Brilliant and original

Singing through the Nightmare
By Randeep Wadehra.
Ukay Publishing Co. 
Pages 127. Rs 195.

Reviewed by Dr Iqbal Judge

In today’s times, it takes guts and perseverance to publish one’s poems, for poetry seems outmoded nowadays, its place in magazines and newspapers usurped by ‘lifestyle’ trivia, the hoi-polloi’s takes on matters A to Zee, or occasional sops for the soul. Fortunately, Randeep Wadehra is both gutsy and perseverant, as indicated by the title of his collection of poems, Singing through the nightmare. Respected media and book critic, columnist for The Tribune and author of Walls and Other Stories, Wadehra, in this volume, lays bare his soul’s struggles against the vicissitudes of life. Notably, the largest section in the anthology is titled ‘Angst’, and one can sense the nightmare threatening as ‘smiling masks morph/ into ghouls’, or as ‘Anger: a scythe through grass/ blade of insatiable thirsts/ slashes at life’s jungle’ and then dissipates in the dawn of realisation: ‘a body gone limp after/an all consuming orgasm’. ‘Hoods snake through lanes’; there is the chilling reminder that ‘the spilled blood of martyr /is the saffron bloom you admire/ from the Kargil heights’; and ‘skinny cherub flees/her uprooted home/in terror/ with vultures in hot pursuit... . Sarcasm spills over in the portrait of the intellectual, ‘basking in the glory of sapience ... he clings to political apron–strings, / the underpants of a godfather’; there is the strange — or is it ironic? — collocation of the lawyer, ‘cute in black suit’; ‘pigeon shit drops/ on His Honor’s ample nose’; the editor too is slammed as ‘debtor/of Mammon-worshipper` ... promotes himself, damns the rest’.

Most of the poems are descriptive statements that leave one wishing for something more nuanced, though they make for an easy read, despite their depressing titles — ennui, underdog’s agony, apathy, innocence deflowered — primarily because the images and metaphors are as familiar as the emotions.

The section, ‘Rhythms of love’ also uses the stock images of the romantic’s repertoire — roses, raindrops, ‘shimmering waters, golden sunlight and bird songs’— which would find an echoing chord with young lovers: ‘petals play with our skins/ as we reveal our emotions/ slowly gently’, and their characteristic insouciance: ‘I don’t know whether love is real/ or escape from reality/ I’m past caring’.

But then, there is the thought-provoking ‘Rama’s woman, and Mine’, in which the speaker tells Rama, ‘perhaps I pay the price/ for your excesses/ when my woman / looks me in the eye/ and says/ she will go to another man/coz I say ‘yes dad’ /too often’.

Randeep Wadehra is at his evocative best in the sections on nature and relationships. ‘Tropical Delights’ has a spirited, synaesthetic flavour: children pull at ripe mangoes/ golden juice streaks down/naked brown bodies/ scents of summer flowers/ waltz around/ sunrays slant off white teeth ...’ ‘I know’, ‘The Contest’ and ‘Haven’t you ... my seed?’ carry sparks of originality and brilliance as well.

Significantly, practically all the poems in this volume are in the simple present tense, as if the poet wishes to arrest a fleeting moment, emotion or experience and freeze it in a frame, so that we agree when he says ‘déjà vu’.