Culture & Society

Buddha And Biryani By Ra Sh

The collection of poem by Ra Sh is inescapably significant in initiating nuanced discussion of sexual violence, wellbeing and empathy.

Buddha, the religious teacher
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Dazzlingly unpredictable, Ra Sh’s recent collection of poem ‘Buddha and Biryani’ constructs a world of perception that is playfully irreverent but  trenchantly real. The poet, known for his seductively tantalizing referentiality of erotica in ‘The Architecture of Flesh’(2015) and ‘The Bullet Train’(2019), strikes the raw chords of readers again.  

In the title poem ‘Buddha and Biriyani’, Buddha transfigures into a desire-stricken ‘anyone’ who cannot spurn the quintessential world of the senses.  His transmigration ‘foodie trip/ to all parts of the globe’, note the flavour of flippancy, is cynically farcical as the enlightened is not able to conquer the sensory world. The underpinning of the food metaphor is boldly loud in its irreverence; it ironically connotes no search for dharma but only the irresistible aroma of sensory gratification.  To read this is like stumbling into a space that is wickedly transgressive, its mock slanting implying the anxiety of the ‘unlonged’, the role of control in religion and what lies beyond the formulaic when the boundaries are pushed for inner realisation.  The ending of the poem does not spare readers the onslaught of censorious certainty: ‘…there is no right food/or wrong food/The Cannibals know the best.’ Does not this tongue-in-cheek sally sound the death knell for puritanical belief in the hierarchy of food? The unyielding mask of pretentious theism is yanked off nullifying the metaphysical infinitude the Supreme exudes. 

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Book Cover: Buddha and Biryani by Ra Sh

The collection is inescapably significant in initiating nuanced discussion of sexual violence, wellbeing and empathy. Shot through with a trauma of bestiality, the monumental question in the poem ‘Why did you rape me?’ grills the sickening system of patriarchy. The poem registers the recklessness of sadistic pleasure through the use of listing. The ending of the poem, with the vengeful raped’ s tongue dripping blood and the libidinous rapist’s feverish hunger, creates a suspension due to the use of ambivalent humour leaving the sense of retribution precariously poised on the brink of ‘darkness’.  The enmeshing of grief and beauty renders poignancy to ‘Pathology of a Rainbow’; mark the words: ‘I signed the report that said/ to determine the cause of death/ the pathologist needs more colours,/ drained from dead flowers, trees,/animal sap, volcanic ash, coral reefs,/crayons and a few broken bangles.’ From the universality of nature imagery to the anguish of loss through ‘a few broken bangles’, the poem ends with a stab of bleeding torment: ‘When I went out into the sunshine, / I heard a rumble and /the wail of suffocated rainbows.’ The poet’s empathetic gaze not only induces a rush of tenderness with melancholic regret but also lights up the haze that is metonymic of the corrosive irony of socio-political apathy and insensitivity to rape culture.  The phrase ‘ a few broken bangles’ is symbolic of the fragility of political will in curbing the rotting menace of sexual violence. 

What accompanies the apocalyptic version of human destiny in ‘Two Covid-19 viruses meet Albert Camus’ is the elimination of any possibilities for redemption against the irrevocable sense of inevitability. The allusion to Camus is the only comical acquisition of human condition that intrigues the adolescent viruses: ‘Who are you sir, how come you are in one piece when all humans are dead all over the world?’ The poem ends with Camus making his ‘way up the stream with/fishing rods, bait and the day’s catch, whistling to himself’ confounding the notion of utopian freedom in the wake of the ‘end of humans’ as the opening of the poem, amidst calmness and silence, depicts a spectacle of the absurd sans the humankind: ‘Only the birds chirped tweeted sang cawed. Only the animals barked mewed mooed growled. Only the river gurgled. Only the sky thundered. Only the fires cracked.’ The uncanny paradox of existence that bursts through the string of images lay bare the shaft of sarcasm in trying to blot out the world of humans from this new-found freedom during the pandemic.  

‘Buddha and Biryani’ will elicit the attention of readers by virtue of its boldness and slantness in uncovering the overriding sense of disjunction that both complicates, unnerves, mediates and illuminates. Hitting hard a world where ethical imperatives are numbed, the style juxtaposing the mystical and the material prompts a way of thinking about the familiar where the poet, without apology, attempts to wrench meaning from the deep recesses of the banal, the brutal and the beatific. The rugged and indulgent texture of his poetry offers a subtle offering that call for delicate unravelling. What appears flippant and unwarranted, calls for incise reading to tap into the reality, reduced to clichés by wanton appropriation. It also demands of careful readers an ironic detachment to tease out the grave infused with sardonic humour. This implicit frame of satirical humuor that encloses the contingencies of life has a philosophical ring. 

Publisher: Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata 2022


Sudeep Ghosh teaches at the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad(India). His pedagogical articles, poems, research papers, translations and art criticisms have appeared in national and international journals. Aesthetica Magazine (UK), Le Dame Art Gallery (UK), Canadian Literature (University of British Columbia, Canada), Wasafiri (Open University, London); national journals - Teacher Plus(Azim Premji University), Apurva (BHU, Varanasi)The Indian Literature (Sahitya Akademi), Penguin India, Mentor, Knowledge Review, to name a few.  He can be reached at deeptoking@gmail.com

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