(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
Sudhir K Arora
Quarantine during Covid-19 has awaken the philosopher hidden somewhere within every human being. It has not only given him sufficient time to think over his condition, but also made him realise the truth of what he was and what he is. Poetry in Quarantine, the edited poetry collection offers a mirror for the poets to reveal not only what they see but what they wish to see also according to their mental attitudes which work on observations and intuitions. Forty poets in this book have given voice to their heart-felt feelings and thoughts, experienced and observed while living in quarantine during Covid-19. The reader, while making a tour of the poems of Poetry in Quarantine, sees various figures and images which reveal all the shades of life making him wonder whether it is poetry in quarantine or quarantine in poetry. In between ‘quarantine in poetry’ and ‘poetry in quarantine’ lies the value of human love which really counts in life.
Keywords: Quarantine, Covid-19, Human love, Social distance, Corona, Virus, Lockdown, Proletariat
“If there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love.” (Albert Camus in The Plague)
Quarantine is a mirror to see face which, though masked, unmasks before it and reveals itself. The rat race of materialism does not let man see his inner self and makes him see only the physical face on which he wears many masks to hide his real identity. He forgets that he is not a being only but a human being. Being a human being, he needs human love—the love for which his inner self longs for. Quarantine in the present Covid-19 has offered him time to ponder over his condition and made him realise the truth of what he was and what he is. The more he reflects, the more he enters the process of being human. Here lies the victory of the human being for being human. The present book Poetry in Quarantine offers a mirror for the poets to reveal not only what they see but what they wish to see also according to their mental attitudes which work on observations and intuitions.
A thing multiplies if it is in vogue. The trend of composing virus poems or quarantine poems has given birth to many new poets who are composing even without considering whether they possess the poetic talent or not. Harry Own is sure that within nine months, there will be a boom of virus poems. He uses nine months—a generalised period for birth of a baby. Poets are pregnant with virus poems and within nine months, a boom of virus poetic babies will be seen.
Sure as babies,
nine months down the line
there'll be a boom
of virus poems. (7)
For Syed Ali Hamid, poetry in Corona times has also gone in quarantine. How beautifully and aesthetically, he employs the precautionary Covid-19 phrases for quarantined poetry!
is also in quarantine
in times of corona.
socially-distanced feelings. (56)
The poet in Hamid sees minutely the conflict of the body that desires and mind that blocks in corona times but he feels that words which have been nourished by soil has “the smell of earth” that cannot be wiped out despite their washing, and unfulfilled desire which becomes stronger day by day itself waits for the end of the quarantine period for its realisation.
For Dalip Khetarpal, poetry in spite of being in quarantine, is “infused with passion and emotion” (80) and thus “flows from a poet’s powerful imagination” for “creating an art” (80). He reveals a bitter truth that there are many poets who get false praises in the virtual world. Very frankly he advises such so-called poets not to write “verses unbidden” otherwise it will be suicidal and the glory will be in quarantine. The spirit of Hamlet enters Khetarpal who begins to ponder whether “a poet should live in quarantine / and lead a frustrated, neglected and oblivious life” or should he be in “de-quarantined / and bask in fake eulogistic illusions” (81)
Jaydeep Sarangi knows the cathartic value of poetry and so asks to “press poem” in order to see the “glory of our happy lines.” He does not behave like Hamlet and so is clear in his concept that “Peace begins with” him (27). He wishes for the fresh air which will make him feel fresh and peaceful. On the other hand, Fatima Zohra fails to realise the cathartic value of poetry practically but surely knows the gist of life which leads to “graveyard” that gives her a home-like feel. She becomes frustrated when she fails to collapse “the bars around” her with her “pelting metaphor.” She wonders: “How does one find a way out of love” (39)?
