July : Writer/Poet of the Month – Sunil Sharma


Sunil Sharma is Toronto-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 23 published books: Seven collections of poetry; four of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, nine joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:
— https://www.setumag.com/p/setu-home.html  
 
 For more details, please visit the link:

https://sunil-sharma.com/  

Here are some poems and a short story by Sunil Sharma:


To Emily Dickinson: An Epistle

Your words comfort
Across the divide of
Time, space and race;
You lived in isolation,

I am Nobody! Who are you?
Are you -Nobody- too?
Then there is a pair of us!

That is what you said in
One of your famous poems
That might shock today’s narcissists
Poets and all others that revere
Their self-image;
Yet, living and dying un-loved,
Your poetic soul was incredibly rich,
And included the whole universe in it
Like that other distinguished voice,
Walt Whitman, your peer,
And both of you
Spoke about us,
And still speak to us,
Although the world hardly listens
To its own great masters!

Empty Oyster Shells

Life in metros,
Becomes a series
Of empty encounters,
Resembling
Oyster shells
Strung together artfully,
Humming in the
Sun-kissed breeze –
Outside hard,
The shells but
Inside blank
And gaping,
Found on the beach,
By a solitary walker,
After the sunset,
Left there in a great hurry,
By a thin urchin,
Curly-headed,
In torn half-pants,
Feet bare,
The kid perhaps
Afraid of the dark,
And the soft shadows that
Always follow,
Such a fleeing figure,
And, of the violent beatings
By an alcoholic father,
Cussing, cursing,
On his unsteady feet,
In a dark hut –
Harboring many secrets,
And a silent ghost
Of a mother,
Seen often
By a crying child,
The little thatched hut,
Standing alone,
Decrepit,
At the edge
Of the long beach,
Like an abandoned boat,
On the moonless nights,
When a lonely sea sighs,
Heard by that lonely child
And a soul encased in
A flat in a High-rise.

The Starry Night

Forced by the power cut,
Suburbanite went up
To his deserted terrace;
Was hit by the immensity
Of the starry night,
Felt overwhelmed by
The primeval beauty
Spread out,
The breath-taking magnificence
Of the swirling night sky
Stretched taught overhead,
The eternal space
That glowed with twinkling silver bulbs,
And beckoned the little child gaping
At this rapturous sight, along with his mesmerised dad.


The huge moon and the pale-white light
Washed the blue of the vast sky and produced
Strange lights that streamed down on a French village,
In a different era, when things were more quiet,
The darkness mild and the well-lit sky
Was an enthralling discovery by Vincent van Gogh,
Who had painted and immortalized this ethereal spectacle,
Through his Starry Night over the Rhone and The Starry Night

The poetic painter, committed to sanitorium,
Suffering from delirium and what not,
Studied the curious effect of darkness and light,
The two paintings still transmit
The same sense of first-time wonder and delight
To the subsequent viewers, living in polluted cities,
Breathing fumes and pure carbon dioxide.

As the cold wind of November buffets the
Father-son duo that stood silent,
Before gods of yore, now not recognised,
The two felt standing in a pagan shrine,
Found accidentally,
In the heart of a commercial city,
And
Overawed by this rare divine sight,
Stared at the infinity and felt their own
Small size.


They then understood that
There exists a unique mysterious realm
Beyond the sodium vapour lamps,
For centuries,
That has been trying again
To communicate
With humankind but in vain


This rich world that was once deeply understood and captured
By the likes of Gogh and Wordsworth,
Now lost forever for the ever competing,
Rude,
Aggressive,
Utilitarian,
Raider
Called
Homo Economicus.


A White River of Light

A white river of light
Flows ahead and
Always travels beside,
On the tranquil mornings,
In the grimy suburbs,
Unleashed by a baby-faced wintry sun
High above in a clean sky;
The highway dips abruptly,
And
Rises up again,
Like heated verbal attacks,
Dying out and again revived,
Among the sparring couples,
And
Often heard outside,
Floating on putrid air,
Snatches vicious,
Delivered
In shrill/low tones,
By lovers turned warriors;
The moving shadows of the trees
Along the lean highway
Nod and smile,
And quickly
Draw various intricate patterns
On the rough rolled-out concrete,
Like a child doing rangolis outside,
The line-drawings moving about,
A chiaroscuro different,
Being trampled upon
Mercilessly,
By the manic cars and buses
Speeding by;
And a flight of happy cranes,
Circling all of a sudden,
Above the green
Tree tops,
A startling sight
For the crying child,
Looking fixed at the
Blue-white clear sky.

