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    • POEM: Heat And Dust by Shujaat Hussain (5/12/2011 1:58:00 AM)

      Heat and Dust by Shujaat Hussain
      United Spirit of Writers Academy, Aligarh, India,2009, pp.76, Rs.275/- (HB)
      ISBN No.: 978-81-906165-3-9

      The Relational dynamics between man, nature and his God in the poems of Shujaat Hussain.

      Art is man’s nature; nature is God’s art.
      - Philip James Bailey
      The title of the 2009 collection of poems by Shujaat Hussain at once reminds me of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Booker Prize winning novel (1975) of the same name. It not only captures the essence of the Indian condition but also encapsulates Indian philosophy. Heat can be both debilitating and procreative. It is an essential part of the natural world and human nature. It is up to humans to accept and use it as a positive rather than a negative energy. This is exactly what Shujaat Hussains’s title poem exhorts us to do. (Personally speaking, I am not sure whether I can say the same for dust with equal sanguinity, though dust as part of earth/soil has its own fecund value) .
      The first four poems of this anthology begin like an inverted invocation, with a call, not to the Gods or the Muses, but to fellow humans to fear God, the Creator. At the same time, the poet asks them to appreciate what He has given us. In these and other poems, Hussain’s God is Hebraic and fearsome. No loving, forgiving Creator for our poet! Instead there is a God who regards His creations as wayward and annoying. These creatures are pilloried as thieves and robbers (in “Our Freedom”) when we meet them as politicians who have transformed democracy to “banditcracy” (p.41 – what an evocative word!) . They are criticized as extremists when they privilege religion over human beings (as in “Inglorious Encounter”) . They forget that the basic tenets of faith are humanity and humaneness, and these are the foundational premises of all religions. This is not to praise the opposite state of a non-believer - a position which the poet makes clear in the poem “Atheism Quashed”. Clearly Hussain endorses Swami Yogananda Paramhansa’s view that one should “learn to see God in all persons, of whatever race or creed”.
      In other poems like “War Webs Untold Miseries” (whatever the title means) , “Irony of Peace”, “Oh Developed” etc., the poet speaks of the war-like conditions that prevail in many countries around the globe. He indicts humans stringently when he forcefully says that these circumstances are of our own making:
      Since the world wars years
      Blood of billions flows in rivers
      Weapons of mass destruction,
      Axis of centrifuge and its distribution
      Suitably shows its fingers
      Hoard of arms and ammunition (p.29)
      He also goes back into history to document the horrifying events of 1947, the brutality of the 1857 aftermath, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the violence of the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the recent killing of innocent people in Iraq and Palestine. Man has
      Amassed fabulous dollars or pounds
      Trading ‘Sales’ network of deadly
      Technology to wipe out activities (p.30)
      The poet tells him sternly that
      Kindly carry correct accountabilities
      Instead of extending shoulder for kin’s coffins
      Put their head down of such boffins. (p.30)
      In equally strident tones, he denounces erstwhile President Bush’s policy in “Shoes Soiled Saviour’s Soul” and calls it hypocritical. Readers may remember the shoe throwing incident which the poet delightfully terms as “shoecracy” (p.44) . According to Hussain, this act “deserves prizes” for demolishing “pride’s forte”, that is, the arrogance of the US (p.45) .
      Unlike Plato, Hussain upholds the position of the poet above other human beings and their professions. In poems like “Poet’s Probity”, “Overcome Prejudice” and “Indian Poets”, he addresses the issue of the redress of poetry and the special place and function of poets in society. It reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s essay on this theme. Poets are “saints and sages” and a “perennial source of peace” (p.23) . They “spread the message of love” (p.39) and their “verses cure sufferings” while cultivating a “congenial culture” (p.55) of tolerance and oneness.
      A prose like style embellished with alliteration (and mind you, they are aplenty) , irony and a mock-satiric consciousness, informs the verses with verve and vigour (it appears that I, too, have caught the alliterative infection!) . In examples like “countless canons”, “brazened brain” and “Shoes Soiled Saviour’s Soul” (to name a few) , the use of alliteration adds mellifluousness and melody to the reading. However a phrase like “weary webs waste vision” (p.52) may sound musical but eludes meaning. In the poem “Irony of Peace”, the poet uses irony for both satiric and comic effect. In the same breath, he speaks of arms dealers who sell and buy weapons in the name of peace, as well as makers/manufacturers of things like metal detectors and bomb disposal kits (equipment that is supposed to ensure order and peace) . The irony is at its piercing best when he reminds us that these agents or rather “[s]aints and sages of disorder” (p.16) thrive and prosper on the “[s]ighs, tears, blood, toll and death” of the innocent common people. The tone is calm and gentle while describing Nature’s gifts and angry and compelling when condemning humans. His concern for the maladies affecting society and his call to fellow humans to change and learn from nature and its denizens (like the little ant in “Source of Inspiration”) reflect what he preaches about the social commitment of a poet. It is obvious that he loves his country when he feels blessed by “the morning breezes of Benares”, “the evening of Awadh”, the “splendour of the Red Fort”, “the dignity of Magadh”, the beauty of Taj etc. (“Heritage of India”) .
      So much for the virtues of the poet’s poetry. Some typographical errors spoil the reading of the poems. In the first poem “Fear God for His Bounty”, a simple plural should have been used instead of the possessive form in line 15 “God’s are the host of/… (p.3) . In lines 69 and 73, the use of ‘I’ (instead of, probably, “in”) is incongruous and disturbs the flow of poetry and thought. Notwithstanding the evocative thought behind the line “Next gens rite their own elegy” (p.13) , it reads awkwardly when expressed through abbreviated forms. At times, the meaning is a bit obscure, as in the last line of the poem “Lustre of Air”. Other than subject verb disagreement (most likely a typo error) , it is not clear whose “likeness” the poet is talking about.
      The poet appears a little wary of writing about women. There is only one poem about her titled the same in the anthology. Elsewhere she glitters in fragments as on page 5 where “beautiful maidens” are promised to the pious men who enter heaven. Apparently piousness has its payoff in the afterlife, but what is in store for pious women I wonder! She (the woman) is also referred to as “Mother Earth” which is a very traditional and enduring image. To go back to the lone poem “A Woman” (p.35) , it begins with praising her as a rose which not only makes the earth beautiful but also fragrant. In the last line of the first stanza, he asks a very provocative question – whether “creation for her is being ‘dutiful’? ” (p.35) . The follow up question which is masked yet contained in it is – does she have some rights too? However, the rest of the poem talks about the other kind of woman who is definitely not the pretty rose. The comparison to a “pulpy, juicy, tasty fruit tree” seems to show woman as an object of desire and appetite, which is a tad unbecoming. One is not sure whether he wants to praise or dispraise woman. Maybe it is a good thing he has no more poems on women.
      The poet has undertaken to instruct and guide humanity and he appears to be committed to this purpose. Some poems are like moral exhortations (“Cease Hatred Forthwith”) . At other times, he notes historical happenings with pathos and empathy (“Indian Poets”, pp.52-55) . He waves the power of the pen in the faces of perpetrators of cruelty against innocent people. Humans are at the receiving end for critical opprobrium while nature is at the other end for encomium and praise as in poems like “God’s Grace”, “Mother Earth”, “Manifesto of God” etc. The latter has given us an earth full of bounties for our use. How we receive them (bounties) and what we make of them are the focus of this selection of poems. A truly inspiring anthology worth reading and buying.

      Dr. Tasneem Shahnaaz
      Reader in the Department of English, Sri Aurobindo College, Delhi University