Book Review of 'The Door is Half Open' by Susheel K Sharma
Susheel Kumar Sharma, The Door is Half Open. New Delhi: Adhyayan Publishers & Distributors. 2012. ISBN: 978-81-8435-341-9. pages 141,150.00/US $ 10.00 /UK £ 15.00
Reviewed By: Shamenaz, Assistant Professor (English), Dept. of Humanities, Allahabad Institute of Engineering & Technology, Allahabad.
Courthope defines poetry as an art of producing pleasure by just expression of imaginative thoughts and feelings in metrical language. This is reflected by Susheel Kumar Sharma’s poems in his second collection, The Door is Half Open, that has appeared after thirteen years. Much water has flown in the Ganges since 1999, the year in which the first collection of his poems, From the Core Within, appeared. The 52 poems in the volume are based on many themes like religious, social, cultural, and political and economic and personal history. The first poem in the collection is ‘Ganga Mata – A Prayer’ is the poet’s tribute to the river Ganga, a goddess in Hindu culture. The verses in Sanskrit are interspersed here and there in the poem. They act like a curtain does in a drama.
Swargarohanvaijayanti bhavatim bhagirathi prathaye
Namo Gange mahottunge Trivikrama-padodbhave
Jai Shambhu -shirahsansthe Mandakini namo’stu te (p. 2)
The scene changes with every chanting of the verses in Sanskrit and the tenor of the poem goes along with it. Thus there are ten scenes in the poem. One can find several pilgrims reciting Sanskrit verses in praise of the Ganges before and after their bathing and while performing religious ablutions on her banks almost round the clock. At important Ganga-Ghats Ganga-Arti is also held where such verses are often recited. In almost all these cases verses from at least two sources have been mentioned by the poet. This shows that the poet is imagining that at least two devotees are present on the ghat/ banks. The Ganges is one of the mightiest rivers of the world and on its banks are situated the oldest cities of the world. The river has been a witness of the rise and fall of various empires and also of civilisations. But Susheel’s main concern is with reverential aspects of the river even though he might be lamenting the present condition of the river like an environmentalist. Taking the help of Hindu mythology, he has beautifully articulated his feelings in the form of a tribute. While praying to the river, he has addressed her with 48 names where each name has some literary, cultural, geographical, mythological, historical or some other significance. Like a devout Hindu the narrator of the poem expresses his wish to live and die by the river so that he goes to heaven after his death. He says:
I just want to live and die by you
Allow me to have a haven
By your feet, O Shailasuta!
My ears are eager to listen
Evamastu uttered by you.
Grant me my wish, O Samudra-Mahishi! (p. 2)
In asking for such a wish he has portrayed his deep regard for the river Ganga which is not only considered to be holy in India but is also the life line of the great north Indian plain. There are two more religious poems in the collection viz. ‘Liberation at Varanasi’ and ‘Yama’ based on Hindu mythology. To help the reader unfamiliar with Sanskrit or Hindu religion and culture a detailed ‘Glossary’ running into 18 pages has also been appended by the poet. It explains not only the verses and words in Sanskrit but also words like brahmins, chapati, idli, naga, sangam, Varanasi etc arranged in an alphabetical order. The best way to enjoy Susheel’s poems is to understand his cultural context by going through the glossary first and become familiar with his environs and again refer to the Glossary while reading the poems.
The second poem in the collection is titled ‘Spineless-II’; ‘Spineless’ was the first poem in the first collection of the poet, From the Core Within (New Delhi: Creative, 1999, ISBN: 81-85231-27-3). Seeing the structure and titles of these poems it can safely be presumed that Susheel is still struggling to define ‘conscience’. Apparently there is no connection between the first two poems of the collection under discussion. But once the reader closes the book and meditates the connection appears in a flash. Those who matter cannot take any decision about Ganga’s plight because they are not listening to the voice of their conscience. They are spineless people – sometimes they start exploiting the Ganges as a natural resource to produce electricity or to irrigate fields in search of development. At others they are swayed by their religious and cultural sentiments and shelve the highly technical, costly and adventurous projects without caring for the harm already done by the launching of such projects.
