Poems for the “New India”
May 24, 2019
The results of the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections have been deeply disappointing. One source of anxiety is for the future of parliamentary democracy in India, given the victory of Pragya Singh Thakur an accused in the Malegaon blasts. Pragya won in Bhopal by a margin of 3.6 lakh votes. In such worrying times, we look towards cultural politics both as a source of comfort and to consolidate our solidarities for resistance. It is in this context that we remember today poems by renowned artist, scholar, poet, writer, teacher and institution builder, KG Subramanyan. Fondly called Mani-da, he lectured at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda in the 50s. He lived a great part of his life in the city of Baroda, until his death in 2016. With his keen political awareness, he responded through his work to the many instances of Hindutva-orchestrated violence.
The two poems and the art works also by KG Subramanyan should be viewed together:
Title: Anatomy Lesson, Part of a triptych, Acrylic on Canvas, 2008 | Image Courtesy: Seagull Books
Anatomy Lessons (Also published as After Malegaon)
You do not have to go
To anatomy rooms
To see dismembered bodies
You can see them on the street.
Eyes blown out of sockets,
Faces ripped apart,
Torsos crushed and mangled,
Torn limbs strew around,
Like playthings in the pathways
For stray dogs to tug and tear.
Streets are now open playfields
For wild men on the prowl
Masked out of identity
With black dress, hood and gloves
Seeking to blast the bodies
Of unwanted fellow beings.
To assert a waning manhood?
To express an inner hurt?
To avenge an ancient grievance,
Or serve a faceless god
Made out of stone or timber
Or a non-material myth
Born out of countless stories
That spew from many mouths
Where each new wash of spittle
Reshapes a previous tale
Painting in shadow patches
That leads one’s mind astray
Cloud it with dark suspicion
Seed it with barbs of hate.
Streets no more ring with laughter
Doors stare like vacant eyes
Hold whispers in shaded corners
Wails in the corridors.
The wails are warped with anger
Tears hiss like molten lead
The heart’s once smiling garden
Is a patch of deadened earth
Spewing new bugs of hatred
In each human, beast or thing
Cramping their growth and action
Shrinking their inner selves.
Trees chop the sky like hatchets,
Grass flares like blown-up fire,
Birds slash the air with curses,
Beasts glare with gory eyes
And each man sees his neighbour
A monster in human dress.
Anatomy Lesson, Terracotta Panel of Five, 2009 | Image Courtesy:Seagull Books
You think you are a person
With a mint-marked face and body
A singular gait and speech
A fool-proof fingerprint
A prefigured DNA.
So dress up and smile for a snapshot
For others to see and say
This is surely so-and-so.
But some think you are a mansion
Even larger, a row-house street.
Housing a million microbes
Unseen by normal eyes
That control your inner traffic
From wherever they sit
Switch on your pangs of hunger
Sweep in the swallowed food
Soak it in steamy juices
Turn it into flowing blood
Run it through throbbing channels
To a secret central pool.
But some are harmful;
But some unbuild
The streets of this homopolis.
Do all this under cover.
The snapshots can’t locate them,
Unless they screen and scan
With all kinds of new devices
And read out the cryptic codes
That reel off their ticking ends.
Even in your normal viewing
You are not wholly you.
When in the early morning
You go to wash your head
Before a laughing mirror
Good lord! You notice there
Your two eyes move quite freely
On the floor-mat of your face
Wink, blink, stare and ogle
Shoot slanting glances,
Quake soft like trembling jelly
Freeze hard like sharp-edged flint
To say, though we are within you
You are part of what we see.
Then, when your jaws fall open
And show you your shadowed mouth
You see with wide-eyed wonder
Your ribbed and restless tongue
That unfolds its fleshy body
Like a squirming caged-in beast
Or swims in a pool of spittle
A playful skin-robed squid
Greets you with handless gesture
Watches with eyeless stare
And runs in grainy edges
Upon the lips and teeth;
Rears up like a rising reptile
To the roof-top of your mouth.
Seeming quite independent.
A visitor from outer space?
A loose-limbed sleek alien
Who sneaked in a previous night
When you left your lip-door open
And the fencing of your teeth
While groping in sleep-sunk waters
The white buds of your dreams?
This is an excerpt from Poems: Rhymes of Recall by KG Subramanyan and published by Naveen Kishore and Seagull Books. Republished here with permission from the publisher.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.