Talking of infinity the Rob Harle way - Sunil Sharma

Rob Harle
(Book Review)

Rob Harle is transiting from the physical to the metaphysical.

Nothing wrong in that. Often humans do make sharp detours and undergo inner transformations. But a transition becomes remarkable in case of an artist. The banal becomes electrifying for a writer with a heightened awareness and sensitivity. Leo Tolstoy. His resurrection changed the moral order of the world and deeply affected the persons going through an identical crisis. Call it existential or spiritual or political. The quest for satisfying answers for the individual quester. A search for an illuminating pathway to the stars and moon. Or, plain truth that uplifts and brings about a change dramatically opposite to the original self. One such person seeking clarity was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his early South Africa days. Leo Tolstoy exercised a great influence on him and his world view got refined under the Tolstoyan teachings. Rest is history. Two different souls; locations; principles, exchanging ideas and the end-result, an unstoppable force called Bapu who got a country freed from the Raj.

Metamorphosis can be liberating!

Rob Harle---the saint of the Nimbin Valley, NSW, Australia---is another artist grappling with many issues of great urgency by having a direct engagement with ideas through art. Like Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky, he too experiences internal mutations and becomes his own opposite. Such journeys can be extraordinary for both the writer and the reader. One of the primary aims of art is to challenge and change ossified modes of viewing and thinking. Rob Harle’s third collection of poetry called Winds of Infinity (WoI) superbly performs this delicate task. Its sub title is: Poems of Transcendence. A daring lyrical mission in view of the surrounding ennui, the deadening of sensibility and social numbness, in post-industrial civilization. Rob posits the counter aesthetics proposed through the WoI in the following assertion:

Postmodernism has attempted to destroy the sublime and the numinous. The new art and poetics in this post postmodern era must help restore our abandoned metaphysical and spiritual modes of being. This art also now in postdigital age must re-humanise the technology of the digital. (Preface)

The 104- page, illustrated and splendidly-produced WoI achieves the process of re-integration of humanism through its poetry and visual mix. The reader sails through its variegated  and rich landscapes smoothly and at the end of the adventure gets transformed by its innate humanistic vision bordering on the spiritual. And all this is realized in simple lines that deal with profound thoughts.

Sunil Sharma
Take this poem as an example:

Old houses stand proudly
Weathered by the insistence of time.
Once, carefree children played in the street
Singing their fairytale songs.
The houses cry in their emptiness
Carelessly marked for demolition.
New roads cut the old village sharply,
A tired curtain flaps from the attic window.
Drifting with the curtain
A child’s soft sweet song caresses my ears. (Attic Songs, p. 7)

Harle often serves a collage of the personal with the philosophical observations that gel neatly. Relationships, mortality, memory and lands immediate and far off intermesh to engender a heady literary cocktail in Brothers Across Oceans:

The wheel of life spins endlessly
like the sun rising in brightness
then setting into darkness
My younger brother-a good man
consumed by the hideous disease.
but dead on Valentine’s Day.
And then a stranger,
materializing Genie-like
from the exotic distant land of Krishna
Adopts me as an elder brother,
reciprocation without hesitation,
again I have a younger brother,
the wheel is spinning. (p. 13)

These lines simultaneously set up an old binary and then destabilize that swiftly. The exoticising of India as a mystery, a land of the Lord Krishna, as something distant and alien, and, a stranger appearing suddenly Genie-like, an apparition, build up on the existing Western tropes of the Orient as the permanent site of the Other, thus reinforcing the traditional perception, mode of cognition of non-Western culture as something exotic but, quickly, Rob the humanist, the liberal, the spiritual, undermines this politically-loaded narrative by embracing that exotic, that apparition, that Genie-like figure, as his kin, his younger brother, thus inaugurating the cosmopolitanism of great poetry that always questions, challenges and changes such well-entrenched notions about race, people and culture, as untenable ideology of a divisive politics. The very declaration--- again I have a younger brother---deconstructs the racist philosophy and inverts it totally, thereby re-inscribing the feelings of fellowship and global community; of oneness, identical similarities; of belonging to one universal family, despite the inevitable cultural and geo differences and plurality. Beneath the skin and colour, we are same species.

Only Rob Harle, the saint among poets, the seeker of truth, the follower of the winds of infinity, could do that.

A theme agitating the sages and savants. What is infinity? Antonym of finite?
More than that?

The riddle is to be solved individually. Here is the answer provided by the poet: the perpetual flux of life that is infinity; the evolutionary force in the midst of constant change; the underpinnings, the core foundation of existence, of growth:

The key turns in the rusting lock
And dreams drop to the ground
Like rotting dying leaves,
The grit of aeons-persistent
Grinds the leaves to dust
Then the winds of infinity,
like the ever present illusion of time
drifts the dust back home,
Home to the great ocean of Being
The prima material-mother of all. (p. 103)
The poetry of a re-incarnated Rob is full of sympathy, love, empathy and energy directed towards humankind. It is compassionate and all-embracing in its wide reach. In his latest avatar as an evolved soul, Rob Harle offers true insights into the vexed questions of being-hood and living in uncertain times where hatred wins its own fanatics by the hour. He is a pagan re-born. Violence and bombs and racial profiling and tech-driven robots---well, dystopia has arrived already in a big way. The only thing different this time is that unlike other bleak nihilists, Rob is not celebrating the death of a civilization but rather heralding a dawn of the re-birth of a new being for a sterile age. In that alone, he is our new prophet of hope and finer values that make liberal arts so essential for a soul-less culture. If mass society insists on reification of homo sapiens, Rob the artist-philosopher, insists on re-inscribing the moral vision and appeal of humanism as the central template, the only way forward for recovering human agency and autonomy, in that global market.

Winds of Infinity hints the power of nature, imagination and strong belief in the face of utter cynicism and commodification of feelings. Winds sweep away the dead and scatter the pollens of change---that cyclical process ad infinitum is, well, life with a capital L.

Here is a poetics of hope, redemption and resurrection through great art.

Must-read for the discerning audience that seeks depth than surface and tend to go beyond the illusion for the real substance.

Winds of infinity: Poems of transcendence. Rob Harle.
Allahabad: 2016. ISBN 978-93-85945-45-8.
Price: INR 200