Book Review | From Madagascar to Kashmir — Abhay K.’s Monsoon is a modern tribute to Kalidasa

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The journey, as it unfolds through the one hundred and fifty stanzas (each stanza being made up of four lines) of the poem, is a veritable opera of the seasons, of biodiversity, of geography, of history, of culture and, of course, endless manifestations of humanity itself. .

Through Garima Garg

Mousson: a poem of love and nostalgia by Abhay K.

Sahitya Akademi, 70 Pages, Price – Rs 110, ISBN: 9789355482808

In the age of instant messaging and video calling, would you choose the clouds to deliver your message to a loved one? No, not cloud computing but real clouds that travel and store joy, i.e. monsoon, in them. After all, the legendary Sanskrit poet Kalidasa did it centuries ago when he wrote his poem Meghadouta.

This is precisely what inspired Abhay K., poet and diplomat, after which he not only translated the poem, but also began to imagine what a modern version of it might look like. In the meantime, he also translated Kalidasa’s Poem of the Seasons, Ritusamhara. So it follows, in his poem Monsoon: a poem of love and longingwhere the monsoon carries its message from the island nation of Madagascar to the beautiful valley of Kashmir in India, we witness an extraordinary adaptation of the genius of Kalidasa to the present times.

In the introduction, Abhay K., who is currently India’s Ambassador to Madagascar, writes that countries in the Indian Ocean, Africa and Asia have a host of unlikely common histories that show how they are connected in various ways. The journey, as it unfolds through the one hundred and fifty stanzas (each stanza being made up of four lines) of the poem, is a veritable opera of the seasons, of biodiversity, of geography, of history, of culture and, of course, endless manifestations of humanity itself. .

It begins with the poet pleading with the clouds in Antananarivo, the capital of the country where he is currently stationed—

sick with love and far from my beloved,
Please take my message with you
with the amorous cries of Vasa parrots
resounding songs of Indri Indri (9)

the sound of sea waves breaking on coral beaches
mating calls of golden mantlas
melodious chirps of the red fody
sound songs of the Malagasy coucal (10)

These verses set the stage in a magical way as they allude not only to the poet’s love and desire for the loved one, but also to the glory of nature. But unlike Kalidasa, who wrote in the fifth century and probably did not travel outside India, Abhay K. traveled the world. It shows us the many cascading strata that form a country in the 21st century. For example, when he writes about Mauritius, he takes us there from the Morne Brabant peninsula to the Ganga Talao pond. In doing so, it packs more than you might expect…

help parasailing take off at Ile aux Cerfs
listen to the sound of giant crashing waves
against the volcanic cliffs of La Roche Qui Pleure,
pray to Ganga Talao overflowing with holy water (24)

bow in reverence to Shiva, seek his blessings
may your journey ahead be sweet,
let the snake around his neck not scare you
pay attention! his third eye can burn you to ashes (25)

so open in a fit of rage
your trip would end here in Mauritius
leaving millions awaiting your auspicious arrival
without rain, without life, without joy (26)

The verses depict the biodiversity of Mauritius and its French heritage and also skillfully introduce Hindu mythology. Evoking the statue of the ferocious Lord Shiva which stands on the way to Talao, Abhay K. also tells us about the country’s Indian and Hindu diaspora. It further makes sure to remind us why we need the rains and how they actively support much of what we understand to be life. In this way, he packs a wholesome and wholesome perspective into his poem, which is accompanied by numerous footnotes.

Throughout this formidable journey, the poet deforms and weaves the different threads that began their weaving from Antananarivo in Madagascar. Thus, while in the thirteenth verse he first mentions the native baobabs of the country, in the forty-fifth verse we learn of his descendant in Palk Bay in Sri Lanka. It is precisely at this point that the monsoon clouds part in two directions – some heading towards the Bay of Bengal while the others travel along the Western Ghats towards the Indian capital of New Delhi, where the two eventually merge and head towards Kashmir.

