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Khatri’s For You to Decide, with its 51 poems, challenges the reader to interpret each one of the poem in the context of the present. This poetry collection reveals a striking balance of the earthly and the metaphysical. The poems in it range from observations on daily life, gender based violence and problems in conflict zones. They straddle different facets of life in a philosophical and exploratory tone.
Keywords: Metaphysical, Mythology, Atrocities, Philosophical vignettes
After three collections of poetry in English, C.L. Khatri has published his fourth one, For You To Decide. A bi-lingual poet Khatri also writes in Hindi. His latest collection of 51 poems, challenges the reader to interpret each one in the context of the present. A suggestive title, it prompts one to take a position on issues both in the immediate world and in the universe. The poems in this new collection range from observations on daily life, gender based violence and problems in conflict zones. They make for a striking balance between the earthy and the metaphysical; the poet’s humane understanding of the world outlines the role of poetry in life.
CL Khatri is conscious of the individual in a world torn by different impulses. “Mask” draws attention to the multiple false covers we change on a day-to-day basis. He looks at these from the mood of death in another world where there is no need for any such device. The lines—“I was tired of wearing you / changing the cloths / for different days and ways” make the reader introspect about his hypocritical self. The ‘I’ is split into “you” and “I”. Life is a keeping apart of these two but in death they stand united—
Now no layers of mask
can hide you from me.
Everything looks transparent from this land. (For You to Decide 14)
This is the first poem in the collection and sets the metaphysical tone of the poems thereafter.
The title poem in this collection, “For You to Decide” poses questions driven by intense thought. It reminds us of the forgotten pleasures of life—
Sometimes I wonder
can’t we run slow, and stare at ease
kiss the sky and lie on the land
like birds return to their nests? (For You to Decide 19)
The poet is desirous of a kind of homecoming and wonders if it would be possible “to get the patent of my ancestral home?” Peaceful moments are well captured in the yearning to “stroll like a sleepy river”.
Thought drives Khatri’s use of language. The poet is critical of the way in which man has plundered not only this world but the larger universe. “Deluge of Development” critiques the nation’s idea of moving forward—
The nation leaps horizontally
and falls vertically with Leviathan’s weight.
No one wants to be a gardener,
lotus in the plastic pot…
God save the country
from deluge of development
epidemic of synthetic microbes.
Summon the Noah. (For You to Decide 26)
The frenzy of the world is captured in measured tones; it needs a “Noah” to save it from the new nature of flood.
In keeping with the overall metaphysical tone of the collection, Khatri uses numerous figures from mythology. Pondering on a serious thought or social issue, he weaves figures from Indian mythology with those from the contemporary world. Preservation of a sense of the real and palpable is the strength of this collection. In “Writing a New Ramayana” the Indian woman rewrites her script as she no longer waits like an “empty pitcher.” She is not a “Barbie doll looking for her prince.” She is in control of the situation as she “knows how to dig tubewell / have her fill and sell the rest”. The woman of today is writing a new Ramayana “where Sita rules over Ayodhya in his absence / Ram has to pass through fire ordeal / before being crowned as Army chief” (For You to Decide 31). The poem combines the traditional with the modern. Elsewhere, in “Suck my Sap,” Khatri likens the firmness and rootedness to one’s native soil to that of Angad’s foot.
A life away from the city, in the villages and remote areas, finds a special place in this collection. The “Hundroo Waterfall” comes to life in the poem, with its “white beard,” “swerving white curtains,” “wavering bubbles” and “infinite young energy.” The poet struggles to decipher Hundroo’s “orature” finally defined through its heroes—
I could hear Birsa Munda exploding
the jail walls and howling in the sky
Tana Bhagat marching in the jungle
with loud beats of mandar and drum. (For You to Decide 44)
The tribals in the “Hundroo Waterfall” assert themselves in the slogan of “jan, jal, jungle, zameen.” The images of the waterfall coupled with the use of instruments create a rhythmic picture of music in nature. This music from the “margin” is the new script of the Indus valley.
The script of Indus valley
is finally deciphered, who can say?
This waterfall like once Niagra or Kampe
is music from the margin
a warm open arm invitation of a tribal maiden
to the world to explore the virgin beauty.
