Shaleen Kumar Singh
Rainbow Hues: The Poetry of Nar Deo Sharma
Nar Deo Sharma belongs to that age of Indian English Poetry when it was in its teens, when poets like O.P. Bhatnagar, Prakash Joshi, Niranjan Mohanty, I.H.Rizvi, Baldev Mirza, Hazara Singh, Mukund R. Dave, Syed Ameruddin, Jayant Mahapatra, Krishna Srinivas, R.K. Singh, Mahanand Sharma, A.N. Dwivedi, P. Lal, D.C. Chambial, H. S. Bhatiya, T. Vasudeva Reddy, Krishna Khullar, L. N. Mahapatra, D. H. Kabadi, I.K. Sharma, Pronab Bandhopadyay, K. B. Rai, Subhash C. Saha were hectically absorbed in poetry to bring it onto the global platform. According to I.H. Rizvi & N.F. Rizvi the poetry in between 1971 to 1985 (in 1984 Sharma's Melody of Wounds was published first from Writers Workshop) was very 'rich as far as the number of the volumes of verse is concerned'. Despite all criticism of M.K. Naik and B.K. Das who regard the poetry of this age as "rubbish" (Rizvi: 134), one cannot underestimate the significance of the poetry of this age. In this regard, Sharma observes:
New Indian English poets are sincerely committed to social, political and religious perspectives to the extent that they do not feel shy of poetizing stark realities which might not satisfy the parochial norms of the good and the beautiful altogether but highlight the unvarnished truth in poetry. (Rizvi:134)
It seems that he hints to some crucial clue to understand his poetry in a well manner.
Being essentially a poet-cum-stylistic-critic, his equal emphasis appears to be laid upon the craft and art of poems. His poems are so well knit that one can hardly find fault with them and he can rightly be termed as a 'gifted poetic craftsman'. His poetry collection Melody of Wounds was recognized and eulogized by the critics of the globe, as well as proved to be a crucial pillar of the mansion of Indian English Poetry of 70s and 80s. The second reprint is designed by the poet himself wherein he has scattered ample hues of poetic creativity as well as set milestone for the new poets to learn and draw tips and ideals of writing poetry. His each poem establishes a sound frame and a peculiar axiom for the new poets of Indian English poetry to follow an example and know how good poetry can be written from both aspects: points of view of vision and craft. The strength of Sharma lies in his competency to ooze out the emotions honestly without resistance and to work out the enigma called life with a definite purpose called nobility. His is the poetry of revelations and explorations (of life and being) but it must also be borne in mind that Sharma's all attempts of poetry are not his personal outpourings but for the common man and commonplace. Baldev Mirza is right when he opines:
Sharma does not appear from an ivory tower like most of his clan. He comes out of the crowds of people, reveals his experiences in a subtle, sharp and direct manner and joins the crowds again. But the shades, he leaves behind are dotted with his distinction and individuality as a poet who believes in 'Art for life's sake' (Blurb of Melody of Wounds).
In the very first poem, 'Law Court', Sharma exhibits the predicament of cankered judicial system where a raped woman- "Skipping her shame / Between sobs and tears", "pours out her tragedy / To the hoary bench that/ Drinks the poignant account / Of her rape." Here, interestingly the poet is not only emotive but also reflective when he adds, "Law does not look / To ease her gossamer grief: / But it makes allowances / For the hired arguments / Which pick holes in her lonely, / Helpless endeavours she made / to escape her distress." Here the poet raises a question and creates more grim and absurd picture:
How long will you cling to law
Which is so myopic and flimsy?
That it attaches credence to such crowd of evidences
Who by their false oath
First murder the Gods
Packed in the bundle
Of holy books
Then defeat the lonely truth (1)
Here the reflective quality together with choice of metaphoric words and phrases makes the reading more reflective, picturesque and enjoyable. The thought-provoking ideas with the help of questions, cross-questions, pictorial and metaphorical images create a fine balance in the poem. Similarly in the second poem 'Money Plant', Sharma creates both the pictures of tradition and modernity. Tradition in the belief of the one who plants the sapling of money-plant in order to attain riches and modernity in the expenses of the woman (who planted it) who "gathered that / Who slipped from set values/ Are crowded with fortune."
