EVERY retired Colonel and above thinks there is a post-retirement career in writing for newspapers and magazines. Not only that, they also seem to believe that a stint in the armed forces enables them to pontificate on all issues of national security. They constitute the single largest contributor of articles to newspapers, though many of them fail to pass the rigours of editorial scrutiny.
One problem I found with them was that they invariably looked at security issues from the perspective of the privileged officer class, even when the subject is service-related demands like “one rank, one pension”. N. Kunju was an exception in that he not only wrote well but also expressed the viewpoint of the ordinary jawan. That is why, both as a reader and an editor, I looked forward to reading his articles.
I had no idea that Kunju was himself a journalist, the person behind the thunderous editorials against superstition and social inequities that appeared regularly in the Caravan, a fortnightly journal for which I used to moonlight. Again, I did not know that his hobby was bonsai culture, until I read a full-page feature on him in a mass circulation Malayalam daily. The more I knew him, the more I was amazed by his accomplishments. All the while I wondered how I should pronounce his name; a stress on “j” would make it a Hindu name and without it a Christian one, meaning “child”.
‘Ecstacy’ was yet another revelation about the author. He is an accomplished poet as well, who uses the medium of free verse to satirize life in its myriad forms. One common thread that binds these poems, written over a period of five decades, is the poet’s great sense of humour.
The poems – 72 in all – are classified into Religious Reflections, Social Satire, Gender Genre, Political ‘Poetricks’ and Meditative Musings. Nothing stands in the way of the poet, as he lifts off on the wings of poesy. When it comes to satire, he does not spare anyone. In the poem titled ‘Ecstasy’, he caricatures the Sheikh, who sought the ultimate pleasure and found that “sex and sin could make the holy mix”. “So the Sheikh tried the sexiest sin/By reading Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.”
In “Lost battle”, he laments the plight of the Pandavas: “What use is there/ If one wins the world/ But loses his wife/ In a game of gambling?” Kunju is at his devastating best when he allows his rationalism to come into full play as in the poem ‘Go-Mata’: “The cow is our mother, they say/ But our mother is not the calf’s mother/ Nor is the bull our father”. Now look at the plight of the brother who went to identify his sister who died in a train accident: “He couldn’t identify her,/ He hadn’t seen her/ Without purdah”.
In “The mad woman”, the longest poem, the poet lampoons those who seek carnal pleasures in caged houses and overlook the naked woman, “A castaway lute of broken strings/ She too possessed all they sought/ Though no one stopped to look at her/ For she was a mad woman, /Another beast straying the street”. In the poem “Complimentary copy” the author does not spare “his best friend” who bluffs him, when he says about his book, “O yes, it is wonderful”. The poet understands and intones: “The unread book is wonderful/ Because one can always wonder/ What is inside”.
The poet is good at punning words as in these lines, “Unsafe sex can cause AIDS,/ So use aids to be safe”. In “Tali-ban”, he portrays “the bearded Mullah”, who went to the well and found his image in the water and remembered that the “images were banned” and jumped into the well to “erase the image” and became a “Shahid, a martyr to the cause”, because he did not know swimming. In the cute little poem ‘Suicide’, he cut his vein to let blood drain but “when some blood was drained,/ His blood pressure was down/ So was his resolve to die”.
The poems are short and shorn of all poetic babble that I found the collection un-put-downable. It is a pity that poetry is a dying art, “dying for want of ideas,/ Of themes and innovative imageries” and there are lesser and lesser opportunities for poets to publish their works. Anthologies like ‘Ecstacy’ will be a reminder that in the hands of poets like N. Kunju, poetry flourished even in the 21st century.
(Pancham Publications, C-33, Ground Floor, Kondali Colony, Delhi – 110 096)