Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Review: Tonight, This Savage Rite

One approaches this book with reverence.

Firstly, it’s from the high priestess Kamala Das, and the devilish genuis Pritish Nandy himself. Secondly, it’s a revisitation of an old book, packaged this time in contemporary design, with Manu Parekh providing abstract accompaniments. And lastly, it’s about love – and what could be more bittersweet than love, revisited.

Love poetry, like great literature, is timeless. The pain, the ecstasy, the dread, the tremble, the anticipation, the bliss, are all feelings which have no boundaries of time or place. But what is different about love in Kamala Das’ world is its despair and its cynicism. Either she has got a lot, or too little. And love, for her, is invariably stolen, and never obtained; got, but very soon, lost. As she asks in “The Stone Age” - “Ask me why life is short and love is /Shorter still, ask me what is bliss and what its price.”

Time and again, she comes as being diminished in life and love (“Cowering/ Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and/ Became a dwarf.”), but is almost as much a culprit of faithlessness (“As the convict studies/ His prison’s geography/ I study the trappings / Of your body, dear love/ For I must someday find/ An escape from its snare”) as much as she searches for faith in love.

The leitmotif of love is the physicality and the illicitness of love in Kamala’s world. As she says “Our hands were timid in love-play, moving/ On the other’s skin, they knew they were but/ Humble caretakers, for a short while allowed/ To make their homes on another’s lot.” She knows she is forever “seeking (the) past in the future”.

She hurts inside, even as she gives pain (“... love’s battles are often strange,/ If the thrusts were mine, the wounds were also mine.”), until her sepulchral request not to have her bones and meat thrown away, but to let people tell by their smell “What life was worth/ On this earth/ What love was worth/ In the end.”.

Pritish Nandy, on the other hand, surrenders. He loves the only way it is possible: by giving in. He doesn’t resist, he doesn’t question. He harnesses Nature on his behalf – rain, the rivers, night – and seeks, and gets, and loses love.

Often – maybe, more often than not – there is lovemaking before love, as also lovemaking to revive love (“This passion alone can / resurrect our love.”)

Imbued in these verses is the sense of inevitable loss of love - and its loneliness. Alas, leaving is easy; forgetting, not (“Forgetting takes much too long: the secret swallows of / my dreams wing towards the morningstar as my / words rain over you, stroking you into silence.”).

Pritish paints love in metaphysical strokes. Unlike Kamala, who finds pain in her body, in her blood, in almost visceral grief, when she loses, Pritish turns to rain, flowers, the sea, to seek parallels. He is gentle in judgement, more introspective, and knows there is life beyond –often with the same person. In one of his most evocative poems he says:

“Goodbye is not always a great exit line. There

are simpler ways of saying you are wrong. The

sign on the window says you are lonely. The void

in my heart says you are gone. There is still

someplace unknown where we can drift and watch

the springtime grow. In silent praise of the love

we as strangers today shall recognize and know. “

In a world where nothing is certain, love, with all its uncertainties, is the only thing which can help us live. Both Kamala and Pritish know it, and live it, and write about it, in tender, often discomforting, candour. Accompanying these poems, Manu Parekh’s drawings are mysterious and often like grosteque smudges – but then, often, isn’t love also just that?

(This book is reviewed by Sunil Bhandari.Sunil is a finance man in a corporate job, who converts balance sheets into pieces of poetic fancies! Sunil loves films, writes to live, lives to write.He blogs at

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