MY MORAL INGRESS- A POEM.

The poem created by me is based on a haunting and powerful image by Han van Meegeren.




My moral ingress
began with His hands on my forehead.
A loveless young woman,
in the custody of a natural passion,
fleeing from the one ordained as my keeper
to the one with the invisible halo.

Forbidden-
the lashes and stones in my name.
Reassuring-
the voice of the one who walks
among mortals.
Now,
Fates don’t intervene
and the reasoned audience with our
Messiah in flesh
keeps me safe.

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Let me say
this odyssey of comeuppance
should be my own birthright
and other kith and kin of my sex
must administer me clemency,
common sense
and fair judgement.

Drawing lines,
a woman’s morality,
even letting the slip of a word
with another man
without her conjugal chaperone in attendance,
is like some divine judgement,
jarring,
spineless.
The judgement from other men
turning Madonna into a fallen harlot.

So
in the name of the one who walks
amongst us,
The messianic one,
draw me to the lot
of my kindred’s breasts
and let them decide my course
when your congregation leaves town
and the lashes and stones return,
to exile me.

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ACT 1, SCENE 1 HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BY VISUAL VERSE.

Just like the wonderful amalgamation of imagery and words makes THE EKPHRASTIC REVIEW an ideal platform for creative writers like me, VISUAL VERSE adds more credibility to the pictorial urgency of the written output.

So I am very happy that my poem ACT 1, SCENE 1 has been published by VISUAL VERSE and accompanied or become adjunct with a haunting image. It is so rife with subtexts, contexts and possibilities. It’s, after all, about giving flight to one’s imagination.

So I urge you to behold the image/ painting/ artwork and read my interpretation of it. Share your thoughts about both.

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WE ARE ONE WITH THE ELEMENTS: MAATI MAANAS(MIND OF CLAY),1985.

In India, every year around the month of October and a little before that period, Durga idols gain a renewed primacy. Only this time, they are not just looked at as polished surfaces, gleaming finished pieces decked up in finery and embroidered saris for marking the annual ten-day ocassion of Durga Puja. Lying around in nondescript studios, they are seen as sculptures made of clay and mud, with each part of the bare anatomy given shape by master craftsmen and women. It is an experience to behold because the grandiosity of the Mother Goddess is likened in those moments to physical human attributes, bringing her closer to the images we identify with. The divine hence conflates with the everyday.

That spiritual intertwining is at the core of how I react to the idea of clay and mud as envisioned in Mani Kaul’s brilliant documentary MAATI MAANAS(MIND OF CLAY), 1985. Mud is the raw material, the element that shapes our perception. It bestows on the artistic temperament, especially, a karmic tone.

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Being privy to the non-fiction form of cinematic interpretation, exposed to milestones by the likes of Kumar Shahani and Mr. Kaul this year as I’ve written about them with each successive viewing, this one was as absorbing an experience as any other.

Karma is God. God is Karma. In a national and larger global consciousness shaped by idol worship where we imbue created images with holy powers of manifestation and treat them as symbols of cultural ethos, the focus here is on the  artistans who make them with their own bare hands. Painstakingly giving them shape, texture, filigree and in a way a character of their own. Maati Maanas actually integrates the art of pottery and sculpture together to make it a collective act, an iconography, a visual representation.

If we can make it more specific then it’s nothing short of a visual anthropology, even an archive of the form and its profusion through select locations. Be it animal figures, Buddha busts, the ubiquity of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization and its riches of sculptures and pottery, the underlying idea is on the act of creation as the ultimate life-giving force, as a paradigm through the reflexivity of time. Mud and clay have a direct relationship then not only with the various layers of creation but its sanctity, preservation and sustainability down to the present age. They are neither solely ethnic or regional. They are our personal artifacts. Belongings. Aesthetic inheritances.

