The Contours Of A Variegated Life – A Review Of The Poetry Of Joshy K.J

The Contours Of A Variegated Life – A Review Of The Poetry Of Joshy K.J

by Cheriyan Alexander - May 29, 2016 10:18 AM +05:30 IST
The Contours Of A Variegated Life – A Review Of The Poetry Of Joshy K.JCover of Joshy K J’s book

Joshy K.J is an interesting and engaging new voice in poetry from South India. He has recently published two collections of his poetry - Wings of Western Ghats and Grey Haired Years (both published in 2015 by Authorspress, New Delhi). Both these books of poems reflect a wide range of subject matter. The poet is excited by the multidimensionality of life as it unfolds itself to his subjectivity. He celebrates his own personal responses to life’s many-sided wonder. Here in these volumes the reader will encounter meditations on nature, officialdom, the human life cycle, intimations of mortality, love, friendship, religion, spirituality, as well as the contemporary political and socio-economic scene, both nationally and globally.

Prof Joshy K.J. 
Prof Joshy K.J. 

Joshy’s tone varies from calm meditation through reverential wonder to irony and, at times, outright sarcasm. His expression is often direct and stays close to the contours of felt life. Sometimes in his ecstasy the poet neglects grammatical rigour and at times there is an excessive wordiness where restraint and economy are called for. Sometimes there is obscurity arising out of poorly realized metaphors and phrases. Nevertheless, at his best, Joshy invites the reader to throw aside an excessive devotion to subtlety and plunge into immediate gut-level encounters with life in all its rawness.

In Grey Haired Years, one finds poems that lie all over the variegated spectrum of life. Take the poem “He”. It speaks of a man with great artistic potential but, forced by circumstances to become a mason in order to keep body and soul together, he watches helplessly as his talent slips away from his grip, edged out by livelihood concerns and ill health.

From the cover of ‘Grey Haired Years’
From the cover of ‘Grey Haired Years’

The economist in Joshy meets the poet in him in a poem like “Lamenting Rupee,” also from the same volume. Here the poet takes on the wheelers and dealers who play with people’s money in the international arena and trade long term stability for fleeting and fickle short term gains. The poet is in a celebratory mood in the poem “Sachin Tendulkar” where he pays tribute to a man who became a virtual god of cricket. The poet celebrates the rare confluence of superhuman achievement with all the endearingly human and humane qualities that earned for Tendulkar not just a permanent place in the hearts of adoring millions but also unsullied fame that will travel far through history.

Sadness and indignation commingle in the poem “A Devadasi Girl” where an evil social practice bespeaks the total abuse of religion to the point where a promising young life is reduced to daily humiliation and pain through the labyrinthine innards of sex-trafficking and prostitution. In “The Lord’s Supper,” the poet ponders the ageless mystery of Jesus Christ’s offering of himself to humanity through a sacrificial act of utmost selflessness and service – commemorated by his followers for two millennia as the central act of Christian worship. “Young Couple” is an interesting narrative which details the antics of two people who hop into a train, settle down for the journey and unabashedly display their absorption in each other, oblivious of other fellow passengers. But, reader be warned - there is an unexpected twist in this tale and you come away with the message that appearances can be deceptive.

Joshy’s other anthology, Wings of Western Ghats, is just as thematically wide-ranging as its companion volume with perhaps a greater emphasis on nostalgia. “Football memories” recaptures the way football in a small town fuses personal excitement with public fervour and lingers across the years as a tangible set of interlinked memories.

From the cover of ‘Wings of Western Ghats’
From the cover of ‘Wings of Western Ghats’

“Life on its string” is a sardonic portrait of someone who squandered his opportunities through cheap politicking and womanising and now seeks refuge every evening in the local tavern. “In Nature and the Life” we encounter an arresting metaphor: “My anxieties pile up along a plain platform, while - / Awaiting a train to carry me to the last station”. “Nostalgia” is a well-realized poem with some very perceptive lines and haunting images. “Nothingness” is charged with plaintive melancholy. The mood of spiritual reflection returns with “resurrection of the Lord”. “Riverside Dweller” is charged with love for nature and the joys of childhood.

All in all, Joshy’s poems have a disarming directness and although the output is rather uneven in terms of overall quality, there are ample instances of a deep and honest engagement with the complexities and nuances of life in the present day world.

Cheriyan Alexander is Professor and Head, Department of English, St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bengaluru

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