U Atreya Sarma’s ‘Sunny Rain-n-Snow’: A compassionate response

Christin Hume photo

 

By

Janet Hujon

 

 

Interestingly the anthology opens with three poems dedicated to the hard-working housewife living the repetitious monotony of domestic life—the cooking, the feeding, the fetching, the cleaning—all of which are taken for granted by a husband cossetted by the rules of patriarchy.  A subtle but potent attack on the system is launched when the woman makes her request:

 

…Care for me

The way you care for yourself

(A housewife’s lib)

 

 

Years of being taken for granted echo through these lines and the irony is inescapable, for after all the only reason the husband feels looked after is because she looks after him.

 

However the plight of the middle-class wife pales in comparison to the horrific effects of caste and class obsessions described in Crush and finish it.  The poem is a horrified response to a news item in the Deccan Chronicle.  Only timely neighbourly intervention saved a young unmarried mother’s infant from being offered as a sacrifice by Tantric priests eager to enhance their “occult powers”.  The poet is therefore moved to ask:

 

Can a lotus be damned

For the slush it springs from?

 

 

The lotus, Hindu and Buddhist symbol of purity and stillness emerging in peerless beauty through the murk of mud, is well-chosen as an image to effectively capture and also comment on the relationship between light and darkness. The flower stands in perfect pristine contrast to the dark depravity of those who use religion and their social position as a means to further their own evil appetites.

 

Sympathy for the underprivileged and the mistreated extends to include the Unpaid watchman who we are told (although not until the last line), is our four-legged friend, “the simple dog”.  Yes despite being spurned and unacknowledged, a dog is intrinsically part of his owner’s image—his “lifelong shadow”.  While the revelation coming at the end does, through the element of surprise, introduce a faint hint of playfulness, the description of the ‘watchman’s’ unfortunate lot emphatically dislodges any suspicion that levity was ever intended.  However, drawing attention in this way to a callous disregard for years of unquestioning obedience serves to deepen the poignancy in this tribute to Man’s best friend.  The light notes make us hear even more clearly the dark chords in a music inspired by sadness and heavy with reproach.

 

Calling the dog an “unpaid watchman” elevates the loyal animal to the position he rightly deserves, for is not unconditional love an expectation we have of each other as human beings?  Another brief poem – Vertigo (A dramatic monologue) – draws attention once again to the unnoticed, hard-working underdog but this time seen in another guise. Here we read about those “dusty and sweated hands” which guarantee the wealthy a “…topmost flat for a five million…comfortable, secure and cosy”…a perfect setting for “a grand party” enjoyed by those who will never know the

 

…unlettered youth

Precariously perched

On the bamboo scaffold

So narrow and ramshackle…

 

Or

 

…the weather-beaten workers

Who ‘constructively’ risked

Their lives—uninsured

 

 

Social and material differences are defined with a sense of drama and irony.  These workers however are not mere figures painted on the urban landscape.  They are more than that for the observer admits feeling unequal to the task of dismantling the scaffold which they are able to carry out with “breath-taking ease ”as they “…snap knot after knot…kick off bamboo after bamboo…from under their calloused feet…all the while just balanced/On a single bamboo beam”…  The materially complacent onlooker is certainly envious!

 

It would be a foolish act of grave consequence for anyone to ignore not only the huge gap separating the rich from the poor in India but also the incidental cost to the environment necessary to sustain the unimaginable wealth of the few.  And as in Unpaid watchman, brevity once again proves to be highly effective.  Hills is a short poem made up of six lines reading which produces the same effect as when reading a haiku.  Through the use of only a few words the huge despair engendered by ecological destruction is clearly felt.  This poem is a stark commentary on what may well end up being the longest-running and tragic narrative of our times:

 

God turned

All hardness

Into hills

 

Harder-hearted man

Entered

And began blasting it

 

 

The subject matter in Hills links it to other poems in the collection dealing with matters of universal concern as we see in Truth – A casualty, (again another short poem,) the subject matter of which, touches all our lives:

 

Truth is there just before you

Like God;

But we walk past

And dump it by the wayside.

 

 

Whether we identify with any formal religious sect or not is not the issue here, but it is clear that if the human race desires to build a world worth living in, it cannot ignore fundamental truths relating to how we behave towards each other as members of one huge extended human family.  The importance of understanding the other – whatever, whoever that other might be – is a theme that runs through this collection and is linked to a strong awareness that we are all now living in a fragile world crying out for protection.  The need to work with rather than against Nature is more urgent now than it ever was, for Nature will always have the power to escape Man’s desire to subdue.  Playful mythmaking in Cloud’s sibling tells of the birth of Rain with the help of Lightning, Wind and Earth.  So is it from Nature then that arrogant humans can learn that spirit of mutual cooperation and care?

 

The drama of the seasons and the natural splendours and moods of the land will always form a vital part of the Indian sensibility.  But muted tones and moods adequately balance and enhance seasonal theatre. The power of the mighty monsoon whose lashing invades bedrooms, the riot of colours which are after all “symbols of harmony”, and the gifts of “Jasmine, mangoes, water melons, palm kernels”, will always make room for those quiet moments treasured on a terrace at twilight when one can hear the call of a “…lone invisible cooing koel”…   And in this vast silence even “mobile towers”…marking the skyline, “…Electric lights…glimmering in their patchy sparseness on the metro marquee;”…  ”…Buildings and buildings strung together with mazes of telly cables;”… possess an eerie urban beauty for it is the Indian cityscape we all know from which we may want to escape but which remains strangely reassuring because it is so familiar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Sunny Rain-n-Snow’ by U Atreya Sarma is published by PartridgeIndia and can be purchased here

 

 

 

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U Atreya Sarma

U Atreya Sarma from Hyderabad (India) is a poet, reviewer, translator and freelance editor with 18 years of experience. His output comprises about 250 poems and 450 articles. His maiden collection of English poems is Sunny Rain-n-Snow (May 2016). He is a core Editor of Muse India.

 

Janet Hujon

Janet Hujon is a Khasi from Shillong in North-East India where she was born. She is a poet and translator and a writer of short stories and articles on social, ethical and environmental issues. After receiving a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong, she continued her education in the UK where she completed an affiliated tripos in English and was then awarded a PhD, also in English, from the University of London. While working part-time she has written articles for The Shillong Times, her poems have appeared in the online journal Muse India and Himalaya (Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies). She collaborated with an artist friend Gail de Cordova and together they produced a slim volume of poems entitled Vessels and Visions featuring a selection of paintings and poems she wrote in response to the paintings. More recently in April 2018, Open Book Publishers, (Cambridge) published Tales of Darkness and Light: Soso Tham’s The Old Days of the Khasis, as part of the World Oral Literature Project. The book is Hujon’s translation from her mother-tongue – Khasi – of Soso Tham’s magnum opus – Ki Sngi Barim U Hynniew Trep.

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