Expenditure, Insolvency and Recovery in Manmohan’s ‘The Morsels of Ignominy” ( ज़िल्लत की रोटी)

On May 16, 2016 by admin

manmohan

_____________________

Prasanta Chakravarty

The poems that make the collection ज़िल्लत की रोटी—The Morsels of Ignominy (Rajkamal Prakashan: 2006) must count as one of the finest that has come from the subcontinent in the past few decades. The collection itself is rather late in the career of its poet: Manmohan, who has been writing poetry since the 1970s. Much of that remains unpublished. There is a kind of near mythic status that is often ascribed to the poet—for his rather oxymoronic existence—as a recluse and as a rooted social and organic intellectual at the same time. It does not fall in my ambit, nor is it my intention, to speculate on his influence on the Hindi poetic and thinking world.

My interest lies elsewhere—with one particular aspect of his poetics, namely, a form of general economy that he deploys in his poetic language. By the singular use of a particular form of expenditure is he able to effect an ascetic starkness which is the seal and sign of this particular collection. There are a hundred odd poems in this collection. But I shall concentrate on a few representative ones.

The opening poem of the collection, that sets the stage, reads like this:

इन शब्दों में

__________

इन शब्दों में

वह समय है जिसमें मैं रहता हूँ

 

ग़ौर करने पर

उस समय का संकेत भी यहीं मिल जाता है

जो न हो

लेकिन मेरा अपना है

 

यहाँ कुछ जगहें दिखाई देंगी

जो हाल ही में ख़ाली हो गई हैं

और वे भी

जो कब से ख़ाली पड़ा हैं

 

यही मेरा यक़ीन हैं

जो बाकि बचा रहा

 

यानी जो ख़र्च हो गया

वह भी यहीं पाया जाएगा

 

इन शब्दों में

मेरी बची खुची याददाश्त हैं

 

और जो भूल गया है

वह भी इन्हीं में है

 

 

In These Words
___________

In these words

The time

In which I live

 

If one can discern,
The signs of that time could also be traced here

Which absent
Still are mine

One can see some spaces here
That have been vacated of late
And those too
Which are long left vacated

That is my belief
The leftover which is left

That is to say, those spent and expended
Will also be found here.

In these words
The vestiges of my memory

And whatever has been forgotten
Stay here too.

 

This is a meta-commentary about the poetry that is to come in the following pages, about the self of the poet and also about his times. The modernist minimalism works deftly. At the most outward level one can see how the self is scattered—across three vectors—the lyrical I, the historical I and the crafted words themselves. In the very first three lines these three coordinates are mapped: these words catch my time, which in turn is what makes me, declares the poet. A triangulation happens: Words. My time. And my self. This is my time—the contemporary. You may not see that time in a pronounced manner always in these pages but you can glimpse the vignettes, if you are a careful enough reader. But my time has not been smooth. It has been jagged and fractious. All solidarities, every promise, every friendship may not have been fulfilled. Hence, there are vacated spaces—both recently emptied and also other festering gashes. I walk in poetry therefore. And therefore the necessity of the distancing the lyrical I from the historically constructed I. Hence also, the necessity of poetry in the first place so that you, the reader, can have a sense of both history and my detached condition, filtered through the sieve of time in these poetic pronouncements.

It is immediately clear that the poet reserves a tremendous confidence in the permanence of the art-form—in words and language that can capture and husband time. It is only the enunciated words which are able to store memory as well as etch that which is gone. This is a singular claim: that the words will be able to capture that which is not there anymore: the ever-receding I and my receding times. How can poetry capture an economy of such bankruptcy?  Make sense of an endurance that is provided by the spaces that are left vacated? How does someone craft the poetics of this triangular exchange?

 

The Poetics of Inverted Equivalence

To have a sense of that process we must go back to the particular stanza in this poem which says:
यही मेरा यक़ीन हैं/जो बाकि बचा रहा

यानी जो ख़र्च हो गया/वह भी यहीं पाया जाएगा

That is my belief/The leftover which is left

That is to say, those spent and expended/Will also be found here.

