C P Aboobacker
“Without poetry I could not have fought against injustice and cruelty.”
Some poets are easy to get at, anybody can understand them. They speak to the heart of the common man and the intellectual alike and are understood by them likewise. With their poems, you could go on a trip or go to sleep. You could even murmur some lines of their poetry while shampooing your hair in the shower. They are hidden like pearls in oysters and you’ve got to dive and bring them out of the depths of oceans. Now, what kind of a poet is C.P.Aboobacker? In my view he is a beautiful amalgamation of such a popular poet who appeals to many and at the same time is a serious, academic poet. If I admire his poetry, it is because I find no distinction between his life and his pure poetry. He has been a serious social activist from the first years of his youth. This shows the union between his poetry and his life. Here he discusses various issues relating to literature and religion among other things.
Farideh Hassanzadeh: How do you interpret the September 11th tragedy?
CP Aboobacker: September 11th tragedy is a great calamity, of course - man-made calamity. The main thing about it is that the US rulers are as responsible for it as perpetrators of the tragedy are. But for the unwarranted victimization by the US aggressors, the world over, the calamity would not have occurred. But in history there is no “but”; it is a record of what actually happened. Therefore 11th September has happened; Afghanistan is conquered; Iraq is in ruins. These are realities. Any kind of attack on human and animal lives, on human civilization, and on nature should be deplored and stopped, whether it is war or terror. As for American literature, I do not want to read govt. sponsored literature; I still stand on the beautiful title by Alice Walker: All That We Love Can Be Saved. The US govt thinks that all that they desire can be conquered. Now they are against Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Aggressors never learn lessons; in defeat they are revengeful, in victory they are arrogant. If imperialist hegemonization does not stop, terrorism also will not stop; we lose moral right to ask any one to do or not to do anything.
FH: What is the relationship between literature and religion?
CP: I do not think poetry has any connection with religion; all books of religion are most often good poetry. Bible with its parables and Khur-aan are all poetry par excellence. So, we believe they are God-sent; I wish to believe they are man-composed. May be I am wrong; I wish I am wrong. But, still, religion had had a time when it was metaphysical, it encompassed the whole universe and its secrets; Sufis tried it, and saints tried it; they were always good poetry singers; they sang perhaps to themselves; they wove songs on universal secrets; that is how Mansur became a Hallaj, the weaver. Omar Khayyam was not hedonistic as is often given out; he was a mystic singing happily of how the world wishes it should live. But most religions end their metaphysics and faith in slogans: Allahu Akbar (God is great). Perhaps God might not like this unwanted praise; slogans first emanated from religion, not from politics. I am neither anti-religion, nor pro-religion. I think religion is a fact - it exists and it happens; but fundamentalists are sometimes detrimental to humanity. All religions speak of love, truth, morality and what not! But what is being practiced is not conducive to attain these ends. I would like to add: the agenda of poetry (i.e. literature) is life in this world, the agenda of religion is life after death.
FH: Maryam Ala Amjadi, Iranian poet says: “I feel that if real poetry were written, the pen would break into half, for it would not possibly tolerate the madness, the originality, the genuine poem.” Do you agree?
CP: I do believe that poetry could be written with consciousness. Still poetry presents a mad attitude; it is a kind of intoxication, a revelation. Truth does not reveal to you if you are plain and flat; you walk on sandy path; sands are golden in colour; it is not a desert; it does not wrinkle; it is smooth and beautifying; but you imagine things if it were a desert; or a beach with holes of little crabs; crabs turn to cancer; you experience the pain. Of course, you are torn, wounded. But what is real poetry? Rumi has written real poetry, Goethe has written it. Neruda has written it; trembling generations of Chilean society, from young girls to old buddies; poetry is not sharp, it is just strong - its influence is strong. Poetry is positive. Have you heard, Farideh, that one of my poems ends with the statement that that there is no antonym for poetry. It is that, and nothing more.
FH: There is a theory that says that all writers, even the male, write with a feminine soul.
CP: I don’t subscribe to this theory. As for Muses, they might be feminine; as for poets of the earth, most of them are masculine; those who composed Rg-vedic hymns were Rishis, the wise men; the best literature in history were composed by men- Homer, Virgil, Milton, Shakespeare, Iranian poets like Firdausi, Rumi, Amir Khusru, and Indian poets like Kalidasa, Valmiki. Of course, there is Ratiji, Farideh, Kamala Surayya, Annie Finch and Blaga Dimitrov; but men far outnumber women. It is not a question of counting heads of men and women in literature; men had greater chances; in spite of it, Brontes are small in number, Wuthering Heights is a special case amongst a galaxy of beautiful works created by men. I am not gender conservative; but on the contrary. But history is history.
