Paperback: 90 pages
Publisher: Authors Press (January 4, 2013)
Reviewed by P C K PREM
In Golden Cacti, a collection of beautiful verses, Sunil Sharma opens up heart of urban life, its dry joys and its continuous struggles for survival, difficulties and sufferings, dreariness and consequent agonies that linger on even when a man stops looking at life as it was. Vivid images, natural metaphors and striking portrayal of feelings and thoughts inspire, excite and question the man trying to find meaning in disturbed times. Poet in Sunil strikes an optimistic note and finds every moment and every creation superb, a gift of god. Surprisingly, he goes back to past to find roots and looks out for a man of his roots and origin.
He is critical of alien’s domination and language, and does not want that anything should change to please a usurper, a ruler of unethical outlook. When the poet goes to a few lands across the globe, nostalgic memories of colonial life ancestors lived disturb him. It was not a single impact on the life of natives but it encompassed the country’s culture and heritage and made visible dents. A tenderhearted poet feels emotively about the days, and experiences agonies as a man of history. None can ever stop a man from going to his roots and land. Again, in ‘Let Us Recall’ 26, the poet goes to past to ‘revive lapsed days and lost glories’. Nature of man to find comforts in seemingly happy past is a habit as anxieties and pains of present choke him.
A Marxist thought emerges in ‘Lunch’ 15, when he talks of a poor hard working stonebreaker, who just manages to fill her belly and keeps a dry chapatti with pickle for her frail husband. He paints a pathetic picture of workers, who live in miseries while the rich always crave for variety in food every time. Ironical urban sensibility loves to lament on the plight of the poor and miserable but does nothing worthwhile and definite, for it is living in obesity and opulence. Instantly, the poet creates a sad, melancholic and cheerless picture in ‘Urban Existence’ 17, where pigeons perch still on a wire, unhappily reflect on the mental condition of a lonely housewife it appears. Yes, loneliness corrodes finer instincts of urbanites despite glamour and riches.
Inner unexpressed anguish is equally disturbing in ‘The Three Urban Scenes’ 46, where the poet speaks with a restrained voice about a tiny bulbul on a power pole, a vagabond with a plastic bag containing dirty rags and an old man waiting for a warm call from a son living in a distant land. The three living beings have particular areas of pain, hope and hope amidst possible disappointment.
On the other hand, feelings of a displaced person earning livelihood or trying to settle down elsewhere invite compassion, for he lives like a timid pigeon in urban setting. It is painful when one does not live in usual locale. (Migrant Woes 27) Poet speaks of a truth everyone would accept without apparent nod. A man may live a happy and rich life elsewhere, but at moments of anguish born of nostalgia, he goes back to feel the smell of his land and home where ancestors lived.
The poet looks into the nature of animate and inanimate, and frames images to define life’s issues. If ‘The strange Walls’ refuse feelings of communion and humanity, ‘Under the Cherry Tree’ and ‘Beauty’ speak of a rich and blessed life. If in ‘Poet Rejected’ and ‘Redundancies’ he talks of the poet, poetry and inherent pangs, in ‘Poetry Calling’ 37, the poet underscores what poetry does for man and humanity.
Heralds of harmony and solidarity,
Resisting forces of hate
And mongers of war
Poetry brings only peace, compassion, harmony and happiness to humankind. In a similar way, through ‘The Flower Sermon’ 41, the poet conveys another positive message and tells that ‘Each one of us, /If we try, /Can become a Buddha,’ and live at peace. Poet is tender and soft at heart and speaks eloquently about the wretched and contemptible condition of man. Life in urban areas despite seeming joys and comforts does not offer an encouraging testimony of happiness because a man suffocates and aspires for clean air and open space for stretching arms and legs.