Corona has become, as Romilla Paulath Singh thinks, “a household name” (47).No one knows whether it is “natural or manufactured” (47) but everyone is sure of the destruction that it has brought in the world. She believes that “the world suffers undue pain and is full of woe”(47). Its virus, as Mohini Gurav observes, has “defeated science and medicine” and also “tumbled down civilizations and the man within” (66). Basudev Paul affirms the truth saying that there is no “written archives” which may assert that “Corona has been man-made bomb.” But, it has turned the whole world into “a big graveyard” (54). Corona virus is not one but it has multiplied itself into innumerable viruses which are now, for Sunil Sharma, “international travellers” that “kill with impunity” while remaining invisible. Sunil Sharma calls these travellers the “fatal foes to most powerful humans” on whom they are taking “revenge in reverse” (4). Rumpa Ray Ghosh feels that the corona virus is an omen and it has offered “a challenge to this existing race” how “to uproot this apocalyptic omen from its base.” She sees the horizon which seems to be bright every morning but the corona virus has imprinted its impact on the mind so deeply that it “wakes with a dismal fear.” Fear is seen on everybody’s face—fear of getting infection, fear of one’s death and fear of losing one’s nears and dears. She fails to understand what to do. She finds that life has come to a stop. She states: “Somewhere locked, somewhere sealed, / Nowhere to go, No one to arrive” (59). People fear that “resources will diminish” (59) resulting in the struggle for food. Baijnath N. Gupta observes the scenario and finds that all the places of activities like the school, the office, the workplace, and even the centres of faith and of worship have been closed for the fear of corona virus. Varsha Vijay ponders over the miserable situation psychologically when she hears mourning from a distance guessing the death. When she imagines that there is “no funeral gown or hugs”, she is shaken and feels sweaty but the next moment she becomes normal and thanks that she is not the victim. “Sweaty, shaken in chills, / I mask and mum / I am not a victim” (49)! The fear that he or she may be the next victim of corona resulting in death can be seen on everyone’s face. Young Adnan Shafi becomes subjective when he thinks of the present scenario created by corona virus. He sees his tears, his fortune and finds that his realm has no glow at all. He asks to “loath the corona” which being ravenous in its class “slew the innocuous” (6).
Corona has crushed the labourers brutally. It has made them diasporic in their own land. It has played a dance of death with them. Aju Mukhopadhyay feels their pain in his heart when he says: “poor people suffer immensely walking unfed through the nights / bundles of family baggage overhead / dying in exhaustion, run over by trains, drowned in rivers” (45). Sangeeta Sharma knows their condition very well and so pleads everyone to be sympathetic towards them. Mark the lines for Sangeeta Sharma’s pleading:
Whenever you meet them, dear friend!
Treat them well
Soothe the proletariat
Let them have a glimpse of
The colourful rainbow of love
Respect and comfort
Let them feel whole with a warm human touch! (21)
When Srishti Sharma minutely observes the condition of the poor labourers, she becomes emotional. Here are her heart-touching and penetrating feelings for the labourers:
They packed their dreams,
And stopped believing.
They walked miles,
And lost their smiles.
The road ahead was not clear,
And the eyes blear.
With many fears.
And they walked miles…. (34)
Srishti Sharma peeps into the heart of the labourers and is surprised to see that they really wish to stay back and work. She finds Mumbai lurking in their hearts. It is Mumbai that has made them smile. They seem to say: “Mumbai inspires. / Hence, we perspire” (35). Now they are facing “poverty and indifference” along with “Lathis and abuses.” Lines like “Wish we could stay back / And relax” (36) express their longing for Mumbai.
Man wants to control Nature unnaturally and it is Nature who punishes him naturally. Man does not hesitate to wound Nature for his lust for materialism. Arun Sharma finds man in “a rat race towards materialism” and in this race he wounds Nature “almost irreparably” (55). Romilla Paulath Singh wonders how man can claim “of being the superior” and concludes that it is simply “an illusion” because man has “raped Mother Earth of all her resources” for his “insatiable greed.” He should keep in mind that the planet “belongs to other creatures too.” He knows that “the solution is balance” but fails to follow and makes himself busy in “amassing wealth” which certainly “does not lead to an unknown heaven.” For the poet “there is nothing more dangerous than the Human mind” (47). The poet in Sunil Sharma loves birds and feels pain in his heart whenever he sees birds in cages. Due to quarantine or lockdown, people confine themselves to their homes. How do they feel while living “inside costly prisons / that were once homes”(3)? The poet wonders whether they can “feel the pain, sadness and frustration / of those captured-n-sold feathered friends from the free skies” (4). Sailesh Dewan Rai reflects over Nature and the humanity and finds “Human in pain; Nature in gain” (30). He observes that Nature is “happy and tall” while “the Humanity seems to have its fall” (30). The poet in Aju Mukhopadhyay states that during locked down period, man has realised “how beneficial is the force of free Nature.” He finds that “when the Corona was in progress / spring appeared in colourful dress” (46). Tejaswini Patil loves Nature and feels with her when she sees the sky sighing with a sigh of relief, mountains having the grip and rivers flowing clean. “The sky has sighed of relief. / The rivers are flowing clean. / Every human is brought back” (60). Pankajam Kottarath hears the birds tweeting and singing in chorus which can be heard by men who are “confined to houses in quarantine.” She feels happy when she sees the earth wearing “her best attire of turf.” This earth has now become “a better place to live in”(62) but it is really sad that he has not yet realised the value of freedom as he has the parrots in cage. Saroj Kumar Padhi who is a poet of Nature feels the flow of Nature in him. He sees Nature “reclaiming her space.” He makes man feel what he feels. Quarantine has given time for introspection. He shares his experiences when he says that “life seems to be lovelier in moments of isolation” and this is the hour when “time is ripe for self-introspection” (84).
