‘Midwords’ by Sheela Upadhayay, E.E. Sule (Nigeria) and John Kinsella (Australia),
and an Afterword by myself.
The ambiance is less Indian than universal: certainly, we are for the most part not in the specifically Indian poetic environment of a Tagore or a Jayanta Mahapatra, and the occasional references to, say, saffron, or peacocks, or the Buddha have the role less of ‘Indianising’ the text than of simply grounding the poet’s solitude somewhere, in some identifiable corner of an afflicted planet. What the reader traces across these pages is a journey without maps, through a landscape which is not of this world – a burnt, stunted, desiccated inner landscape which the poet finds within him and which it is his task to make sense of, transform, and – if it is possible – redeem. The journey which Satish Verma has invited us to share is one through image, language and intertextual dialogue, in a universe of doubt and darkness fitfully illumined by redemptive flashes. The poems’ speaking voice is a solitary ‘I’, unnamed and unidentified, who occasionally addresses a ‘you’, also unidentified but no doubt assimilable to the reader, to Charles Baudelaire’s and T.S. Eliot’s ‘hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère!’ (‘hypocrite reader, my likeness, my brother!’).
From the very first poem one thinks of another, celebrated, poetic mindscape, that created by Eliot in The Waste Land: ‘I yearned for a solitude of desert / sand and rocks’, cries out our poet, echoing Eliot’s: ”Here is no water but only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road’, and, indeed, later on we find a direct evocation of the master’s famous title: ‘Whom shall we believe, rebirth / Or life after death? / Both are study of wasteland’. Aridity is everywhere (‘in the barren field of lies’). Bones, too, rattle across Satish Verma’s pages as they do in Eliot’s: ‘A story reappears again and again / Like a dried skeleton in sands’ (The Waste Land says: ‘I think we are in rats’ alley / Where the dead men lost their bones’). It is as if the cultural crisis of humanity that Eliot spelt out loud in his poem of 1921 is still at work, taking its toll in the inner anguish of an Indian poet more than eight decades later.