The ‘Holy Constitution’, Corruption and Liberation in R. K. Singh’s ‘Tainted with Prayers’
– Queen Sarkar
Assistant Professor, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kakkanad, Kochi, India.
Tainted with Prayers, by eminent Indian Poet R. K. Singh, embodies the voices of dissent against the stringent subjugation and atrocities inflicted by the political authorities. From taking up the issues of territoriality to marginality, unsparing male ego to the throes of violence and insecurity, Singh’s poems speak for the disenfranchised. The collection captures everything from –personal experiences to global trauma. Across the expanse of his poetry, R.K. Singh combines the seriousness of issues with a degree of playfulness to acknowledge the dilemmas of the armored self. The poems in this collection invite us to a space of interactive encounter with the self, disclosing the disquieting narratives created by us. Considering the fecundity of his poetic oeuvre, the article is an attempt to focus on the political, cultural, stylistic, and aesthetic nuances of Singh’s latest collection of poetry titled Tainted with Prayers.
Keywords: Dissent, Poetry, Translation, Culture, Politics, Identity, Environment
R.K. Singh has been at the forefront of poetry for well-nigh three decades. Singh has evolved to a state, where his poetry archives the lost imprints of history, captures the hollowness and confusion of the contemporary society and records the acrobatics of the heart in times of terror. In an era where dissent is being termed as illegitimate, where instances of intolerance are more pronounced than ever, where the roots of our existence are questioned, Singh’s Tainted with Prayers brings a ‘New Dawn’, “in the mind ageing fears”. For readers, the poems are arranged in such a captivating random order that you can pick up any poem and still feel connected. The nuanced and subtle semantic import, aesthetic specifications, the cultural highlights, and the elemental human predicament at the backdrop of the political dissent, acquaints the readers with the distinctive features of the collection titled Tainted with Prayers.
The concise introduction of the collection, where Singh says that the book is “dedicated to a person who recognizes the real truth and has been working for humanity, now under tremendous stress,” creates the template for the creative dexterity that Singh sews with charisma and splendor.
Intimations of reality pervade Singh’s poetry in this unspeakably dark moments. The political conflicts, the voices of dissent, the synthesis of the east and the west in Singh’s Tainted with Prayers, force us to spend more time with the poems than we anticipate. It soothes our discomfort, clings to our beliefs and awaken us to our complacency. The poems here force us to speak out our discontents on the hollowed notions of democracy, throes of violence and uncertainty, and, at the same time, help us in reimagining a syncretic world. Singh’s response to the contemporary moments of crisis in Tainted with Prayers formulates a unique visual register wrapped with bold expressions. To quote a few lines from the poem ‘Dreams of Clay’:
there is no beauty
or holiness left
in the naked nation:
the streams flow dark
and the hinges of doors moan
politics of corruption
A section of Singh’s poetry also condemns the authoritarianism, diluted with injustice and inequality. One of the glaring fears of democracy which gives the elected members an unbridled power to curtail the citizen’s right to question or disagree with the government in power is accentuated boldly in this collection. True to his poetic self, Singh expresses his discomfort with his hortatory voice and powerful mode of expression. To quote a few lines from the poem titled ‘Gourmet Journey’:
To win elections
they sponsor chaos chanting
kill tongues that utter dissent
or oppose foolishness.
Against a background of social turmoil on having an independent thought or disagreement with the elected public representatives, whether in the university campuses or outside ‘mandir and masjid’ (temple and mosques), amidst the trend of branding the people as ‘anti-national’, or ‘enemy of the country’, between the debate on ‘love jihad’ and women outfits, Singh’s poems continue to question the ideological muddle of the state, its shrinking morality, tainted by corruption, and in a way empower the readers to be adversarial towards duped narratives. In the poem titled ‘Post-Election’, Singh keeps his points explicitly. He writes:
They don’t hear
the silent screams of
tired of misfortune-
play games of convenience
There is also a strong and multilayered hue of disagreement and debate on morality and conduct, originality and virtual-reality, culture, tradition, and history that paints the laconic canvas of the poetry collection under consideration. Singh’s artistic mind finds potential for poetry everywhere, or to put it differently, every surface of the universe and every emotion invites Singh’s inscription. Warning ‘between midnight and three’, to the rituals ‘hiding helplessness/ in the luxury of prayers’, to paying for ‘peace with God through Jesus’ to the god’s denial of ‘weekly offering’, Singh’s poetry never fails to capture the pure moments of existence.