In Mr. Kaul’s usual elegant, non-diegetic language that draws from patient observation, we receive a treasure trove, a miniature encyclopedia on handicrafts and their significance in our larger understanding. True to his sensual style, there is a primacy of hands. They are purveyors of all human actions and endeavours, from spinning the raw, wet pottery to moulding them, painting every detailed aspect to handing them out for sale. I loved how his observational, commonplace lucidity is structured in such a way that it treats these extraordinarily content and generational clans of people as true artisans because our cultural currency otherwise has a habit of eschewing their humble craftsmanship in service of glamour in other mainstream forms. What they make, to me, is a part of our cultural and socio-economic mainstream, unfortunately relegated to often being hailed as ‘collectors’ items’, a sure-footed, elitist way to bracket the arts. MAANI MANAS rights that wrong by showing us the raw, unadorned joy of the process, in terms of the physical labour but also in the joy of the people who commit to it. It’s in the body language, the stance and the undivided attention to the pursuit. Calling this a spiritual aesthetic or work ethic wouldn’t be amiss.

To this writer, the spinning of the potter’s wheel, the act of creation put on display is akin to a spinning of the cosmos, the karmic tones of it all sustaining the order of the universe. Without the arts, there will be a total void comprising of capital and bullish tempers. With them at the centrestage, there will be order. Karma will be the very idea of God without other overt associations.

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I also appreciate the presence of the underrated Anita Kanwar, a consummate acting professional, who acts as narrator, binding thread and observer all rolled into one. She contemplates on the myths, legends and folklores that arise out of this intriguing premise- living proof of a legacy as old and sentient as the living world itself. She also visits museums to look at pivotal artpieces. The poses and fluid movements are all rooted in the everyday act of observation.

I will, however, not forget her one particular conversation with an artisan, a young woman who relays innocently her vision of God. She makes idols for a living but has transcended the conventions of her occupation with an innate belief in its spiritual ethos.  Just like this documentary breaks with the factual dryness of the form to lend it dignity.  This further allows MAATI MAANAS to revel in the beauty of the crafts. I loved how in one shot, a museum exhibit of perhaps an ancient Indus Valley site is made to look as if the camera is capturing the actual location. After a few seconds do we realize that it is ensconced in a glass case. The distance or intimacy of the camera and lighting gives us that impression. Similarly, in the range of artworks captured, the anthropomorphic, the divine and the grotesque all find ample space, giving us a picture of fluid representation.

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Mud is the element that can be made anew and render itself pure though we scoff if we are caked with it. In hindsight, we all remember how mud and clay are the foundations for all children whether it’s through playtime or making clay toys, letting the gift of imagination soar. I mean I grew up toying with and even creating clay art .

Mud is the essence of life. The Earth abounds with its ubiquity.

The calligraphy of life begins with it. Dust to dust, as we say.

A true meaning of Romanticism, reliant on the interrelation of nature and imagination is to be found here in MAATI MANAS. It is to be found in the cinematography by Venu, editing by Reena Mohan and Lalita Krishna, score by Mangesh Desai and especially in the prominent flute instrumental by T.R. Mahalingam. Mani Kaul’s excellent output thus makes it essential for all cinephiles. In our current era where the disruptive process of sensationalism and half-researched subjects have brought the artistic era down by notches, this one proves why there is a premium to the word CLASSIC.



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THE MASQUE FOR HALLOWEEN

Based on this undated painting from Scotland by an anonymous artist, I designed a poem around the interesting imagery, just in time for the season of Halloween.

I hope you like the tone and style of this piece.

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THE MASQUE FOR HALLOWEEN

The masque for Halloween
rings in a crucible for stereotypes,
the madness and the uncoordinated dance
just as splendid for the occassion
as the prosthetic noses
and pointed hats.


An inner voice still quivers with the words,
‘But is this cause for celebration,
all ‘ye noblewomen?’
seeing your own kindred
deformed in stature and looks,
made disgusting and ugly,
BIBHATSA
out on the cold stage,
twitching their lashes and body language,
with the natural lighting from candles and oil lamps quite the dampener already.
Like catching Salem in its heyday,
before the rebels were pronounced as witches.


The masks, the crypts and the holding up of bronzed skulls,
like Hamlet in his deadpan disposition,
does the aura no great novelty either.

Just then,
the young lady at the center of the performance
starts levitating
and secrets tumble out of her mouth
along with a sea of blood
and everybody calls her possessed,
affected by her afflictions
of make-believe
and vulnerable enough to give in
to the bold spectacle of misery
expected out of this nightly ritual.

And then the onlookers start dropping out of their seats,
passing out into some other world
and a banshee wail unites the others
until wave upon wave rises,
shadows of apparitions exiting from the window
and the room collapses in mid-dream.