FH: Let’s admit that finding solitude for a man to stay home and write is as natural as for a woman to peel onion in the kitchen. Even in societies where equality is not the slogan among men and women, she feels uneasy with the circumstances when she sits behind a desk to write, she feels unusual, as if she has betrayed others. Her conscience suffers from the guilt that she might have robbed others’ rights. If you do not agree with this statement, then, would you please express what is the difference between Women’s Literature, and Men’s Literature?
CP: I fear we live in two circumstances. We have in India good women writers. But men outnumber them. Very often men write about the same problems. Woman needs no excuses for writing. She is as capable of writing as man is. She does not require to express a guilty consciousness. I can also peel onion, my wife does not object to that; man-woman equality is a must. Woman is intellectually fully equipped as man. Please see my poem “onion”- it is written in English – it is, in fact, a tribute to my wife, to women who suffer the bondages of the household.
FH: The Turkish poet Enis Batur writes: “If ‘Death’ didn’t exist, Mankind would never write poetry. He would never need it.” The Iranian poet Soufi writes: “Everyone fears death: Poets fear it more.” How do you interpret this? To what extent do you agree with it?
CP: I don’t agree. I don’t fear death. I don’t know when it comes, I welcome it. But I am not a lover of death; death is not the end of the world. Death is inevitable. Death makes life possible. I had written in one of my Malayalam poems:
I hope hopelessly
That Death is not the end:
Oh, death, where is my place
In your book of judgment?
It is neither fear nor adoration of death. Basheer, the celebrated writer in Malayalam, also had the same view. I had published an interview I held with him in 1992 in one of the former issues of www.thanalonline.com.
FH: What is your idea about the translation of poetry? Please tell us of your own experiences as a translator .
CP: Translation is a process of requiring the faculty to enter the mind of the writer who is being translated. Of course, journalistic translations are easy. But you cannot translate poetry, story etc. Creative writings are beyond the competency of any man or woman other than the original creator. But there are certain poems, certain works of art of literature that haunts the translator; I have translated many books, most of them history. They did not pose any challenge to me. But I translated sixty poems of Joop Bersee, the great S. African poet. I published it in Malayalam with the title “One who writes poems.” There is a poem in the collection with the title “Writer of poems.” I changed it a little and made it the title of the book. I must confess that it was the most crucial period of my life. I became Joop Bersee myself. I entered into him, and through email, I gave him the English summary of what I translated. I had to get his approval; it was not an assignment, I took it up on my own. I spent about six months to complete the work. But remember, I did the translation work at a stretch, in a couple of days. I wanted them to look purely Malayalam. I also translated your interview with Blaga. It was a marvelous task. Each word is important; each phrase is important. I translated Osho Rajaneesh’s Meditation and Communism. I did it on assignment. The publisher wanted me to bring all its depths in Malayalam. It is well accepted. Translation is a creative work. That is my experience.
FH: The terrible irony: it is possible not to be a very nice kind of person and at the same time be a marvellous poet. It appears as if this may not be possible but I do see that it happens. What is your idea?
CP: I think it happens. Great writers could be in company with great political criminals. Ezra Pound is an example for this. Nietzsche espoused the idea of superman and this superman came into reality in the form of Hitler. I have read that an imprisoned poet found pleasure in smelling the fouls he gathered from his anus! These are perversions. Poetry must be love, poetry must be kindness and empathy; Fide Erken and the like are my ideal in this matter. See for example:
In A Daisy Field
( a poem by Fide Erken)
In a poetry field,
Where so many daisies abound,
A soft breeze bringing their mist.
I'm smelling them,
Satisfied with watching their
White, yellow appearance,
So I don't need to write a poem.
Then your name is echoed
Amongst the petals,
Spreading this wonderful sound
All around the waving daisies. The most beautiful name I've ever known
It's enough to hear
We smile to each other,
Me and the daisies.
The other poet I mentioned smells dirt and enjoy, Fide, on the other hand tries to smell the beauties of the world.
FH: I strongly agree with Kafka’s statement that “war, in its first phase, emerges out of total lack of sense of imagination.” How do you view the main source of war?
CP: War comes from greed. The Malayalam poet Kunjan Nambiar who lived about three centuries ago wrote:
“Kanakam Moolam Kamini Moolam
Kalaham Palavidham Ulakil Sulabham”
(Because of gold and women, quarrels are plenty in this world.)