That rain revitalizes our lives after summers is something we know only too well. But nowhere is this more evident than in, well, the City of Joy itself. Abhay K. takes us through the Sundarbans and the coastal city of Kolkata, where the monsoon is nothing short of a festival after the harshest summers—

you would like to stay here longer
but the City of Joy has tasty surprises in store
waiting for you, savor JhalMuri, Moong Dal Khichdi
Baingan Bhaja, Ghoti Gorom and Hilsa fry (51)

the whole city will come out in the Maidan
celebrate your arrival with great fanfare,
the children will spend the day playing football
join them and help them score a goal or two (52)

Again, the rains here see more than people and land. They see different varieties of seafood and street-food and finally, football! As one of the only parts of India where the sport is popular in an otherwise cricket-mad nation, Abhay K. gently adds a fun rainbow-like detail to his clouds. In another verse, as someone who grew up in Bihar, he strikes a deeper, more personal chord –

visit my mother in Chhabilapur and give her my love
tell everything you saw, tell him I’ll be back soon,
recharge the waters of the lotus pond in Pawapuri
where Lord Mahavira rests in deep samadhi (56)

Biharis will rejoice at your arrival listening
to the sweet old Bhojpuri songs of their parents
brought by you from Mauritius and the Seychelles,
farmers will start sowing paddy while singing rain songs (57)

and offer you various specialties – shinghara,
dal puri, littichokha, kadhibari, pitha, ghugni,
pholouria, peda, laai, chhena, tilkut, anarsa, thekua
batasha, shakkarpara and khaja, savor them (58)

Many of them will be recognized by Indians around the world and for those who don’t, it’s a culinary expedition waiting to be undertaken. But we also learn that the monsoon is the harbinger of another important activity, namely agriculture, without which our lives are practically a desert. It is therefore not surprising that farmers, like fishermen and young schoolchildren, also greet the clouds with joyful songs. The clouds cross with similar pomp and splendor the Himalayas, Nepal and Bhutan.

When they arrive in the southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the poet writes evocatively of the breathtaking natural beauty of the region—

the windswept cliffs will be covered with your mist
the slopes of the hills will burst into a riot of colors,
lion-tailed macaques, Nilgiritahr and hornbills
will try to charm you on the hills of Anaimalai (75)

you will burst into rupture in Agumbe watching
sunset in the Arabian Sea, and the sea will be
turning red as if the goddess of the sea was menstruating,
old water mixing with new, fish farming (76)

After that we follow the monsoon through western India where in the Bharuch of Gujarat Abhay K. reminds the clouds that it was an old love for them. After all, since ancient times, peoples such as the Greeks, Persians, Romans and Arabs have arrived here again and again with the monsoon guiding their journeys. The poet also takes us to the Gadkalika temple in Madhya Pradesh, where his inspiration, Kalidasa, often spent his time. Throughout the poem, the poet highlights the multiculturalism of the region by invoking the holy places visited by people of Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Islamic and Christian faiths.

But just before the clouds reach his beloved, Abhay K. recalls another poetic genius, namely Mirza Ghalib. He lived in northern India and wrote often about God and love, writing the latter as a fire kindled in oneself and unintentionally. With such inexhaustible desire, the monsoon finally comes to Srinagar. He is greeted with joy by the chinar, the almond trees, the walnut trees and the pines of the city. Pheasants, sparrows and the majestic Hangul feel energized at the sight of it and narcissus flowers bloom at its touch. However, the poet’s beloved, moody and solitary, parallels the beauty of that Kashmiri rowing boat, the shikara.

Abhay K. implores the monsoon to deliver his message, along with all they have seen, heard and felt, to give him hope and joy. With a journey as epic as this, one can be sure that the pangs of separation can be eased, even if only for a moment.

Monsoon: a poem of love and longing is of course a poem of love and longing, but it is also about many other things. When our planet faces the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution, it shows us how incomplete and dull our lives would be without the annual monsoon phenomenon and the rich biodiversity , which are under threat due to the climate emergency. our planet faces today. The poet, just like Kalidasa Meghadouta and Ritusamhara, draws our attention to the world around us by bringing to life the myriad layers that make up today’s human society – from birdsong to that lip-smacking tasty street food, from the coexistence of several religions highlighting the links between the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Indian. subcontinent, from ancient maritime trade routes to the modern routine of cities. The poet’s sensitivity to this infinity of life gently transforms the apparent cacophony of our differences into an eternal song that is the monsoon.

(The reviewer is a journalist and author. She has written for various publications and her forthcoming book, Heavens and Earth: The Story of Astrology Through Ages and Cultures will be published by Westland Publications in April 2022.

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