Dr. Kundan Lal Chowdhury

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Thoughts about Homeland

BOOK REVIEW

The book is a sensitively written narrative, an account of events and experiences, cast in a poetic mould.

Prof M L Raina

June 2011

At a subtle level of perception, the anthology entitled “Homeland After Eighteen years”, by Dr K L Chowdhury, seems to be a poetic bioscope, presenting myriad scenes and sights of the historical city of Srinagar and its outskirts. At a subtler level, it is a work of pure poetic magic that casts a spell on the reader, preparing him for flights of imagination.

A powerful description of the features of the city, enlivened with the author’s “modifying colours of imagination” cannot but touch the inner chords. The author lifts the reader as it were on the “wings of poesy” to give him a firsthand feel of what the city looks like and what it looked like by contrast before a deep and destabilising pall of gloom descended on it, eclipsing its bright and beautiful looks. Creating empathy in the reader, the author makes him walk along with him and visit various areas of Srinagar. In the process, he takes him up the hills and down the dales, through the streets, big and small, rivers and pools, lakes and gardens, high rise buildings, dilapidated structures, malls and burnt houses and so on and there come tumbling down on the mind of the reader painfully pleasant memories.

The book is a sensitively written narrative, an account of events and experiences, cast in a poetic mould. It is a fine blend of pathos and subdued pleasure. The poet’s nostalgia is so overpowering that, to quote him, “I would die to be there again for once, if only once” and “strong is the urge for a reunion with people and places”. The thrill of the anticipated reunion is, however, diluted and his bubbling enthusiasm cooled down when he conforms the dismally changed environs of once the “paradise on the earth” while coursing through the city, coupled with his ever present feeling of anguish and pain his community members have been through, having been driven out their ancestral land and obliged to live as refugees outside, away from “the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods”.

Dr. Chowdhury is bitterly critical of “What man has made of man” in the peaceful and sedate city of yore, the pride of its people, and the envy of the visitors from outside. He describes painfully the scenes of the destruction of men and material. There are flashes of several accusations in the narrative, directed against the insensate Jihadis, the enemies of peace,  prosperity, and the good old values of communal amity and brotherhood, social cohesion, civilised behaviour, and decency of attitude. This impression is conveyed in the following lines:

‘What place for values and ideals

Where religious bigotry holds sway,

Where divisions and discord prevail

Over reason or rationality?’

Blatant hypocrisy of the Jihadis and their sympathisers of all hues, who call themselves devout religionists, is exposed by the author in these lines:

‘The mandarins and ministers.

The politicians………

The high officials and the lowly workers-

One and all-

Have joined the loot’

The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, with its pathetic consequences, is the recurring theme of the narrative. Their pitiable condition of uncertainty and the pain of exile find an echo in the bard’s lament:

“We look before and after,

And pine for what is not”

When they think of the past, their raw wounds are ripped open. When they think of the future, a sense of dismay overtakes them, because they are not sure of what the future holds for them. They eagerly long for what they have been brazenly denied at present.

All the poems in the book have a charm of their own, but the one titled “The Audience” stands out as a grand and sublime poetic piece, with a profound religious import. The poet is candid about his faith in the divine and divine intervention. His reverential awe comes to the fore when he looks at the stone image of his beloved Lord Shiva in the temple of Shankaracharya. When he approaches the idol to touch it, his hands quiver, and an electrifying divine wave sends a shiver through his mortal frame and he remains immersed in ‘celestial joy’ that is marked by inner peace. His passion for the divine embrace is so intense that he wants to give himself up to the divine presence, body and soul.

This, he feels intuitively, is the right place and time for him, not to offer material oblations, but to offer his whole being, as expressed in these lines:

“I have come to offer myself,

My entirety,

My essence”

The author seems to firmly believe that “there is destiny in the affairs of men”. He says that the award ceremony at Srinagar to honour him was an excuse, an act of divine intervention, to grant him the long cherished prayer for visiting his motherland. He sees destiny’s hand in sending a doctor (the author) to the doorsteps of the ailing priest in the temple.

The narrative, though subjective in nature, has an air of objectivity about it, in so far as it holds a mirror to the smeared soil of Srinagar for all to see, including the Jihadis who perceive beauty in every scene of ugliness. As for the Pandits, the narrative unfolds the saga of sufferings and deprivations they have faced. When all this is recapitulated through the medium of songs, they effect catharsis of their pent up feelings and loosen their emotional baggage, thus providing some reprieve.

The style of the narrative is marked by lucidity of diction and felicity of expression. The technique of moving forward and backward in time, use of historical present to lend poignancy to a scene depicted or a thought expressed, use of varying rhythmical patterns of lines, to suit the shifting events and moods, use of apt figures like metaphors and similes, sensuous touches here and there and above the all use of brilliant images- all these enhance the grace of the subject matter.

Such is the poetically treatment given to an otherwise gloomy content of the narrative that the reader would love to read the book over and again, for, verily “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thoughts.”

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

K.L. Chowdhury's Index Page

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