At a time when the nation has been imbued with the spirit of elections in five states, acclaimed author Mukul Kumar has decided to turn a new leaf with Catharsis, a collection of poetry launched recently in New Delhi. Author of two well-received novels, As boys become men and Seduction by the truthMukul Kumar surprised many of his readers by moving from the medium of stories to poetry.
Among those who were surprised was the famous poet Sukrita Paul, who believes that “Mukul Kumar’s poetic enterprises will give a reflexive dimension to his fiction just as the writing of fiction seems to inform his poetry”.
“When a storyteller turns to poetry, the habit of his pen stretches the form of a poem to accommodate a narrative. Ideas flow in a sequence like in a story and there is also the presence of a character or two in the poem. His poem ‘Mr Das’ begins and ends like a story would, drawing the reader into its fold verse after verse, arousing the reader’s curiosity about what might happen next,” Sukrita Paul writes of the book. As for Mukul Kumar himself, he explains his transformation from a fiction writer to a poet: “Lately, I’ve been writing mostly fiction, but still, I find myself happily always ready to respond to the blows of the poetry to my soul. The soul, yes, because I believe that poetry springs directly from the soul, and that it is therefore pure and immaculate. As the German poet Novalis said, “poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason”.
Catharsis, edited by Payel Roy Chowdhury, comprises 52 poems encompassing a myriad of life’s moods. Throughout, they act as a mirror to the poet’s mind and provide a panoramic view of the peaks and troughs of life. Take for example the poem entitled “A bureaucrat seeks the poet”. Here, Mukul Kumar, a civil servant by profession, writes about the struggle to balance a daily non-literary job with the urge to write poetry. One requires a stable head, the other a flight of fancy. He writes: “I come home from the office/In the evening, and rush into bed dreaming of loneliness/I turn off the light to illuminate the inner poet/But it is useless”.
Likewise, he expresses his thoughts about his mother. Of course, he wraps it in generalities. But the intensity of expression says it all. He writes: “In this night of pain, a pair of hands on my fulminating forehead which shelters a spirit ignorant of the disease but believing in the omnipotence of these hands weaving a convalescent sleep.
Of course, Mukul Kumar transcends the immediate and the personal to talk about life in general too. His words are particularly poignant when he talks about a generational gap between old and young. “The contrast between the old man walking slowly but firmly and me doing my daily evening jog is a double-edged sword. His heart, sick but strong, transmitted the stiffness of his limbs to the staff on which the old man walks.
Or take the last poem in the collection. Entitled “Solitude”, the poet expresses here the anguish left by the writing: “Can you decipher the silence Abuzz with the unspoken words / Can you feel the presence of those who are absent?”
During the heat and din of elections and highly contentious electronic media debates, ‘Catharsis’ may be the food you’ve been looking for for your soul. He engages in his understated ways.