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
The image that I had of India transformed considerably while I went through Susheel Kumar Sharma’s The Door is Half Open. The title of the book comes quietly to the reader. At first it is hidden. When I read the title of the book I considered the meaning that right thought/mind is the key to the door of life to direct the stream of energy and thus if the door is half open we have not reached that place yet. I finally came to the conclusion that the illustration of the door on the front cover of Susheel’s book, The Door is Half Open, tells a story on its own. It clearly is a door to a holy place as if to say enter with reverence and in silence. What is further intriguing is that there is no such poem called ‘The Door is Half Open’ in this collection of 52 poems. The headings or names of the poems in the collection are also not the starting lines of any of the poems.
This sort of book cannot be reviewed in one sitting for the poems in the collection cannot be reviewed without reflecting on them for a while. I have carried Susheel’s poems with me now for many months, in fact since much before they have come out in the book form like W B Yeats carried Rabindranath Tagore’s but unlike Yeats I could not write an Introduction/ critique instantly. In my case I had to go through transition first before I could sit down and review. After much contemplation and as this book is an anthology I sensed the soul/heart of Susheel Kumar Sharma and discovered that he was a people’s poet (he openly discuss his own life and/or human nature in general) and he is a poet’s poet (moments of obscurity in his poems).
Before the title of the book made an impression, it was the first poem ‘Ganga Mata: A Prayer’ that grabbed my attention. It is evident that the Ganges is a part of the being of Susheel Kumar Sharma. What I have learnt by wallowing in his poems is that the plight of the Ganges is at the forefront of his thoughts. Here the opening poem ‘Ganga Mata – A Prayer’ sets the pace. The opening poem starts with a great reverence and reflects the poet’s deep love for her. Further some lines of ‘In the Lap of Nature’ come to mind:
I hold on —
Stretch my arms
To bring you to my folds. (p. 31).
As if the poet wishes to express: “Please come in, if you so wish, but tread carefully amongst the dreams and realities, for they are precious pearls”. According to the Hindu belief, Ganga commences forth from the Supreme Lord Brahma’s Kamandala. The poet’s reverence and love sets the scene for this poem and the content of this poem sets the pace and foundation for all the other poems. So much so that now after having contemplated these poems for so long I sense a distinct rhythm when I recall any part of Susheel’s work. I think it is the rhythm of the Ganges. There are poets that have their own form of expression (exclusive to them) and it is the case here as Susheel’s poems has a distinct layout and content. Anyone who takes time to understand ‘Ganga Mata – A Prayer’, will know that it comes from the poet’s innermost core. The poet uses 56 alternative names for the Ganges: forty seven synonyms, five epithets and four attributes. One not only has to study and consult the “Glossary” to appreciate Susheel’s poem and his concerns but has also to reflect. The poet comes to the Ganges for more than the needs of atonement of sins or sharpening his nerves as he wishes to enjoy her with freedom. He wants to be visible and asks twice for a hutment. He wants her to show her power again, to release herself so that everyone experiences her in amazement so that she can provide Moksha not only to him but the entire human race. He ends the poem with the glimpse of her and the song of the holy dip. However the thought that comes to my mind is that Bhagiratha already paid the price for all according to Hindu belief, but a poem is not there to answer every question. There is so much movement in this poem that perhaps the poet alone will be able to put it in a nutshell. I think that he has done it in the last seven lines of the poem:
Ganga is ours –
Release Ganga –
Gange tav darshanan muktih
Har har Gange,
Har har Gange. (p. 9)
The last poem of the book is entitled ‘Liberation at Varanasi’ — this is again a poem rooted in Indian culture for Varanasi has a special significance for the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains (please consult ‘Glossary’) – it is not only located on the banks of the Ganges but is one of the oldest living cities of an ancient civilization (refer to ‘Glossary’). If one spends time to understand ‘Ganga Mata – A Prayer’ the cultural context of a pilgrimage to Varanasi is understood on its own. The last four lines of the poem explain the poet’s quest:
It is a call to find answers
On the banks of the Ganges and
In thy narrow streets
That brings me to you, O Varanasi. (p. 92)
When one considers all Susheel’s other poems in the context of ‘Ganga Mata : A Prayer’ and ‘Liberation at Varanasi’ one understands why Susheel writes about the Sacred Hindu Trinity, the Goddess in all her forms, his Beloved Ganga Mata, Hindu Cosmology, the expansion of the universe, the state of India and the world, human nature and his daily concerns and joys. He comes to the Ganges and reveals all. Susheel celebrated his 50th birthday in 2012 with this collection of 52 poems. To me it is as if he places his 50 years (a half a century – half of an expected lifespan) into the arms of Ganga Mata (if one visualizes the poems ‘Ganga Mata : A Prayer’ and ‘Liberation at Varanasi’ as two of her arms). Susheel thus records his realities, dreams and concerns sandwiched between these two poems.
‘Spineless – II’ speaks of a feeble conscience without the deeds to match. It is a thought provoking poem. ‘Crisis’ has a very uncommon touch with the line “for madmen only”. The poem ends with the persona being at peace. I imagine that the poet’s dreams/reality as depicted in ‘Shattered Dreams’ are very vivid considering his education and religious life. The shattering of dreams/reality is heartfelt. His consideration includes the dreams/realities of others. Even shattered dreams have to be guarded for they are an integral part of the life of the soul. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. We are a living proof of it. In ‘Routine’ the poet lets go, physically and mentally, a rebirth and thereby receives vitality. ‘Dilemma’ is a wonderful narration of a family. The persona’s grandfather was his father’s example of how to hold one’s head high and the persona attended the same school. Our environment is much more than what we possess or own. Loving lessons last a lifetime and beyond. Being poor is a set of circumstances that can be changed by a caring neighbourhood and governments. In most cases the poor live amongst the poor.
