25 అక్టో, 2011

Puttaparthi’s ‘Leaves in the Wind’
An Appreciation


Sri Puttaparthi Narayanacharyulu was one of the literary luminaries of India. A fourteen language polyglot, he was a versatile genius and great poet. His muse is multi-dexterous, capable of weaving poetry in many languages. His literary fecundity and erudition are amazing. In recognition of his multi-faceted genius, the Government has decorated him with “Padmasri”, while Sri Venkateswara University has conferred on him an honorary doctorate.

As early as 1952 he composed a book of free verse in English entitled “Leaves in the Wind”. It is a work of a sensitive soul. The book contains forty-seven lyrics in all, and each lyric is an “objective correlative” to “the secrecies of inner agony” of the poet concerning one aspect or the other of life and human nature. Puttaparthi’s poetic themes and poetic diction as seen from this work lean towards the “romantic”. Romanticism is, according to Victor Hugo, “liberalism in literature”. It is the expression of life as seen by imagination rather than by prosaic common sense. Some of the salient features of romanticism are protest against the bondage of rules, love of nature and intense sympathy for the toilers of the world. Romantic literature reflects all that is spontaneous and unaffected in nature and man. The spirit of romanticism is free to follow its own fancy in its own way. The romantic poet invests the common life of nature and the souls of common men and women with glorious significance. Like Wordsworth, Puttaparthi chooses incidents and situations from common life and throws over them a certain colouring of imagination, thus presenting ordinary things in an unusual light.

With a wealth of perception and freshness of expression, Puttaparthi writes intensely and inventively. Endowed with a delicate sensibility and keen creative imagination, he is able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness, to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory. “Leaves in the Wind” shows on every page the poet’s intense sympathy for the toilers of the world. He is keenly alive to the “sighs of empty hands” and the “flamy tongues” of poverty. He very sensitively evokes the pity of hunger and the pity of poverty of the masses. See how he describes a blind beggar-woman:

“Her hair was dishevelled and dust-laden
Her frame a set of bones
Her life a desert.”

Her shrill voice “Can’t you pity the blind beggar?” melts the poet’s heart. He sees in her heart-rending cry the purity of Ganges:

“All the purity of Ganges was speaking through her voice.
It led me into read-out pages of our history.”

To the poet it is not the beggar that is blind, but it is the country gloating over its past glory that is blind. Seeing a woman coolie, he exclaims in another verse “What beauty in poverty.” Puttaparthi is a champion of the underdog. His sympathy for the unfortunate and the distressed, writ large on almost every page of the book, reminds us of Goldsmith, Cowper and Burns, the poets of the unlettered human heart. Puttaparthi may even be described as an angry poet, intolerant of the inhuman laws and philistine ways which masquerade in the mask of culture and civilization. His awareness of hunger around him is such that he makes stones also conscious of it. In the poem “Speak to me Thou Queen of Beauty”, he tells a beautiful statue that it must have life.

The statue coolie replies:

“My friend, your world is czarist
If we take a human form we will die of hunger
As you do.”

The poet seems to say that it is preferable to be a beautiful stone rather than a set of starved bones. Filled with infinite pity for the poor and the needy, he calls religious culture a vulture, God, the God of the wealthy.

The cut-throat competition, the commercialism, the selfishness, the paltry-mindedness, the deceit and cunning of people make him feel at times like an atheist:

“When I see the limpid smile of a babe in a cradle
I would be reminded of God.
When I see the cold corpse on a bier
I would be reminded of God.
But these men alive!
They force me to rebel
Against the very existence of God.”

Once he seems to succumb to a passing wave of pessimism and calls the world’s wide apartment of tears. In “Weep Not My Child”, he tells a child that in this world.

“You cannot fly like a bird,
Swim like a fish, live like a flower!”

But his atheism and pessimism are only a passing phase He believes in God and declares,

“The light divine is in thyself.”

Though he is not very happy about the technological advancement, he is not a poet without a vision. In his declaration, “Man is evolving. He has evolved”, Puttaparthi seems to believe in the possible evolution of mankind towards what Aurobindo in “The Human Cycle” calls the Supermind. He regards man as “son of nectareous Brahman”. He looks forward to utopia where he wishes to have

“Man to man, a free affinity and love,
One race, one world,
One God and plenty of food”.

