EROTIC CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE POETRY OF SHIV K. KUMAR AND R.K.SINGH: A COMPARATIVE STUDY
--Jindagi Kumari & Rajni Singh
Erotic consciousness in the context of art means an artist’s understanding of sexuality and his representations of arguments, circumstances, feelings and pictures that are sexually arousing. Sex and sexuality is very much a part of human life and human thoughts. The representation of erotic is thus a natural phenomenon of art and literature since eons. Erotic consciousness has been worked out by artists of all periods and all genres and naturally reflects itself in the works of Indian English poets.
Both Shiv K. Kumar and R. K. Singh, the contemporary Indian English poets, provide sufficient scope to the representation of erotic in their poetry. They touch upon various related aspects such as womanly charm, marriage, divorce, betrayal, promiscuity and prostitution in order to depict attraction between sexes, arousal of sexual desire and sexual union. Nevertheless, their depiction of erotic situations, scenes, images and ideas show their intention to reach the higher objective of understanding human nature: the self and society.
Shiv K. Kumar reflects the idea as he shows his awareness to a new language that is “the language of body” and employs it for “a full exposure of body and mind”1. R. K. Singh, too, finds in the representation of sex or “play of body”, a means to draw upon the “the beauty in darkness”2.
So far as the aspect of erotic is concerned there is a remarkable resemblance between the two poets. For instance, both the poets draw upon the beauty of woman as a source of charm and attraction. Woman has been a central theme of erotica since ages. This fact is due to the natural tendency of man to be attracted to the opposite sex and is closely associated with his desire to enjoy the beauty and charm.3 It is with the similar tendency that Kumar and Singh portray the pictures of women highlighting their carnal beauty.
Shiv K. Kumar extensively employs the technique of expressing the woman’s beauty in a number of poems; an instance is the sketch of the archetype of woman “Eve” in the poem “Birth of Eve.” Here Eve is depicted as a highly sensuous figure:
. . . a bosom with the two
shoulders like mute doves
lips like two petals peeled off a gold cup
eyes that spellbind a pansy
and in her gait the swing of dancing peacock.4
(Trapfalls in the Sky 71)
The verse outlines the voluptuous charm of Eve who seems to be the personification of the Adam’s vision of beauty, and has been created to relieve him from his “aching loneliness”. Through the description of Eve’s beauty the poet acknowledges the physical excellence of woman and accepts that it is this carnal perfection that enacts as a “stimulus”: “. . . crescent of your lips / tempts even muezzin to break up his / fast before moonrise5 (Woolgathering 48). The lines celebrate the sensuous charm of a woman. Here, the reference to “even muezzin” breaking up “his fast” is suggestive of the stirring influence of woman’s charm. But it also underlies the idea of woman as a symbol of physicality. She is deemed as physically tempting, sensitizing, distracting object. This idea is evinced in the poets generalization of woman as someone who is “preordained” to generate “only” little cyclone in “iris”. The word “only” indicates that the appeal of woman is limited only to the senses.
R. K. Singh also portrays woman’s beauty and depicts her intoxicating charm in a number of poems; an instance is the following verse:
Is it the perfume
or your body…
that makes the night
Your lush lips
your fragrance radiates
flowers and water
can I seek
in your breasts? (My Silence and Other Selected Poems 138)
Here, one finds the nude charm of the beloved tantalizing the speaker who helplessly seeks a communion with the beautiful lady. However, Singh also perceives woman as “a tree,” “green and wide,” “abundantly dressed,” “overflowing,” as one, who “blesses all,” in her cool shade (My Silence and Other Selected Poems 35). It is here that R. K. Singh seems to opt for a distinguished track. He adds another dimension to the beauty and nudity of woman as he finds it capable of leading one to the attainment of spirituality. This is why in the company of woman the poet feels “nearer God” and “blessed.”
This spiritual dimension of beauty and nudity is absent in Kumar’s women. Kumar, instead, stresses upon the physical, bodily and worldly woman and doesn’t show any inclination for woman as a means to upward movement. Women in his poems may be epitome of beauty but only in physical terms. They never seem to reflect any divinity and godly traits: they are calculative, wanton slaves to passion and as prone to weaknesses and fall as men are.
