Book review: Everyday struggles take the centre stage in these poems

From nature in all its beauty to the tech-crazy nature of life in contemporary times, the verses in Ajay Kumar Singh Musafir’s poetry collections straddle a vast canvas.
Every poem ends with the poet referring to himself in the third person and Ajay/ Musafir is portrayed alternately as raconteur, listener, counsellor, friend, guide and rival.(Getty Images)
Every poem ends with the poet referring to himself in the third person and Ajay/ Musafir is portrayed alternately as raconteur, listener, counsellor, friend, guide and rival.(Getty Images)
Updated on Jan 08, 2018 01:25 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByKankana Basu

Poetry is that magical land most writers dream of visiting at some time or the other, and then there are those for whom poetry is a permanent country of residence. Ajay Kumar Singh ‘Musafir’, author of the spiritual book, The Donkey Chronicles, makes the expected crossover in his two new books, Poems from Lakhisarai: A Journey from a Small Town in Bihar and The Sounds of Silence: Journey Through the Age of Illusion.

Confessing to being inspired by the poet Meer Taqi Meer, Poems from Lakhisarai begins with a bathed-in-gratitude ode to goddess Saraswati and is followed by a snug domesticated poem addressed to his children Anjali and Aryendra, where he warns them against squandering time. Soon after, love for the soil of one’s homeland makes itself felt in a couple of poems even as the poet extols on the myriad facets of the river Ganga.

Another work of reverence is reserved for Lord Shiva though in later poems the poet (in the words of a fakir) will reject god, godly powers and astrology outright. ‘…god is gas” he proclaims in one place stressing on the futility of prayer, ‘luck is down with a flu’ he states in another. There is frequent mention of Mahatma Gandhi and his peaceful methods of protest and much anguish at the nation repeatedly failing this great soul; greed, materialism, the rupturing of family ties and other vices said to be prevalent in Kalyug, are a constant leitmotif.

The Horse and the Rider, a metaphorical poem about a wild horse and a much-loved tame one, tests the option of blind freedom against having a guide to steer one through life and is memorable in its concept. Covering eclectic topics, the poet follows gluttony to its tragic end in one poem while in another there is confrontation between brain and brawn. Nature in all its beauty and occasional fury (a river in flood) is described in graphic detail while a gambler-turned-sadhu dishes out some valuable gyaan in many a poem.

The Sounds of Silence begins on a Lochinvar-type note with the dashing protagonist picking up a cup and quaffing off the wine before going into raptures over the feminine charms of a courtesan. More feisty poems extolling on the physical charms and feminine mystique of unnamed ladies follow, along with verses meandering around romantic love and unrequited yearnings.

The poems lack the edgy brevity favoured by seasoned poets and the alluring ambiguity that invites multiple interpretations besides unlocking the reader’s imagination. But Musafir’s poems, though guilty of being overemphasised, score with their warm emotional connect.

The title poem crops up with the protagonist patiently waiting for dawn to break even as the silence ringing in his ears is compared to a scream (for reasons unspecified). The poems in this collection weave around community feeling (in this case, for the village idiot) prevalent in rustic towns and the usual treachery and deceit associated with passion and young love. The poems about the tech-crazy nature of life in contemporary times and man’s total enslavement to technology are relatable and particularly relevant. Old-fashioned themes like honour, loyalty, honesty and the perils of nurturing an inflated ego are touched upon, as are emotions like despair and defeat. The vagaries of the fashion world make for an unexpectedly amusing read.

The poems get steadily more confident towards the end – Sometimes Think of Me is poignant while Lost on the Highway and The Poet and his Poem are well-crafted.

Fascinatingly, every poem ends with the poet referring to himself in the third person and Ajay/ Musafir is portrayed alternately as raconteur, listener, counsellor, friend, guide and rival. This unusual technique could have lent a touch of narcissism to the books if the poems hadn’t been genuinely naïve and simplistic.

Favouring the rhyming style of writing, some verses read plain baffling (All that glitters may be bitters/ And not the shine you see/ Life one fritters for one skitters/ For the grime as time flees) while others are rich with native wisdom (You cannot cross the same river twice/ It is now somewhere else/ You cannot meet the same person twice/ He is now someone else).

The poems lack the edgy brevity favoured by seasoned poets and the alluring ambiguity that invites multiple interpretations besides unlocking the reader’s imagination. But Musafir’s poems, though guilty of being overemphasised, score with their warm emotional connect.

Here is a grounded man talking about everyday issues in the simplest of words; that in itself lends these books their earthy charm. Eclectic in nature, some of the works are ballads where he narrates entire stories spanning generations (Sagar Mai’s Proof, The Road to Ayodhya – based on a true event), some verses are more prayer than poetry and yet some others, a kind of social commentary. The canvas is vast and encompasses nearly every imaginable subject, both urban and rural. A touch of finesse and some sharp editing would have helped the books enormously. But befuddling grammar and quaintly self-indulgent verses notwithstanding, Musafir’s poetry is straight from the heart.

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Friday, May 27, 2022