First Person

Writing in the Pandemic – Amita Paul, Lily Swarn, Rituparna Khan, Amrita Valan

Poetry As A Potent Force – Amita Paul


Words are powerful . Music is powerful. We all know how words can sway people’s hearts and change their minds , how music can change their moods . This is true not just of individuals but of whole masses of people, sometimes of whole nations. When the national anthem of a nation is sung collectively on important national days the sudden surge of emotion is to be felt to be understood .

Poetry combines words with music, and gets a hold at once on the thoughts, imagination, and hearts of the reader of the listener. The poetic speech of Mark Anthony addressed to the citizens of Rome after the assassination of Emperor Julius Caesar changed not only the minds of Roman citizens but the course of history as well .

Many of the scriptures of various religions of the world are written in poetic form. The Vedas are written in Sanskrit verse . The Sri Guru Granth Sahib , the holiest of Sikh scriptures, is written entirely in the form of Shabads or hymns ie. in poetry. The Psalms of David and the Song of Solomon , also known as the Song of Songs , in the Bible and the Torah , are written in poetic form. Religious poetry , often sung as hymns , goes a long way in inspiring devotion among followers of any religion just as nationalistic poetry enthuses patriots , or love poetry excites lovers .

Poetry has long played an important role in wooing and courtship . Lovers are known to write letters containing love – poems to one another . Shakespeare’s entire collection of sonnets is addressed to the person he loves showing various moods and shades of love and would make him an immortal poet even if his entire collection of plays was to be lost .
The Poetry of any nation shows you the quality of its nationhood . Before the British became a world power , they had Shakespeare . As the Empire expanded they had the Romantic Poets,  chief among whom were Wordsworth , Coleridge , Byron, Shelley and Keats ; then they had the Victoria Poets , such as Tennyson , Matthew Arnold , the Brownings , the Rossettis , Swinburne and Edward Fitzgerald of the Rubaiyat fame , and poets of the World War era such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen . When India fought its freedom struggle the songs of great poets like Rabindranath Tagore , Sarojini Naidu , Bismil Azimabaadi , Hasrat Mohani , inspired us as indeed they continue to do to this day.

Sir Philip Sidney , an English poet, courtier, scholar and soldier who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age, summarizes the purpose of poetry, to be to elevate the soul to a state of perfection. He describes poetry as the highest form of art, one that expands the mind in a number of ways, purifying, enriching, and expanding it through its lessons. The Romantic Poet , Shelley , writes : “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” He argues, that civilization advances and thrives with the help of poetry. The Victorian poet , scholar , teacher and critic,  Matthew Arnold , in one of his most famous essays on the topic, “The Study of Poetry”,  writes : “ Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry”.

To bring matters closer home , let me share with you a personal odyssey. I myself have just come through a bout of the dreaded Coronavirus with minimal medication and maximum meditation constituting mainly of prayers and poetry which kept me in a positive frame of mind which in turn is vital for fighting the wily virus . I participated in the Global Poetry writing month through three separate groups and was writing at least three poems a day to given prompts , often also in specified poetic forms . Even when I was burning with fever , between long naps , I would read and compose poetry , which won a lot of praise and positive responses from fellow poets and other readers , boosting my mood , and I’m sure my immunity as well . I ended up with a collection of 113 poems in the thirty days of April 2021, being the first to finish writing to all 30 prompts in one group , getting an offer of publication of some of my poems from another and finding my 29 th day poem about the view of the sea through a porthole becoming the first featured poem on the Global Poetry Writing Month website – an honour and a longtime dream ! A friend remarked that I had chosen the the best line treatment : physician’s advice , prayers and poetry . I’m finding it useful in dealing with post Covid complications as well , touch wood .

Yes , I have no doubt in my mind : Poetry is a potent force , for goodness, for healing , and ultimately for the perfection and salvation of Mankind as a whole.

Amita Paul
Patna , 22 May 2021

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A Scorching April – Lily Swarn

A scorching April 

Beamed and smiled at me 

As timid blooms sipped greedily from the sun 

I was afloat on a raft made of silken skeins of love !

Smeetha led us  on a mystifying sojourn to virginal landscapes in our poetic hearts and pandemic battered minds . 

The month blossomed into an orchard of juicy fruit falling pell mell into our eager wicker baskets . An experience I shall not forget in a hurry as poetry hushed and flowed like Tennyson’s brook …..

Endlessly

Poetry As Panacea – Rituparna Khan

Poetry is not to be understood. It is to be felt, read, enjoyed, to be loved and portrayed, scribbling through word-plays and meandering in rhyme and rhythm. 

Poetry, to me is something that walks in and breathes within me when the rest of the world walks out.

During these days of pandemic, since March 2020, the world has and is going through oceanic upheavals. Poetry is one of the vents that gushes out the trauma of all these crises and their ominous spell on our green earth.

The earth has fallen to shambles. She needs to be reclaimed. All her beings, both animate and inanimate are in wilderness. Poetry is that straight and simple course of our lives that offers refuge from the labyrinths of despondency that we are trapped in. 

Poetry is the panacea of all ills.