Further, Kumar seems to invert the conventional role of woman and depicts them as aggressive, violent and dominant personality. In other words, she is represented as possessing all the qualities conventionally attributed to males. Sex to her seems to be a weapon to attack the males; the idea is very much illustrated in the view of the speaker in the poem “Voices at Night”6 where he remembers a woman who once “ambushed “him with her “red throat”. The poet shows his awareness to the new awakening among women of their sexuality. The poet also seems to laugh at this development when he presents sea as woman and questions her potency: “. . . does she know / that her thrust into the sand / could never impregnate it? (Thus Spake the Buddha 35). The lines are deeply ironical. Here, sea is symbolic of woman and sand signifies male (as sterile).However the poet seems to indicate that merely adopting the other’s (men) form will not lead to creativity. The poet highlights the utter limitation of female sexuality, creativity or femininity in the absence of male sexuality, and masculinity. Kumar in his anti-feminist mood seems to present male as the victim of female lust. The poet thus exposes us to a radical erotic perspective. Also the poet reduces women as mere “. . . a pair of thighs / pirouetting into any bed” and:
. . . a pair of feet
churning red grapes
into wine . . .
Kali! 7 (Cobwebs in the Sun 37)
Thus woman is depicted as a mere sexual object involving violent instincts. In Kumar, woman may be “concrete,” “personal,” and even “delightful,” but she is never “greater than all” (My Silence and Other Selected Poems 139). The poet evinced a very critical, negative, and skeptic attitude towards women: the same iconoclastic and unconventional attitude dominates the poet’s representation of marriage: Kumar finds marriage to be based essentially on female sexuality. The idea is presented in the poem “Gynous Truth”: “The nuptial truth is gynous . . .” (Cobwebs in the Sun 7). The poet here seems to invert the feminist projection of the idea where they find marriage contract as founded upon . . . physical appropriation of men.8 The poet illustrates the idea in the background of the sultry description: “. . . besides a muffled lampshade / the taut nipples / bend the vanquished muscles” (Cobwebs in the Sun 7).
Here “the taut nipples” is symbolic of female sexuality which is shown as causing dissipation to the male sexuality as represented by the symbol “vanquished muscles.” A similar image is available in R. K. Singh’s poem illustrating somewhat similar idea: “dance on a taut rope / with fragile legs . . .” (My Silence and Other Poems 57).
However, depiction of inability in sexual terms is counterbalanced in R. K. Singh by the equal illustration of fulfilling and satisfying sexual union between married couples as in the verse:
When I inhale in
your mouth and exhale stroking
hairs or caressing
I ride you into joy and
make you hail the morning like earth (My Silence and Other Poems 57)
The explicit description of physical communion in the lines conveys the idea of “Sexuality” in “mutuality” as the lovers seem to identify their joy and pain with each other. Unlike Kumar, R. K. Singh, therefore, seems to celebrate woman; sex; marriage as integrated to the principles of beauty and creation. Also, in contrast to Kumar, the poet intersperses philosophical references in his erotic poems. This he does to substantiate his own views of Eros, according to which the harmony of the “basic sex”, “lingam and yoni” is aimed to take us to the higher level of awareness. To R. K. Singh sex act holds supreme beauty; it is similar to the rising of “lotus” “through mud”.
R. K. Singh, however, is not satisfied with the induction of the principle of harmony on ideological level. He also stresses at its applicability in practical life when he says:
Love is my prison
and freedom both
in her presence
my wish her wish . . . (My Silence and Other Poems 57)
Such depiction of complete harmony in married life is a far cry from Kumar’s treatment of sexual responses within marriage. R. K. Singh however is not blind to the unavoidable disputes between the partners resulting into sexual indifference and refers to the “narrow discussions” causing to end “without consummation”. This idea is also evinced in husband’s insistence followed by wife’s rejection in the lines: “She put him off each time / he caressed her or / tried to kiss or crossleg (My Silence and Other Selected, Poems 69)
The poet also seems to hint at the various ways one involves in sex: one of which is talking sex as the speaker in the following verse shares lewd joke with his partner:
. . . man’s love and hatred
concentrates on the crevice
though he watches face
she laughs when I say
love and beauty is nothing
but sabre and sheath. (My Silence and Other Selected Poems69)
In addition, the poet acknowledges that phase of sexual life where one starts losing vigour and consequently feels detached with sex as the speaker in the poem 19 (My Silence and Other Poems 144) finds himself as an “octopus” who “squeeze(s)” his beloved with “all fingers” and “set”(s) “sail”. However, he is “shipwrecked”. Here, setting of sail is indicative of the attempt to sexual union whereas shipwrecked signifies the eventual failure of the act. This realization of decreasing sexuality is also indicated in the poem where the persona “smell” (s) his “boneless semen” (My Silence and Other Poems 73). The failure in sex act caused by old age leads to dissatisfaction and disgust. Such disgust in the intimacy with opposite sex may lead one to “self sex”. The poet, quite radically indicates the convenience and harmlessness of “Masturbation” in the verse:
“when it’s not a girl or wife / sexploitation is no sin . . .” (My Silence and Other Poems 106).
