FOREWORD by I.K.Sharma
I was quite surprised when Professor R.K. Singh asked me to introduce his new book of poems, Sexless Solitude And Other Poems, to readers. Instantly I said no. The reason : I had edited, not long ago, a book of critical articles on his poetry. But my pleas didn`t work with him. At last, I persuaded myself to do his bidding.
Well, critics of literature more than once have used De Quincy`s conservative definition of literature i.e. the literature of knowledge and the literature of power, in support of their argument. The function of the first is to preach and that of the second, to move. But where to put the literature that doesn`t like to do either? And, here is a poet who dislikes to preach and who abhors to move, any one. His aim, so it seems, is to make his reader think along with him , to be his co-traveller in the journey of his poetic life.
Well-read in the important literary classics of India, well-trained in the use of English language, well-versed in modern western thoughts, Dr. Singh articulates his perceptions, his experiences, in a very unconventional way. Not at all shy of using words associated with sex , he puts them to different uses in his poems. It makes purists of literature believe that the poet is a shameless hawker of sex in the street of literature. His poems, they think, have soiled the white house (not the White House) of literature. Such persons in fact suffer from agoraphobia. The poet reminds them:
“don’t condemn me if I am not white”
The word ‘white’ as used here is not to be taken literally. It has wider implications in the context of the poem. Asserts the poet again:
“I love Him through the bodies He made”
After all , poets are not a uniform-wearing brigade marching in one direction. They have no love for grooves, they have no reverence for authority. By adopting different literary strategies they attempt to clarify the world around them and also clarify their own attitude toward the world they are in.
A poet of modern sensibility, Dr. Singh has drawn inspiration from diverse literatures of the world, from the English-speaking to the non-English, such as Japan, France, Chile, Yugoslavia etc. Being a literary bastard (as most present-day writers are), he reacts strongly against groups that are reluctant to change themselves despite the changes (paradigm shift) brought about by technology. Illustrative of this fact is the poem “Holi”.
I didn’t keep the fast
there’s no Naw Ruz for me
there’s no Holi either
I ceased to be a Hindu
long ago christians too
doubted my faith and love
moslems are too rigid
to admit a secular
now alone I watch
the tragedy of colours:
I celebrate difference
and freedom of spirit
but they question my birth
call me a hypocrite
Here is the predicament of a modern man who faces medieval psyche in the democratic, technological, age. Despite the persona’s embrace of broad liberal humanism he is not acceptable to any community or group of believers (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and others) because of their obsession with themselves. This kind of narrow loyalty negates all features of modernity and keeps them chained to obscurantism . ( And obscurantism is nothing but saying no to the spirit of inquiry.) No group allows its secrets or property to be touched or violated by the new culture of science or liberal humanism. In a way, it is a sort of joint declaration of their utter naivety, of their religiosity, and of their provincialism. Put simply: they do not like to see themselves in the larger context of the world.
Under the poet’s lens are all the sins that beset India: politicians who ‘idolize criminals’ and who ‘ritually smuggle power/ to perpetuate wanton rut/of intellectual sodomy/ crying foul after checkmate’ and gurus who ‘can overcome /her migraines making love/lying on top of her partner/ and himself workshops/ with one, two, three devotees. (Note the new use of workshops as verb.)
This apart, the poet-professor is the only humanist in his university where technology and management reign supreme. Woe to a person who doesn’t get infected by these mighty twin forces of our times . He does , and it gets amply reflected in the making of his poems.
Poetry, then, is the art of managing an idea , an experience, a perception with the help of essential words . The wild flow of words is an anathema to it. The ‘spontaneous overflow’ definition of poetry should not work in the high days of technology. Even the great poet who defined it that way did not practice it in the making of his own poetic compositions. A look at the popular poems like ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and ‘Daffodils’ should convince a reader. Inept hands in our land have often used his definition in their defence. As a result, they have given us inferior poems.
Dr. Singh manages to tell his experience , bitter or sweet, mostly bitter, in minimum possible words. He would eliminate all the non-essentials from his composition. He would chiefly exploit, like Hemingway, the vigour of verb in his poems, and avoid the pomp and vanity of adjective altogether. This way of writing makes his poems far different from the poems we often come across in Indian-English poetry magazines .
In contrast to many poets who peddle poor prose cut into lines of poetry, Dr. Singh’s poems are sober, mature, and disciplined. Though written in free verse they are yet compact. Neither the words nor emotions go astray. No cliché exists there. Only the power of plain words on display.
In essence, his poetry is not for the soft-headed. It will scare the puritans and taunt the purists because the poet lifts the so-called unclean words of the street and gives them a new dignity. In the history of Indian English poetry, I guess, it has been attempted for the first time on such a scale. No doubt it has its dangers. But in the borderless world of today many buffers are at hand. And to the one who has chosen the uncommon path in style and language it acts as the air of spring that drives him to the house of his mate, every day, every hour.
I hope the new generation of readers, though lost in the hell of cyber world, will find time to go through the book and celebrate with the poet the freedom of spirit.
Jaipur, September 1, 2008