Dive and get pearls from Sitanshu Yashashchandra’s Vakhaar

There is a novel Praveshak (Preamble) in a conversational form to Sitanshu Yashashchandra’s collection of poems Vakhaar (R.R.Sheth, 2009) with an audio CD in his voice. ‘When you enter the gate,’ the Lekhak tells the Adhipati, ‘the detector ought to go Bip-Bip-Bip with a glow.’ ‘This real metal (read mettle?),’ he insists, ‘you need to have within to understand the poems.’ The Praveshak, like the book’s title, introduces both, the poet’s fiercely independent creative temperament as well as the poems’ unconventional style, content and its treatment. Adhipati incidentally means a person highly superior in an established hierarchy and a vakhaar is a warehouse, where a variety of goods for sale are stored.

The book has a plain cover page with a black-and-white image of a warehouse shutter, not fully pulled down, from under which you have a glimpse of a few skulls. This indicates all is not perceived well by the poet. It does not, however, forebode a mood of gloom. The poet is known for his disposition to appreciate and celebrate everything positive in life. ‘You are all-knowing, some people believe,’ the poet good-humouredly tells God and rejoices, ‘I believe, my dear God, it is the one who is born knows.’ Generously sprinkled in many poems, there are sensory images those who breathe life on this earth love as also bursts of poetry some of them are capable of.

‘When the clouds laden with water and lightning float through lush green hills, raining and pounding,’ he sings in abandon, ‘the hills all soaked get aflame, and the hills in flames get soaked.’ His diction, the rhythm inbuilt and the flow the lines assume, turn them into the finest specimens of lyrical poetry, here and elsewhere, though in achhaandas. There are warm lines of human relationship in a poem: ‘Sit by the window in a crane chair, / Sit so that your freshly shampooed hair receives the morning sun rays. / So sit that eyes closed I can see you.’ The two lines ushering in the second of the seven clusters of poems in the collection get cozy: ‘Let me for a few months hide in your body. / Give a sweet smile if someone asks.’ The full poem inside reveals the context to be different but the lines have an unmistakable romantic, contrasted with a realistic, touch.

The poet has a sensibility that could have him say, like the Prince of Denmark, ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.’ It is this exceptional sensibility that has him feel the contemporary stark physical reality, social including political, repulsive. In one poem, he talks of flowers that cause pain (peedanaan pushpo) and of the third-day moon that has its scythe on his neck. There are lines after lines that bear the poet’s signature suggestion. Anandvardhan would have gladly used them to illustrate dhwani in his discussion of aesthetics. ‘There was once a sun, fragile, with no other like him in the world. / The sun broke and we came crashing down in seven hues.’ In yet another poem, the kaavyanaayak is scared of even a blade of grass (taranaano ye bhe).

The poet expresses a nagging uncomforting feeling that is not necessarily personal. It is a shared one at a higher plane. It is hauntingly lying dormant, like a snake in the entertainer’s basket, in the collective social consciousness. It seeks release and it finds release strikingly – in a stream of floating images, not in a conventionally familiar linear fashion easy to understand. It has a Freudian layer after layer hazy touch. Surrealistic images swarm, forming complex clusters that keep you musing. ‘Winds as cold as snow – clouds filled with hailstones – lakes bursting – drowning waters  – registers with turbid letters –  the sky without flesh and bones …’ In one of Sitanshu’s plays, there is a Song of Nimajjan (Plunge). The reader needs to dive deep into the poet’s text.

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Sitanshu Yashaschandra at recently convened Round Table discussion at Gujarat Sahitya Parishad

And if he does, pearls are for him to choose. Take Vakhaar, the seven-segment poem that gives the book its title, for example. In its pithy language, an endearing dialect in fact, in its colloquial ease and dramatic effect, sketching its two characters and investing them with their distinguishing traits, the illiterate Nayak with his native wisdom kept in check with a characteristic practical sense and the Superior One with his unchallengeable haughtiness, in its underlying compassion for the meek, and in the statement it makes, it is difficult to find the poem’s parallel in modern Gujarati literature. The Nayak poignantly expresses anguish right in the beginning, ‘We cannot manage to sleep during night, Sir, and cannot get to keep awake in daytime.’

In Dooddh, the playwright-cum-poet is at his creative best. The dialect with a feel of authenticity in the poem opening with Kaee bachareenu-n peeve doodh, Gondhido? , in just a few line strokes creates maaro vaalo Gondhido, who has baddhaathi bamani boodh (wisdom twice as much as the rest have) – a slim reticent man of action who had a measure of them all, who knew the suffering of the people of this country and had a way of relieving them of it, the man with a resolve in his long strides and compassion at heart.

In an inspired spell, the verbal artist Sitanshu turns the now proverbial goat of the epoch-making man into a telling metaphor for the suffering pre-independence India. You need to read the last nineteen lines of the poem to see with what delicate compassionate care the man led India to freedom. With the knack of developing a special idiom he has had, the talent for dramatic dialogue, empathy and vision, one would expect from him a mini-epic on the compassionate man, the country he loved and his triumphant endeavour with a tragic tinge.

Let us end this appraisal of Vakhaar, which surprisingly includes a couple of sundry poems as well, with its reassuring beginning, a seven-unit Simhavaahini Stotra, an invocation (avaahan) to Goddess Sharada, the Goddess of Learning: Mayoor parthi ootar, Sharada … ‘Dismount the peacock, Sharada, ride the lion.’ Because Dev te j daanav chhe jo, to tu-n aage badh. ‘The one thought of as godly is in fact a demon, look! It’s time for you to act.’ In another invocation, the one to the Lord of Fire, the poet asks, ‘Why do you not emerge, O Lord of Fire, in the empty space between our aspirations and our nightmares?’ The invocations are a tad less subtle. The intensity of feeling perhaps warrants the choice.

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