While Singh’s insights to life ‘fills up the inner space’ his poetry uses impeccable satires to arise action and engagement towards the physical space- the environment! The poems titled ‘Aftermath’, ‘Neighbors’, ‘Neighbors II’, and ‘Pollution’ point out how humans are transforming the natural landscape dramatically, and thus posing an irretrievable threat to the ecosystem. To quote the poem ‘Neighbors II’:
What could be happy
about New Year’s Day
when they burn plastics
and filth on the roadside
make mud or swell smog
all day and all night
I suffer restlessness
count cows in the lane
or flies in the kitchen
neighbors love to live with
Across the expanse of his poetry, R.K. Singh combines the seriousness of issues with a degree of playfulness to acknowledge the dilemmas of the armored self. The poems in this collection invite us to a space of interactive encounter with the self, disclosing the disquieting narratives created by us. To quote a few lines from the poem ‘Depression’:
if I die today
it won’t matter to any-
I have no worth
they all care for themselves
search nearest in curved space
Given the signs of escalation resulting in global turmoil- rapes, crimes against women, political violence, social media trolling, and appalling outrages, Singh’s experiments with direct allusions acquire an urgent saliency. The poems raise questions on the patriarchal code of conduct, which blueprints what a woman can/cannot do. The poet sometimes places himself in the zones of anxiety (“failure to stay focused/ and dying desires to do/ what I used to do”), burden (“I don’t belong:/they curse me for what I’m not,”), trauma (“if I die today/ it won’t matter to any”), heartbreak (“erase memories/ of love’s pace,”), and depression (“there’s so much ruin inside and around”) which allow the readers to connect with him and at the same time confront these ordeals and breathe in “fresh air.”
The collection has also been translated into Spanish by internationally acclaimed poet, writer, and translator Joseph Berolo. Born in Bogota, Columbia, Berolo is known for uniting the poets of the world, and his translations display his art of combining erudition with delicacy, expertly covering a wide range of cultures, practices, and geographies. The founder of the United Nations of Arts, Uniletras, Berolo, magically conjures the multiple voices from across the world. The act of crossing borders, in terms of languages, breathes a new life to a text. In an era of technological advancement, offering a World Wide Web, Berolo’s translation of Tainted with Prayers allows it to travel widely across time and space by unlocking the potential differences. Transcending the borders of various kinds, the translation allows the national and the international exchange of our culture, history, tradition and our emotions. The last few lines of the introduction, where Berolo hopes for a peaceful world connected by a strong bond of friendship, actually build the bridge of peace and harmony between two cultures through poetry and also brings together the disintegrated communities. To quote Berolo:
May this work be the human and poetic link that unites the poets of Colombia and the entire universe with a strong bond of friendship through creative poetry, enough to illuminate the “surrealist, mythical, and social elements and consciousness emerging policy ” of a world immersed in moral and spiritual poverty. I am sure it will reside deep within the soul and mind of our readers.
Tainted with Prayers/ Contaminado con Oraciones perfectly creates contact zones between different cultures, traditions and the citizens of the world.
Ram Krishna Singh (Author), Joseph Berolo (Editor, Translator, Foreword), Sonia Herrera Muñoz (Illustrator). Tainted with Prayers: Contaminado con Oraciones. Colombia: Editorial Ave Viajera S.A.S., 2019, Pp. 64, ISBN 978-1650109237. May also be viewed on http://www.aveviajera.org/nacionesunidasdelasletrasuniletras/id1386.html
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Setu, February 2020