 

In many of the poems in this collection, Manmohan works through a specific form of inversion and equivalency. Inversional symmetry is used in musical set practice. It relies on the concept that intervals and other sets of pitches are identical when inverted. The sets that are inverted can have remote connections to one another, but if the axis of symmetry is rightly measured and twisted, then one can draw equivalence in and through diametrically opposite modes or ideas.  Inversional equivalence can work if two conditions are fulfilled: one, an oblique or contrary motion should predominate. And two, the counterpoint must begin and end in a perfect consonance. In this case both the conditions are eminently fulfilled. And this is but one instance among numerous. The poet’s beliefs are often placed in and through a series of counterpoints in this collection.

In this case the remarkable inversion happens between what is leftover and what is spent. The inversional equivalence is drawn between what is gone and expended with whatever has been shored. This is a truly momentous claim—that which is salvaged is perfectly equitable to what has been depleted. There is no loss. No gain. The key metaphor of expenditure is something to be marked.

If we carefully look again at the poem now we shall see that this particular stanza about the belief of the poetic I persona lies at the pivotal position in the poem, balancing vacant spaces and unstable memory on either side of itself. We shall also notice that actually the whole poem is a symmetrical tapestry, constantly spinning itself into existence through a methodical mode of rapid inversions:

a) of present and absent time.

b) of recently vacated spaces/spaces emptied for a long time.

c) of remembrance/forgetting

Indeed the poem is about expenditure and husbanding of time. This economy of equivalence allows the poet to manage time and ongoing losses that could have accumulated unless spent the way the poet wants them to be spent. It also allows him to address the central theme of the collection: ignominy and indignity which can only be worked out through a constant evaluation of the economy of loss and gain, of a simultaneous imprinting of enriching and threatening one’s time and worth. The times are that of upheaval. The poet undertakes to simultaneously address the historical time and his constant rejection of the frenetic pace that has been responsible for ignominy in our personal lives. The economy of the language has to be therefore pitch-perfect.

 

Modes of Stock-Taking: Lacking, Lending, Measuring, Losing

The very idea of use-value can go in two directions. On the one hand it can mean a basic sense of austerity that shuns all exchange and excess. In this case, it stands against conspicuous consumption and the wastage of resources. On the other hand, the idea also implies that use and utility in the context of art means that individual efforts can be reduced to the processes of production and conservation. Most significantly: to productive social utility. What the idea of use and utility cannot fathom are the twin notions of unnecessary expenditure and incurring of willful loss. This is a second class of expenditure which is actually the one that is antithetical to consumption. In his perorations on the idea of general economy Georges Battaille has enumerated such unproductive expenditures in the following terms: “…luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity (i.e., deflected from genital finality) – all these represent activities which, at least in primitive circumstances, have no end beyond themselves.” These are not means to the end of production.

The principle of loss is the unconditional expenditure. Observe the fortunes of this poem:

आसानियां और मुश्किलें

_________________

न कहना आसान है

और कहना मुश्किल

 

लेकिन कहते चले जाना

न कहने जैसा है

और काफ़ी आसान है

 

इसी तरह न रहना आसान है

और रहना मुश्किल

 

लेकिन रहते चले जाना

न रहना जैसा है

और काफ़ी आसान है

 

चाहें तो सहने के बारे में भी

ऐसा ही कुछ कहा जा सकता है

 

Ease and Difficulties

_________________

Not saying is easy
And saying difficult

But to keep on saying
Is like not saying
And is quite easy

Likewise, not staying is easy

And staying difficult
But to keep on staying

Is like not staying
And is quite easy

About enduring too

Some such thing can be said

 

The syllogistic pattern is vital and vitally economical. Again, the spare tapestry is the deceptive edifice which hides a most difficult circulation of energy. There are three states of existence. Regulated through their particular mode of production. The first state: diffident and frugal. The second: forthright and fitting. And finally: profligate and extravagant. The first instance is that of articulation, which is about poetry too. One can be either numb or garrulous—which means the same condition of living. There is again an inversional equivalence between two opposite states of being. The optimal state of economy is the one that is just pure and straightforward telling. Is such a timely saying also a form an intervention? Intervening at the right time? Being forthright and unhesitant. Saying truth to power? Of not remaining silent. Which is also the most difficult of jobs? This optimal form of effecting expenditure of articulation is of vital interest in this collection.

