`Overreaching’ poets in India and belatedness: the poetry of S.Chandramohan

By Umar Nizar for Twocircles.net

The subaltern in India has worked their way up from nothingness to the present-day state of absolute misery and state apathy. This fact is powerfully articulated in the poetry of S.Chandramohan, a young poet from Kerala, whose collection of poems, `Letters to Namdeo Dhasal’ was nominated for the Srinivas Rayaprol Prize in 2016.

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Chandramohan is currently associated with the `PK Rosy Foundation’ in Thiruvananthapuram. He has benefited from the tutelage of accomplished poets like Gopikrishnan Kottoor who leads the `Poetry Chain.’ Chandramohan writes:

Born in a bourgeois family

Indoctrinated into the praxeology of insurrection

Self translates oneself into a fugitive guerrilla

Adorns garbs of aliases while on the run

Always browsing for the right dialectic

Like a needle probing for the raw nerve.

-`Abandoned Translation’

The idea of aspiration is as old as humanity itself. A messianic impulse has driven poets from Homer to Yeats. But the colonial consciousness has been a `subject’ for too long, in academia and elsewhere. Tagore came after Yeats. Chandramohan comes even later. But he short circuits this link by evoking Namdeo Dhasal in the very title. The onomastic analysis of his titles throws up myriad links- feminism, Afro-American movements, Senghor’s Negritude etc. Chandramohan, like a science fiction hero, stops the flow of time and links himself to the synchronicity of the moment of Dalit awakening.

Before your mansions crumble,

I want to send you

To the smithy of the blacksmith.

-Namdeo Dhasal’s Letter to a Young Poet.

As a postscript, Chandramohan also implores the poet not to charge fees to read poems on hunger! His intensities are intensities of our time. They flow around the meticulously crafted gardens and public spaces and reaches the margins, and there, stops a bit to ponder. He references Chengara, Muthanga and Arippa- land agitations in Kerala that have curiously been absent from national level debates.

The old man

Tilled the land,

Poured out the sweat from his body,

Erected the flag hoisted firmly on the ground.

And the flag was hoisted sky high.

He watched it with moist eyes from 64 feet away.

-`Land for the Tiller’

Rochelle Potkar in her review of Chandramohan’s poems says, `Chandramohan documents subaltern life with precision and pluck, encountering two enforced exiles simultaneously – one, the injustice meted out by humans to humanity, the other of being a poet writing in Indian English.’

Subodh Sarkar says in his introduction to the book that, `His anger is an ancient anger locked in a modernity where technology shines and man remains hungry.’

But poets of the subaltern will be called arriviste, mendicants in the citadels of literature. The belatedness of so-called `arriviste’ accomplishment due to time and context, is the fateful teleology attempted to be thwarted by these poems . In a post-colonial, rapidly developing country like India, to buy an SUV is a certain way of proclaiming that you have arrived. But the contingent formation of global opinion and scientific discourse have thwarted such petty ambitions which are symbolised by the `blue-finned Plymouth’ in Arundhati Roy’s novel `The God of Small Things.’ If Chandramohan, representing the geist of our times,  storms the bastions of edited volumes presided over by Sudeep Sen and Jeet Thayil, he would be derided as an interloper.

If our screams are

Not in sync

We cancel each other

Our shadows intersect,

The void of the umbra.

-Elegy for the Slain Bloggers (Also P.Murugan)

Our screams have to be in sync. The Dalit, subaltern, Muslim, lower-caste existence in India has suffered under the liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Whatever little we have been given has been too meagre. When we finally arrive will it be too late in the day? Only Namdeo Dhasal can tell us. So Chandramohan keeps writing to Dhasak, these epistles of belatedness.  Chandramohan’s poems are essential readings for our times.

This poem walks the ramp with a self-edited gait

Without introduction or forward from veterans.

This poem does not opt for offshore liposuction

To make itself eligible for international prizes.

This poem eludes the trap

In the hourglass of time.

-`Plus Size Poem’

The author is a Research Scholar at the Centre for English Studies, JNU. His poems have been published in Ibex Press Year’s Best Collection, Culture Cafe Journal of the British Library, Muse India, Vayavya, and also broadcast by the All India Radio.