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The Daily Routine In Disruptive Times – Amrita Valan

The days prior to 23rd March 2020 seem like a dream, a luxury of sunshine and dawn arousal, the rush of tiffin boxes with kids going off to school and hubby to work .

I did not have to set aside time for a morning walk to get my daily dose of vitamin D from the sun. I got sunshine in plenty those days, leaving to fetch the kids from school at 2 pm, after cooking lunch and getting all the housework done. From 2 pm till 4 in the evening the kids and I were out in the sunshine and open air, burning in the afternoon heat, as I rushed to two different schools to pick up my boys, and then caught a bus or auto back home. A bus meant a ten minute walk after disembarking, through crowded market places, alleyways, with an occasional stop perhaps for a milkshake or ice-cream or a brown paper bag of steaming hot jalebis.

 What I most yearn for is the sensation of touch. If we met an old friend on the way we spared no effort to hug and offer hearty handshakes. We casually exchanged money or objects like a bus ticket, or a packet of biscuits, or an ice-cream cone from the palms of total strangers. And we did not have invisible Laxman Rekhas (boundaries) within which we cowered, if someoneone came too close for comfort. I remember breathing in deeply outside, the cologne of a passing stranger, the fragrance from roadside flower girls, the expensive perfume of a lady as she sashayed by, her pallu brushing my wrists. The world was friendlier, more cosy and intimate, a more tactile place.

Then came the declaration of lockdown in the wake of the corona virus. With it came strange new concepts of “physical social distancing”, wearing gloves and masks outside, staying put at home unless absolutely essential, except for brief occasional forays to hurriedly stockpile groceries, gloved, tense, masked and fearful.

And the endless washing of hands and sanitizing, and wiping down of door bells, door knobs and every item purchased. Prior to 2020 who would even consider sanitizing a new bar of soap?

Life it seems has changed forever.

I do not need to get up in the wee dark hours anymore, to rustle up six tiffins, ( a breakfast and a lunch each) for hubby and my 2 boys. Online classes start at nine. I have become a late riser. I get up at a leisurely 7am, and start breakfast and household work. My pace is slow, unhurried and less joyful. I long to be out and about, not jailed at home. The boys get up at 8 and just brush and comb their mane, they too are less disciplined and focused. Haircuts are now a rare tri-monthly trim by me .

The earlier school habits of being neat and spruce have disappeared, and taking pride in one’s appearance, in school badge, tie and belt seems a futility, an anachronism from a past existence.

We don pyjamas, bermudas and nightdresses lackadaisically around the house, and our “smarter attire” has been shelved.

We have all put on weight from lack of our previous outdoor romps, and the daily hustle and bustle of an active life. Now we ensure good health, by controlling our food intake, (horrified by the sudden ballooning of our bodies) and by maintaining an exercise regimen from YouTube Videos. I have started a spot of Yoga and static exercises in the evenings.

I never liked the rat race, the boys hated showering at 6:30 and leaving the house at 7:15 am.

On the plus side the environment has benefitted. I remember how the roads would get bottle necked during school hours as each parent brought out a car to ferry their kids to school, emitting exhaust fumes and leaving smog in the morning air. Car pool was not good enough for our little pampered princes and princesses, never mind the pollution and nasty traffic snarl ups. The roads outside are now cleaner with less exhaust gas emissions, fuel is conserved and used for actual need not vanity.

So, some things in these disruptive times are actually quite an improvement.

But what has significantly impacted people, me included, is the sense of isolation, of being helpless and cut off from the world and community at large. The upside is also ironically enough a more socially aware community ready to help virtually, but like I said the sense of touch makes a world of difference. I cannot imagine the day I will again pick up my neighbour’s chubby baby and plant a kiss on his forehead.

Darkness, an indoors existence primarily breeds depression and claustrophobia. I try to ensure intake of vitamin pills, B,  and C and D to keep this at bay. I try to increase intake of minerals and vitamins naturally though fruits and salads for my children.

As a family we have come closer, playing word games, dumb charades, memory games and board games, in lieu of football in the field or badminton. But I confess as a community, while the good Samaritans do ensure we stay close-knit with constant updates about our health, online and on telephone, we have become “socially distant” from our immediate next door neighbours, because of this enforced though necessary physical distancing.”

We are less inclined to spontaneously invite a neighbour over for a cuppa, or huddle at our doorsteps or sit together on stoops to while away an odd hour in idle chatter.

Sometimes, I look back on the life we led before 2020 happened, as La Dolce Vita the sweet life, and at other times, I am thankful for the novel new extras, the extra time with my husband and children that this enforced isolation and close association has wrought.

Everything, even a malady, even a viral pandemic, has its blessing and curse.

In all these petty disruptions, I thank God daily for preserving our health, and pray for those who are battling for their lives, or battling to save others at the risk of their own. I salute our doctors and nurses for their bravery. My heart goes out to the very poor who cannot afford social distancing in their crowded shanties, in their necessity to earn their living by working in crowded markets, or the homes of strangers. Theirs is an indomitable grace under pressure, and a courage that inspires me to tolerate all my petty inconveniences and disruptions.