R. K. Singh thus acknowledges issues related to sex that are eternal as well as existential. The poet highlights both the positive and negative aspects of sex including various sexual concerns of modern individuals. However, in spite of the realization of the darker side of it the poet asserts his trust in sex as an object of beauty and freedom: this concept is signified in the following verse where the speaker visualizes the image of mother in the image of his beloved wife and desires: “to rest in . . . lap / and drink from . . . golden breasts / hide . . . in the curtain of . . . hair / shield . . . in the grove of . . . flesh” (My Silence and Other Poems 101). Here, images such as “lap” and “golden breasts,” “curtain of your flesh” are highly evocative and reflect the idea of union of erotic with spiritual.
On the contrary, in Shiv K. Kumar sex inside marriage gets a purely worldly treatment. Moreover, it is largely projected in association with pain and suffering. Kumar does not view sex in black or white, or, negative or positive, rather employs portrayal of Eros as a means to examine the validity of human values concerning personal, familial, and social obligations.
Kumar tries to portray the agony arising from the realities of life and depicts sex too, as integrated to this pain of existence. This aspect has been slightly touched upon in R.K. Singh whereas in Shiv K. Kumar it has been explored in depth. In Kumar “Love in Separation” seems to be modified as “love in betrayal”. This fact justifies the dominance of negative attitude and bitter tone in his representation of Eros.
Kumar often speaks through the mouthpiece of a betrayed husband or lover and conveys various phases of suffering arising from the realization of separation. His persona often lapses into the memories of the pleasure of sex, anticipates the lost love; feels jealous; and reflects on physical diffidence. An illustration to this idea can be found in the poem “Separation” where the poet anticipates his life after undergoing separation from his wife. However, he also anticipates the pitiable condition of his sexual urge that will remain unreciprocated; “on the periphery of fire zone”. The poet conveys the idea of dormancy of his physical desires as he refers to the ‘cool, hollow cone of the candle’s flame”. He also is reminded of his thriving sex life in the past when he experienced: “. . . pulsating shadows on the walls / always chimed in with our heart throbs.” 9 (Articulate Silences 12)
Further, another betrayed husband assumes the “fifth dimension” of his beloved who could not be satisfied with his masculinity and leaves him for somebody else. Here, the expression is highly symbolic and aims at conveying the magnitude of female sexuality that seem to him unusual and unfathomable. However, this stage of betrayal was followed by the game of seduction in which the lady had been involved since marriage. The Speaker in the poem reflects how he remained mesmerized by the charm of his wife who had “already started eye catching a stranger.” Such presentation, where husband depicts love game of his wife with somebody else, is normally unusual.
Women in Kumar are the primary sex seekers and are presented as more promiscuous than men. This promiscuity leads them to a state where they seem to be least concerned of their relationship; their sexual urges overpower their sense of commitment not only to their husband but also to their children. This idea is observed in the verse where a child narrates his mother’s affair. The child finds the mother rising “in freshets of rose bloom at a stranger’s knock/ when father is away.” (Cobwebs in the Sun 27) The child also anticipates the reckless behaviour of his mother as he assumes “fireballs at her bedside window.” Lately he finds his mother standing:
. . . at the doorstep
with that man tucked away
in her bra-pouch
halcyoned. (Cobwebs in the Sun 27)
The poet seems to use more explicit sexual expression when he is more critical.
Shiv K. Kumar’s presentation of erotic context is quite novel as in the verse where the husband speaker acknowledges the lover of his wife as his co-sharer in sexual terms. The poet refers to the woman as a meeting point between two men when he uses the expression “your saliva is on my lips” addressing the lover of his wife. However, there is remarkable difference in the sexual experience of each of them; the lover is allowed to be the “prime mover” so he “rose like some Giraffe whereas the husband, the neglected one, felt as if slouched “over worms.”
This negligence on the part of the wife leads the husband to think of break up. He decides to pass “through the turnstile” or the bondage of marriage and enjoy freedom in the manner of ‘a rider less horse”. The detached husband now fails to find any charm in his wife’s body which appears to be dead like: “The primeval rocks / corpulent as frozen whales” (Cobwebs in the Sun 17). Eros in Shiv K. Kumar, thus, seems to undergo considerable permutation and is brought down from the pedestal of its sensuous form providing aesthetic pleasure to the level where it gets integrated to disgust and ugliness. This representation of Eros in Kumar can be viewed in the light of Alcibiades speech on physical love in Plato’s Symposium. He interprets love as: “. . . a hang up, a trap, a fixation and not at all ethereal not aimed at the good or any god or virtue.”10
Besides reflecting upon the core erotic issues Kumar also “eroticizes” social contexts and thus relates his erotic consciousness to his social consciousness: depiction of plight of prostitutes; call girls and sex-workers are aspects that appear in both the poets. R. K. Singh in some poems refers to the sexual disease and how sex workers become victims of the surfeit of sex.
