A Study of Usha Akella’s Poetic Vision Phase II
V.V.B.R a Rao
God is out in the open for all to see
Retired ELT Professional D- 87 NTPC Shourya, Sector-33 Noida-7 (UP)
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Usha Akella’s second collection of poems, A Face that does not Bear the Footprints of the World. is a sequel to the earlier collection Kali Dances and so do I. Expressed in normally the title of the new book simply suggests a person in the making – a personality that is unfamiliar with the ways of the world or the world itself. This unfamiliarity is not a negative attribute or an uncomplimentary description. It refers to the pristine purity – a kind of tabula rasa. The full blossoming of the flower is a matter of deep understanding, sharp insight and inclusive wisdom. Wisdom is not easy to get: it has to be gleaned grain by grain. Language and tropes are charged with power. In the poet’s expression the phonemes are charged with electrifying intensity.
Usha has read her poems to audiences both in India and the US where she landed because of a concatenation of circumstances. Though it is not always easy to get into the depths of an imaginative artist’s meaning just by listening to it once, poetry reading cannot be dismissed as a futile exercise. The way a poet puts across a feeling in his/her reading communicates the contours of the artist’s thinking, belief and imagination.
In the essay Passing through the Shredder as Phase I of Usha’s poetic vision, it has been observed that Usha’s poetic personality is both simple and complex. In a genuine poet the two apparently conflicting qualities are in happy conjunction, unity and complete harmony. Understanding LOVE (n its highest sense) is a matter of faith coupled with maturity. This comes as a blessing from above. It is there in all world religions: Hinduism, Sufism, Christianity and so on. Usha believed, going by her averments that she came under the influence and aura of the Sufi saint Rumi, that she came under Sufism and that her poetry is suffused with LOVE. But as she progressed in life and imaginative envisioning her poetic vision is and in the current book under study there is a convincing and impressive fusion of religions. Sufism is not very different from the faith the poet was born into. We have Swami Sivananda’s explanation of the essence of Sufism: “Be pious. Destroy evil qualities. Annihilate lust. Bear patiently insults and injuries done by others. Shun the company of the wicked men. Keep company with wise sages. Do good to people. Shun siddhis as they are hindrances in the spiritual path.’ Aardrata is the essence of love. Usha has divided her second volume (now under study here) into five sections: Song of the beloved; Love is sitting in the corner in tattered clothes; Tentacles of night; There is a seed and Anahata. A quick in-depth look into each convinces us of the process of crystallization.
The first section opens with the poem Beloved and significantly it is called the first gong. It is a poem of joy and enthusiasm.
The first time I head your name
It went down into the well of my being I knew it as I knew myself, the first go That echoed me back into me (p.12)*
An intense self-realization is triggered with a loud gong going deep into one’s being. Flowers bloom on the plant in the soil of memory. This is bliss, ecstasy, the proximity to Him, the Lover, a Divine feeling.
The next step is the coalescing of the self into paramatma, the Supreme Being. The prayer is:
Give the world your flesh, your ardor, Come back to me with what is mine. (p. 13)
This ‘me’ is non-existent in real terms. Then, there comes the realization that there is no choice in the matter:
For some souls a passing by is enough, Centuries dart forth and back in a glance, The universe shifts and is recreated again, The intellect is wiped out,
Some souls are Love’s playthings,
They are desired to Love and accept the hardest tasks, There is no choice in the matter. (p.14)
The coalescing is imminent, inevitable too. The ‘face’ the blank tablet – not merely tabula rasa – the erased tablet – is the pristine and the perfect as LOVE, a Divinity. For the realized one there is no significance or value for intellect. Realization is only radiance.
the intellect collapses,
the words do not matter, not sense
all that is right, and light and timeless becomes us,
I learn to accept this magic as the law between us. (p.16)
The complexity and intensity of love is all-embracing; all-surpassing..
Our Love children have occupied planets and the galaxies, giddy with delight,
The earth can’t hold the ceremony of our Love, Every 24,000 years it must refashion itself to understand our Love. (p.18)
The reckoning is in terms of eons. The earth needs to refashion itself with Love as its inner strength. It is a process, possibly through passion and turbulence to understand
ALL. The’I’ ‘You’ duality is transient, just a passing phase while heading towards coalescing, becoming LOVE. The husband-wife relationship leads to bliss when there is ripeness and fruition:
My heart, my name, your soul, our destiny, our story (Emphasis the poet’s
a patch work of remembering and forgetting, a black void of agony sequined with stars What is remembered glitters,
Hemmed with my calling, stitched with love,
Even the moon smiles from time to time in recollection of us… (p.20)
There is limitless surrender – even when the husband is loveless in the worldly sense. The point is that fighting for independence is lack of understanding and LOVE. Surrender is no mean thing: surrender leads one into a wider, self-less world of LOVE. The poem But as your beloved illustrates this:
In this century of liberated women marching the world like soldiers
and seizing the hallways of universities with intellect,
I have found no more meaning into life but as your beloved.