Likewise, both overstaying and keeping a distance turns into the same thing. Both conditions miss the essential point about expending judiciously. But the telling crescendo is reached when the poem hints us about that vital test of existence itself: endurance. It is just a hint. The pattern is deliberately left incomplete. And an infinite chain is thus initiated. The very idea of endurance invites us to think about what it means to be part of two other conditions of existence which do not endure life’s sorrows and hardships: radical intolerance and keeping on suffering life’s travails as a given, merely as a passive victim. From a restrictive economy one moves to a general economy of accursed expenditure—through this very idea of well-measured endurance. Endurance is a condition that makes one resolved as long he knows exactly the difficult managing and husbanding of his existential condition. She must endure, keep a distance and yet must not keep on enduring passively.

Struggle and suffering is the lot who confronts a life of ignominy and she also has this much agency: to calibrate her expenditure of her time—joyful, melancholic or the time that passes in an even-keel. She must knowingly endure loss, which is a condition of time. One creates by means of loss. The question from a purely free agentic point of view will be: how can you actively endure? Are you not finally playing on to the hands of circumstances and time?

Let me make this point clearer. Metaphysics have defined two distinct ideas of how objects persist through time. Under one conception of how objects persist through time, objects are extended in time as they are extended in space. Just as a single point in space can contain only part of an extended object, a spatial part, so a single point in time can contain only part of a persisting object, a temporal part. The object fills time by having one temporal part after another, just as it fills space by having one spatial part next to another. An object that persists through time in such a manner is said to perdure (passive endurance).

Under the alternative conception, an object’s extension in time is different from its extension in space. Whereas only part of an object can be present at a single point in space, the object can wholly be present at a single point in time. An object that persists through time in this way is said to endure (actively). This form of endurance is always a negotiation with history. The lyrical I squares with the finitude of the historical I that is constantly making and breaking her. This is now she creates loss: by being able to connect her personal loss with the losses of other bankrupt people.

Poetry, these words on the pages then, could be a sacrificial form of expenditure. Like laughter or slumber. Sacrifice is not about any spiritual or personal act of righteousness but more about finding the right tone and meter and be utterly spendthrift in that mould. Sacrifice is a condition when our lyrical selves are in perfect sync with the losses of a community or a group of people who taste ignominy every single moment. We can then have an inkling of radical loss. If our articulations either turn into propaganda or into an excessive undirected activity, they fail to become poetry. Both are variants of a slavish existence—neither coming to terms with oneself or with one’s time. Optimal forms of articulation are therefore the only possible forms of poetry. Poetry is endurance where everything gives way. But such a form of endurance is rational and calibrated. Life and history shall condemn one to repeated ways of misery and despair, unless one knows the trick how to handle the economy of loss. The poet is giving us a glimpse of that magic trick of living life. To give away yourself paradoxically keeps yourself still—but that act must be done optimally. Only that shall allow us get over chance and ignominy. One allows ignominy to come into one’s life with its full brunt as one merges one’s self with the lots of millions of others who suffer similar kind of humiliation and indignity. All of these so that one can transcend time. But is it possible for poetry to transcend the loss and wastage that is the gift of  time?

Here is a companion poem—
एक आदमी

___________

एक आदमी

कम कहता है

और कम साँस लेता है

 

कम सुनता है

और कम देखता है

 

कम हसंता है

और कम रोता है

 

कम चलता है

और बार बार भूल जाता है

 

छोड़ देता है

और क्षमा कर देता है

 

एक आदमी रहता है

प्रियजन के बिना

और रह जाता है

 

One Man

_______

One  man
Speaks less
And breathes less

 

Hears less
And sees less

 

Smiles less
And cries less
Walks less
And returns

 

Remembers less
And forgets again and again
Quits

And forgives
One man lives

Without dear ones
And lives on.

