Reading Prof. G.J.V. Prasad’s poetry is like attending lectures from the time he was teaching at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University—it consists mostly of lively churnings of provocative humour or passionate rejoinders stirred by a preposterous, toxic and oppressive social order. Ugly political connivance, hypocrisies and social unreason seep in from the outer world through the membranous porosity of his inner world, pervading “this world of his”, which comprises friends, family, colleagues and students. He shares a deep bonhomie with all of them but none of them escape his scathing sarcasm if the need arises.
For Prasad, the personal is political. This World of Mine—Selected Poems (Hawakal, Rs. 350) is characterised by his knowledge, wisdom, and propensity to travel in time and across regions. Characters from the epics and sacred icons are chastised as much as the values they represent. Experiences of jostling with the outside world result in private moments of reflection. There is discomfort in having to conform and coexist silently with injustices relentlessly hurled at people of different race, caste, colour or gender. He creates an antithetical world of his own, an intellectual’s safe haven, from which the larger macrocosmic world is shamed, mocked and questioned. His discomfort surfaces through unique metaphors or oblique allusions.
The wry Family Poems, for instance, take the form of animated living room conversations. Prasad’s alert yet compassionate gaze and commitment to social causes make him identify foibles, disallowing peaceful pacts with any customary exclusion. The opening poem, Desperately Seeking India, critiques our obsession with nation and nationalism. Poems such as 15th August 1974, 15th August 1976, The Season Of The Cicadas expose the travesty. Congruent ideas of communalism and separatism are attacked in poems like Partitions, 31st October 1984, Godhra-Gujarat, Gujarat 2005, Election Strategies: Shining India. The Long March ends the series with a poignant recapitulation of an unprecedented episode from the 2020 lockdown: the reverse migration of the labour force.
There are ruminations on gender-based violence in the Sati poems, Draupadi Said, Hey Ram, and on covert sexism in WhatsAppery and Two Writers At JNU.
Instead of harmonious lyricism, one is thrown amidst choppy, disconsonant verse in irregular rhythm. For him, everything is always already fraught, always already translated.
Nilanjana Mukherjee is an academic and author.