Architecture of Flesh: Aesthetics of Sensuality and Spirituality

Bhaskar Jha

Book Review by Bhaskaranand Jha Bhaskar


Human body, particularly the body of the feminine beauty, is poetry of God that speaks out from the creative continuum shot out from the divine beauty. His beauty is a reflection of the outer beauty of Nature that fascinates us with all the physical charms and draws our heart and mind to delve deep inside to explore the true entity and perception of inner beauty and realize the worth of life. The feminine principle of creation and the creative continuum remains well sustained and maintained by the poetic mind of the world. Sensuality of pleasure and sensuousness of the senses seem to make us thrilled and provide the sap to the monotonies of life. Love and erotic poetry is just the stimulation of our romantic, fantastic endeavour to explore more and more along the trajectory of feminine body that ultimately leads us to the illuminating realm of the divine source. In this context, Ra Sh - N. Ravi Shanker’s poetry is an interesting and engraving roller-coaster to understand the experience of roaming around in the world of feminine riches. As a competent and expressive architect, he carves out from the flesh the quintessence of poetic, spiritual, metaphysical, cerebral exuberance and excellence with unusual and bizarre imagery and stirring metaphors and this is how all the sexual connotations and denotations get transformed into an illuminating realm of divinity dormant in each of being.

Architecture of Flesh by Ra Sh (N. Ravi Shanker) is a poetic guideline that one must go through for undertaking the journey from the beauty of flesh to the beauty of soul. It is a perfect package of 51 poems -love and erotic, metaphysical and philosophical and offers an insight in the sumptuous pleasure realm of flesh to refresh us to perceive the flash of cosmic beauty. The poet in his poetry gives a detailed account of woman issues-from atrocities to rape from fear to horror to their life. Some poems veer around the flesh only to get into the skin of spirituality and metaphysics.

The titular poem “Architecture of Flesh” is a pathetic description of plight of women. Recurring rape of woman every now and then everywhere is a serious affair. With reference to the incidents at Ngariyan, Gajapati and Khairlanji, the poet condemns such perforating aches by man as the theme incident of rape and mankind is the painful and short. He vehemently makes an assault on man:

            You run the country from the city.
            You have nothing to fear.
            You have brains. You have malls.
            You have the Metro and Parliament.

With this sarcastic note, he further takes all, through this sensitive poem, to the glaring pain in the eyes of the victims to arouse some pity or fear in them:

            It is the gloat in the eyes
            that bore into the flesh
            that day, this day, every damn day.
            Exhibit on a table, a spread sheet,
            an autopsy chart, a mortician’s design,
            an architecture of flesh built around a void,
            a hollow, a frozen core.

“The man who loved her” is a sensitive, thought provoking and profound poem talks about death. He very poignantly deals with this theme in terms of modern technology. He writes:

            Death is a peasant
            sowing seeds.
            We can bury anyone anything
            anywhere like seeds
            bodies clothes through images
            audio clips memory bytes

He further reiterates:

            I will sleep with you;
            You will sleep with me;
            He will sleep with us.
            All my loves
            All yours
            Will sleep with us.
            Even the dead ones.
            Even those in the seeds.

Ra Sh  is a very sensitive heart. Atrocities on women, in particular, move him to vent out the wrath against the demonic people indulged in such heinous and repugnant misdeeds. Political involvement also faces his diatribe. Elements of casteism are also perceptible in the lines.

“Black” is a symbolical poem presenting juxtaposition between dark and light showing preponderance of love.

            Black is the womb of love
            Where a one eyed baby
            Swims in future’s fluid
            Turning densely densely dark.

“Aphrodisiac” is a very sensitive write drawing the attention towards demonic process of preparing aphrodisiacs from the bones of babies. It also implies political and moral degradation. He describes such a world-

            ‘dark alley eateries
            where powdered sperm with battered baby flesh
            are sold as phalli pills
            to bolster flagging will.