Kumar also depicts quite revealingly how hunger for sex and hunger for food are co-related and act as an instrument for the thriving business of prostitution. The fire of the belly forces young girls to learn the art of seduction: “In the market place / little girl rehearse / catching wild falcons with hairpins . . .” ( “Trapped”, Cobwebs in the Sun). The same issue is handled by R. K. Singh where he talks about the plight of women working as call girls and prostitutes in a number of poems, for instance, the poet depicts a prostitute suffering with sex contagious disease: “. . . white and yellow germs/ festering her womb . . .” (My Silence and Other Selected Poems 143). Singh, moreover, uses sex imagery in a number of poems for criticizing disintegration of social and political values when he refers to “….Delhi’ Circus/ suffer midnight lust with rites of consummation . . . ”11
In Kumar there is an exclusive example of this kind:
Vasectomies of all genital urges
for love and beauty
he often crosses floors
as his wife leaped across the bed.
(Articulate Silences 25)
The poet here exposes the politician’s lack of sensibility of love and beauty as he reveals his inability at sexual front.
Another remarkable aspect of Kumar’s representation of erotic is his way of putting erotic feelings in contrast to ascetic/religious ideas. An example is the poem” Baptism of fire” where the speaker is constantly involved in erotic thought as he is sitting for his sacred thread ceremony that is ironically aimed to “control/ all the tigers in your blood stream and steer it to the cosmic sea.” The poet seems to laugh at the idea as he present the speaker who thinks:
I touch Sheila’s
nascent breast under the mango tree
I burn when my mouth holds
her scarlet throat, till she goes
limp in my arms like soufflé
and the earth spins on a bull’s horn
for a new gyre.” (Trapfalls in the Sky 21)
So far as the style is concerned R. K. Singh’s erotic poems lack symbolic representation and are more explicit in terms of expressions and images.
Kumar’s erotic poetry is quite evocative as he develops an impressive style of presentation by mixing suggestiveness and explicitness. R. K. Singh, however, seems more direct, bold and more candid than Kumar in the use of erotic words, images, the employment of themes, situations and settings. Kumar freely employs words such as “nipples,” “orgasm,” “navel,” “thighs,” “breast,” “breasts,” “lips,” “kisses,” “cheeks,” “tongue,” “legs,” “vulva,” etc. Singh goes a step further by including in this existing sex vocabulary a number of candid expressions such as “ejection,” “ejaculation,” “copulation,” “consummation,” “busts,” dick,” “fuck,” etc. Interestingly, these words appropriately fit into the context without generating any baser or pornographic sense.
There is a remarkable similarity in the use of certain expressions, settings and ideas in the two poets: R. K. Singh says “Best poetry is a woman.” Kumar also expresses a desire to read the face of a woman like poem.
Again, in one of the poems, Singh seems to suggest women “not” to “complicate” but “compliment” “wanting love ” Kumar seems to present a contrastive situation:
“A man should come to his woman whole— / not when the mind / in a perverted sunflower. . .” (Cobwebs in the Sun 43). Both the poets in their treatment of woman and sex seem to be partial: they reflect the male sensibility: their pain and suffering without any effort to understand the female psyche in terms of sexual relationship. Kumar largely exposes the disharmony by criticizing, mocking and laughing at it.
Thus to conclude Shiv K. Kumar is more akin to the western thoughts and ideologies in his depiction of Eros. His poetry showcases disharmony between the sexes and the lack of mutuality in the sexual act whereas Singh’s poetry attempts a celebration of the Indian principle of harmony in sex.
1. Kumar, Shiv K. Losing My Way: Poems. Delhi: Peacock Books, 2008. p.17
2. Singh, R. K. My Silence and Other Selected Poems. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1994. p.102
3. Tiwary, R S. Sur Ki Sringar Bhavna. Delhi: Parimal Publication, 1999. p.6
4. Kumar, Shiv K. Trapfalls in the Sky. Madras: Macmillan India Limited,
5. Kumar, Shiv K. Woolgathering. Mumbai: Disha Books, 1998. p.48
6. Kumar, Shiv K. Thus Spake the Buddha. Delhi: UBS Publishers’Distributors,
7. Kumar, Shiv K. Cobwebs in the Sun. New Delhi: Tata Macgraw-Hill, 1974. p.37
8. Mottier, Veronique. Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction .Oxford :Oxford University Press, 2008
9. Kumar, Shiv K. Articulate Silences. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1970. p.12
10. Solomon, Robert C. True to our Feelings. Oxford University Press, 2007. p.60
11. Singh, R K. Sexless Solitude and Other Poems. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2009. p.22.