I hope you have heard of Gautama the Buddha; the great prophet of Buddhism, the sixth century BC Indian religion. He preached a moderate path. He said: 1. Life is full of misery, 2. Desire is the cause of misery, 3. Suppression of desires is the way to overcome misery and 4. A middle path, neither of sensuality nor of asceticism, should be followed to suppress desire. The middle path is an eight-fold path for the Buddha. 1. Right belief, 2. Right aim, 3. Right speech, 4. Right Action, 5. Right means of livelihood, 6. Right effort, 7. Right attention, and 8. Right meditation. It is meant for man. However, wars are being fought in the name of religion, whereas the agenda of religion is life after death! War is a crime just as terror is, even graver.
FH: What do you think of anthologies of love poetry? I think it takes the hearts out of great poets, as if the rest of their poems were irrelevant. May I also know your feelings about anthologies of social and political poetry?
CP: Love is a basic emotion and hunger is a basic physical function. So, both are relevant. Love poetry is sure to carry every poet to an extent where he/she has no control. Kamala Surayya is one among them. Rati Saxena is another. As there is hunger and war and terror, political and social poetry will find a place in man’s history. I do not deny their importance. The main problem with them is craft. In Malayalam, M. Mukundan has overcome the problem of craft; Basheer had over come this. Archibald Mc Leach had overcome the problem of love poetry, in the same manner; he did not allow his poetry to dictate to him, instead he dictated to his poetry:
Come, said the Muse,
Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted,
Sing me the Universal.
In this broad Earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness & the slag,
Enclosed & safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed of Perfection.
By every life a share, or more or less,
None born but it is born—conceal'd or
unconceal'd the seed is waiting.
FH: Would you like to visit my country? What do you know of Iran? Which Iranian writers are you acquainted with?
CP: I would like to. I know Iran is a great country, with a great and ancient civilization; Medes and Persians and other people that inhabited the region; Zoroastrianism which I think is a very special religion. If God be the Creator of all things and beings, evil also is created by God; so, Zarathustra found a creator of good and a creator of evil; Ahuramazda and Ahriman. They worshipped Sun and we know all source of energy is the Sun. In India, the ancient people of the Vedic age believed thus, too. This formed part of the Rg-Veda, the earliest literature, in the hymn called Gayathri:
“Om, Tat-savitur-vareniam / Bhargo-devasia dheemahi / Dheeyoyonaprchodiyata”
(Oh, Sun is the most ideal, it gives us intelligence and light and all our source of wisdom.)
Iranians are a wonderful people who had great connections with the people of my land; both had a common source of language, the Avestan language of Persia and Sanskrit of India. The synonym Mithra for the Sun in Sanskrit language came from Avestan language. And as for the third part of your question, I have no contact with many Persian poets. But to me the word Persian itself forms poetry; Firdausi and Rumi.
You do bad deeds and hope to get back good
Though bad deserves bad only in return.
God is merciful and kind, but even so,
If you plant barley, wheat won’t grow
The great bard has sung, yes, Jalaluddin Rumi; he has also sung:
You could string a hundred endless days together,
My soul would find no comfort from this pain.
You laugh at my tale? You may be educated
But you haven't learned to love till you're insane.
Beauty is embodied into quatrains. Rumi wrote a lot; he was mystical and metaphysical.
My secrets are not alien from my plaintive notes,
Yet they are not manifest to the sensual eye and ear
writes Rumi in the initial part of the great classic, Masnavi. Poetry knows no bounds; none can hide any secret from it; me or you. Love takes turns unimaginable. The king saw a maiden and fell in love with her. Without asking her idea, he married her. She began to become weak and sick; all earthly physicians treated her and failed. The king who loved the maiden madly prayed for her health and God sent a heavenly physician. He diagnosed the disease: the girl was in love with a goldsmith. King ordered his men to find the lover. He was brought and wed to the princess. For months they led a happy and enviable life; then the goldsmith who was not faithful to the maiden, left her. The princess found that her true love is the king and appreciated his companionship for ever. I cannot conceive of greater poetry. Of course, there are modern Iranian poets and poetesses.
FH: Yes. She is one of the greatest poets of our country. I am glad you know her. It is a surprise for Iranian readers.
CP: I have a shallow idea about Forugh Farrokzad. If I remember right she suffered a lot in the marriage she was forced into at the age of sixteen; at nineteen, she was a divorced mother; gradually poetry became her spouse. She gradually was able to make herself part of the greater society; her grief was part of human grief.
FH: This story was what everybody believed but a new book was published of Forough’s unpublished letters to her husband that reveals interesting facts about her. According to those letters, she fell in love when she was 16, and in spite of her father’s disagreement, married her lover, a man who was 15 year older than her. Her restless soul was unable to bear a routine life and they separated. The rest of the story is exactly according to what you say.