 

The deepest sediments of sorrow can only be articulated by subtracting the superfluous. That is the kernel of lyric sensibility. And yet realization of sorrow is not merely about confronting the lyrical I and its fragmentation and distancing.  Sorrow is part of general economy by which the poet brings his self at par with his readers. Only then there is a sync and equilibrium between the self and the social. True to his initial wish in the opening salvo of this collection, the economy of dolor and despondency must be taken to a zone of nonchalance. This calculation takes us to the minimal. Such a minimal also takes us away from productive use-value. It is about successively minimizing expectations. A thought out and calibrated pruning of all that is outwardly communicative, exchangeable and therefore, superfluous. The poem is like a magic-funnel, a black hole in some distant galaxy that gradually sucks and siphons off all that is excess and excessive—those akin to the motifs of garrulousness and overstaying in the previous poem.

The first few stanzas are about curtailing the essential senses of life, not numbing them altogether, but giving them another direction perhaps? Speaking, breathing, hearing, seeing, smiling, crying, taking steps—all our most basic activities of living are willfully curtailed by this man. Step by step we approach the most robust state of lucid tranquility: the state of ataraxia, what Pyrrho and Epicurus had proposed long ago. At the basic level this is one way to achieve freedom from distress and worry.

Then a second set of more intangible expenditures: returning after the brief walk? Where does he return? To a secure place? A place secluded? Or is it a return to some form of residual utopia? The sanctum sanctorum of the lyric core self?

And then we reach the motif that recurs throughout the collection and holds it together: insolvency— getting rid of every shard of existence by spending all that is dear. A crucial bit towards that end is the careful consideration of what is to be forgotten and what remembered. The cost-benefit analysis is skewed towards gradual oblivion. But forgetting is a private act, which is not sufficient. The gashes and sins of our times also need to be forgiven. One must eventually refrain from competing, combating or consoling. Therefore one quits. Leaves silently, with no fanfare. That is to say one gradually curtails all significant roles that make up our relationship with other beings. So, after all the subtraction we also learn to live and carry on without what constitutes life: our dearest ones.

The force of the poem assumes a tremendous power in the iteration of effacement in the final line: और रह जाता है/ and stays thus. The pronouncement comes almost as an afterthought. On face value it seems as an acknowledgement of existence minus life in spite of carrying on with other sensory activities. It would then be a simple poem of despair. It is only after re-reading the line that we realize the sheer quanta and force of the loss that is being underlined here. Expenditure leads to a stoic recovery instead of despair. For this hum of a fundamental insolvency is one constant routine in our lives, especially prominent among those who live life most. This gradual attainment of minimal living is a permanent state. There is no way that it can be remedied in the future.  In the deepest level the most active form of life finds fulfillment in shearing off all superfluous engagements in both public and private life.

And that is the state of utter and complete insolvency.

 

Precarity and Insolvency

At the bedrock of The Morsels of Ignominy is the question of value. How does a tireless cultural thinker and organic being like Manmohan arrive at poetry? Conversely, how does a poet with such an intimate and lyrical sensibility of life address the question of justice and political economy? How is he able to make sense of his times? There are some poems which are of more pronounced political colour in the collection. For example there are subtle and sharp critical meditations on the nuances of race (काला लड़का/Black Boy), old age (कोई रास्ता नहीं/ No Path Ahead), ills of nationalism (हमारा जातीय गौरव/ Our National Pride and चर्बी महोत्सव/Carnival of Grease), casualness of news reports (खबरें/News), impersonality of godhead (ईश वन्दना/In Praise of God), on heritage and democracy (भारतीय संस्कृति/ Indian Heritage and  बचे खुचे लोकतंत्र में/Within a Leftover Democracy) and so forth.  These show his investment in and disquiet with diverse social ills. Indeed investment begets disquiet and vice versa.

But let us concentrate on the more rarified and difficult ones.

On the one hand: the immaterialization of the labour force, of those who survive indignity, means they suffer the autonomization of abstract value production from the physical interaction of beings. From this point of view Marx’s theory of value based on the concept of abstract work, means that abstraction through subsumption is at the core of taking us away from our material relations. Life gradually turns aleatory, floating and non-referential, markers that we are noticing after the 1980s in a more liberalized India, the times of poets like Manmohan.

