Roundabout: Love beneath the gentle shade of the chameli

Poet and anthologist Abhay K celebrates love with the unmistakable touch of the subcontinent in a new anthology of great Indian poems
Poet and anthologist Abhay K.(Sourced)
Poet and anthologist Abhay K.(Sourced)
Updated on Nov 22, 2020 12:25 AM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByNirupama Dutt

Turning the 225 pages of the mint-fresh anthology of Great Indian Love Poems, I wonder where I should begin. The enticing flowery jacket of this collection described as a ‘ratnakosha’ has many delights to offer from ancient times to the present. Flipping the pages back and forth, my eyes suddenly stop at a poem, titled The Saviours, and heart and memory fill with soft fragrance.

Exquisitely translated from Urdu into English by Pritish Nandy, it is the eternal romantic poem by the people’s poet Makhdoom Mohiuddin (1908-1969), a Marxist activist rebelling against the nizam of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad. Yes, the same poet whom late Irfaan Khan played with elan, I recall, while reading this translation by Nandy a long time ago probably in The Illustrated Weekly of India. But right now the original lyrics fill the senses: Ik chameli ke mandve tale. Maikade se zara door uss modh par, Do badan pyar ki aag mein jal gaye, Ik chameli ke mandve tale (Under the gentle shade of the chameli, at the crossing just beyond the tavern, the two of them, they were consumed by the fire of love).

And so in the trance of the four-letter word one moves from one verse to the other put together with care by Abhay K (40). He has already brought out eight volumes of verse, a memoir and had earlier edited an anthology of Great Indian Poems, gleaned from different languages, once again by Bloomsbury. Talking about the recent labour of love, he says: “What makes Indian love poems different and unique from love poems written in other countries and civilisations? Blurring of boundaries of devotional and sensual love is one of the key dimensions of Indian love poetry where divine love transcends sensual love”. Elaborating on this thought, he quotes a verse by Akka Mahadevi, the 12th century poet of Kannada, who expresses love thus: “I am on fire with heartfelt desires, Lord cut through the greed in my heart, show your way out, Lord, white as jasmine”.

Indian love poetry is indeed scented with chameli, motia, gulab and many other flowers, seasons, plants and pigments, mountains and rivers, the moon and the stars, winds and rain, thus making it a very part of nature and creation from where it stems. Interestingly, the poems written in Sanskrit outnumber the poems written in all the other languages of the subcontinent. And erotica and love are at their best is to be found in the Sanskrit poems. Kalidasa of the Meghdoot fame is one of the greatest apostles of love that ranges from the physical to the spiritual and Abhay translates his few delicious lines, thus: Craving sweet nectar, you kissed a freshly bloomed mango bud once, could you forget her bee, burying yourself in a lotus?

The book cover of the Great Indian Love Poems. (Sourced)
The book cover of the Great Indian Love Poems. (Sourced)

The range of this anthology covers many centuries, many languages, many poets: all strung together in the beads of love. Many cherished poems spring out like flowers from the pages as sweet remembrance or a tug at the heart, be it Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam’s final love poem to her lover Imroz: I will meet you yet again.

One of Kamla Das’s creations too finds its place in the anthology, in which she describes love as a losing battle: How can my love hold him when the other, Flaunts a gaudy lust and its lioness, To his beast? Men are worthless, to trap them, Use the cheapest bait of all but never Love, which in a woman must mean tears, And a silence in the blood.

A large number of poems by contemporary poets are included in the volume and many of them for very good reading, more so in times when love is often lost in the hubbub of much else. The well-known poets in this section include Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Ranjit Hoskote, AJ Thomas, Sudeep Sen, Nabina Das, Mamang Dai, Rochelle Potkar and Arundhathi Subramniam, of course, who says in her delightful poem Shorthand: The body speaks shorthand, coded yet blazingly simple, To hold each other all night, is all we want, and still we sit apart, tell stories, not trusting the only art, that matters right now — stenography.

In shorthand: Here is a book which one would like to linger over slowly taking one poem at a time and savour the different textures, words and thoughts that lead to the many-splendoured thing called love. Of course, the summing up is done by the ghazal of the inimitable Mirza Ghalib, Hazaron khwaishein aisi: Thousands of desires, each one could have emptied my breath, So many of my wishes came through but in the end, so few!

nirudutt@gmail.com

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • Complaints against service charge being added mandatorily in food bills, by restaurants, has led the central government call a meeting with the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI). (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/HT (For representational purposes only))

    Delhiites seek service charge-free food, restaurateurs reason out

    Appreciating the effort of a server when dining out, and extending monetary reward/tipping is a universally accepted practice. However, the levying mandatory service charges was ordered to be stopped, by the government. Still, many eateries have continued to add service charge in the issued bills, and some have even written it in their menu about not wanting to lay off this charge under any circumstance.

  • The arrest count in the case has now surpassed 50. (HT File)

    Police recruitment case: Key conspirator's close aide held in Karnataka - report

    The Criminal Investigation Department probing the police sub-inspector recruitment scam has arrested one more person from Afzalpur in Kalaburagi district, sources in the CID said. The arrested person is said to be a close aide of one of the key conspirators Rudragouda D Patil. The accused had reportedly provided a bluetooth device to a candidate. He was also a link between Patil and the candidates who passed the exam through unfair means.

  • How is one identified as a Hindu according to RSS, is it enough to be born to Hindu parents or should one be a member of the BJP, Siddaramaiah asked. (HT PHOTO.)

    Siddaramaiah continues to call RSS 'Aryan', asks it to come clean on loyalty

    Continuing his attack against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, calling it a "Aryan" organisation, senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah on Saturday urged its leaders to come clean about their loyalty, whether it was for tricolour or saffron flag, constitution or Manu Smriti and Mahatma Gandhiji or Nathuram Godse.

  • Ludhiana’s Tibba police busted a honey-trap racket and arrested four persons, including two women, on Saturday. (Image for representational purpose)

    Ludhiana: Honey-trap gang busted, two women among four held

    Tibba police busted a honey-trap racket and arrested four persons, including two women, on Saturday. One of the members of the gang has yet to be caught, the police said. The FIR against them has been registered on the complaint of Nagendra Yadav of New Vijay Nagar. A fabric manufacturer, Yadav, told the police that he runs a factory near Puneet Nagar. On Friday evening, he was going to his factory on a scooter.

  • Two women caught amid strong winds witnessed in Ludhiana on Saturday. (HT Photo)

    Ludhiana witnesses a pleasant turn of weather

    Bringing relief from the scorching heat, the thunderstorm witnessed in the city on Saturday evening turned the weather pleasant. Partly cloudy weather prevailed in the city since morning and rains, along with strong winds, brought down the mercury levels in the evening. As per the meteorological department, Chandigarh, the maximum temperature in the city was recorded at 40 degrees Celsius while the minimum was 27 degrees.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, May 29, 2022