The poet describes our inner voice, conscience, which dissuades human beings from committing wrong deeds. The poet has used different symbols like a pen, cat, pudding, cautious drive, old father, vintage car, electric bulb, dew drops, new tyre, computer screen, pigeon chicken and aeroplane to describe the indescribable like the conscience. All these are the innovative similes. Poems like ‘Swan Song’, ‘Mirage’, ‘Gifts’ and ‘Contemplation’ are also symbolic in nature. It can safely be concluded that unless different symbols used by the poet are not decoded his feelings and thinking cannot be deciphered.
The poem ‘From Left to Right’ expresses poet’s feelings towards his city, Allahabad. He has tried to describe its spiritual and historical aspects. Not only this, he has also highlighted the transition which is taking place in the town and making it into a city. In ‘Vicious Circle’ the narrator is dealing with the family of soldiers who leave their family and also their country to go to other land to fight as they have been ordered to do so. Their family is left to lament because in many cases they don’t return as they die in the battlefield and leave their family in mourning. In ‘Racist Attack’, he highlights a grave issue of international importance, racial discrimination, which is prevalent in this world.
There are some poems based on social problems i.e., ‘Poverty: Some Scenes’, ‘Nithari and Beyond’, ‘For a Bride who thinks of Suicide’, ‘Struggle’ and ‘Democracy: Old and New’ describing various problems existing in the society. By highlighting these problems the poet is in line with Plato’s opinion: ‘poetry and literature are inextricably tied up with the values and ideologies of culture as a whole; art is not separate from the socio-political sphere.’
Some other poems are based on literary world but on different subjects. The poem ‘Grief’ is a reflection on the nature, temperament and attitude of the poets as the following lines indicate:
It is useless to
Wipe the tears of a poet
He is lonely forever. (p. 21)
In this manner Susheel is trying to tell about the loneliness of the poets who create their own world in their compositions. The poem ‘String’ details the eagerness for creativity in the field of writing. The poem ‘Across the Lethe’ is about the memory of somebody who was very close to the poet and whose ashes he has immersed into Sangam. Although the narrator immersed the ashes twenty years back but the memory of the person still haunts him all the time and he is not able to forget him/her/them.
In the poem ‘Inquisitiveness’ the narrator talks about the inquisitive nature of his son and daughter and in ‘Tiny Tots’, he expresses his views to become young. In ‘Vanity’, he tells us about the strange and unique kind of desire of an old man who is weak and sick but does not want to die and wishes to live for some more years:
I don’t want to die unsung.
I don’t want to die unheard.
I don’t want to die weak. (p. 32)
There are some poems which are based on the note of hope, optimism and positivity like, ‘Dwellings’, ‘Vanity’, ‘Hope is the Last Thing to Be Lost.’ Then there are some others based on despair, solitude and dejection viz. ‘Agony’, ‘A Wish’, ‘Bludgeoning of Chance’ and ‘Handcuffed.’ Some of the poems like ‘Crisis’, ‘Camouflage’ and ‘Grief’ are satires on various aspects of life. Many poems in the collection like ‘Strings’, ‘Meditation’, ‘Masquerade’, ‘Relationships on a Holiday’, ‘Shattered Dreams’, ‘Routine’, ‘Reasons’ and ‘One Step Together’ are written in subjective manner. ‘At the Hospital’ is a poem which reflects the experience one undergoes in a hospital. In the poems like ‘Heavenly Love’ and ‘O Beloved’ Susheel has laid stress on Platonic love. Then there is also love for motherland reflected in ‘A Poem for My Country.’ There are some poems based on nature viz. ‘In the Lap of Nature’, ‘Gopalpur on Sea’, ‘River’, ‘Colours’ which show that the poet derives his inspiration and motivation from nature poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Yeats. The poem ‘Mangoes’ describes the importance of a mango tree in the customs and the rituals of Hindu religion.
Many poems in the collection are written in free verse. The poet has tried to show his innermost feelings on many issues related to our existence and survival on this universe and has dealt successfully with some religious, social, cultural, and emotional themes in the book. There are clear evidences of his being inspired by Hindu mythology, religion and culture. All these poems are also reflections of his intellect, creative mind and sensitivity.
Six readers from all around the world viz. Ann Rogers, Barbara Wühr, Gavriel Navarro, H C Gupta, Kenneth Lumpkin, Roy Robert de Vos have expressed their opinion about the poems in the segment, ‘Afterwords’; all except H C Gupta have highly praised the poems for their various qualities. This shows that these poems can be subjected to different interpretations owing to their uniqueness and quality. The publishers deserve kudos for adding an important name to the field of Indian Poetry in English.