In manmade sky-touching structures, if he brags of attainments, he also feels restricted, and so inhales polluted air and survives smilingly, and hopes for a free life where even relations feel the pressure of loneliness in awful living conditions. Neither a man in a towering building living in a specified area of an apartment is happy within, nor does he enjoy life in a slum because certain scarcities in life give constant troubles. Such thoughts form the outline of many lyrics. Amidst, inner turmoil and outer glitter, a man aspires for happiness and peace.
Wide spread violence tortures. The poet appears quite upset. Acts of man endanger humanity notwithstanding his determined struggle for bringing peace and harmony. He looks around and feels tormented within as terrorism and mindless killing of innocent people all over the world destabilize everyone. Racial and ethnic hate disturb noble creations on earth. Distortion and unjust ways in societies do not provide comforts to man. It is not only hatred and terror-filled inclinations of man that bring disharmony in life of a man, but social evils also bring anguish and disturbance.
Man ought to work for peace of man and society, and if he does not, he brings acrimony, violence and war. He rightly observes –
Let us unite, then
And make it
The latest credo
for the new century
of hope and belief
And trash the forces
Via this simple anthem
Of love and faith.’
(For Peace, Let Us All Stand 70).
He repeats intensity of anxiety for peace in another powerful poem ‘Let Peace Prevail –Lines from a Graffiti Artist’s Work on the Wall’ 71. He looks like a high priest of peace, who oversees violence everywhere in the world and asks man to live in peace, not a very tall demand. Sunil loves to reflect on private matters and in the process, he adds authenticity to the verse and indirectly, establishes poetic relationship with the reader. In personal poems, he speaks for many. A woman plays many roles in life, and with a few exceptions, she carries the family and societal obligation in a dignified manner as a daughter, sister, wife and mother. After marriage, she looks after two families with entirely different setups and habits. However, the change is wonderful. After she comes back from maternal home, she -
Instantly morphed into a homemaker, a teacher
Journalist, mom and wife.
The different personas …
One finds the poet at ease and quite comfortable, for truth moves the pen so effortlessly. Again, the poet’s emotionality becomes obvious in ‘A Grass Widower/Lover Writes’ where he talks of momentary separation, starlit nights, bangles, silver anklets, lingering laughter, and scented presence in summer nights, perfume, smiles sweet and angelic, and fragrant Raatrani flowers when he thinks lovingly of his wife Sangeeta. He is passionately true when he says -
The smiling Muse
To my poet within,
The best-ever Valentine.
And this –
An ode dictated by Cupid,
On this sleepless night.’
Sure, a reader ought to value a husband’s sentimental love for a wife.
At another level, the poet sensitively talks of an Indian, a victim of apartheid and opens a poignant page from the history of South Africa. He reveals many truths and facts in simple words -
When the prison officers become prisoners
And the political prisoners
Are treated as new leaders,
A just society
Comes out fine.
(Tempering of the Steel 82)
His lyrics are engaging. He is a passionate advocate of peace and harmony. Human relationships form the basis of his philosophy. Man lives in illusions and rarely admits, for a subtle fantasy determines the march of man the poet asserts. Urban living fires ambitions but the efforts remain incommensurate and therefore, consequent failures paint a dismal picture. Urban in theme, the poetry attracts and disturbs. At times, he relates experiences to history and co-relates everything to personal life. He is best when he speaks about the truth of experiences. He does not permit experience to distort truth or at times, he cannot visualize a situation where truth appears fragmentary but then, he is forced to live within the parameters of language to give shape and structure to truth, experiences and facts but he does it with conviction. He is authentic, compelling and forceful and never for a moment forgets that he has an objective to attain as a poet of man and humanity.
A trilingual author of more than forty books in English and Hindi, P C K Prem (p c katoch) post-graduated in English literature from Punjab University, Chandigarh in 1970, taught English in various colleges of Punjab and Himachal before shifting to civil services and then, served as Member, HP Public Service Commission. He has brought out nine volumes of poetry besides books on criticism in Hindi and English. Katoch Prem (a winner of several awards) is a poet, novelist, short story writer and critic in English from Himachal Pradesh.