• Poems for the “New India”

    KG Subramanyan

    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.
    Some help;
    But some are harmful;
    Some build;
    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?

    Read More:
    Are there links between Sanatan Sanstha and Abhinav Bharat?
    Music for May 23, 2019

    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.