In the third poem 'Leader', Sharma weaves the Indian political themes in which Gandhian coffin is presented as the cover to hide "national nuisance / Of corruption, bribed dejection" and the leaders are satirized candidly:
He can materialize
The national dream
Of the Olympic gold
If he is allowed
To sum the marathon race
Of corruption, bribed defection (3)
Sharma, in ‘Gandhism,’ boldly criticizes the predicament of Gandhism in modern times which is now smeared with 'Slime of Violence.' He, here, with paradox of 'black' (violence) and 'white' (of values of Gandhi) creates a distinct effect which again assumes irony and satire:
To realize their Gandhism
In essence the Gandhian people
Will never take rest?
Until every citizen of India
(Save the follower of Gandhi)
Like Gandhi is left with
A lathi and loin cloth (5)
Here, with innuendoes, Sharma unfolds layers of reality behind humor. However, the suggestive mode behind the ironic flail against "corrupt and degenerate politics," at times, hints at dark future of the nation, and at another time pin-points the leaking holes of Indian political system.
The canvas of Sharma's poetry is much panoramic because the choice of themes as well as the choice of words for expressions remains the first priority of the poet who prefers appropriateness and logic in his creative processes. Socio-cultural, moral, spiritual, political, traditional, ethical, aesthetical all major themes of Indian literature are dealt with equal proportion. His portrayal of the predicament of Indian life, pointing out the plague spots in individual's personality and society can be seen superb in the poem 'Indian Rites' which are termed as "Bad Debts / That accrue to living Indian / From every death of his relation." In autobiographical tone, the poet tells the story:
For want of rice, ghee, milk
My father gave away
To undue death;
But to satiate
The gargantuan appetite of rituals
I offered pindas,
Ladled out ghee
On the dead father's dug pate
And debt upon heaped upon my fate. (7)
But the poet's zeal to espouse old rites that 'ossify' his 'progress' despite the consequences of gibbet or hard cross mirrors the chief trait of modern Indian English Poetry in the complete defiance of custom traditional replacing with more logical and scientific realities of life. In the above poem the Kapal Kriya, which is done by the Hindu son by breaking dead father's pate, pouring a few ladles of ghee, is realistically sketched by the poet, gives another glittering feature of references of Indian idiom and set-back in Indian English Poetry which for a long time remained a "perfect alien bride" (See Bhatnagar's observation). Here, the fresh original imagery and symbol contribute much to strengthen the heritage of our literature.
Again in the poem 'Barren Fields', contrary to the previous poem, he chides the individual disorganization, the major demerit of modern society where "self-conceited haughtiness" and "priggishness" are the trammels that don't let a husband and wife 'dove tail well'. On, the critical and complex relation of husband and wife which were usually based on love and mutual cooperation in the yore, are evaluated in an analytical way for the depiction of the "Silence which was the only commerce / manageable between them / Under the same roof of life / they lived aloof / in the apartment of their / clashing thoughts, pricking mannerisms" points to the poet's deep understanding of human relations of the modern times, but his presupposition is also not wrong.
They could have cultivated
the spring of affections
but in the Barren, hard soil
of their arrogance, fastidiousness
love was not possible to grow
to perfume their fusty lives. (6)
Sharma's poetry is strewn with the image of his sincere and genuine understanding of the age hag-ridden with affectation, arrogance, falsity and feverish feelings, and it is without any scope of any kind of fake idealism and false dreaminess. Therefore his voice becomes a potent slogan against fanaticism, frustration, anxiety, fear, and traumas of modern life which are languishing the age old human values of ancient scriptures of the Upanishads and the Puranas. Amid such ignoble and corrupt atmosphere where all primal goodness has eloped away, the dripping wounds of the poet have assumed the form of 'Melody called verse' and perhaps for this reason, in each of his poems, one can find lurking pain mixed with reality:
Into the pulp of pains,
They ooze grief;
Sorrows solidity / In men;
Nuts do not leak. (11)
Sharma’s poems appeal more partly because of his lively pictures and strong linguistic choices and partly because of its dealing with autobiographical element which is employed by him in a number of poems. Due to internal love and association with people and things mixed with nostalgia. Sharma's conversational tone gets highly penetrating when he speaks:-
Like you mother
I can hardly live for others,
The height of pride
Is increasing in me,
My morals are frosted. (12)
A perfect conglomeration of poet and critic in Sharma is well aware of the limitations of the critic and poet:
It's beyond your ken
That rhythm can't do
The mathematics of grief,
Nor in rhyme can you play
The music of pain. (16)
And yet he tries his utmost to verbalize and sketch images. Like Charles Lamb, he entwines pathos and irony in humor in 'Clown’ and draws a perfect live picture:
When he parades the forte
Of his amusing sports
The hungry crowd relishes
The fine crumbs of amusement
In the ecstatic moments
Showered by people
He outgrows his dwarf agony. (13)
Sharma's poetic genius is devoid of the difficulty of most of Indian English poets (particularly the early poets) due to the absence of a framework for poetic symbolism which would communicate their own sense of sex, love, life, death and other basic elements of life, rather they imitated the image and symbol of British and American poets. Unlike such poets Sharma's idiom, images and symbols are extracted from India and his personal experiences arose out of Indian soil. His words sear the mind, stir the ripples of thoughts in the lake of soul and reveal the poetic personae with their vitality. His vision is both micro and macro, so his poetry, which is, though less in quantity, yet cosmic in quality, kaleidoscopic in nature, and oceanic in depth.
