Bhakti: A short poem

By S Manjunath, with an appreciation by H S Venkatesha Murthy



With hands that held a woman's breasts,
I touch your feet.
May the thrill stir your feet.

With arms that encircled her waist,
I hug you. May the pleasure
quicken your limbs.

I have lifted and sniffed long, cascading hair.
May this flower carry that perfume
and grow you a nose.

Your secrets are out,
you deified stone phallus!
May my senses awaken you.

S Manjunath
Poet H S Venkatesha Murthy's appreciation of the poem:

Heart of language

Language is vast. Its legs stretch thousands of years into the past. Its arms are long enough to embrace the yet unseen future. Words encompass our entire being, and are precious.
Those who live the literary life, especially poets, must internalise the vastness of language. We need words. We need their history, their memories, their dreams, their aspirations. A poet prepares that way. A language looks weak when our ability to use it is weak. There is no such thing as creation in language. Everything comes from context.

Talking of contemporary Kannada poetry, the vocabulary of Bendre, Kuvempu and Putina is magnificent. This is also true of Adiga among the modernists. But after them, our poverty is conspicuous. They knew the secret of how to use their word wealth in different contexts, and how to charge a word and make it fly. Their language had the power to express profundity, the power to resonate. It had confidence, and that was a quality it acquired from the poets' confidence.
Nalacharite has an interesting episode. When Nala sets out for Damayanti's swayamvara, he mounts a chariot pulled by Rituparna's regular horses. But when Nala drives them, they travel at the speed of thought! That's because Nala knows the art of speaking to the horses' heart. Similarly, if poets know how to speak to the heart of language, ordinary words fly skywards in a jiffy. I wonder if we have now become Nalas who have forgotten the art of speaking to the horses' heart!

I have with me important collections of poetry released in the past five years. They are all by poets under 40. The ideals for these poets aren't the romantic Kuvempu or Bendre, or even the modernist Adiga. You will find in them no magic of sound or density of thought, but attractive poetic insight taking the form of prose. They have given up hypnotic rhythm. They have bid goodbye to images. What their poetry stands out for is  its prose-like, quick, crisp communicativeness. That's why, for these poets, poetry is not an unavoidable medium. If their poetry were written in another form, with the word order changed, it wouldn't lose much. Many of the new poets I like write this way. Poetic thought gets the upper hand. The glory of poetry taking form is absent.
It is time we took up some of these lovely poems for study. Unless we do that, we will not be able to grasp the characteristics of this age. I can name scores of poems I like.
S Manjunath is among the new poets I like. I talk of a little poem called Bhakti, although he has also written longer poems. I have not been able to shake off my fascination for this poem. When I speak of poetry, I always encounter a problem. I can talk in specifics about why I don't like a poem. But I find it difficult to describe why I like a poem. The easy way out is to present the poem itself! I have another reason to choose this poem. It is a good representation of the new poetry being written now.
Broadly speaking, Bhakti offers an uncanny logic—that sort of logic only poetry can—about the quickening of a deity's senses. God needs eyes to see his devotees, ears to hear their prayers. In stone deification is apparent the non-human nature of God. That's why God's sensitivity needs to be awakened through the senses. What then is the medium to awaken God's senses? The devotee's senses will have to awaken them, as they will also have to awake the conscience of God! This idea can create a new awareness about the sensual world.
H S Venkatesha Murthy
Tr: S R Ramakrishna