The Return of the Stone Age

On September 27, 2023 by admin

[R. Chetankranti, Aatmadroh: New Delhi, Rajkamal Publications, 2023]

Nothing catches the pungent flavour of masochist masculinity — and the helpless, misplaced obverse of such a state—which flags our schizoid times, as does the poetry of Ramkumar Chetankranti. His third volume of poetry आत्मद्रोह (Self-Mutilation) arrived yesterday by post.  And everything else has receded to the background since.

The power of what is pent up right now is given a ruthless channel in his phrases and metaphors: a torrential flow of politico-psychosexual-garish-melancholic-self-defeating desire. A world of relentless self-flagellation, which drowns itself in a cocktail of vengeance and carnival mania—hoping to arrive at an ever-elusive somewhere. This is a greatly risky zone to traverse, for the language and world that the poet shows us will not be easily digested  by the kind of people who wish to stay ostrich like, scared of entering the zone of vengeful, amoral outbursts of the immediate quenching of desire which occupies our times.

The first lines of the title poem have already turned into a prophetic epigram of sorts:
और फिर देश यातना के लिए

हाथ जोड़कर खड़ा हो गया

सब एक आवाज़ में बोले,

हमें दुःख दो

और ज्यादा दुःख

और ज्यादा यातना

और ज्यादा पीड़ा

वे सुख से ऊब चुके थे…

(And then the country , beseeching  pain, with folded hands, stood up/ And uttered in one unified voice/ Give us torment/ Afflict us with agony/More stinging agony/Even more pain/ They were bored of happiness…)

Slavoj Zizek, his curiosity piqued about the industrial production of testicle-crushers in Nazi Germany which were used against Jews and gypsies, tries a Google search, and is bemused to find that there are all kinds of ball-crushers available in the market—stainless steeled, diamond-studded, spare, ornate or custom made. Pleasure in renunciation is a deadly mission. Genuine puritans are able to master it to the hilt and spread it among the people.

Chetankranti has been showing us the mirror right from the piercing utterances in शोकनाच /Shoknaach.  A generation (or does it really change every decade as claimed sometimes?) is coming into being after the 1990s and its contours are becoming more pronounced as the new century moves forward—“we were not revolutionaries/we were merely restless beings”:

हम क्रांतिकारी नहीं थे
हम सिर्फ अस्थिर थे
और इस अस्थिरता में कई बार
कुछ नाजुक मौक़ों पर
जो हमें कहीं से कहीं पहुंचा सकते थे
अराजक हो जाते थे
लोग जो क्रांति के बारे में किताबें पढ़ते रहते थे
हमें क्रांतिकारी मान लेते थे
जबकि हम क्रांतिकारी नहीं थे
हम सिर्फ अस्थिर थे

This applies to all hues of ‘revolutionaries’ of our times (barring very, very few resolute exceptions). His readers know that this very realization has led to Chetan’s Seelampur—a representative metaphor for the masochist location of pent up and self destructive desire. The educated are totally alienated from those who are being used, are dangerous, are preyed upon, are trapped, are naïve too—in Seelampur. Those who read books look at the denizens of this other world, and instead of walking halfway and offering a helping hand, turn themselves into numb ostriches: पढ़े-लिखे लोगों के लिए/वे पहेली थे/वे बैठे उन्हें बस देखते रहते/उनकी समझ में न आता/ की वे कब कहाँ और कैसे बने/क्यों हैं कौन हैं क्या हैं! To describe this class of the petty bourgeoisie, happy in its world of self-gratification, Chetan deploys a lovely phrase: छोटे छोटे बड़े लोग  (Little big people).

But as hinted earlier, this zone is an amorphous one to get into. For there cannot be any clear answer as to how much  the poet listens to the sound and tenor of such self-mutilated bands and how much he castigates such mass ardour. Is his poetry a realist assessment of deep psychic turbulence? Or is it laid out to provoke and shake us from our slumber? Are his utterances being read by the people he addresses, beyond the polarized universe? This much is certain though: he is less forgiving of those who are managing the show, the magicians who stay in the background rather than the puppets who walk into their hands. For the former are the demagogues who enjoy most the conversion of people’s happiness into the black rain of blood and semen over very changing seasons.  For the God stands aloof, with a purpose: एक हाथ में शिशन और एक हाथ में चाकू लिए खड़ा हो | (Penis in one hand, knife in another). To use James Joyce’s pregnant phrase, used in a different context: “invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”

Such all engulfing desire for holding on to power has only one dread, a singular worry— पावर में इक कमी थी, तन्हाई से डरती थी  (‘वीरता पर विचलित’  से उद्धृत  ) | Power fears aloofness.  This is the lyrical zone of detachment which Chetan has kept aside for the kindred. The outside. Only this much.  Is aloofness poetry then? Beyond dreams and greed: वह तुम्हारे झुलसे बालों में/ बारिश करेगा/ वह तुम्हें रोने की जगह देगा| Not unlike in his previous anthologies, here too, Chetan takes us to the nadir of expectations, but his poetry never despairs about the future, for one day—all news cycle, busy printing presses, television anchors, rapt spectators –everything must fall silent: for everyone shall understand what is going on, with a collective sense of helplessness. On that day: हैरानी हैरान /और शैतानी निस्तब्ध|  (Bewilderment shall be bewildered/ And devilry cold).

One can stop at this point. But it needs mentioning that there is another track of poems blossoming in all three anthologies which acts as a balm to readers who dare to pass the volcanic lava and soot of his generational outcry. This set of poems shows the other side of Chetankranti—softest of souls that he is: and that line wrestles with fathomless love and pain. On pain, for instance he says: वह भीतर कहीं बो दिया होगा /बहुत पहले कभी /और सींचा नहीं गया होगा /इसलिए पानी-पानी पुकारता रहता है | (Not irrigated, the embedded seed of pain cries: Water, Water!)

But that story must be saved for some other day.


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