(Credit: Boloji.com: https://www.boloji.com/writers/2679/sunil)



Crush on a masterpiece

—Sunil Sharma

 What happens, if you get a crush on a European masterpiece?

Plenty of fast-paced action, totally strange!

Any doubts, please check with young Varun, the guy that got sucked into a series of bizarre events.

Here is the how of this fantastic tale:

The bespectacled nerd— no, it is not stereotyping a profession or professional in a media society but a bio- fact about a real man; the one excited by the machine and repelled by the solid world of the physicality— on that memorable Monday when all things move out of spin, beyond his control and logic, decides on a whim to visit a museum and falls in love with the world-famous painting Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Acts, he later recalled, were not planned by him but a higher power beyond human comprehension and standing above human intelligence.

“Some force bigger than me seemed to be guiding me that day,” said he to his bemused listeners.

Visiting museums was not his red-hot passion or an artsy habit. In fact, arts repelled him. Only the software, hardware and tech tomes turned him on. Rest was garbage.

Hence, the decision to visit a place full of coloured surfaces—what you and I prefer to call the canvases—surprised his detractors and allies, both in small numbers, as he had only very few friends and since there were limited friends, the number of critics was also logically, limited.

To anyone seriously listening in the digital world and really interested in this narrative, he would freely recall and with relish, the sequence of the events set off by a whimsical desire to visit a museum. An instant that changed the restricted world of the 24-year-old forever. And introduced alien emotions to his wired brain that resembled computer software on a quick scan by a team of neurosurgeons doing research on computing programming, human brain and an extinct species of feelings called love and appreciation.

He was turning into a machine and according to some skeptical listeners, the short and unplanned visit actually saved him from becoming a complete android!

“It was the sudden liberating effect of the painting on me,” he recalled. “Kind of crush on the painting!”

In other words, he came, saw and got conquered by a slightly tilted face of a famous painted woman.

Unbelievable!

1.       Just listen to his version of getting erotic thrill by a piece of artwork.

“It was a mad sensation! The pink visage left me breathless. The division between the real and the artistic ceased operating for me,” said he, tone thrilled, cheeks suffused with the memory of that fated encounter with the fantastic.

Here goes the summary for the super-busy guys with little attention span: The faint stirrings in his choked-up heart—foreign experience so far—evolved into powerful pounding of that marvelous machine that has produced the likes of Shakespeare and Blake in an earlier uncomplicated age, and soon, rising up like crescendo in fast-moving milliseconds, developed into a tidal wave and crashed over a lanky frame never admired by the aggressive females of the planet either in reality or on the FB or Twitter.

Varun roamed a solitary universe peopled with the digital images and morphed creatures. A race of the hideous folks created by a tech that could alter anything at the click of a mouse. Varun inhabited such a weird world and enjoyed it. Werewolves or vampires interacting the homo-sapiens. Bloody inter-species marriages and wars for supremacy. Intergalactic journeys. Permutations and combinations, half human and half machine, appealed. The species altered by tinkering with the basic DNA and through the genetic engineering feats.

Something unusual.

The mundane kills!

So cyber-space became his sole kingdom, the PC, his navigation tool of that infinite labyrinth.

That got changed!

That ordinary day dawned—yawn! —like any other day. Dull. Boring. The ordinary guys were rushing to work-places; overloaded children to schools; the doddering old— the dinosaurs! —sat on the front steps, while Varun, the whiz kid, woken up very early by the screaming horns, remained in temporary limbo. Normally he woke up at a time when half of the day’s business was already over and then slowly unwound and reached his peak at midnight and slept around dawn, red-eyed and drained out after consuming cups of bitter coffee.

Something was in the air.

Spring!