“Whistles”, a poem dedicated to Japanese film-maker Ozu, contains his lovely viewpoint on love and death. With the anatomical organs used to communicate his ideas, he expresses the subtlety of his thoughts in concrete images:

            Love whistles through the heart,
            Death whistles through the lungs,
            Farewells whistle through the wind.
            Kisses whistle though the mind.

Ra Sh ‘s philosophy of karma and sense of acceptance in life is an important concern of the poet who comes up with words of solace and comforts for the people in dire distress. He exhorts such dejected hearts to smoke away all the worries of life as the problems of life are temporary. In “Cosmic Frogs”, he echoes the words of Krishna pronounced in the Gita:

            Whatever happens, let happen, in darkness ,let justice drown.
            thannale veli varum thaynkathe. oru thalaivan irukkiraan mayankathe.
            it will turn out alright, stop worrying. God is watching, unblinking.

In his poetry there is an undercurrent of man-woman relationship, ego clashes between the two opposite sexes, marital exploitations and conflicts. His feminine sympathy is what sharpens his keen observation of day-to-day problems faced with them. Woman is a powerful persona with dual roles. She has the power to make or mar. He states in “Homing”:

            She leads us to a street, to a door, to a room, to a bed.
            We realize it is our home.

As a conscious poet of semantic excellence, Ra Sh seems to believe in the primordial sound of words- Shabd Brahma. He talks about different kinds of words with their own properties, therapeutic power of words being very significant. The following extracts from his poem “Words and their cure” can be seen:

            I did my own research on Words to conclude
            That all words are memories that grow senile.
            They pretended to be what they were and are not.
            Take religious words, they are a lot
            Regimented, with their noses in the air.
            Revolutionary words, the fiery ones
            Thriving in throngs and intonations.
            Some words show a sparkle and grin a lot
            Claiming they are deeply spiritual, so neat their mommas still
            Comb their hair.
            Some are neglected Words, who live in dark antics and damp cellars
            Poor things, blinded when brought to harsh daylight.
            Some Words shackled and hung from a dungeon wall to die.
            Romantic Words, yes, lightweight and
            Skipping along the floor and who, if not careful,
            May bounce off to space.

He concludes the poem with the note of categorization of words in two five groups- moon words (soft), sun words (harsh and abusive), Sky words (light and vapour thin), Earth words (grave and growling), and Water words (wet). But he shows his preference to the word Love.

The poet tends not to follow the beaten track. He rather paves his own way to create the tapestry of his own novel perception or thoughts. “My plump girl” is a very unique poem celebrating the plumpness of a girl. He presents a brilliant example of sensuousness in the following lines celebrating the plumpness of flesh:

            In reply, I smooched her with several synonyms of Fat
            And whispered Fat is mouthful, tasteful, and eyeful.
            A handful of flesh is better than two bones in the bush.

Other remarkable lines showing the sensuousness can be seen in the poem “YOU are a fucking rain!” His titillating treatment is noticeable here:

            You tear down the roof and pick me like a bone
            In the jaws of an earth moving Jurassic machine.
            Hurl me into the strato meso thermo spheres
            And beyond.

The poet is gifted with such a wonderful pen that describes his observation and perception in a fantastic way. The portrayal of death in the poem “Seizure” is so realistic and touching. The image he draws from the world of nature to give a vivid account of the physical seizure makes us reflective. He bespeaks:

            All metabolism frozen,
            All life ceased,
            In one radiant cloud
            mushrooming the sky.

            one melting bubble
            popping from womb to womb
            in silent love.

Repetition of certain words as a technique to heighten the intensity is a befitting tool of the poet who exhibits the exuberant feelings in his poetry to make his readers feel so. The sensuous imagery of ‘a swollen teat’ used to show the intensity of passion of his ‘vampire girl’ is excellent.  “Return of the vampire”, a sensuous poem on the love-making, has other vivid sensuous imagery such as ‘blood coated crescents’, tongue lapping his neck ‘like a cat slurping milk’ etc. As a culmination of excitement, the poem exemplifies it.

