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Sudhir K. Arora’s article on Winged Reason

An Angel in Flight: A Critique of K. V. Dominic’s Winged Reason.

 New Delhi: Authorspress, 2010. 77pp. Rs. 95. Paperback.

ISBN 978-81-7273-530-2

Sudhir K. Arora

(Appeared in IJML 1.1 (July 2011)

Though K. V. Dominic (b. 1956) in his debut poetic collection, titled, Winged Reason (2010) claims to be much influenced by Jayanta Mahapatra for the cause of poetry that lies in a “bad heart” and Robert Browning for his conversational mode, he is neither difficult like the former nor ambiguous like the latter. He is a poet with feelings and nothing else. As plain and simple in living, he breathes poetry in an unsophisticated fashion that offers an outlet to his conscience that articulates “an emotion or a message often through social criticism” (12).  For him, the content is more important than the style. He himself admits that his poems “lack much imagery and other figure of speech” (12). It does not mean that he does not know how to adorn a poem but it is simply because of his poetic agenda that “poetry should be digestible” (12) so that an ordinary reader may also grasp the meaning and make his life worth living with an idea that developed because of “arrows and thorns” that pierced his heart resulting in the gushing of the blood which filled his pen that penned the agony on the paper. He likes to call poetry “cuckoo” and feels proud of himself that in his mature years the bird made her nest from where she sings to the extent that his mind that wishes for wings begins to sing songs of man, nature and God.

The poet in Dominic knows well that “pains and pleasures” are “God’s own gifts” (29) though pleasures “come like sprinkles” (68) while “pains fall like a deluge” and “continue like monsoon” (68). He is in love with the Sun which becomes the symbol of knowledge and virtues and, hence, advises the lass to “be like the sun” so that she may brighten the dark world with her “inner beauty” which is true and worth longing in comparison with the “bodily beauty” which is “all subjective and relative” (28). What God has created is beautiful. It is Cuckoo that inspires man to love and labour for making life meaningful. It is she who lives “singing and loving” while “man exists / sweating and moaning” (30). He is shocked to learn that “criminal actions” are done, “superstitions survive”, “Communalism is strangled”, “Terrorists butcher thousands”, “Sexism prevails” (69) in the name of God. Why does “worm-like man” challenge “the creator”? Om, a word with three letters “representing Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma” (66) is not only a “key to all problems of the world” but also “a tonic to mind and body” (66). He wishes for peace and prosperity in the world and so wishes to go on a blissful voyage. He longs for:

If I could fly like an angel,

would plead all prophets

to inspire and instill humanism

in millions’ communal minds. (21)

The poet’s heart cries when he sees injustice and exploitation done to woman who, for a man remains a game throughout her life right from her birth to death. It is tragic that in spite of claim for women empowerment, she is still considered “an instrument of lust / and hot-selling sex” (42). How ironical is that her birth becomes “ill omen”! She is “chained in kitchen” (42) and remains dependent because of no education. She is “born to be dictated” (43). She “bears the pangs of child-bearing; / endures the rearing of her children” but “her love and sacrifices / remain unrewarded” (43). As she is treated as ‘Other’ in spite of her female heroism which is neglected by patriarchy, the poet favours her and so becomes the champion for her cause as she is an angel—the angel that plays different roles—roles of being mother, sister, wife, guide, teacher and nurse successfully. He shows his sympathy for a mother who appears at the examination but feels restless because of the cries of her baby that she hears. The problem with her is that she fails to concentrate on her examination in spite of the fact that she knows all answers to the questions. Though she has graduated, she is unemployed. Her husband who has to support the family of seven members is the “sole earner of the family” (73). She does not know what to do whether she should quit the exam and feed her child or not. Her story brings tears in the eyes of the poet as well as the reader.

No doubt, God has created all equal but it is man’s evil mind that has categorized man into “Have and Have-nots”. It is man who, for his selfish motives, has uprooted nature and disturbed the plan of nature. He has made “deadly weapons” which have become “a great threat / to life itself” (36). It is tragic that the minority ‘Haves’ enjoys “at the cost of majorities’ necessities” (36). Religions offer “no solace and hope / to the miserable multitudes” (37). Equality is merely a utopian ideal for the Have-nots that take shelter in “socialism and communism” which believe in “no private property; / state-owned wealth; / selfless work for the society” (37). But, unfortunately, it is Capitalism that dominates the Have-nots and crushes “their dreams of health and happiness” (37). Corruption that has entered politics has paralyzed Indian democracy which has become a mockery in spite of being largest in the world. Democracy is not bad but the politicians have defiled it with crimes for their personal gains. Secularism is butchered; casteism is in the air and “regionalism and parochialism / devour / nationalism and patriotism” (60). Election campaign is nothing except “fireworks of lies and abuses” (60). Those who have criminal records stand in the election and get victory with the help of muscle power. Even politics is played in the name of help to Tsunami camps where “Government gave kits and boxes” without “essential things” (33). It is sad that the money worth crores collected in the name of relief is “hoarded in the government exchequer / or diverted for some other purposes” (33). The people in the camps cry for food and pure water but remain unheard by the authorities.