‘Dwellings’ is a touching poem – it gives hope of at least a beautiful, coloured mosaic. There are many dwellings of despair, but due to the many miracles/manifestations of the works of the Almighty, it appears impossible to give oneself over and remain in these dwellings. Sometimes however, putting oneself in the other person’s shoes just can’t be done. That person alone will understand their despair. A community that cares is a wonderful buffer against despair. It is true that hope gives “skin deep wounds/…a pirate’s heart” (p. 24), but the Almighty manifests a way out of despair in our lives, at the most seemingly impossible times.
‘Meditation’ is a very visual poem. Any meditation is personal. We are expressions of the Almighty’s life-force. If all be removed the Almighty will remain. It is in our nature to be hopeful and it is hope and faith that fuels meditation, but when we lose faith we try and contain the Almighty’s expression, as if the Almighty can be contained. I love the first stanza. “zipping unzipping the mantra” (p.25) expresses the soul search and the effort involved to stay focused. It paints the picture of a soul in anguish. Here it is only the person in meditation that can give true expression to this poem. ‘Meditation’ and ‘Purgation’ give me the same taste in the mouth. ‘Purgation’ answers the questions of ‘Meditation’ that the Almighty remains, no matter what.
When India was “discovered”, its invaders did not realize that they had entered a civilization. They did not understand that being civilized did not mean that the people you invade have to have the same culture as yours. Using the metaphor of a mango stone the poet in his ‘Mangoes’ reminds about India’s civilized past and present. The mango stone is considered the seed of life and the mango leaves accompany every sacred occasion and the dead. It heals unlike bombs that can kill souls. It restores by lying buried to grow and shade a holy cow to yield milk for both its calf and the cowherd’s newborn. We should be like a mango stone – to understand our sacred journey. The title of the poem rings in my ears at times and instead of “Mangoes”, I hear the words “Man goes”.
In the poem ‘Ganga Mata: A Prayer’ Susheel says; “I don’t want a visa to the moon” but tickets to the moon are fully sold in no time in the poem ‘Mirage’. Waiting might mean our appetite might overtake our real thirst, but there are promises made that we should not worry, we will be taken there. Susheel says that he is happy with what he already has and the poem goes an extra mile to remind us to daily reserve our place and steadfastly practice our faith.
The poet put quite a bit of thought in ‘Hope is the Last Thing to be Lost’. One would say it is the case with all the poet’s poems, but for me this one stands out. It encompasses such a multitude of angles in which man tries to bring changes to the world, many of them are subliminal. Then amidst all this constant efforts, a few realize that they have control over the amount of effort they wish to put into anything and others again work tirelessly (the bee) without complaint or thought to the effort or reward or loss.
The one who abandoned his wife and son
Sleeping on the couch
The one who renounced his throne
The one who was beckoned
To become the light of the world
Is suggesting the way out. (p. 86)
This stanza made me ponder that “the one who was beckoned” is the line that gives me some insight into how the Buddha commenced his journey. The poem underlines that hope gives courage. The last four lines express the hope of the poet.
My interpretation of the poems in the collection is set in the frame of mind or context that the book is about India, but also covers international issues. But what touched my heart is the poet’s universal cry in ‘Ganga Mata – A Prayer’:
I want the world
To be a home for all
I want the world
To be a wonder for all. (p. 5)
It was the wonder to treat all alike with Shatmukhi
It was the wonder to consider the earth a home like Adya
It was the wonder to treat all with care like Jagatpriya.
It was the wonder of the resplendent glory of Tejaswini
It was the wonder of the powers of light of gleaming Ratnavati.
It was the wonder to feel the plenty with a drop of Vimalodaka
It was the wonder to feel healthy on the banks of Vipasha
It was the victory song of the soul over matter
It was the wonder to live with nature
And not to open its entrails for pleasure
It was the wonder to discuss the origin of time
And not to impose the limits of time
It was the wonder to believe in expanding the universe (p. 6)
and the poet’s wish for the eternal Ganga:
May you flow eternally in the hearts of people (p. 6)
I have never been out of my country and as a result had to rely on general knowledge, reading, knowledge of the Indian Community of my country, South Africa, the ‘Glossary’ in the collection, newspaper articles, the internet and the poet’s patience. Every line of Susheel’s poems tells a story and you have to read with concentration or let it flow over you for a while. His work is very picturesque.
*Carol Abrahms (Krotoa Thuys-Abrahams) is a Khoisan (khoisan heritage is linked to her grandmothers; Khoe/Bushman). She wears many hats and divides her time as a woman, a wife, a mother, a community worker, a friend, a semi qualified accountant, a professional property practitioner, a lifelong learner at the University of South Africa and a lifelong community poet (unpublished). She considers herself an activist for the purity of the individual poet or writer’s craft, bearing in mind that it is impossible to be totally unaffected by influence. She believes in making a better world together even if it means to change herself. She is currently self-employed and works from home.