On the other hand, as Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi reminds us:“Money and language have something in common: they are nothing and they move everything. They are nothing but symbols, conventions, flatus vocis, but they have the power of persuading human beings to act, to work, to transform physical things.” It is only that poetry is not ordinary language. The destinies of poetry and money do not coincide since there is an excess of expenditure in poetry. The nature of abstraction in each is quite different. Poetry is the return of the non-exchangeable and to our sensual existence. It would be important to underline that non-exchangeable expenditure is a thought out process for the poetic subjectivity. The non-rational is not the irrational or primal. It is still optimal. Sensual expenditure works itself out via its own rules and ways. It is not pathological or deviant. It is only that the logics of pecuniary investment are not able to follow other forms of referentiality, another system of communication. Manmohan is deeply aware of the formal emotional materiality of the poetic language.

The times that Manmohan wishes to capture—the contemporary times of increasing precarity, is also the inner time within each one of us who are fed the morsels of indignity day in and day out. Precarity, as we know, is a rarified stage of alienation but that to eventually happens because the sensual and social body of the cognitive workers has been separated from the daily activity of production. This new alienation of our times is based on separation, on the rapid virtualization of social relations. Therefore our new alienations take the form of psychic suffering, panic, depression, and a suicidal tide.

इतिहास की द्वन्द्वात्मकता

______________________

जितना आप बोलते जाते है

मैं चुप होता जाता हूँ

 

मेरा भाषा छीनकर

आप उसे लगभग बुलडोज़र

बना कर घूमते है

 

कभी कभी जब मुझे

देख लेते है  “कौन है बे , चल भाग यहाँ से

अरे बोलता नहीं

क्या गूंगा हैं ? ”

 

अपने हिस्से का शर्म  भी

आप क्यों उठायेँ

उसे मैं ही उठा लेता हूँ
The Dialectic of History

__________________
The more you keep on pronouncing
The more I turn mute

Plundering my language
Almost turning it into a bulldozer
You roam about

Sometimes when you
Notice me “What fella is this?
Fuck off! Speak up man!
Mute, are ya?”

Why bother about
The sorrows of your portion
Let me lug that too

 

This is not merely an overturning of the Hegelian dialectics to its Marxist historical materialist counterpart (which it is), but also a return to the internal poesis of mutual recognition of the master and the ignominious slave. The operative emotion is shame and ignominy. It is the lowest ebb of existence when the master’s shame is transferred to the slave. He takes up the dual burden of an internal dialectic, such is the level of his indignity. But is master ever ashamed in such a hierarchical relationship? Can he afford to recognize sorrow?  Is the poet thinking historically?

However, in such circumstances, there is no other way for poetry but to foment a quiet insurrection, which is what this book accomplishes.

Insurrection then might mean at once a rising up through a stock taking of the times; it also must deploy the full potencies of each actor passing through history. The actor, the I, is the general intellect of our times. The potencies of the actor then could be conjoined to the collective suffering and intelligence of a whole network. Does this economy of general intellect fall outside of capitalism’s reach? This is a central question to which we shall come back anon.

A particular mode of minimal and curtailed sensibility then may reactivate our living and political actions. This mode that Manmohan deploys in his poetry, as I understand it, tries to decelerate time and thereby decelerate the info-rhythm of the fragility of our precarious existence, of those who are forced to partake in the morsels of ignominy. Let me give you a few more instances:

One of his poems, again on memory, ends with these memorable lines:

सिर्फ बोलता रहा

या सिर्फ सुनता रहा

ठीक ठीक याद नहीं

Did I keep on talking
Or did I keep on listening
Very clearly I do not recall
It immediately makes us realize the futility of vacant communication. It also shows us an obstinate strain of thought that embraces failure as mode of success.  It is that of trying to find a location that is outside of the available.  A vantage. Sometimes that place is clear articulation (साफ शब्द), sometimes correct modes of resolution (समायोजन) but most of the time, it signifies a remarkable mode of absent-presence. In another poem, again about one solitary person who, even as he walks, keeps away from the highways of life. His mad demeanor is sufficient to evoke laughter and derision. As we reach the conclusion, the poet weaves an image that is startling:

कुछ दूर से यह एक धब्बा नज़र आता है

थोड़ा ज़्यादा दूर से वह भी नहीं

From a distance he looks like a smudge
From a bit more distance not that too

This is an image that hits you with its determinate singular starkness.  This is the limit of precarity: which is another name for insolvency. In a way, the poems are about a certain vagrancy of existence. There is a kind of repeatability, a refrain like theme that suffuses these poems. We come back to a series of singularities so that we can map time better. Since a uniformity of existence (this idea of premature consensus Manmohan beautifully chisels in another poem titled सहमति का युग/The Age of Consensus) is cancelling out the enunciative possibilities of polysemy, gesture and voice, the poet espouses spending all reserves of expenditure so that one is left only with the power of insolvency that will never be repaid.  As Wittgenstein, thinking of the relationship between subject and language had long ago posited: “the subject does not belong to the world, rather it is a limit to the world.” That does not mean you quit social communication. It is actually a constant investment in the social that has made this mode possible. The possibilities of the extension of the poetic language depends on the consistency of the lyrical subjective I, and the extension of the world depends on the potency of the historical I (the poet)’s ability to handle language. A successful negotiation of historical time, lyrical subjectivity and language will lead to what can be called emergence— and a new form takes place and appears before one’s senses. This emergence is a kind of becoming, not necessarily any readymade, palliative balm of progress, like an ordinary vanguard poet may have used in solidarity with those who suffer indignity. Such an emergence indeed does happen once you travel through this collection. But before that, a caveat…

 

Autonomy and Commitment

One of the loveliest of poems in the collection is called जगह के बारे में(About Place). After ruminating about empty, filled up and other forms of middle spaces, the poem tantalizingly concludes thus: फिर भी हम एक जगह  को जानते है जो बच गई है/लेकिन आपको बताएँगे नहीं—and yet, there is a place that has survived, but I shall not tell you about it.

One of the modes of modernist poetry has been a kind of self-reflective usury: a kind of solipsism that must lead to celebration of imagistic and symbolic parthenogenesis of the lyrical self. Since we are talking about a particular dispositio (an arrangement) in Manmohan’s poetry that carefully negotiates among history, language and the self, it is important to speculate about this बची हुई जगह (the residual place) that appears again and again in this collection. Within a space of social upheaval and precarity which location is residual that has survived? And what could be significance of a socially committed poet to look for a residual space in the first place?

The mode of general economy that we have been surveying leads essentially to insolvency. As readers, we encounter a repeated experience of self-immolation. This bid, of making oneself oblivious is what makes the core of the book at one level. That is the purest space for the lyrical I that we encounter. This utterly humiliated I could become self indulgent unless handled with a surer historical sensibility. The sacrifice of poetry may lead to a rebirth of a more socially equitable time but what is this urge to find a distinct space? The crucial question that one must confront now is: what price the poetics of expenditure that finally seeks seclusion? Does the historical I fulfill its tryst with the time?

There is a constant urge to flush out whatever is bothersome, excessive and unclear. An almost formal interior clarity is sought:

 

इच्छा

____

एक ऐसा स्वच्छ सुबह मैं जागूँ

जब सब कुछ याद रह जाये

 

और बहुत कुछ भूल जाए

जो फ़ालतू है

 

Desire
____

Let me awaken to such a clear morning
Upon which I can remember everything

And discard many things
That are useless

 

The rhetorical inversion goes on unabated. The surplus is expendable.  That must be disposed of. What remains are only the necessary bits—the clear ones. The space that is sought is that of clarity and unadulterated thought, shorn of guile, antagonism and other forms of ill memory. This is the same बची हुई जगह that we have been encountering in this collection at various points. But this is also a curtailment of desire away from the political economy of material transactions altogether, particularly from those memories that are hurtful, inimical or resistant.  Is it possible to be committed to forms of justice in this manner? If the poet is referring to the spaces left after all loss, it could mean paring down to what is left, to what has remained—as we have encountered in the earlier examples. But how is such a space of almost ascetic seclusion related to the material ignominies of history that capitalism inflicts upon us?