The poems ('Kashmir: Paradise on Earth', 'Pink City: Jaipur') of Sharma are not merely the poems written on situations, suicide, place and things, but his poems like 'Padmini', 'Laxmibai of Jhansi', 'Mother Teresa', 'Acharya Rajneesh's Right Place', 'Dostoevsky: My Mirror' are addressed to such luminaries of their respective fields.
'Kashmir: Paradise on Earth' is penned on the matchless beauty of Kashmir where he has never been physically but his delineation is both pictorial and sensuous:
It is enthralling to see how
nature celebrates Christmas here:
the vast expanse of virgin show
a Christmas cake colossus;
snow drizzles everywhere like
festoons raining festivities upon earth. (26)
Or in the poem 'Pink city: Jaipur', he gives a different picture:
Its roads are broad as
Permissive Europe, America.
Narrow are its streets
As scrupulous Asia.
People heap streets with
Their stinking neglect of hygiene. (30)
Sharma’s poetry mirrors urban society exhibits the realistic pulse of urbanization in a crystal-clear way:
With varied desires
Of innumerable people
Nested in the alleys
Of their selfishness. (21)
Here, the comment of Satish Kumar is noticeable: "Sharma is an urban poet like Ezekiel, Parthasarthy, Shiv K. Kumar and I. H. Rizvi and like them he is keenly alive to the shortsightedness, narrow-mindedness, self-centeredness and atrophy of human relations" (Kumar: 283).
The delineation of the places whether historical or Metropolis, his vision remains both subjective and objective. In subjectivity, he finds his pain looming large in the heart of the city and in objectivity his eyes catch the beauty (Kashmir: Paradise on Earth) as well as ugliness equitably (‘Pink City : Jaipur’). However his depiction of people is reflective, tributary, heroic and frank in 'Luxmibai of Jhansi'. He remembers the valour of queen and pays his poetic offering by saying: "She died / In the harness of bravery / Engraved on enemies’ history / Her matchless valour" (20). Or in 'Padmini' when he sketches the valour of the queen who preferred Johar to submission before Khilzi, the emperor and says:
Since she sheathed
A vow not to let
A Khilzi bask
In her unique beauty,
She put on happily
The golden coffin of fire,
Endorsed a legend on flames. (19)
Or in 'Mother Teresa,' when he remembers the great saintly lady:
As flowers open out fragrance
She radiates his smiling love
Which kindles a spirit in people
To live their grief in a smile.
She fastens her compassion
On lepers whose nauseating looks
Of gingerous firgers, deformed forces
People cover with their loathing. (23)
However, his poem 'To a Modern Friend' is reflective where the poet observes that in overall freedom to children/ without any moral hedges, life gathers decadence and he says to his imaginary friend:
After a great loss
It dawned on you
That borrowed raiments
Of foreign cultures
Remain loose or skimpy,
The shoes of alien traditions
Always pinch the wearers (37)
The poem, 'Dostoyevsky: My Mirror,' wherein the poet with deliberate interpolation of the names of Dostoyevsky's novels creates music and new meaning: "As a ‘Gambler’ of goodness I bear / With the betrayal of my relatives / Sufferings are my ‘Brothers Karamazov’ / That has outlived my happiness" (14). And his self-assertion mirrors the poetic expression in a distinct way:
With the moments of pleasure stole
From the jovial gathering of my friends
I cheat myself to be gay, otherwise
Even my dreams evade catering
And so scrapping of joy for me (14)
A good deal of Sharma's poems carry philosophical overtone and values mixed with stark realities where the profundity and clarity of his thoughts and ideas can easily be witnessed. This is fairly a safe ground from where one can behold Sharma as a rare amalgam of contemporary Indian sensibility and as an authentic Indian English voice there are ample verbal facilities with profound meanings from where we start experiencing vast panorama of his poetic genius. 'Aftermath' is a poem mixed with emotions and realities wherein he, in conversational tone, mirrors the material outlook of a modern son and the altruistic outlook of a traditional mother (who is now no more):
Apathy you ever played
On your mother's old pains
Crowded with sorrow now
… … …
In the corner of your odium
The scriptures are heaped
With your introvert dirt (24)
