The many hues of love: Abhay K's Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems is a delightful atlas of the emotion

The many hues of love: Abhay K's Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems is a delightful atlas of the emotion
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The many hues of love: Abhay K's Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems is a delightful atlas of the emotion

Regardless of its common character, its capability to straddle various cultures and epochs, love is an emotion that resides in the realm of ‘unimaginables’, as Milan Kundera so poignantly put it. And it is this indefinable attribute of love that lends itself finest to poetry, which of all the literary types, is most succesful of capturing the nuances and particularities inherent in the erotic impulse.

The spark that is ignited between two human beings is ridden with contradictions. The ardour they unleash on one another is half acutely aware and half unconscious; half want and half dread; half craving and half fulfilment, half candid and half surreptitious; half elegant and half profane.

All these various manifestations of love have been distilled and interwoven in The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems, edited by Abhay Okay. Abhay, himself a reputed poet, acknowledges that this assortment is not the first of its form. And in his introduction,  he pays homage to his precursors: “Some well-known anthologies of Indian love poetry embrace Tambimuttu’s Indian Love Poems (1967), Subhash Saha’s Anthology of Indian Love Poetry (1976), Andrew Schelling’s Erotic Love Poems from India (2004), Meena Alexander’s Indian Love Poems (2005), Jayaprabha’s Unexpected Affection And Different Love Poems (2005), Jerry Pinto and Arundhathi Subramaniam’s Confronting Love (2005), Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s The Absent Traveller (2008), Ashmi Ahluwalia’s Writing Love (2010), R Parthasarathy’s Erotic Poems From The Sanskrit: An Anthology (2017) and Amrita Narayanan’s Parrots of Need: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica (2017), which mixes poetry and prose, amongst others.”

Abhay’s meticulously curated guide holds its personal on this galaxy of anthologies. It is a cornucopia of ardour spanning millennia and encapsulating an astonishing array of Indian languages and private preoccupations. We have now right here centuries-old erotic expositions of sringara rasa, or romantic love, generally addressed to a divine paramour and generally to a human lover. This is hardly a shock, for in Indian custom, the line between the sensual and the religious has usually been blurred. Interpolated into this conventional fare are modern verses, generally tender and generally visceral, generally celebratory and generally rebellious. The trendy choices categorical a selection of considerations, together with partly, the redefining of love by feminists, Dalits and the LGBTQ neighborhood, a welcome embellishment.

Early on in the guide, poet Vallana (900-1000 CE), translated from the Sanskrit by Abhay, describes the act of lovemaking with daring simplicity,

“After he took off my garments,

 unable to cover my breasts with my arms

 I hugged him tight, however when his palms

descended to my loins, there was nobody

 who might save me from drowning”.

In a comparable vein, you may have the poetry of Vidyapati (1352-1448), rendered into English from the unique Maithili by Azfar Hussain,

“All my inhibition left me in a flash,

When he robbed me of my garments,

However his physique turned my new gown.”

And the way can one not point out this gem from the inimitable Kalidasa (4th-Fifth century CE), titled Craving Candy Nectar, and translated from the Sanskrit by Abhay,

“Craving candy nectar

you kissed a freshly

bloomed mango bud as soon as —

might you neglect her, bee,

burying your self in a lotus?”

As in Kalidasa’s verse, nature is a protagonist in a number of different poems on this anthology. Take the poem, Eyes, by Vasant Abaji Dahake (1942-), translated from the Marathi by Ranjit Hoskote,

“An evening like opium

when the moonlight

moans by means of the water,

that’s how your eyes

brim over my face.”

Or Historical past, a poem by Leftist journalist and poet Samar Sen (1916-1987), translated from the Bengali by Pritish Nandy.

“I known as you: come,

depart behind your gray existence and are available

to me

throughout the drained stillness of your night time

for right here the glowing hope of daybreak quivers

and the mountains flip blue at night time

when the deep darkness of the seas descends

and stars shine like sharp blue flames

in the unyielding loneliness of the skies.”

Or the English poem, Erotica, by Rizio (1973-):

“You stumble upon me.

 I burst into

leaf, bud,


and take you for my spring.”

The craving for the beloved resonates by means of the poem, Hundreds of Needs, by Ghalib (1797-1869), translated from the Urdu by Ranjit Hoskote.

“Hundreds of needs, each might have

emptied my breath.

So many of my needs got here by means of, however in

the finish, so few.”

The ecstasy of lovemaking and the candy ache of motherhood are  entwined in Breasts, the poem by the feminist activist Kutti Revathi (1974-), translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmstrom. The poet has, by means of her activism and thru her poetry, railed towards the fetishism that the feminine physique (particularly breasts) has been subjected to.

“From the press of an embrace

they distil love; from the shock

of childbirth

milk, flowing from blood.”

Identical-sex love finds eloquent expression in the poem, I Give Her the Rose, by Suniti Namjoshi (1941-):

“I give her the rose with unfurled petals.

She smiles

 and crosses her legs.

I give her the shell with the swollen lip.

She laughs. I chew

 and nuzzle her breasts.”

In Saree, a contribution by the Dalit poet Chandramohan S, the poet finds music in the stream of the ubiquitous Indian garment.

“A six yard single-string

musical instrument


unveils in a layered veil

the curve of her backbone


gyrating alongside an aural ellipse

draping her in seasons.”

To finish, what higher paean can there be to like than these strains from the poem, One Day, by the multi-faceted Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), translated from the Bengali by Sunetra Gupta:

“The lives of nice monarchs, their wars and

 conflicts, grow to be the low cost stuff of historical past

and lie scattered all over the place. However

 the story of that afternoon

lies hidden like a treasured jewel in the casket

 of time: solely two folks realize it.”

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