CP: Here is a poem I remember by her :
I will greet the Sun again,
I will greet the streams that flowed in me;
I will greet the clouds which were my lengthy thoughts;
I will greet the painful growth of poplars……
I wonder this is a contrast to one of my poems which I wrote when I was middle aged; even the title of the poem is “Sun you may go now.” Of course, it has some political undertone; but there is a lack of confidence compared to Farrokzada’s poem. Then I have a very vague understanding of Zhaleh Esfahani. Her dialogue with Forest and River is a marvel to me. Forest adored the river for its flow, for the mobility it has; river adores the forest or its secluded beauty and peace. We are enchanted to the lines depicting the ultimate truth that everything any thing in the universe is beautiful, has utility. Mahmud Kianush has captivated Iranian minds; but he would captivate any mind. Look at his Shame:
Unfamiliar with the blue of the sky
Unfamiliar with the shining green of the earth,
Unfamiliar with man’s history of covering his own body,
I am standing inside the circle of ice, surrounded by sorrow and anxiety;
And naked, and ancient , alone,
I carry on my shoulders the thousand-year-old burdens of shame,
O mothers of sleep
Whose bones are ancient hiding place of the dead instincts,
Look how my bare, bare ancient roots,
Slowly, but with resolution, penetrate the ice.
I can quote more. It is not necessary. Iran is poetry. Farideh has sent me beautiful poems; she has introduced me good poets like Samavati and Mariyam Ala Amjadi who believes that the ideal of the poet is Shahr Zada for whom poetry, rather story, is a life and death struggle; any failure would send her to the delta of void and darkness and death; she manages one thousand nights during which she made Shahryar to develop into a man with joy, confidence and love.
FH: Which one book is always by your bed right open, and which book is always, before any things else, in your briefcase, when traveling?
CP: I would like to have two books: 1. Rainbow people of God by Desmund Tuttoo, and 2. Gitanjali by Rabindranatha Tagore. There are other books which I like very much. Serpent and the Rope by Raja Rao is an example; Balyakala Sakhi is another example; it is a simple love story by Basheer, the great Malayalam writer. I would like classics to be with me. Masnavi is one among them; Laila Majnoon would haunt me if I forget them. Above all I would like to have a political work: Manifesto, yeah, communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. What a wonderful combination, No?
FH: Proust says: If I did not have poetry, great literature, music to listen to, I would not have survived my sorrows. Let me know please what would you lose without poetry?
CP: Without poetry, I would have lost my love; love of all sorts, paternal, parental, conjugal, mystic, spiritual and what not! Without poetry I would lose my river and meadows; I could not swim in sunshine; I would not have transgressed the frontiers of countries and climbed up mountains and conquered seals coming out from oceanic depths. I would not tender the fifth moon and love it in a form of smiling lips; I would not sit on the stone mass where I spent with my childhood friends who are no more now. I could not have suffered the humilities of life; I could not have, above all fought against injustice and cruelty. It is not my poetry, I count. The whole world is poetry; I can find poetry anywhere in this world. Streets where sins abound have their own poetry. Read Martha of Khalil Gibran; he can find poetry on mountains as well as streets, among prostitutes as well as virgins.
Poetry of C P Aboobacker
Friendship, Law And War
Poet to soldiers
Camped on shore
Beyond iron bars:
No ships come in search of you
Not even a play boat
You are the dreamers
With thoughts of unseen shores,
Yet to conquer what you discover
Yet to rejoice in wealth and power
Ho, you are merely passive voices.
Rough rows have hardened your fingers
That have forgotten the piano's keys
Pretend to ache with wounds
Hugged by Queen Elizabeth
Winning victories over the Armada
You continue to sleep
Bloom in the zeal of bugles
And tambourines of war
Never intoxicated by symphonies of love
And ever afraid of smiling ships.
Your lips never sob for ailing children
Autumn dreams never pour over you
Their fragrance of lilies
Neither have fairies blessed you
With peaceful sleep
Unaware of woeful setbacks
And loving spouses in mourning
And the rhythms of flowers blooming.
You sleep on, in hope of war
I laugh at you
In prison's freedom
Booms in silence
You are sure to miss your sleep
The symphonies of cities
Kill my daytime sleep
And sing lullabies to snores
Coming from cellars
I wanted to write a poem
About electrical posts
In the rhythm of propellers
No stormy petrels
Soar up into my breast.
I have always looked at the sea
As the greatest fulfillment
Her noises have always
Cuddled me to sleep
Blossoming as seas
Rising as waves
Splashing into surf
Are my young dreams.