What makes Dominic extraordinary is his love for juxtaposing the contrasts. He puts diametrical points of view, keeps mum and leaves the reader to ponder over the situation. He does not believe in imposing his opinions or viewpoints, rather offers choices to the reader. He sees a nightmare in which he becomes a hawk. He sees a fat boy being beaten by his mother who is forcing him to eat more while on the other side there is “ a bony child” who is “crying for a crumb” (22). He sees a boy in tears standing on the verandah in the hot weather of forty degree because of “a punishment for not wearing his tie” (22). The poet makes the reader think over the “slavish mimic” of wearing a tie which is simply “a legacy of the West” (22). Does it not sound strange that there is a long queue of man including leaper for getting liquor from a government liquor shop while on the other side there is a long queue of “poor women” who “wait for their rations” (22). He sees a water tap making “the road a black river” (22) while on the other side he sees “a waterless tap / laughing at the hopeless wait / of all the pots of the neigbourhood” (23). He sees a double-storeyed edifice equipped with modern amenities where an old man with his wife sits “at the phone with sighs and moans” longing “for the calls from the sons abroad” (23) while on the other side, he sees the slums where “three generations live in each hut; / grandpa, grandma, their sons and their wives, / and their little kids sleep in a room” (23). He offers lal salaam to labourers who “sow the seed; / reap the corn” (44) not for themselves but for others who “eat and sleep” (44). How ironic it is that they “build houses / where they never rest” (44)! Without them, it is impossible to think of life. Hence, in a moralistic tone, he asks man not to be “unjust” in giving wages to them. He should not forget that “the more we give, the more we get” (45) and, hence, it is better to “put charity in humanity” which is “a spiritual bliss” (45). The poet sees the people of the city who remain “busy and selfish, / devoid of humanity” (71) to the extent that they are lost in their own islands. But, the people of the village who “live in harmony and love” (72) are “fooled and cheated / and looted by the townsmen” (72). The poet puts the city and village side by side and leaves the reader to reflect.

The poet lives in Kerala, a state known as “God’s own land”. Onam is a national festival celebrated with zeal and zest for ten days beginning with a harvest festival Atham. Regional fragrance can be felt when “children run for flowers, / make pookalams” (53), people wear new dress , relish “ceremonial food”,  take pleasure in Onam songs, Onam plays and Onam dances and participate in competitions. The sight of boat racing becomes “a pageant of rare beauty” (54). The festival of Onam is associated with Maveli, a just king who comes to visit on this pious day.  The poet loves nature that is adorned by God with the brush. The beauty of “snow-capped mountain” and “multi-coloured sky” fills his heart with love and wonder. He weeps over the selfishness of man who disturbs “the earth’s balance” (41). The mango tree complains against man’s materialistic attitude urging God to withdraw him so that the planet may turn into a paradise. It bears “fruits for others”(40) , provides shelter to birds, drops “mellow yellow fruit” (40) to the beggar friend and feels happy because of “the fruit of service” (41). But, it is man who out of material gains, thinks of cutting the mango tree who cries: “Don’t I have feelings and pains / though I endure in silence! / Haven’t I the right to live? / God, why is your Man so selfish and cruel” (41)? Not to talk of nature, man also exploits animals for his selfish motives. A sheep complains that what is given to it by God is taken by man who has conquered because of “some special powers” (24). It is man who shears its fur to make himself cosy, sucks the milk and grows “fat and cruel”. The sheep calls man “the cruelest” and ‘the most ungrateful / of all God’s creations” (25) and wishes to enter heaven first so that it may pray to God for closing the gate for him. The poet leaves his teenage hobby of catching the fish when he imagines that he is himself a fish that has been “pulled from the sky” (48). He now feels that catching the fish is merely a “sadistic pleasure” (48) and, hence, spends most of his time in “reflections on life” (48). He becomes conscious so much that he thinks that “man has no right / to torture any other being” (76) because of the same father God. He becomes a vegetarian and follows the Gandhian way of life. He becomes sad over the demise of the cat named Ammini who was poisoned to death by some wicked man. It is also tragic that thousands of such fiends “inhabit this planet” and turn “the earth to a big slaughter house” (65). The poet’s heart prays to God to make the fiends “humane”.