According to him religion should be a help, not a cause of strife and destruction. Religions that fan the flames of division are in his view irreligious. His is the religion of large-hearted humanity. He says he dreads to have in him, the element of cunning;

“I dread to have the politic that plots
To ruffle the air for his own ends
I am a poet, if you please,
A human man.”

His is the religion of sympathy.

“God, if you are
Give me this boon!
Give me this boon!
Make me a poor man,
But never poor of heart.
You may give me a life,
But never to live among the heartless.

Never make my life a toy of their devilism
Make me crystal clear
Make me human.”

To him people without ‘milk of human kindness,’ without compassion are ‘visible walking ghosts’. He does not believe in the distinctions of caste and creed. He means that the lowborn are the favourites of God:

“He messed with a paraiah
He is a sinner,”
Complained a petulant Brahmin.
He smiled at him.
“He is married to a savage girl,
A scamp”, cried another of scant study.
He smiled at him.
“He goes to church,
A scar on religion”,
Growled intolerance.
He smiled again.
He died
And became a diadem of God.

“Leaves in the Wind” contains some verses also on nature, love and the anguish of separation experienced by lovers. His scenic pictures with their rhythmic facilities reveal his peculiar power of actualising sound and its converse silence:

“My heart sings and sinks into silence
And searches for re-echo
On hearing the bridal song of the cuckoo
Walking to the love of morn;
On hearing the symphony of withered leaves
Kissed by the rhythmic feet of running deer;
And the flowery murmurs of vernal beauties,
And the melting melodies of mountain streams
Running to unknown goals.”

Puttaparthi as a nature poet is fully alive to the witchery of sound. Like Wordsworth he is a poet of the ear. His love verses are full of tender sentiments. In one song the lover tells his love,

“You and I, my love! let us mingle
like song and sentiment
On the strings of lyre.”

Max Eastman regards poetry as a “pure effort to heighten consciousness.” A journey through this book does heighten our consciousness. We can cull a fund of wisdom from these verses.

An individualist, Puttaparthi hates insincere yesmanship. He was a lover of liberty, sincerity and child-like innocence.

What is Puttaparthi’s idea of poetic composition? In his view poetry is a product of inspiration:

“Poetry is vital turned towards
By an unknown chemist in an unknown laboratory
As the strings of a lyre
Responding to the kisses of the winds
Some heart with some mood
Might grasp the unhidden treasures.”

What Robert Browning makes Andrea del Sarto say of Raphael’s art is true of Puttaparthi’s English verse in “Leaves in the Wind”:

That arm is wrongly put – and there again
A fault to pardon in the drawing’s lines,
Its body, so to speak: its soul is right,
He means right – that, a child may understand.

Yes. Composed in free verse in the early ’Fifties, the lyrics in “Leaves in the Wind” have the soul of great poetry, though here a leg or there an arm is wrongly put. With a careful revision the poems may gain the inevitability of a classic, the memorableness and the competency of great literature. Some of the lyrics – ‘Days are Ahead’, ‘The King is Sleeping in the Grave’, ‘The Moghul Emperor was on his Throne’. ‘When I see the Limpid smile of a Babe in a Cradle”, ‘He messed with a Paraiah’ are already worth prescribing to Intermediate Classes. They have simplicity and clarity of expression and profundity of thought. Once Tennyson said of himself, “They will read me in schools and they will call me that horrible Tennyson”. Puttaparthi need not have this Tennysonion anxiety. They will read him in schools and colleges and call him that lovable Puttaparthi. It is because the poet has the power to bounce the reader into accepting what he says. He achieves what is called the ideal aesthetic distance in these verses.

Harindranath Chattopadhyaya in his preface to “Leaves in the Wind” says that it is a book of sensitive poetry, in spite of an unripeness of style and expression. Notwithstanding this lack, the poet displays an abundant native gift for poetic expres­sion. He is sufficiently a master of evocative, connotative and metaphorical exploitation of language. Such phases as ‘unfatho­mable oratory of silence’ ‘moonlit smiles of stony rocks’, ‘flowery murmurs of vernal beauties’, ‘naked buds meditating upon creation’ do reveal the nature of his poetic style. It is language charged with meaning.


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