The poets also suggest safety measures for fighting against corona. Corona has shaken romance so deeply that it has forgotten its identity of romancing. The poet in R.K. Singh feels the pulse of the romance and the people who long for romancing. How aesthetically and connotatively R.K. Singh presents romance and its desperation in a subjective manner!
In the air
I expected romance--
avoid her kiss
and breathing too (2)
S.L. Peeran also feels the frustration of a newly married couple who cannot enjoy kissing:
Newly married couple
Barred from kissing (12)
S.L. Peeran asks the people not to “expose much / in the open sun” as “there is covid-19.” He is very apprehensive over the situation and hence asks them to “keep safe distance”, avoid “hugging, kissing” and “wear safety mask” (13). Ravi Naicker knows that “CV19 knows no colour, creed, religion or station” and so prays to the Creator “for relief from this malaise” and asks for “an umbrella of protection as the virus goes viral” (16).To be in quarantine is the best option. For Sahjahan Ali Ahmed, “Quarantine is a must to stop circulation” and recommends for using masks and sanitization to “bring infection to a halt” (29). Covid-19 has made Rajiv Khandelwal so nervous that he avoids “all social crowding” and confines to “housing” so that the disease may not infect lungs. In a rhyming style, Rajiv Khandelwal recommends: “If you stay in your hive / Then surely you will survive” (38). Baijnath N. Gupta treats Corona as an enemy who “will spare neither rich nor poor.” There is a kind of unknown fear on the face of the people and to avoid Corona, they do “no handshakes, no hugging” and remain with “masked faces and sanitized hands” (84). R. Krishnamurthy believes in following “the namaskar” which is an “Indian traditional samskar” (25). Sutanuka Ghosh Roy doubts the usefulness of the masks and so asks boldly saying:
Can the mask masque our tossed nerves?
The hollow and the cracks
The pain of a starving lot
The scab under their skin
Two tiring legs, hollowed eyes
Endless desires, surging hate
And all our vaunts? (17)
How will the mask masque the pain and suffering of the starving people? Aju Mukhopadhyay puts the superstitious aspect in “Washing hands over and over again with alcohol based sanitizer.” He considers that it is “not out of ignorance” but “by over use of hackneyed knowledge” and compares it to “carrying fire in hands risking death by burn.” He asks in a very sarcastic way: “Do viruses love hands more than breaths or a slight touch elsewhere”? It is really very sad that “men are divided variously / among themselves” and are “drowned in controversies”(45). Lucky Stephen Onyah accepts the reality and knows that “we do have a broken routine” but he believes that “we can survive with unbroken spirit” (32). What is expected from a man is that he should be tactful and “stop being fearful” (32) while taking precautions. Mohini Gurav reveals the unknown fear of the parents whose sons and daughters are in foreign land during the corona period. She knows that “Stay at home, be safe and being in quarantine is the only option” left for them. She suffers from the unknown anxiety but video calls and message console the “skeptical minds and souls” and the call brings “a smile on face” giving her hope that the children “will face all the challenges for sure.” She boosts up children when she says that “we are locked, now down” and asks them to watch “the sunrise of the sun” (67) which gives the rays of hope for future. Sangeeta Sharma ponders over the medical staff members who are taking care of the corona patients at the risk of their lives. She reveals the pitiable condition of a nurse who has been caring of the positive corona patients. She works in the hospital, returns home, takes a “a warm water bath to kill all infection”, wears a mask, enters the kitchen, scolds her son when he “wants to cuddle her”, prepares food in the kitchen, isolates herself from her family members, and thinks of not returning home because of the risk but next moment realises that there is no one to “cook for her fatherless kids.” Sangeeta Sharma cries at her plight, asks the people to be grateful for such corona warriors and pleads them to be at home.
