thing has to be separated from the mere things; simple things do not consist of the cream which is referred to as thingness of a thing. In a similar vein, Khatri’s title For You to Decide (2016) seems to vest more power with the readers who could be the perfect judges of his work of art. By so doing he has made the reader more responsible to act in a sublime way while detecting the merits and demerits of the volume. Rather the reader’s job is cut out here as he is required to behave in a more mature and responsible way. He has played a pun on his readers to rise up to the levels of an intellectual insight giving prowess than mere reading for the pleasure sake.
The small exquisite poems can be treated as nuggets of wisdom with their simple deceptive look, something that is being appropriately communicated by Robert Frost for whom “a poem begins with delight and ends with wisdom.” For You to Decide is the fourth volume of poetry which like the other three volumes of Khatri, is replete with patriotic fervor, contemporary cure for corrupt practices of society, love, indigenous myth and culture, and above all, the philosophy of life. He is averse to a set system which does not offer any respite to sensible intellectuals. But he does not offer to reject the system outrightly, rather he loves to subvert it from within. As a result, humour and satire come to the aid of the poet in his jibe to unleash a scathing attack on society and salvage it from the sins committed upon it. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry could achieve what Khatri has done for the Indian poetry written in English.
Khatri’s suave move to deal with indigenous material gives an account of his firm faith in everything related to his surrounding that he boasts of. More than mature with the kind of living he is adapted to, it is his ability to depict his indigenous thrust the unique way he handles things, that sets Khatri apart. The poem “Mask” perhaps is an attempt to rip off the mask of ignorance and apathy beneath which apprehension and resulting failure lurks. That the mask will not come to our aid at the death bed is clear when the poet speaks with certain strength that the “deceitful masks” would throw the corrupt plans awry. In the title poem ”For You to Decide,” the poet’s apt observation is a riveting experience; human shortsightedness is being pitied against the infinite possibilities of the world. Indeed the most striking part of the lesson is that life has become an ostentatious commodity when babies are sold in the market, the “umbilical cords” have all but been grounded by the “warranty cards.”
Humour and irony become the poet’s forte in poems like “Love” where an indigenous insight has been explored into the relationship between a tree and man. Poor man’s knowledge comes a cropper when compared to the sacrifice of a tree; it has been a source of hope and inspiration for the poor peasant time and again. But the lustful attitude of the farmer does not even consider the tree’s problem even after exhausting everything that a plant can offer to safeguard the interests of selfish man. What is more glaring is that the innocent plant has no idea about when, where and how he will be trapped by anthropocentric interests:
Now there is no stump, no new tree;
but the peasant turns to it every day.
Man’s continuing if self-annihilating exploitation of nature gives him the self-inflicted extinction that he has to grope with and answer to. Irony is at its peak when the poet considers the statistics of the plight of peasants’ suicide; in comparison to the fertile South, the barren eastern Indian people from Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh show signs of moral character and firmness of mind in not contemplating suicide:
Killing cracks in the field
sun spitting fire from the furnace.
But in the end the poet has a pessimistic apprehension when he matures enough to know that the poor people’s tryst with destiny does not offer any respite as he is shown in the poor light by the poet, “who is now computing the human cells in the dead.” He is dormant, if not dead, because life has nothing positive to provide him:
Shylock’s bet for a pound of flesh
sets a limit to lamb’s life
beyond which only cross endures.
Khatri also has the uncanny knack of depicting the cause of women empowerment, although in his uncharacteristic usual humorous way. “Writing a New Ramayan” is a poignant poem which focuses on the sorry cast the women in India have woven round them. Women are back in reckoning in a total role reversal of sorts when they want to shine without counting on Patriarchy. The women are on the threshold of evicting the long held male dominance. The patriarchal clout is relinquished to write back Sita’s point of view where she reigns while directing a “fire ordeal” for Rama. This is certainly an audacious move by the poet. But the lurking danger of thuggery and lawlessness reminds the reader of commodification of women to be sold in “the Dalal Street.” That a woman both “cries and laughs” towards the end of the poem is a pointer to women emancipation which still has a long road to travel.
The plight of poetry is being described in many a poems where the poet devotes considerable degree of attention to write in defense of poetry, though with great pain and agony. In an evoking poem like “Muse,” Khatri has shown how creative writers are being relegated to the background at the behest of exaggerating critics and the conclusion leads us to make such a derogatory observation: “A fool fussed: why don’t you write for fools?”
While portraying the contemporary concerns of common men, Khatri seems to be siding with the poor and down trodden. “Justifying the Death” uses the poetic device of humour and irony to point at the pitfalls of suffering and squalor of the poor due to grave sins being committed by those who are in power:
They can justify death:
when kings fight, pawns are killed
or seek refuge in philosophy.
Similarly “Turban Man” deals with the plight of a poor man who is up against the corrupt system. But it is through hope he dares to face life against all odds:
Truly he lives in hope and dies without hope.
But hope does not die; it transmigrates.
In a poem like “Postcolonialism,” Khatri makes a scathing attack on colonial hegemony but with a tinge of mild humour. That the native literature is lacking a certain direction and purpose is a worrying factor for the sensible poet but the following firm assertion marks a strong affinity with his roots which every postcolonial poet prides in:
The skin I am born with is mine
with sun, moon and rain it shines
The voice of the subaltern is articulated in the poem “Timid Tongue” when ‘the slave learns the art of the master.”
This is not to deny a word of praise for the haiku type “Three Liners” that Khatri chooses to end the volume with. The pithy and epigrammatic lines do provide the staple of life when we do not have the calm and composure to deal with the complex nuances of serious poetry.
Khatri is at his best when dealing with vibrant verses with vigour and vitality of a fighting soldier. In fact this type of strong assertion does not spring any new surprise for the reader as the poet has already published a volume entitled, Kargil which brought him contention and worldwide recognition. One wonders whether the range and depth of issues and insights that Khatri deals with could be considered as a master stroke from an innovative craftsman. Vibrant issues of life have been incorporated with great ease and aplomb making it an absolute must for any sensible reader.