The poem, 'Letter from a Lost Daughter', depicts the plight of gender discrimination and miserable condition of our so called modern society where dowry death, female feticide and exploitation of woman are common problems. He seems right when he says in the tone of a lost daughter:
Until I die my mother will
Remain pregnant with worries
From the diary of your grief
Papa I dug out the truth that
God drowned in your lonely tears. (33)
He attacks boldly the partial norms and customs of society. In his collection Melody of Wounds, Sharma has written two small love poems in which alliteration, assonance and repetition all have worked in for creating musical effect that fills the heart with rapture as well as pain. The separation of the beloved make the poet 'a cruet' / filled with / the fragrant void' of memories and again the drought of the same memories 'Sprinkles joy' on poet's 'gloom' (‘Love Poem-1’ 35) and while in (‘Love Poem-II’ 36) Sharma escapes from embroidering his talks with 'Shimmering promises' and shake heaven and bedeck his lover with star-jeweled-sky for he considers: "Turgid eulogy becomes / A pastime till shallow boasting / Stunts our reasoning" (36). He states simply:
I was natural, darling
When I clothed your love
That your love
Dispels my dismay,
Dips me in delight. (36)
Sharma's poetic talent is unquestionable for the quality of his expression, the excellent mastery of his vocabulary and language and the command over the rhythmic pattern make him singular as well as distinct. The other glittering features of his poetry can be discerned in the objectivity, the treatment of his subject and compactness of thoughts .
Though poetry is not a labored exercise or a deliberate attempt, yet a few of Sharma's poems seem to have the same quality wherein his conscious efforts 'to bedeck and bedaub' make him a bit verbose and wordy and yet the same limitation becomes his forte in other poems wherein he has masterly exercised in the wielding of poetic tools of images, symbols, phrases, rhythm and idea. Therefore, his poetry remains fresh, original and meaningful. He has never been away from 'Something more' of Niranjan Mohanty i.e. the environment, society everyday life and emotional involvement with the people and places.
Niranjan Mohanty in his research paper on O. P. Bhatnagar said:
Creative writing is not possible only by mastering a language,only by getting some degree of competence in that language. Perhaps, it requires something more: one ought to understand the place one lives in, the air one takes in the people with whom one shares essential moments of life. One must have a desire to understanding intensely and intimately. When this is won, language is not a barrier, and one can choose any language that suits one that expresses one best emotionally and intellectually. (Mohanty: 216)
To sum up, Sharma's poetry scatters a feast of delight by virtue of its aptness of words, phrases and expressions, profundity of thoughts, intensity of emotions and flashes of irony, wit and satire. His ironical poems make him sit atop the hill of Indian English Poetry as well as make us more and more inquisitive to look upon them and ruminate them over and over again and as a poet he deserves to be ranked with R. Parthasarthy, A. K. Ramanujum, Dom Mores, Pritish Nandy, Shiv K. Kumar, Nissim Eziekel, Arun Kolatkar and so on. In his unswerving dedication to poetry, vision of life, deep insight, impeccable language, originality, universal appeal, spontaneity, and flow all tend to establish him among such towering poets.
Bhatnagar, O. P. A Critic with a Big Heart. Ed. I. K. Sharma, Jaipur: Rachna Prakashan, 2006. O. P. Bhatnagar said that 'Indian English Poetry was novel a borrowed plume due to its imitativeness and lack of original themes'.
Kumar, Satish. A Survey of Indian English Poetry. Barielly:PBD,1998.
Mohanty, Niranjan. 'O. P. Bhatnagar's Poetry: the meaningful Glance', P.216, Studies in Contemporary Indo-English Verse- A Collection of Critical Essays on Male Poets Ed. Dr. A. N. Dwivedi, Bareilly : PBD,1984.
Sharma, Nar Deo. Melody of Wounds. 1984. Alwar: Ideal English Publications, 2007 (All the references of poetry are from the same edition).
Rizvi, I. H. and N. F. Rizvi. 'The Rapid Growth of English Poetry in India between 1917-1985', Chapter-7 Origin, Development and History of Indian English Poetry. Barielly: Prakash Book Depot, 2008.