The writer of this horror story
then wakes up with a start,
catches a breath
and decides to abandon the misogyny of the genre for another day.
Or to never return to the distortion of fantasy leveled at the subconscious.


Note: BIBHATSA refers to the disgusting and fearsome humour in Indian aesthetics.


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HAIL THE LIVING LEGENDS AND SONGS FOR EVERY HUMAN EMOTION.

This essay pretty much follows the title as most of the songs talked about here are from artists who have stood the test of time while the youngest among them have already made their marks in the present and for future reference points.

So this is an eclectic, truly satisfying medley of form and content comprising the annals of musical affinities, for all discerning listeners.

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The caravan of 2021 is heading towards an explosion of excellence with the return of Adele as her latest single EASY ON ME precedes her upcoming fourth studio album tentatively titled 30, in keeping with her previous track record.  Let’s just say that it is an instantly hummable, relatable piano ballad where her momentous vocals take centrestage. The chorus, though, puts a premium on acknowledging her youth and allowing her the space to evolve with the years.



Kacey Musgraves, with the perfect album cycle of 2018’s Golden Hour to support her, is back with her latest record titled STAR-CROSSED. The title track begins with a swoon, a release, a moment of introspection that very beautifully restores sense to a weary mind after a relationship takes toll and disintegrates. The Spanish guitars evoke its mood of contentment and serenity with expertise. In fact, I like how the spare instrumentation and pithy storytelling let it flow with the emotions.  It’s the perfect song to express finding one’s space in life after a rough patch, with dignity to spare.

Following closely is GRACIAS A LA VIDA, a song rendered in Spanish, that honours her roots in the borderstate of Texas. Its air of serenity benefits from the acoustic guitar and the changing tones in Kacey’s Zen-like vocal delivery. Proving once again that language is never a barrier to understanding the true essence of music, this is a welcome addition to the playlist of someone who constantly reinvents her oeuvre and gains momentum for the same ethic. I love both numbers owing to the cumulative effect of these factors.




Lana Del Rey follows suit with music videos for two beautiful singles off her new album BLUE BANISTERS ( I will be listening to the whole album in coming days), the first one being for ARCADIA- a second visual treatment- and the other for the title track. They are what they are: melodies that are buoyed by spare instrumentation and vivid lyrics. Enough said for now because you need to listen to them for a befitting aural experience.  I also love how they employ personal details so eloquently without being on the nose.



Brandi Carlile, whose latest album IN THESE SILENT DAYS continues to be explored by me, has given us YOU AND ME ON THE ROCK where the yin and yang dynamics of a steady relationship of years is at the center. To me, it’s one of the most positive songs of recent times and is beautifully written, feats that Carlile and her team reiterate each time with tact, simplicity and good graces. This song has all those qualities in droves. Plus, the added incentive of being guided by her favourite instrument-  the guitar.




Among the latest releases, I have to be particularly grateful to Joni Mitchell for sharing with us a live 1970 duet with James Taylor titled YOU CAN CLOSE YOUR EYES, from her storied vault. It is in the form of a simple, spare melody that celebrates the fervour of music, lasting for two and a half minutes of bliss and harmonies that are unforgettable. I can’t stop humming the chorus since the last many days.





Last but definitely not the least are two new songs from the iconic group ABBA. You know 2021 has been adorned with silver linings when our all-time favourites get together after four decades to release I STILL HAVE FAITH IN YOU and DON’T SHUT ME DOWN off their upcoming November record VOYAGE.



All I have to say is that the trademark magic of uncomplicated lyrics, crystal clear vocals and harmonies make the two songs worthwhile, maintaining the classic sound that has reached generations. It makes me so happy to have them by our side.



Now to round it off, Eric Clapton’s latest tryst with live performances of some of the greatest hits off his catalogue in THE LADY IN THE BALCONY: LOCKDOWN SESSIONS is here. With two new takes on GOLDEN RING and BLACK MAGIC WOMAN respectively, he has us enraptured. Watch them to know why.




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HALL OF FAME

In today’s count of artistry in the hall of fame of well-established bands, I implore you to explore the curated content on official YouTube channels of QUEEN, PINK FLOYD and THE DOORS. They are filled with rare footage, live performances, stills and what’s more, they are regularly updated with new and exciting content to ensure the timeless legacy of these groups are sustained week after week.

