“Drops of rain/play upon me/the stops of your flute…”
Moonlit night and it is raas-leela in the secret groves of Vrindavan. There’s a new bard at hand, watching and recording. Gopikrishnan Kottoor’s latest poetry collection treads the path of Jayadeva’s Geeta Govindam, the ashtapati. Lush nature, sly mischief, pouting plaints, deep yearning and the movement towards fulfilment/realisation are the landmarks on this path.
Kottoor becomes Radha, a gopi, a comforting observer, and provides conciliatory replies from Krishna himself.
Weight of sorrow
Radha complains, she imagines how her lover spends time away from her, but she also understands: “No need to be/the breaking tendril/of an apology,/You know that’ll break me”.
You feel the weight of sorrow, but also acceptance; the lover is, after all, ultimately hers, they're never really apart; indeed, they’re one. Moreover, deep down she realises he’s the matrix of all life.
Kottoor gives us a ring-side view. Only a poet who’s imbibed the magic of those moonlit nights, read the ashtapati and then lived it, can deliver such brimming lines.
“Red, red, my coral seeds/break bleeding around you;/White, white, my windflowers/waft desolate within you;/Chained to your feathers/in every Vrindavan weather,/my lips wet purple/frosting your name…”
There’s physicality conveyed by colour and metaphor. Once we’ve entered this milieu, the poet’s job is half-done. His dramatic empathy completes the picture.
A life well lived states a happy union between body, mind and higher consciousness; the poetic dialogues between Radha-Krishna and their gopi friends are an epitome of this union. Minstrels and saints have attempted to preserve these moonlit dialogues in song. The poet becomes voyeur, participant, omniscient narrator, and the scale runs from grossly physical to highly philosophical to supremely spiritual, each stop on the magic flute evoking more than these bare descriptions suggest.
If you can dare to classify poetry, this could be one way of doing it: staccato, sensitive or sensual. Rapid-fire, isolated words dropped like rocks, suggesting, stuttering, throbbing, often hurting. “…as upon your knees/with a kiss/on my feet/you touch/the tip/of my/bleeding thorn”; or lines like the skin of a river resonating at the delicate hint of a breeze, conveying quietly, evoking subtly: “We touched each other/after so long,/as though for the first time./Caress curled inside of us/a note trembling on your flute…” Or then the red-blooded, full-lipped, passionate embrace of the erotic, the voluptuous, where you feel the heated breath of words, shiver at the touch of their fingertips. “I don’t care if anybody sees me now.../I take you kissing me in my arms/and hug you from the rain;/Keep your body of sapphire/where you hurt me the most;/Let my breasts burst/for you/to sandal fires…”
Kottoor spreads a canvas that calls for all three kinds. The emotions we see here are quicksilver and mutative even as we watch; their vast grandeur can change into the tickle of a little finger, the shade of a not-yet smile.
“Is Love just the body, beloved?/Is your love just my body Krishna?/Or is it Radha, formless lightning?.../Is love soul,/bereft of the thirsts of longing,/or our bodies entwined/ in the night ooze of the senses,/among dipp’d blue lotuses?”
Problem of plenty
There is, however, a problem of plenty. Getting 214 poems into a book requires care; each poem is, after all, a concentrate the mind has to dissolve before consumption. A couple of unwieldy poems showcasing a small living core, some repetitive scenarios (though the poet is probably scanning for nuances within similar moments) and the occasional absence of an editor’s touch are the result.
On the whole, the volume is passport to a legendary love, to a place and time that sparkle with mysticism and mischief, where the body is expressive and free and the mind without rein, where everything on earth represents something in heaven.
“Love must be/poetry,” sings Radha, “until we leave/each other’s senses.”
The Coloured Yolk of Love: Vrindavan Poems; Gopikrishnan Kottoor, Authorspress Rs. 295.