Surrender is total self-effacement, the firm step towards coalescing with Absolute and genuine LOVE. Estrangement and lamentation are steps to go up the not too easy ladder of LOVE. The wife coalesces into the husband.
Every corner I turned I turned for you,
every corner I turned the earth turned up in upheaval,
This I have done over lifetimes as you play hide and seek,
That I will do till scavengers tear my heat out, and when they do
they will have to eat your name into mine. (p.23)
Some lines above bring to our mind the love of every gopika for Sri Krishna, and the effort to coalesce losing all individual or personal identity.
Many poems in the sub-section Hope Drunk, Celebrate, Yes, Yes and You tell me take the reader along to a predetermined destination.: Love, Love1 I am drunk with Love, Perhaps, I must celebrate the distances,
Come! Come! Come!
I could choose life over and over again simply to love you, There must be promise of return to this unabated calling Yes! Yes! It must be true(p.29)
lead to the section Return and Love’s Calligraphy:
Yes! You have untied nature and my heart, Poetry has burst through her cage to sing again,
You have come, and I spin madly around your presence spinning …spinning …around your presence. (p.32)
These are all brief glimpses of the realization of the everlastingness of LOVE. The last poem in the section Love is the light within light comes like a grand finale:
I should have known the Light within the light, the beloved within the beloved
… … …
The exit of one has left room
for the universe to creep back. (p.36)
And then there is this question:
How can you know me if you don’t know this madness (p.36) (Emphasis the poet’s)
The self-willed, spontaneous destruction of ‘Egosense’, ‘myness’, ahamkara voluntarily leads to bliss that surrender and self-effacement alone can yield.
The second Section Love is Sitting in the Corner in Tattered Clothes is yearning for self- effacement. LOVE sits here in a corner in tattered clothes with no thought of herself, her appearance or joy in her mind. The scene in the poem Love has forgotten herself is suggestively laid in New York City. The poet comes up with her denunciations with vigor and verve. Concupiscence has overtaken civilization. Lasciviousness has come to be the order of modern living.
Love is having a manicure in NewYork city,
wearing black tights, she has just fitted herself with a diaphragm,
…… …. ….
Love is jogging in Central Park,
And rapping and poetry slamming in coffee shops
…. ….. …
Love is aborting an unborn child,
Love has become cattle in the pastures of other wives’ bodies
…. ….. …..
Look at Manhattan trying to maul the sky with its greedy fingers, “Í,I” it screams daily, “I want. I desire.”(pp.39-39)
And then there is a cryptic remark to conclude: ´love is the mask upon the mask upon the mask. (p.38-39)
Things have turned out to be lustful or lust driven. It is all itch now, all eroticism and voluptuousness. The puerile manifestations of desire, lust and luxury lead to libertinism. It is all letch. This harlotry is ruinous. Usha’s pen portraits of depravity are repulsive and are photographic representations of the actuality around. Layers of masks comes as a refrain. Love is portrayed to be busy with brilliant sketches of naked actuality. This state
of affairs is not just limited to New York alone: it obtains in Hyderabad also. Here are un-whitewashed versions of the scabrous and the scatological expressed with decency and subtle irony.
There is descent in the tentacles night and degeneration in the loveless human. There is recklessness and depravity. Though things are as they are, Love remains God’s handmaiden calling Man to God.(p.42) The thinking individual is befuddled:
Why to live! Why to live!
Love has fled! Love has fled! (p.44)
The serpent has grown robust – become a python now rendering human incapable of movement or even thinking and so all the more despicable: “The whole Samsara has come to be decadent with too much appetite.” “There are frigid wombs yielding no life” “there is insidious repetition of madness.” A flash of cerebration comes at the end of the sad lamentations: How can you see the light if you don’t see the darkness?”(p.46)
The hoarse calls, statements and shouts from the housetops with a fond hope of catching the attention of the passerby go unheard. The ennui becomes bottomless:
“God, I m tired of all things I agreed to do. ”become human
become woman wear this flesh walk this earth
be garlanded with skulls all in your name
… …. …. … What I really want to do is holler
your name from the rooftop
and pelt your house with stones till you holler right back at me. (p.48)
Faith gets convulsions and one needs to go back to square one and traverse the path trodden all over again.
