How a life in Indian Railways inspired bureaucrat-author Mukul Kumar

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Bureaucrat-author Mukul Kumar’s Catharsis masquerades as a collection of poetry that weaves through around 50 stories in its roughly 50 poems.

He is a storytellera writer of fiction, as evidenced by his earlier works As Boys Become Men and Seduction by Truth, as well as the narrative thread that accompanies all the poems in this collection.

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Kumar, an Indian Rail Traffic Service officer based in Delhi, draws inspiration from his own personal life. Many poems are autobiographicallike A Bureaucrat Seeks the Poet and I Created, while a poem like Confessions of an Artist is inspired by the writing process itself.

Kumar also dives into politics, with 11/26, Kashmir and Kargil, focusing on the seriousness of the emotion surrounding politics, rather than the good or bad of it. His verses are generally free, with an occasional dip in rhyme. There is a liberal use of imagery, sometimes tired, sometimes bold.

Kumar, however, is excellent with character building. The first one poem in the collection, Mr. Das, compresses an office man’s dull, dull, unpleasantly monotonous day into two pages of delightful description that ultimately screams one thing: his life sucks. The poem amazingly examines how the middle/upper class of urban India can fall victim to their own mental hells to care for the less fortunate.

Catharsis: Selected Poems by Mukul Kumar; Authorspress; 72 pages; Rs 295 (Source: Amazon.in)

Such an example: Pierced, Mr. Das will not be disconcerted by/The accidental fall of a man who/Will be no more or the lacerations of/A woman by lascivious eyes and/Trembling hands; these/undesirable tremors could overflow/disrupt the sequence and harmony of/a replicated existence.

But there lies a shortcoming. His poetry aspires to be a story. Rhythm is mostly absent from the collection, with the anastrophe (subject-verb-object inversion) often clumsily employed to force a rhyme. Kumar’s free verse sometimes resembles sentences broken loosely into stanzas, which might have worked better in prose. While some descriptions are too cliché, sometimes the subject matter is melodramatic.

by Kumar poems works best when concise. In A Dahlia of Forty-Five and When I Was My Mother’s Son, his quick delivery of a series of concrete images is far more effective than the rest of the collection because they don’t fall prey to the repeated deployment of tired metaphors. His talent for building characters and worlds, essential for fiction, shines in these poems but is never allowed to shine given the form he has chosen.

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