I am in awe of QUEEN: THE GREATEST, a Friday feature where the band’s legacy is broken down in short form, interspersed with visuals and commentary. The 32nd episode was aired two days ago and all this is in recognition of 50 years of its eminence on the global stage. Trust me, for fans, each instalment is a treat and will make way for bottomless enjoyment. It is, most importantly, all about the distinctive contribution of each band member that made the collective imagery and style remarkable.




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Pink Floyd’s official channel further fills me with anticipation as the epic vision it is revered for is often found in live footage, some of which I have shared and written about here in the past, and in the short films that were integral to their concerts decades ago. To me, a young man in his 20s, it’s a veritable treasure trove indeed because I get to experience the visuals from close quarters. That sensual awakening to their craft is a triumph for me as an avid listener.

SIGNS OF LIFE is my favoured one. The sights of a boat serenely being rowed on a placid water body and the crystalline shape of water drops along with the musical accompaniment are memorably etched while DOGS OF WAR ,with the presence of a host of German Shepherds with red, glowing eyes and wartime imagery, is impactful too.


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THE DOORS is also on this list mainly because of the way legendary band member Robby Kreiger has been instrumental, in recent weeks, in connecting with current footage involving the band’s iconic imprints in popular culture and talking about his latest book SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE among others. Plus, the audio commentary on songs like L.A. WOMAN and a priceless clip of John Densmore on drums, playing RIDERS ON THE STORM.

So it’s a treat for longtime fans like you and me.



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I also honour a few other classic songs that I had the privilege of adding to my playlist off a Spotify alternative 1990s assortment. Out of the overall expanse, I went with my instinct and explored thirteen songs I felt I had to listen to. Also because I had not heard any number from these lauded artists/ bands so far in my life except one by Radiohead and of course two by the iconic Jeff Buckley. I am happy to say, my instincts paid off and I have been going back to this diverse array of music again and again. So I share them with you, in hopes that you will hear them too if you haven’t already.

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CHERRY COLOURED FUNK by Cocteau Twins is seeped in synthscapes and alluring vocals; the overall texture is bound to arrest attention.


THE DRUGS DON’T WORK by THE VERVE is one of the most poignant songs I have heard in a long time. The urgency of the melody and lyrics coupled with the delivery make it a heart-wrenching affair, one that is rooted in personal crises and addiction but wrestles with the long road to recovery and redemption beautifully.


A LETTER TO ELISE by THE CURE has a rolling rhythm via its contagious drum beat and guitars, with the youthful vocals perfectly making it accessible.



Further, we follow the list with two absolute standouts by RADIOHEAD, with Thom Yorke juggling the dead weight of a weary soul, in the poignant and effectively charged vocals of  NO SURPRISES, almost as if he’s numbed by the heartless ways of the world while CREEP, a song I have come to get accustomed to, is indictment of a society that labels individuals to shun and ostracize them. It’s inarguably one of modern rock’s very best, setting a template for dissecting alienation with characteristic openness.


NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS figure prominently here, thanks to the spare, piano led confessional INTO MY ARMS where scepticism and a genuine devotion to love’s many- hued pursuits get beautifully integrated while WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW issues a tale of betrayal and intrigue on a similar level of subtlety, giving Kylie Minogue a profound guest turn on the vocals.


Jeff Buckley, a shining star dimmed too soon, gave the world a transcendental take on Leonard Cohen’s already iconic HALLELUJAH. That song and GRACE become part of this list though I had heard them before, the latter with more attention this time around, to be honest.

Have an ear tuned to the undulating tones of Grace, a task Buckley handles with exquisite grace as the guitar, too, formidably changes gears.




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TRUE LOVE WILL FIND YOU IN THE END is a one and a half minute lullaby of sorts from the underrated DANIEL JOHNSTON, an artist whose song SOME THINGS LAST A LONG TIME was brought to my notice by a cover from Lana Del Rey and a documentary based on his life, released five years ago. Listen to this one. It makes you long for more recognition for an extraordinarily innocent and creatively prolific life lost too soon.