What a plight!
The global citizenry should be grateful
That they are just being expected
To remain indoors
To keep at bay the Corona specter
Stay safe, stay home!! (24)
There is also the other side of Corona times. This period has given a chance to the materialistic being to become a human being. Sunil Sharma realises:
the home was always a house (4)
House (the materialistic touch) is converted into home (the humanistic touch). For him, this Corona, has also brought “unexpected urban benefits / for the old parents” (5). Abu Siddik, who presents the negative scene of the corona times first, sees its benefits also. How graphically, he presents the positive side of the story of the corona virus in a poetic journalistic vers libre:
There is another side of the story
Our egos mowed down, stories of rape, riot,
Hate speech, lynching, and detention camp
Have briefly lost their steam.
Aged parents find their lost children
Sitting by their sides and all they bask in sunshine,
Bulls, buffaloes roaming in empty streets
Like kings, cuckoos cooing clearer notes
Parks, playing fields carpeted with long grasses,
Roofs are blooming fields, in blazing sunset
Women walk while their men happily croon,
And children flying colourful kites and shriek in joy. (53)
Srishti Sharma states that Corona has taught us “to be great chefs” and now we can make “soulful brunch.” Distances are not distances but they have made “our bond stronger.” Corona has taught us how we can turn adversities into opportunities and how “we can train our minds” and “come out of this pandemic / as winners” (36). Neelam Saxena Chandra feels blissful for the gifts which quarantine has given to her. “Corona has taught me to be selfless” (63). She acknowledges the services of the maids, delivery boys, doctors, healthcare workers and safaikaramcharis. Khesise Lungma realises that quarantining, which he took to be his death bed, actually proved to be his “favourite recovery bed” (50) and so considers that “being in quarantine is best” (51). It is only man who can see the positive side of the pandemic. Sahjahan Ali Ahmed puts a challenge before Coronavirus and asks him “underestimate not power of man” and “be ready to bear man’s fatal assault very soon” (28).
Quarantine has given man enough time to be philosophical over the things which he never took into consideration due to his materialistic lust. While meditating, R.K. Singh reflects over “future uncertainties” and considers new viruses to be “villains of the new order.” This is the time when man has to “create new mantras / for life to continue” (1). He has to go into the deep of his self in order to search for “a better version of self” (2). The poet in D.C. Chambial makes him meditate and philosophize over his relevance. He begins to think right from his “entry on the stage” where he has to show his “weight / pre-ordained and well-wrought”, thinks of his failure in making “no change / despite the days and ways at hand” (40) and realises that he will make “an exit / without knowing destination” as soon as “the part is over” (41). Arun Sharma uses the symbols of diya and insect and becomes didactic in approach while philosophising when he asks to “look within” and “identify with the Atma therein” and “be positive” (55) for the survival of the human race. For Neelam Saxena Chandra, quarantine does not mean to be chained but to stay indoors. She knows that no one “can chain thoughts” as “they fly in delight everywhere” (64). She is very confident when she declares that quarantine “not only helps in stopping the spread of Corona” but “it also helps in opening up the blockages / of the heart, mind and soul” (65). Quarantine makes Nandini Sahu so emotional and determined that she recalls the unborn daughter—the little fairy. She uses the allusions from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and like Yeats’ “A Prayer for My Daughter”, she asks her unborn daughter to be like Tara and Mandodari and never to “fall prey to Indira’s trickery.” She feels that she is not “just a woman since that fateful night, but entire / womankind.” She realises that within her “there is the / power to create, nurture and transform” (73). She does not wish that a child is born and remains dejected. She thinks: “An unborn child is better than the one dejected, forlorn” (72). Quarantine makes Sahu more motherly in feelings than ever. In the quarantine period, Manohar P. Joshi becomes introspective and analytical in approach and begins to think of the ontology of fear and finds it to be present right from the beginning and will remain along with ambition, “the most devastating” companion. This ambition makes man work and plunge “into the never-ending race for advancement” resulting in the rise of “innumerable knots, issues, crises, impasses and foes” and the loss of “peace, fellow-feeling and harmony.” He traces out the cause of the tragedy in “a flaw in the form of a minute unicellular / that has sent all the world into countless number of cells” (82). During quarantine, Syed Ali Hamid feels the need of a lock which may “imprison the mind / rein in imagination” and “keep on hold / fantasies unrealized” till it ends resulting in giving place again to normalcy which will give “space to the mind” and “colour to life / with the spice of desire” (58). The quarantine period gives time to Glory Sasikala to reflect over the state of woman who has to tolerate her boss and work for him for her promotion which dangles “in his hands like a knife on a thin thread.” She also presents her state when she comes to her spouse who finds fault with her and whose love sways with the amount that she earns. She also reveals the bitter truth of discrimination saying that howsoever she may achieve and come to the level of first grade but fails to get her position which is “reserved for a certain skin type, for the insider, for the right caste...” (87). Hence, quarantine makes the poets lost in thinking resulting in philosophical, psychological, practical, rational and spiritual musings.