Section IV There is a Seed signifies the awareness of the seed along with the conviction that it sprouts. There is a doubt at first: “The seed has sprouted once, can it once more?” Yes, it could and it did. Why to live is again a doubt – the normal feeling of ‘one at the threshold between the unmanifest and unfoldment’. This leads to the flash:
At this juncture one is not alone,
one’s agony is the signature of the human condition.(p.52)
The poet becomes cerebral and slips into prose, the vehicle of thundering grand declarations like the mahavakyas in the Vedas. The swing from poetry to prose is revealing. She says like a silent love-filled mystic who has has lost himself in meditation
and with an impressive mien reveals all in a flash. Nature emerges as Spring season after hibernating in wombs of winter, hidden in the folds of the earth. Long labor pains vanish. There is resurrection happening every second, in every blade of grass that springs back from earth’s womb with renewed splendor. God is not a mystery. God is a revelation for all to see – the only requirement is love.
The odyssey of the poet having traversed a long way, now reaches a significant milestone: “Here, experienced in this life time, in this body, in the midst of unfoldment, in the midst of Samsara… Somehow one had come home; one had wandered for years and found home right in oneself – in the sanctuary of one’s heart retrieved from the soil of Samsara.” (p.53) The protagonist has successfully come back to childhood again. She realizes that she is the seed. “I am the you of you resurrected.”(p.54) At that juncture answers to troubling questions are found, no, realized.
Why to live?
For Life’s sake. No more than this.
To be unfolded. No more than this.(p.56)
Section V, the concluding one Anahata starts with an epiphany. The autobiographical element seen in many places acquires here the status of a revelation, some kind of a last word, a testament. After the humdrum details of the life of an average Indian woman, the poet avers:
I am out of the closet – I’ve kept this secret too long,
I am a God lover,
That’ all there has been, there is and will be, The only titillation,
I am a hopeless lover at heart –
Loved by people, the world, anything that rippled God’s intent,
I declare myself a lover of God.(p.58)
To appreciate the poet/protagonist’s spiritual evolution the concept of Anahata as implied requires a brief explanation. Adherents of sublime Tantric faith believe in shat chakras in the scheme of the afferent and efferent fibers of the vagus nerve in the human anatomy. Primordial Energy is described as Kundalini Shakti. Based in moolaadhara, the pelvic plexus, the energy is awakened with sadhana by the aspirant to move upward traversing swadhishtana, manipura, anahata, vishuddha and aajna to finally reach sahasraara kamala. The poet believes in the cardiac plexus as per that tradition to be the seat of affection which is LOVE for God. This is the height to which one should aspire to realize oneself and God which are one. Love is the cardinal principle of life as well as existence. One important facet of Usha’s poetry is this LOVE. So convincingly and unmaskedly expressed, her attitude to God and her conviction that she has reached the pinnacle sends the enthusiastic reader into the depths of her heart, filled with LOVE accomplishing the coalescing into the Supreme Being.
Kali worship, Tantrism, Hinduism and Sufism all merge into a fabulous illumination culminating in bliss. Bhakti, devotion, self-surrender, compassionate concern, aardrata all fuse into LOVE, a conceptual entity crystallizing into an abstraction Man, Nature and the Divine. From mooladhaara to anaahata is an arduous journey. Once awakened, kundalini shakti attains the acme and ends up in sahasraara kamala, the lotus with a thousand petals, all because of LOVE and divine grace. This spiritual journey needs a map which the ardent aspirant has to chart himself with the guru’s benediction. We hear in Usha’s powerful voice Anahata:
My heart has burst open
and has God’s name written all over it, Petal by petal, pink-hue it lies open to the sun –
Anahata, the heart chakra in divine ecstasy.
Allah Hu. Allah Hu. Allah Hu.(p.59)
In the Faces of Shakti, there are all the seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Nature’s changing seasons are aspects of maya, the Hindu concept which defies a single- word translation equivalent in English. The concluding poems Meadow etc culminate in the Goddess speaking:
“Lusting men! Do not sit as howling jackals at my feet Thirstinf for my flesh,
I can only give you the blackness of my void, Are you ready for liberation?”(p.80)
Then there is the illumination:
I? What is I? All God’s play,
I am nothing. Simply nothing. (p.80)
The argument reaches a crescendo. And then comes finally the peroration:
I love God,
I rest my case.(p.80)
*Page numbers refer to A Face that does not bear the Footprints of the World,
Monsoon Editions, Calicut, 2008