The end of the journey includes the effervescent MALIBU and the thought provoking DOLL PARTS by Courtney Love fronted band HOLE. The latter song, covered a short while ago by Miley Cyrus on Howard Stern’s radio show, is a cutting commentary on the cult of image especially detrimental to females in our cultural heritage. Its pause and play effect with drums and moody guitars amply evoke the grunge era that she and her partner Kurt Cobain forefronted at their peaks.

But individually, it’s a great song, with her play with the word ‘ache’ deploying exhaustion, terror and retributive tempers, given the pressure points and stakes involved in the game of keeping up appearances.



Finally to end this essay, I cite Bjork’s IT’S OH SO QUIET. What an exciting riot of moods, genres and vocal modulations abound here, mixing jazz with an evolving artistic palette. I love it.



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GOLDEN LIGHT

The life-affirming image in the sky that inspired this poem.

There’s a time of day
to witness nature’s crown in the sky.
One can say with some honesty
that customary mornings
oftentimes
make the magic of incantatory forms
dissipate and not quite appear
as they do around sunset.

That’s the perfect point
to catch golden inflections.
When the curtain of light
opens itself.
When the evening clouds
are in repose
and no longer believe in spreading
their day-long expanse of lucid blue.

This particular day,
my eyes could see
a final blink from the sun,
appearing without any inhibition,
like melting butter,
as if the ancestors themselves
were purveyors of this beauty.

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Such a canvas is somber.
The crows becoming incarnates
of the departed
and those stoic cows are at leisure,
patches of pleasant white and brown
with the green around them,
as I feed them
customary portions of the day’s feast.

Witnessing all this is the river
around whom a ministry of faith
rings in evening bell tolls
and distant incantations;
a sacred geometry since ancient awakenings.

This scenery,
with the sun soft and dappled with life,
a whole lineage reminisced in prayer,
build up the laws of life
and an almost incantatory mystery
is in all of this,
a mute songcraft only heard by a few.

The rituals of the day
and a reprieve to the soul
always bathed in golden light.

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NOTE: this poem is based on the Hindu/ Indian tradition of Pitrapaksha, in which we pray for departed elders, preparing a vegetarian feast in their name and then offering portions of it to crows and cows, in sacred consonance with them being symbols of the soul, of the mortal world.
On such a day, I saw nature mingling with the somber mood of this observation.

Hence, the photograph above that I clicked and around which I have designed this poem.

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AFTER THE GOLD RUSH

From my early days as a kindergarten student, my teachers instilled in me a love and inclination towards images and words. Picture compositions, where one lets imagination fly high and explore the implicit and explicit details behind an image, always allowed me to excel in terms of creative manifestation. To this date, that early blueprint has helped me tremendously to construct worlds both real and imagined in my poetry.

EKPHRASTIC REVIEW is a publication that celebrates the same penchant for boundless creativity with its prolific output that expands our creative powers, with its sundry prompts based on artwork cutting across eras. All in the service of also facilitating an appreciation for art in general and the global cultural legacy in particular.

As all these aspects have always been dear to me, it’s my honour to have my poem AFTER THE GOLD RUSH, based on the prompt around Elin Danielson- Gambogi’s painting AFTER BREAKFAST, be published by EKPHRASTIC REVIEW. It’s my second publication on this platform this year. So it makes me very happy that my poem was chosen and placed among other highly worthy pieces. Most importantly, it helped me conjoin images and words in a cohesive whole and to be acknowledged for it gives me immense satisfaction.

So read the poem, look at the original painting and share your thoughts.

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MY POEM ‘SHANTI’ HAS BEEN PUBLISHED BY BELOVED RHETORICA QUARTERLY JOURNAL.

My ekphrastic poem SHANTI has been published by my departmental journal RHETORICA QUARTERLY. It is of course inspired by the painting titled PEACE by Marian Spore Bush which I feel reflects Indian myths of Shiva and the idea of life and death with intensity.

So this particular work springs from my own interpretation and hopefully all readers will find it to be resonant too.

I also reserve pride and joy for this departmental journal has completed a full year and a half since its inception in 2020. Even amidst the pandemic, the team continued to provide impetus for all literary minds and their eclectic vision. So kudos to them.
 
I feel particularly proud as an alumnus of the department to have many of my poems find a home here. It always is homecoming in that manner.

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The poem in its entirety.

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