K. V. Dominic’s Multicultural Symphony: A Collection of Poems. New Delhi: Gnosis, 2014. Pb. 82 pp. Price: 195 Rs. / $8.
Multicultural Symphony is Professor K. V. Dominic’s third collection of poems after Winged Reason (2010) and Write Son, Write (2011). Written in free verse, the 47 poems in this collection are on a variety of topics ranging from multiculturalism, global warming, conservation, poverty and unemployment and there are a variety of other themes in the collection, relating to the human and natural worlds. In this volume K. V. Dominic combines some big hard truths on social, spiritual, political and environmental issues with poems that manage a celebration of passed friends while avoiding the clichés of one big happy multicultural melting pot. In no way are the poems sentimental nor didactic, and never taking refuge in cynicism.
K. V. Dominic’s Multicultural Symphony is not an easy book to get a handle on as he convincingly moves from one bold issue to another innovative area. These mostly short poems are set in the Indian landscape which K. V. Dominic knows so well and is a part of, and indeed these poems seem to be themselves a part of a darkening and disintegrating landscape, a landscape in flux and peopled by those themselves in flux, marginalised, on the edge, often addressed by the poet, as we see in the lengthy opening poem, “Multicultural Harmony,” which is in six parts. This is a supremely controlled account of the way in which, with chilling inevitability, the diverse nature of human society makes bedfellows of us all:
Multiplicity and diversity
essence of universe
From atom to the heavens
This unity in diversity
makes beauty of universe.
The cadences of this poem only make it more poignant. The poem has a sadness to which many people will relate.
K. V. Dominic’s is a restless poetry, expressing the angst contemporary men and women experience within a context of environmental issues and subjective matters that feature strongly in his poems. Yet there is also a need to try and anchor himself, as he describes the place in which he lives:
My native State Kerala
blessed with equable climate
and alluring landscape
crowned by the Sahyas
she lies on the lap of the Arabian Sea
K. V. Dominic is at home with the rhythms and diction of everyday life, as we can see in the poem “On Conservation”:
Hey poet, kindly heed to my plea
before you thrust your pen
into my bleeding heart
Though I am a passive sheet of paper
I have a soul as vibrant as yours
The need for stability in the changing world, and the unreliability of change seems to be what impels him to record these poems. “Child Labour,” for example explicates the life of a young girl forced to enter the slave labour market:
Her parents sick and poor
fail to feed their children
Crying hungry mouths
Forced the wretched parents
to sell the eldest lass
But alongside his camera’s eye, and insightful analysis, there is extreme depth of feeling, as in “Caste Lunatics”: “My country, the greatest democracy, / when will it be freed from / lunatics and religion?” Again, when describing the tragedy of a girl who ended her life in the poem “Beena’s Shattered Dreams,” we see the plight of parents forced to witness a daughter’s suicide:
Unbearable to look at
their darling daughter’s still body
parents fell unconscious
Beena’s corpse was brought from Mumbai
accompanied by her roommates.
“Pearl’s Harbour” is a lonesomely sad poem, and so in a different way is the poem “Dignity of Labour” where the poet’s countrymen mimic others they think are better than themselves:
Imitating the Whites
fashionable to the Blacks
particularly to my countrymen
Mimic dress, hairstyle
food, drinks and all
such sensory pleasures
In K. V. Dominic’s work he is essentially the observer of human frailty, and the feeling and nightmarish qualities with which he imbues some of these poems are part of the poetic journey he has undertaken. The visionary quality in these poems can seem astonishing in its range. The rootedness in the local landscape is no limitation at all, as its connectedness to all humanity, runs through these poems, as we see in the poem “Ananthu and the Wretched Kite,” reminding us of the cruelty waged by human beings on other creatures that are unable to protect themselves:
When will we begin to love
kites, eagles, bats, owls
as we long for parrots, cuckoos,
skylarks and nightingales?
When will we stop the massacre
of animals, birds and fish
and learn to respect
other beings and their right to live?
Sometimes the emotion becomes simpler and calmer, the poet’s feelings for the landscape break clear of the disintegration and are articulated as love, as in the poem “Mother’s Love”:
Maternal love, love sublime
Noblest of all emotions
Visible both on human beings
and other beings
Both on domestic animals
and wild animals
But the pain is there in love, and the darkness, the overwhelming sense of despair that pervades the poems. In the poem “A Tribute to Sakuntala Devi,” who was an Indian writer and mental calculator from Bangalore popularly known as the “human computer,” the difficult final journey into the afterlife is mapped with infinite tenderness:
Marvel to the East and the West
her loss is literally irreplaceable
Praise to the Almighty
For His revelation through a human brain!
“Where shall I Flee from this Fretful Land” is an honest, unsentimental poem, working well on many levels and eliciting a variety of emotions in the reader:
Once fertile land for free and secular thoughts
People lived in multicultural harmony
Hindus, Muslims, Christians lived as brothers and sisters
respected each other and their religious views
Now hell of intolerance and religious fundamentalism
So where shall I flee from this fretful land?
The sharp details of the poem illustrate K. V. Dominic’s respect for humanity and the natural world.
The final poem in the collection, “Protest against Sand Mafia” has a passion that is central to the poet’s life: that of pursuing, with direct knowledge, the ills of his country:
New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar
Haven of Satyagraha strikers
Thirty-one year-old Jeessra
with her three little kids
The youngest boy only two
Tented on the footpath
Staying on a cot under plastic sheet
Neither torrid heat of summer
nor freezing cold of winter
can defeat her will power
Protest against sand mafia
looting thousands of tones
from northern beaches of Kerala
Multicultural Symphony is a book one constantly wants to return to. I believe it provides greater challenges and is more rewarding than K. V. Dominic’s previous two collections. The poetry in this collection appeals to readers who do not seek voyeuristic identification or confirmation of what they already feel, but rather enlightens the reader with its messages on a variety of social ills. To all those interested in poetry that does not compartmentalize its various elements and subjects but lets them commingle and enlighten with their thoughts and beliefs, Multicultural Symphony can be wholeheartedly recommended.
Dr. Patricia Prime, Reputed English poet, critic, short story writer and reviewer is from Auckland, New Zealand. She has published innumerable reviews in international journals and authored several books.