Who knows how many mysteries
it holds in its swollen belly? (For You to Decide 45)
Tribals are a part of the poetic landscape of Khatri’s collection and so are the communities on the margins. The poet is conscious of the events of the day and ensures deliberations on them. “Drama of Death” brings forth the Dadari case looking forward to a time of Hindu-Muslim unity. It begins,
I am Akhlaq
I know no pain, no fear
no haze, no maze
drama of death, lyre of life
epitaph on the tomb look
crystal clear from here. (For You to Decide 53)
Akhlaq stands outside the circuit of death and looks on with clarity. The poet makes a dig at the consumerist world that sells all—
Why don’t you impose a toll tax
on tourist levy on savvy bites in the air?
Sell the story to Sidney Sheldon. (For You to Decide 53)
It is a painful reminder of how everything is sold and consumed in this world even as an Akhlaq stands outside of it and looks on peacefully.
Again in “Traps of Nostalgia”, an old man lives in a run-down house, its plaster peeling from the walls. There are “cobwebs in the corner,” creepers “peeping through corrugated roofs.” All form “insidious traps of nostalgia.” The old man sits with a “kangari inside his overcoat” holds on to the warmth of kahwa with wife and kids. But in the next stanza this warmth turns into the “frozen fire” from which he collects their bones to give up to Jhelum, “and pray for resurrection of his home” (For You to Decide 64). The cold and stark sentiments of the first and third stanza are offset by the warmth of the second one showing us we are losing humanitarian ground.
In poems such as “Hospital,” the pain of everyday life is captured in a scene observed at a hospital. The poor people remain huddled in corners forming “a crying crowd in the corridor.” They stand and wait immune to the smell of “the stinking pool of urine.” The patient’s death or “expiry” is coupled with the use of “expired medicine, syringe, OT, ICU.” The people who wait on are like “cattle in a worn out truck taken to a slaughter house.” The painful images in the poem make us think about health services, or rather their lack, for the poor. It is no surprise that Khatri calls the doctors “Phantoms of white apron with stethoscope” (For You to Decide 65).
The poems make a painful note of atrocities on women especially the Nirbhaya case. In “Poetry Wants to Stand with You” the poem becomes an act of solidarity extending a humanising hand towards women. As “Nirbhaya’s cry paints the pages of sky / Poetry lights a candle” (For You to Decide 46). A seemingly simple poem, “The Bliss of Beauty,” begins with the conventional descriptionof a woman’s beauty, but is flipped at the end to draw attention to the insidious ways in which the society works against women. The poem uses all the predictable tropes to explain a woman’s beauty. From the quiver of Kamdev’s arrow begins the adulation of the woman’s body likened to a “freshly ripe Alphonso ready to be squeezed.” The fragrance of “Raat rani” leads night; the poetic voice desires to be like the bee to kiss her petals. The poet urgesher to be fresh and fragrant and to enjoy her beauty. The alert reader questions the use of conventional imagery, but the answer lies in the last lines that urge the woman to “make hay while the sun shines”, before she is “yoked in a plough to pull for the rest” (For You to Decide 69).
For You to Decide also has a section of haikus which present the poet’s wisdom in the crisp three-line poetic stanza form. The range of the haikus is broad. For instance,
Tornado in towns
Tiger prowling in villages
Human encroachment. (For You to Decide 77)
It comments on the idea of human devastation of the cities. And then there is one on secularism—
Birds are secular
Each day perch on church, masque...
Feast and nest in temple. (For You to Decide 79)
Khatri’s poems straddle different facets of life in a philosophical and exploratory tone. He occasionally uses rhyme and alliteration to provide momentary respite from the intense thought process the poem is engaged in. At times the ideas belong to the poet’s psychological landscape and at other times they arise as philosophical vignettes triggered by observation.
About the Author:
Dr. Payal Nagpal is Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi. Her areas of interest are Modern Drama and Indian English Poetry. A theatre person and literary critic, Payal Nagpal has authored and edited several books. She has also published her debut poetry collection In the Labyrinth. Along with Prof. Shyamala A. Narayan, she compiles the India section of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature (Sage P, London). She can be contacted at email@example.com