At the deepest level of this volume lies a compulsion to relentlessly expend all baggage of our existence, and in the process, take excess to such an extent that it acquires a quasi-sacred status. This is a most infectious of yearning that would be transferred to the readers. I had started off by aiming to do a rather formal reading of the poems. But can we avoid wondering about the social and personal decision-making impetus of a reclusive man’s even more reclusive quest for a minimal way of living if we are to engage seriously with these poems?

Battaille tells us that for those rare individuals who have poetry at their disposal “poetic expenditure ceases to be symbolic in its consequences: to some extent, the person who takes on the function of representation places his very life at risk.” The poet is given over to “the most disappointing forms of activity, to poverty, to despair, to the pursuit of shadows without substance that yield nothing but vertigo or rage.”And after rage and vertigo, there is equanimity? For the kind of poetry which is shorn of all excess—in meaning and troping, literary expenditure is not symbolic but is synonymous with life’s expenditure itself, the purest form of giving away.  Are we in a position to consecrate this risk taking capacity? Will that be a melodramatic excess in itself—such an extolling of the sequestered and the withdrawn?

What I am hinting at is a tension in the best poems of this collection—that tension plays  between the contradictory ideas of seclusion and social commitment, between vita contemplativa and vita activa, between detachment and organic connection in the poet’s lived world. On the one hand the poet wishes to portray his times most subtly and on the other hand there is a steadfast refusal of representation (mimesis) of loss and indignity. The idea of ज़िल्लत hovers at the margins and the edges of the pages, as it were. Now it seems to be conjoined with रोटी, at the very next moment it seems independent of such materialization of ज़िल्लत.

General economy of expenditure could be a radical critique of capitalism. But such is the innovative power of capitalism and its forms of speculative investment, that it is able to mimic the most giving and non-attached forms of detachment. Capitalist expenditure tries constantly to simulate poetic expenditure and thereby to destroy the radical potential of sacrifice and insolvency. It is able to relegate, by doing so, minimalisms of our life into irrelevancy. Capitalism does not care for accumulation, but for expenditure. A capitalist is not a miser. He accumulates through expenditure—that is how money transforms into capital, as Marx showed us.  Late capitalism is able to simulate the most hedonist/spare forms of spending into consumerism. How shall one then be able to distinguish between dissipation of life/poetry and conspicuous consumption in such circumstances?

True poetry, if there is anything like that at all, cannot be mimetic. It is a quest. But there is nothing called absolute poetry. Since, without mimesis, one runs the risk of being purely speculative, an abstraction which capitalism shall lap up. The more poets realize the authenticity of living and the autonomy of poetry, the more they shall move away from abstract commitment. But the most difficult act is to be part of an everyday political and social commitment and yet keep the lyrical autonomy of words intact—or refract history and a radical subjectivity within a calibrated economy of words. At times that balance might get more rarified since the idea of commitment is poetry that is bound to travel sometimes outside of political economy altogether. Time and again therefore the most social of poets shall look for the impossible: the residual oasis—बची हुई जगह.

The coordination of loss and compensation—in life as well as in life’s articulations is perhaps the most intimate and also the most relational aspect of our living. Without accounting for those, there can be no literature. Capitalism, like poetry, can become an end in itself. Both, albeit in diametrically opposite ways, are not determined by a principle of finite utility. Only the deftest of poets will be able to take capitalism to its logical extreme in expending more, turn modernist-minimal in his art practice, and yet remain deeply aware of the struggles and wastage of his times.

At times ज़िल्लत की रोटी runs the risk of playing into the hands of those very forces that it steadfastly refuses. But in most cases it is clear that we are dealing with a truly masterful artist who is able to give us a simultaneous glimpse of eternity and the struggle and squalor of our existence.  The collection does not allow us to wallow in any richness of aesthetic perception. No, there is no free play of synesthesia alone, no sensory accumulation through expenditure.

I would like to believe that it is impossible to co-opt and commodify such calibrated forms of spontaneous becoming.

 

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