Poetry for psychic survival
With "Minnaminni" or "Fireflies",Tejdeep Kaur Menon is on the comeback trail and comes across as a poet of strength and sensitivity. A presentation at the `Meet the author' event organised by Akshara drew links between the experience of sorrow and suffering vis a vis the language of personal poetry. SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY reports.
Tejdeep expresses her emotions. Photo: K. Ramesh Babu
WHO SAYS poets are lacklustre creatures, and poetry is in decline? In a scintillating event, marked by an audio-visual extravaganza, Hotel Viceroy's House of Windsor drew together on April 8 a packed audience of poetry lovers from all walks of life. The event, sponsored by the city's leading bookshop Akshara, showcased the upcoming poet Tejdeep Kaur Menon under their successful "Meet the Poet'' programme. Kudos to Ashok, MD, and the Akshara team, Lakshmi and Narayan Rao for providing a memorable evening with the poetess.
Tejdeep's extraordinary success, in a way, goes against the grain of contemporary trend in poetry. Regrets noted poet Keki N. Daruwalla in the introduction to Tejdeep's first collection Caught in a stampede, "much of contemporary poetry today is dominated by academia." On occasion, when the Muse descends from the more "rarified" regions and assumes the voice of "ordinary" men and women, say bankers, police officers and librarians, it "raises the readers' expectations, apart from bringing a breath of fresh air."
Going by the three collections re-issued on May 8, Daruwalla's early prophecy seems to have been vindicated. Through these books, Caught in a Stampede 1995, Five Feet Six and Half inches, 1997 and more recently Minnaminni 2002, all by Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, Tejdeep comes across as a poet of strength and sensitivity who does not pigeonhole life and creativity into convenient and discreet slots. As eminent poet Shiv K. Kumar in his introduction to Tejdeep remarked, great poetry comes out of "deep suffering and anguish".
To be sure, not all of her poems carry the poetic stamp. Many compositions remain at the level of statements. For all their rage against tyranny and injustice, they do not cross the threshold of effective expression into the inner sanctum of the Muses. The poetic self, at such times, hovers around the rhetoric and misses the inevitable word and the ultimate metaphor, the stuff of all genuine poetry, full of sparkle and incandescence.
Where Tejdeep succeeds, and she does in ample measure, the hidden reservoir of her psychic and emotional experience is creatively yoked to the service of a powerful female voice. Her poetry is confessional in the best sense of the term.
Tejdeep Kaur, currently a Deputy Inspector General of Police was born in 1960 and has lived most of her life in Hyderabad city.
Graduating in Commerce from St.Francis College, Begumpet, she joined the coveted Indian Police Service in 1983. She secured the highest marks among IPS probationers in the foundation course at the LBSN Academy of Administration, Mussorie and was ranked 13th in the Basic Training course at the SVP National Police Academi, Hyderabad.
As a woman police officer, Tejdeep recalls, she came in intimate contact with the down and out in society: the women, the poor, the tribals and other marginalised sections. Not surprisingly, she was quick to see a connection between the status of victimhood in her personal predicament and the larger plight of women at the societal and universal plane. Her poetry does not conceal the pain, the scar and the loss. But she does not gloat or dramatise either. The experiences are accepted as the bitter - sweet harvest of life. Poetry thus becomes therapeutic. It heals and acts as a balm. "I thank all those who hurt me," wept Tejdeep at the meet at Viceroy, "for I could translate the hurt into poetry.''
Sharing such poetry becomes an important act. As Professor C. Subba Rao, Chairman of the A.P. State Council of Higher Education said in his opening remarks, "Lorca, the Spanish poet discovered a sense of fulfilment when he beheld a street walker recite his poems in Barcelona.'' Similarly, we think of the Telugu poet who saw a greater worth in the recitation of his poetry by admirers than all the awards put together. Such poetry becomes truly apocalyptic. As Subba Rao said, it is only at the time of the composition that a poet truly attains his true mission or metier.
Professor Kumar, in his turn, underlined "inner transparency'' as the inevitable mark of a genuine poetic voice.
Tejdeep's poems came through an unconventional but successful audio-visual presentation. The event was conceived, planned and oganised by her and her equally distinguished spouse Amarnath K. Menon, Associate Editor, India Today, based in Hyderabad. Aptly entitled "Anger, Anguish and Agitation'', the presentation drew links between the experience of sorrow and suffering vis a vis the language of personal poetry.
The video comprised an imaginative melange of commentary, vignettes and recitation of select poems, beautifully enacted against appropriate backgrounds.
Reading of other poems followed by the members of The Little Theatre, Shankar Melkote, Meena Murdeshwar, Cecil Parker, Jayshree Uppal, Sarala Mahidhara, P.K. Iyengar, and Amarnath Menon read out their favourite poems, in varying degrees of success.
Perhaps this reading could have been skipped in favour of a question - answer session, especially because there was an extensive reading by Tejdeep herself in the video. Here, as elsewhere, enthusiasm could lead to an overkill!
I liked the poems in themselves. They created a sombre mood and left lasting impressions: Minnaminni or Fire Flies in Malayalam spoke of the "Sleeping Beauty'' and the "Prince Charming,'' the exile of the grey night by the arrival of "this man''. The glow worms become a splendid metaphor for life - affirmation: "you can only see them glow/at the deepest end/of the deepest night.''
Anguish of the Queen of Taj turns the image of Mumtaz Mahal, as an emblem of eternal love, upside down. Perhaps what Mumtaz deserved, according to the poet, was not a mausoleum or cold marble, "whiteness for a dead woman.'' There is both indignation and authenticity in this reworking of the Mumtaz theme.
It was clearly Tejdeep's comeback trail, her refusal to go under and her desire to nurture the oyster, as she described through a moving poem, so that the next generation of daughters could wear the pearl of new womanhood.
As years pass and life's burden accumulates, protest and defiance in Tejdeep are tempered by compassion and understanding. With new love at hand, it is time to banish darkness and celebrate the arrival of "minnaminni'' (fire flies).
(The author is a Professor of English at the University of Hyderabad)
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