Monday, May 28, 2007

LOVE TEACHES EVEN ASSES TO DANCE

BOOK REVIEW:

P. Raja. Love Teaches Even Asses to Dance. Publishers: Busy Bee Books, D-88, Poincare St., Olandai-Keerapalayam, Pondicherry – 605004, October 2006, pages 210, Price: Rs.250/- Euro 15/-. ISBN 81-87619-12-0

Love Teaches Even Asses to Dance is a collection of fifty-two essays by P. Raja, a poet-critic, whose mastery of words, or sound and sense, convinces me that like poetry, prose too needs to be written (and read) carefully and thought about considerably for continuing rewards in experience and understanding. The essays are readable and memorable because the writer, like Walter Benjamin, knows, “work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.”

P. Raja evinces these characteristics in his brief, simple, unaffected pieces that have poetic felicity and intellectual intensity. Whether he communicates information or talks about the ordinary business of living, he seeks to construct a sense and a perception of life, widening and sharpening our contacts with existence. Whatever his concern in a context – literary, academic, social, cultural, anecdotal, historical, personal, or spiritual – P. Raja writes with experience. He is motivated by the inner need to live more deeply and fully, and with greater awareness to know the experience of others and to better his own experience. He shares with readers his observations and evaluations, and thus, creates new experiences for them, well-formed and focused, imparting a better understanding of our world. For example:

“The notion that ‘poets are born’ is dead and gone. Inspiration, creativity and talent have become misnomers as far as poetry is concerned. The saying now is ‘poets are made’. Yes. Poets are made, not by any intensive study of the masters of that art, but by the all powerful Lord MONEY.”

(‘If you have got the money they will make you a poet’)

“It is said that wise men read books but only the fools buy them. Beware! There are many wise men around.”

(‘Book Snatchers’)

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” wrote T.S. Eliot. But what the Christian poet could show in a handful, Hindus could with just a pinch of ash. All that one has to do is to go to a temple and stretch one’s palm before the poojari.”

(“Fear freezes up the heart of life’)

“While the conditions of women are changing all over the world, nothing dramatic has happened to Indian women. Blamed be our culture.”

(‘Women’s Lib. and the Indian psyche’)

“I have seen my father shouting at my mother whenever he found in his food a long hair immaterial of its ownership. It took days for my mother to cool down. I too have shouted at my wife for that same flimsy reason and got back nicely when the hair was a small one. What we say to others matters little while what really matters is how we say it. This is applicable to all those who care for human relationship and want to establish a pleasant form of rapport with others.”

(‘Small Things Matter’)

‘Female mosquitoes are real vampires. None can escape their wrath-filled tiny needle like sucker. Many of these winged vampires get killed when we are awake. And when we are asleep they administer slow poison to us. Without our knowledge we barter away a few c.c. of our precious blood for the wide variety of diseases they hawk. And that happens almost every night. The only consolation the scientists offer (let us have faith in them) is that the mosquitoes do not have AIDS for sale. Praised by Allah, Jesus and the Hindu Trinity.”

(‘Mosquitoes are thankless creatures’)

As obvious from these random examples, P. Raja uses his literary skills – sarcasm, irony, wit, humour – as a gear to step up the intensity and increase the range of everyday experience, analyzing, synthesizing, and clarifying it. His success lies in letting us participate in his personal experiences and viewpoints rooted in humanity.

P. Raja appeals to me as one of the few excellent essayists in India today. He is unpretentious, straightforward, neat, and convincing, whatever his chosen theme for reflection: man, woman, mother, god, animal, trees, nature, history, religion, mind, anger, desire, fear, smile, sincerity, patience, love, women’s liberation, kolam, folklores, epitaphs, book-reading, story-telling, or use of English in public domain etc. He writes with feeling, commitment, and maturity, without wasting words or becoming vulgar, hackneyed, pedantic, periphrastic or pleonastic.

Reading P. Raja’s essays --personal and serious – with sprinklings from the Bible, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Mahabharata, Panchatantra, Thirukural, Indian and European history, and literary tomes is an enlightening experience. One comes across wit and wisdom aimed at promoting human values and moral behaviour based on dharma.

With its quality paper, flawless printing, attractive get-up, and moderate price, Love Teaches Even Asses to Dance competes with the best from any multinational press in India or overseas. Readers will find the book appealing for its balanced content. P. Raja deserves kudos for his excellence in a genre very few recent Indian English writers have made their presence noted.

Reviewed by R.K.SINGH

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