The forest closed in all around us as the sun was infringing the western-ghats in a halo of orange and red. And it was not just another evening for the four of us who treaded softly over the drying cluster of leaves that carpeted the jungle floor: it was so eventful. The guide who led us all the way here was suddenly waving excitedly for us to troop over—he was pointing out something up in a broad leaved tree. I looked and could barely make out the bird’s shape in the evening glow. It was the Sri Lanka Bay Owl. The excitement was visible on all four of us and our guide was just as equally excited. He was gesturing like a magician and practically dancing in his glee. It was a moment to freeze for all eternity. We were on a forest track that branched off Urulan Thanni near the well known Thattekad Bird Sanctuary. Earlier in the day Usha and I had driven up from our home in Trivandrum. This was strangely enough my first visit to this famed part of the world—a haven for all bird lovers.
Each of us has his own reason and his own reasons for writing; Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s words prominently focuses on his own—when he says:
Between us, we speak differently. And yet we make out
What the other intends in silence
Where speech separates from the air…
And, he continues:
Our language is still the speech of strangers. For others.
Murali Sivaramakrishnan is an artist, well-known as a painter, and for his exhibitions, a sentient human being “behind the hushed rainbow,” who probably turned to writing poetry because he realised that his words would go on to complement his visual creations. It would be difficult for me to comment on this. But this is certain: Murali Sivaramakrishnan is a poet who wonders at how being is elicited in this world, at the manner in which language transmutes and transfigures our experiences of things, and at the way that our experience of language transfigures us:
Afterwards, every seeker is bound to trace that stormy arc-
The real is never found till it dies a mortal death
Crying out in treacherous voice in pretentious guile
Even tempting the silent one, beguiling the sordid self.
There are the elements of rhetoric: every seeker is bound to trace that stormy arc—which map Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s work. It is rhetoric of a generalisation that brings the mind to bear against the discrete beings on our horizon.
As a reader, one has first to recognise that these words are not transparent:
The tragic and the perfect seldom drift farther than a shout
Suffering is the smallest toll that any art demands.
Later perhaps, as the words deliver their meanings, we can see through their referents. And then comes the discourse of the poet, which is reflexive. There is precisely the type of verbal tension here that results in good poems in free verse, and it causes the poem to be recognised as a singular expression, a cause perhaps to rejoice. And perhaps each poem in this collection finds its own way to “listen to the breeze. Learn with the leaves/ That fall and are returned…”
Murali Sivaramakrishnan is a generous poet. These thirty one poems are evidence too of a feeling-being who is caught in a different sort of irony with more tragic implications. Throughout his work, concern and a genuine feeling for others is communicated:
Do we know how to interpret the sky?
Do we know how many times the humming bird’s wings close and unclose
Each second by second?
Do we know how long the tiny insect flits about
Until it flies right into the flame?
Do we know how to interpret the signs of our times?
And then the poet askes:
Why should we know, nor care?
We are made to wax and to wane like the shadow of the black eagle
Against a candle-light moon.
We are made to drip like last night’s rain
Through yellow and green leaves
Over black boughs and wet earth.
We are hasty eyeless roots with no skies.
I am the Saint, I am the Sinner
With a past and a future.
I’d finally like to say that Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s poems go on to make us participants in the wonderment, sharing the discovery in his poems rather than reading the mere reportage of private perceptions. We, as readers, are there at the creation, the beginning, the making of a bond, rather than receiving the final product, perfectly made, shiny and without flaws. This is perhaps, what makes Murali Sivaramakrishnan’s work human, bringing him closer to our lives. This poet never hesitates to remind us of our existence, and to talk ourselves into how and why we go on living. It is not an easy thing to do for a poet. In these sad and difficult times for our race—the human race, that is—it is comforting to people who love literature to know that there are poets and artists like Murali Sivaramakrishnan alive and working.
June 17, 2016