Quarantine poetry has become didactic in spirit. Rahim Karim (Karimov) exhorts men asking them to be doctors for saving humanity. He believes that if doctors save physically, they can save spiritually. He is filled with feelings when he thinks of inhumanity. He states clearly that “sooner or later, the corona virus pandemic will end / but the pandemic of inhumanity will last forever.” He asks men to “wear protective suits” which should be of the “fabric of morality, humanity” and advises them to “wash heart, soul with honour” so that they may not get any infection while saving “Humanity morally” (10). Pankajam Kottarath longs for “peace to prevail forever” and believes that soon the world will be better “with ego crushed” (62). Sangeeta Sharma is happy when she sees that people have faced “a tough time” and emerged finally while accepting “the unexpected” and curbing “their growing desires” (23). Adao Wons asks the people of the world to “stop the war” and “the ambition for power” as they are destructive in spirit. What the world needs is “Peace and Love” (20). Nupur Chakrabarty knows that man has come “from the heart of the light”, not “from the lands of darkness.” Like Shelley’s line “If winter comes, can spring be far behind”, she becomes optimistic and hopeful to the extent that she believes:
Beyond the shroud of the dread
lie the spring meadows
where the most beautiful flowers bloom. (33)
Rumpa Ray Gosh also thinks in the same vein of light and hope when she articulates: “The mighty gleaming beams of hope will reign, / Making the dark clouds of unseen evil disappear” (59). Mohini Gurav predicts that “Mother earth will heal and so will man” and hopes that man should learn “to love unconditionally and remain integrated” (66). But, for Varsha Singh, there is no hope. What remains is struggle. She presents the condition of a woman who “gets raped by a virus, while / carrying another within” (18). Where is the dawn for her? She is raped twice—first by virus and second by man’s virus. She wonders and does not know what it is whether it is the death of the dawn or the dawn of death. Mark her words which lead to the struggle, the only destiny. For her hope lies in struggle.
Is it the death of the dawn?
or a new birth is waiting
maybe. in the meanwhile,
we all struggle (19)
Images, symbols, rhymes, cadence and figures colour the canvas of Poetry in Quarantine. Basudev Paul enters “zoo of isolation” (54) where Saroj Kumar Padhi sees “uncrushed grass” (84). Pankanjam sees earth wearing “her best attire of turf” (62). Tejaswini Patil personifies the sky for it seems to have “sighed of relief” (60). Rumpa Ray Ghosh personifies the city for it seems to be “sleeping in broad daylight / That never rested since many a year”(59). Sunil Sharma observes “the city, under the lockdown, gets woken up” (3). Jaydeep Sarangi’s “the house of promise” (2) makes Syed Ali Hamid feel “spice of desire” (58). Such figures and phrase are scattered here and there in Poetry in Quarantine. Hence, a tour of Poetry in Quarantine will make the reader see various figures and images, touch his human feelings and ponder over the question whether poetry is in quarantine or quarantine is in poetry. Above all, he will learn the value of human love which really counts in life.
Deogirkar, Savita & Shaleen Singh. Poetry in Quarantine. Global Fraternity of Poets, 2020. (Excerpts are from this text. Page numbers are given within brackets)
Camu, Albert. The Plague. http://www.24grammata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/The_Plague__Albert_Camus-24grammata.com_.pdf
Courtesy: This paper is the revised version of ‘Foreword’ of Poetry in Quarantine.
About the Author:
Sudhir K. Arora, the Chief Editor of Creation and Criticism, is presently serving as Associate Professor, Department of English, Maharaja Harishchandra P. G. College, Moradabad. He has several significant publications to his credit including Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: A Freakish Booker and Cultural and Philosophical Reflections in Indian Poetry in English.