            I swoon as my vitals dip dip dip
            My organs approach the end end end.
            A danger sign blinks red red red.
            I go blind with love love love.
            I go beep beep beep.

            You suck me me dry.
            Drop me to the grass.
            And fly away.

Another intriguing sensuous imagery is noticeable in “Hopscotch with calculi in the kidney” at two important places when the poet reveals:
            I play hopscotch with her.
            With three rubies.
            Two for her nipples.
            One for her sweet spot.
                        *******
            When I pry open her oyster
            And seek out her nub
            It shines forth like a ruby red kidney stone.

Unlike other poems, his “War Trophies” is a severe caustic and sarcastic comment on the war-monger people or nations who spare not even the hospitals. It is a very sensitive write. The poet is saddened to see hospitals brutally bombed and turning into ‘mass graves’. He writes-
            Death is a wheelbarrow
            You hitch a ride on
            Going block to block
            Rubble to rubble
            Till you are tipped over
            Into an abyss
            Where your heart hibernates.
The poet is an iconoclast. He takes even a neglected thing and renders it as an object of perfection, of high standard. It is so in case of his unconventional poem “Sins”. Sin is always something to be ignored but here the poet very boldly accepts that the more we run away from sins, the more they run after us. He avers-

            Even if we don’t go to a sin,
            A sin always finds us
            And putting its arm around us
            Discusses our first and last night emissions.

May layers of sins are undercurrent in the poem. He describes-

            Sins are fund things,
            The eternal fount of youth,
            The geysers of the world,
            The minerals and vitamins.
            Sins play hopscotch,
            Offer their bodies to you,
            Open,  fearless, fulsome.
            Because a sin is a tiger ride
            Rodeo
            A sybian mount.

“Two Vaastu Poems” has two parts, thus presenting two situations of life. In the first part the poet refers to brutal sexual assaults of two girls and their subsequent murder. He calls this nefarious act ‘a genocidal rape’. In the latter part he talks about the juxtaposition between good and evils. He concludes the poem with a philosophical note- everything, good or bad, comes ‘under the wheels/ of an Express Highway’. The best thing about the poem is the progression of the poet’s thoughts –from flesh and sex to the spirit and spirituality. The poet feels relieved with his spiritual orgasm.“The case of girl with the slippery tattoo” is the concluding poem of the book. There is an allusion of yogic conceptualisation of the feminine power coiled inside as ‘Kundalini’. He plays with this idea arousing the spiritual awareness to enjoy the pleasure. With a metaphor of ‘kundalini’ symbolising the latent power of man,  he writes:

            Where the kundalini resides.
            I rubbed it and rolled it up
            To the base of her brain stem, but
            It slid back like a slippery fish
            To rest between her
            Ass cheeks.

In this way we see that (Ra Sh) N. Ravi Shanker’s poetry covers a wide range of themes: woman, sex, dominant gripping problems of contemporary life, devaluation of human values etc. Love and sex, spirituality and metaphysics, keen insights into the inner working of psyche, national and international issues, contemporary socio-political concerns, plight of woman and atrocities, occupy predominant place in Ra Sh’s poetry. His are highly eloquent and suggestive expressions. His images are picturesque, sensuous and aptly brilliant. In the Introduction, Meena Kandasamy, a celebrated poet and political activist, has rightly called the book ‘a testimony to our tortured, fragmented times- a world where we inhabit myths even as we embrace post-modernity, a world where unbridled capitalism stands ready to destroy everything on its path, a world, where cheap patriotism threatens to make us lawless land of gundanur gundas, a world where poetry becomes the last refuge.’
In short, Architecture of Flesh is a candid honest articulation of his varied experiences and impressions of life in general and an insightful romance of self with flesh and spirit in particular. It is simply aesthetics of sensuality and spirituality in the politically, nationally and internationally torn and fragmented self of cosmopolitan sense of the world.

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