I am still thereAt the border scribbled byA shred of your tearsRemembering your song
This is Prakash Sayami at the border—the no-man’s land characterised by a cleft identity scattered among different, undecided personalities. He is at a quadrivial of creative life, unable still to settle in any particular work. A lyricist, poet, researcher, filmmaker, coordinator, broadcaster among others, Sayami appears intent, at least now, on settling on a track and maintaining it. This track is perhaps offered to him by poetry.
Many would say that Sayami is essentially a poet. Poet and critic Rajendra Bhandari opines: “Though he may have experimented with many pursuits, he is most fundamentally a poet.” Sayami himself confesses in an interview with author Geeta Tripathi: “First and foremost, I am a poet. It was later that I turned to be a playwright, essayist, storywriter, translator, coordinator and the like.” Sayami is aware of his innate strength: “I may have changed places in the last thirty years; but I have not ceased applying myself constantly to poetry—sometimes by writing and at other times by reading and listening to others’ recitals.”
The most powerful attestation of these claims is the maturity in poetic craftsmanship and brilliance of content he exhibits in the recent Ghalibko Chihan ra Aru Kavita, a collection of poems, songs and ghazals. Though the generic eclecticism still continues to plague Sayami in his literature as in his life, the comparative excellence of poetry over ghazals and songs categorically confers him a birth of permanence in poetry. The songs and ghazals included in this collection exhibit a thematic boredom, all revolving around commonplace themes of love and betrayal. Sayami’s muse is best expressed in poems, and so this review confines only to that domain.
What in his poetry is novel and strong is that most of them are metapoetic, and make a strong apology in favour of art. Sayami is aware of the declining position of art and poetry in contemporary society and holds anchorless politics responsible for the same:
He finds poetry everywhere-
In demands for the premier’s resignation
Or in clashes at protest sites denouncing regression
But he cannot write one
The poetic flair inside him
Is gradually dying
Instead of making much intellectual projection, Sayami picks up verses from the heart, and touches nature in its true nakedness. These images build up a beautiful collage, combining colours from the hills, rivers, music, love and the lives of the common people. Away from the hubbub of the city and the conundrum of politics, his verses create a refreshing sanctuary:
Often, when I am alone, I remember hillsAnd when I do so, I weep aloneAt a time when contemporary Nepali poetry has turned almost mundane with clichéd themes of political stagnation, conflict and urges for systemic change, Sayami has launched a romantic renaissance, pulling pure nature, music, art and love into poetry once again. Untouched by the hubris of linguistic resourcefulness, particularly that of vocabulary, Sayami has picked emotions from a layman’s tongue, and tinged it with the colours of his own heart. This reminds of me B. Traven who in one of his stories projects that songs without soul are lifeless.
There are ample testimonies in the anthology to support the argument that Sayami is a true romantic, consciously bent on preventing pure poetry from mundane adulteration. Art finds primal celebration in his lines, and artists are alluded to in many of them. For example, Mirza Ghalib, Tara Devi and Jhalakman—exponents of music and poetry—have been celebrated, regretting how their voices suffer the danger of becoming silenced with time. Sayami’s own fear about the position of art in future is also alarming:
If my poem, like meIs doomed to die unarmed one dayWhy does it comply To accept its own birth?
The vision of this death—of art and poetry, and along with it, the artist—bears a serious critical connotation. It is an outright war for him; hypocritical politics, reckless ambition, profit-mongering globalisation and duplicity stand at one front, and on the other are art and poetry. He still envisions that he can force time to reimburse the world for the death of Ghalib, which marked the end of a romantic fervor that was capable of generating sublime poetry. Ghalib’s grave suggests forcefully buried sentimentalities; there are many singing Ghalib’s ghazals in city restaurants and earning their bread selling his songs, still ignorant of the artistic edifice of which Ghalib is the foundation. Ghalib here is a metaphor, standing for human values at their best, and human civilisation at its best.
The collection does have some minor typographical errors, and repetition of images, but being as it is an endeavour to resurrect romantic poetry, that fact overshadows all limitations. Once again poetry of art, nature and love converge, and poetry is rescued from the political quicksand. Sayami’s poetry will be saluted in the contemporary poetic movement for the beauty of expression and the genuine prosodic vocation they have most successfully rendered.
[First appeared on The Kathmandu Post]