The poet in Dominic is sympathetic to Anand who was kidnapped and forced to begging. When Anand sees the pupils “in tempting uniforms” (26), he remembers his mummy who used to give him a kiss and ta-ta. But, the kidnapping incident has changed his fate and made him a beggar. It is an incident of past when he left his mom, dad and Smitha. He wonders whether they recall him or not. When he is lost in his past days, he is slapped by the bearded man who threatens him to go to the shops for begging. The sight of the blind Helen pierces the heart of the poet who lectures for the Rasa theory through “the analogy of the lamp and the pot” (38) to make the students understand “how the lamp reveals the pot” (38). But, Helen’s eyes search for the lamp and the light. She is a brilliant student who has read a lot through her brother’s eyes. It is a paradox that light that sees all cannot see itself. She is “the light of the class” (39) fighting against “darkness”. The poet presents the case of Laxmi who is still not married while her colleagues are married. She is an able girl fit for being “a lamp to any house” (46) but this lamp is “destined to burn out” because of dowry which she fails to provide. She has to support her family with her meager salary of two thousand. She has pricked her “bubble of dreams” and wishes none to dream for her. The poet also sympathizes with Rahul who is turned out from the class by the teacher because of his failure in completing homework. He fails not because of his own fault but because of his drunken father who beats mother and him. For him, the world seems to be cruel by virtue of “cruel father / cruel teacher” and, hence, “longs for love” (55).  The poet is much impressed by Vrinda who turns “her challenge to strength and success” (57). She is a girl with one leg but in spite of that she dances like “a peacock to Hindi film tunes” (57). The poet’s heart starts aching and interrogates: “Why is destiny so cruel” (57)? This is the world full of ironies. One who tortures today becomes victim tomorrow. For him, “ageism is contemptible” (52). Gayatri who became a widow at thirty five is now eight two year old. She lives alone in “the palatial house” equipped with modern facilities. The children think that she lives happily but the reality is that she has become “an old lily flower / pale and faded” (31). She longs for “her children’s calls” and remains “lonely”. The thing that is striking in his poetry is that he uses the name just opposite to its meaning. Anand begs though his name suggests pleasure or happiness. Helen means brightening or shining one but in the poem she is blind. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth but here she has no amount for her dowry the result of which is that she is unmarried. Rahul, the meaning of which is ‘capable’ is also the name of Siddhartha’s son but here Rahul is incapable of doing his homework. Vrinda whose name suggests ‘cluster of flower’ and also symbolizes ‘virtue and strength’ is a girl who dances with one leg. The name of Gayatri who is the consort of Brahma means hymn or song. But, here Gayatri, the widow lives alone. Hence, Dominic has used the names for the characters that are antithetical and different to what their names indicate.

The poet in Dominic is also much influenced by some characters who played a significant role in his life directly or indirectly. He writes in memory of his friend George Joson who died in a car accident on May 14 2004. The poet’s heart feels grief and pain when he sees Joson’s youngest kid kissing his face and plucking flowers and tossing them to her lamenting sisters. Jonson proved himself fast in everything even in death. He finds that “life is uncertain” (17) and “we are all / bound by His will / to be here / or to be away” (18). As he becomes stoic, he thinks that “the best is to resign / to what He ordains / in time and out of time” (18). He does not believe when he comes to know about E. K. Nayanar’s death. People come even in rain to pay homage to Nayanar, “a true communist” bubbling with “compassion and love” (19). He was a true fusion of “rhetoricians and statesmen” with “no foes, only friends” (20). It was he who “championed the cause of the denied / and the deprived” (20). The poet does not forget to pay his regard to the teacher Kaumudi who remained “a lone fighter, a role model; / a single woman to fulfil her mission” (74). In her teens, she joined the politics and followed Gandhi who was much impressed when she offered her ornaments. She passed an unassuming life and taught Hindi. She is a rare gem that “dimmed / the dazzle of all other women in jewels and ornaments” (75). The poet loves Michael Jackson who challenged the white in dance and staked his health “for the fulfillment of art” (77).

The poet in Dominic is an angel who searches for the angelic qualities in men and when he misses, he motivates them through his poems offering choices by displaying the two contrasting pictures. It is his heart that realizes the importance of Keats’ line “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” and, so, values the beauty of mind and beauty of character. He makes others believe that the loss will result in “sorrow forever” (64). He wishes that no other Bush may kill the people in Iraq. Hence, he likes to have “the claws of a vulture” so that he may “fetch the skeletons from Iraq” and “build a bone-palace” in order to “imprison Bush in it” (21). On the winged reasons, he makes a flight of his imagination but does not soar high because he knows the reality of life which he has to live on this very earth which is “the home for all” and, so, “all should hear the heart-beat of others” (Blurb).

–Dr. Sudhir K. Arora (English Critic, Reviewer, Interviewer) Uttar Pradesh, India.