Book Review: God Particle and Other Poems

Book Review

God Particle and Other Poems

Urdu original by: Karamat Ali “Karamat”

Translated by: Elizabeth Kurian “Mona”

Educational Publishing House, New Delhi, 2021

ISBN: 978-93-91238-51-3

pp 112 | ₹ 200 / $ 15

Reviewed by: Semeen Ali

On reading this fascinating collection of poems, the first impressions that as a reader one gets, remind one of the famous words by French poet Paul Éluard who was also one of the founders of the Surrealist Movement and observed, “There is another world and it is in this one.” And it beautifully sums up the collection that promises to transpose an individual reading these poems to another world created by Karamat Ali ‘Karamat’.

Semeen Ali

His poems reflect the world that he sees through his eyes and ponders over it as he walks through the garden called life. His poems are philosophically inclined and one can savour the words with ease and pause to reflect on them. His writings have a strain of Sufism instilled in them and make one rise above the unpredictable nature of life as one wades through a vast ocean of the world. He ponders over ‘What is life?’ and ‘Are we the puppets in a world that wants us to dance to its tune as long as we are alive?’ The opening poem titled ‘Toy’ (p 27 – Urdu original: Khilona) poses that question to us. The poet stands in front of his audience seeking answers to questions that he has amassed over the years of walking on the face of earth and shares his wisdom of what all knowledge he has gained because of it. It is believed that those who laugh a lot hide the deepest pain within them and that emotion echoes throughout this book. The poet searches for the Truth but what is it? What constitutes as reality and what in the end turns out to be an illusion? The answer is to be found in the pages of this splendid book of poems. The poems have been picked from two of his Urdu anthologies titled Shaakhe Sanobar and Gulkada Subahoshaam by translator Elizabeth Kurian ‘Mona’ who writes poems in English as well as in Urdu. In her note, she explains in a charming manner how it is not possible to translate each word written in Urdu into the English language as the target language falls short of the ability to contain the hyperboles that the original language makes use of. She talks about how she has had to trans-create the poems. And this brings one to an important commentary on just how much of work is involved while translating a text and transporting it with all its essence into another language. One has to keep in mind that the original flavour, if not the voice, is retained and maintained; and does not get lost in the realm of a new language that houses its own sense of identity and carries a set of cultural connotations and values that at times do not have the space to accommodate the ingredients that the original language brings with itself. Elizabeth has translated ghazals as well for this book and has done it beautifully so that the bridge between the original and the host language is a seamless one and not jarred.

Karamat Ali’s works dwell on the metamorphosis of an individual. It dwells on one of the tenets of life which talks about the melding of the self with the One and at times with the world that envelopes one. The poems have a musical quality to them and one can see the rhythmic patterns as the book progresses.

Now, where is the dancer? Where are her anklets?

Where are the flower clusters? Where is their fragrance?
(Ruins, p 29
Urdu title: Khandhar)

There is a preoccupation with the ephemeral quality of the cosmos. The imposing idea that the world was made out of destruction, and will destroy itself to create anew – and how the poet never wishes to be a part of the world that thrives on mortality. He accepts his fate as a mortal being and how one day he will merge with the very elements of the world that created every limb of his body and fibre of his soul. He celebrates the life that he has on this earth and illuminates the idea of how one is the helmsman of one’s own boat. He holds on to his writing instruments so that he can chronicle his life, and how he sees/witnesses the world. He is willing to part with everything else that he possesses but cannot make do without that one sole possession that breathes life into the experiences and memories that he holds within.

One of the thought-provoking poems is ‘White ants’ (p 49 – Urdu original: Deemak). It talks about the white ants that do not care about the status of humans or the value of the possessions that one has. They destroy all the things that come in their way irrespective of all the ideas that one holds dear and measures one’s value with. The core idea behind this poem is to show the perishability of the self as well as of the material possessions that one holds on to, not realising that when one finally takes leave from this world, one leaves empty handed. 

As the poet observes, even the “I” is not permanent (Truth, p 28 – Urdu original: Haq). The markers of one’s identity that one holds on to and lives by for a lifetime have but to dissolve in the end. The book dwells on the hollowness of life and the emptiness that one constantly tries to fill by relying on others or through material acquisitions. The beautiful jugalbandi between the poet and the translator makes this book a beautiful addition to turn to for answers in one’s search for the self.

Its memories come to trouble me

I hope it comes close to me

And then it embraces me.

         What is it? My lover?

         No friend, it’s my childhood!

(Riddles, p 108 – Urdu title: Kahmakarniyaan)

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