An alien sound finally jolted him. He sat up, wide awake, slightly bewildered. The notes sounded divine and cast a spell over the unemployed computer engineer, pulling him to its source with magnetic force.

Such sweetness! Honey dripping!

It was a tiny creature with soft feathers and tinier throat that bulged.

It is a bird! He remembered his grandpa once telling him from a different time-zone; that scene now sunk in a remote recess of a hyperactive brain.

The first encounter with tangible world has begun.

More was in store.

The bird- song entranced him.

The cynic surveyed his room and noticed the general mess and mayhem of a disorganized life of a bachelor living in a leaking attic in a mega-city—thanks to generous parents slaving somewhere in a small Indian town—and hunting for lowly jobs that never materialized.

Varun—V for his friends— wanted to be a CEO of a start-up in the Silicon Valley. Nothing else suited him.

The best! He would exclaim. I want the best!

Alas, the facts were otherwise. The CV hardly got any response from blue-chip IT firms. But Varun— oops! V— never gave up hoping and eternally waited for the golden opportunity that knocks only once. The low-paid jobs were for the lesser of the tribe. So, with the approval of industrious parents, V waited for that elusive opportunity. And clammed up internally during the long process entailed in the eternal wait of a man out of sync with reality of a market-driven society.

So, slightly energized by the sonorous notes, V stirred, washed himself and tidied up the room—the first sign of organizing the mess and taking control.

After an hour, he decided to venture out into the outside world, on the advice of a friend. They were to meet over coffee later in the day.

The moment he walked out into the real world, V felt something in the air—again.

Something different!

He could feel it in his heart but could not put his finger on it. Something…somewhere…odd!

He looked around and saw that the flowers were blooming. The streets looked pretty.

New Delhi was drenched in colours.

Music was in the scented air. Euphoric, V decided to walk around and savour the fragrant air.

With his friend held up, he decided to investigate an exhibition in a nearby property, on a sudden impulse. A decision that surprised him in retrospect.

Painting and arts were as remote to him as tenderness/ mercy to an executioner or philanthropy to a greedy Scrooge!

The decision to enter the rare region of art by V was, of course, willed by some higher agency.

“I just got this idea of going in and going out of the exhibition, not lingering long. Walls covered with canvasses of irregular sizes never appeal to me. Art is abstract for me. I thought I would circulate and leave fast,” he later confessed. “I wanted to know why art appeals to some guys? Those crisscrossing lines, irregular cubes, blocks and splashes of colours? Eccentric compositions priced so high! Can we afford art?”

Only five minutes! He told himself. So he walked in with this firm resolution.

Then the destiny took over.

As he moved around hurriedly, he saw the iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring.

“I was destined to discover her,” he said over coffee.

The masterpiece was a stand-out.

And a knock-out!

Like bird-song, it again hypnotized him. He stood powerless before a great piece of art that began speaking to him, despite a location in a different time and place.

V stared open-mouthed. The girl looked back.

The spell was cast.

 A breathing canvas, pulsating with energy and life!

It turned his monochromatic existence upside down!

The girl that has hypnotized millions worldwide now managed to affect him at a deeper, subliminal level.

The gaze!

V, the classic nerd with tousled hair, got completely bowled over by a canvas!

It was delicious!

And odd things happened afterwards.

Here is the confession of the viewer, first person singular:

I was visiting the museum and came across the painting by the Dutch master, neglected in his time. The afternoon in New Delhi was pleasant and a warm sun shone on the manicured lawns of the museum featuring the seventeenth- century Dutch and Flemish art. It was almost deserted. I took a turn and there she was.

Girl with a Pearl Earring!

Her eyes honest, gaze spellbinding! The blue-n-gold turban, parted lips, a wistful look and a big pearl in the left ear.

Then a strange thing happens!

The girl becomes animated and steps out of the framed painting!

Her iridescent beauty remains untouched by time. A face finished in 1665 becomes fully alive in 2014.

She hovers between real and ideal!

Suffused with a luster only the Renaissance masters could create!

The everyday and the marvelous meet and congeal in her glowing complexion!

Although ordinary, the girl looks extra-ordinary, exuding a vitality and charm you will not find in real-time world!

It is out-of-the-world experience!

And then, she comes over and holds my shaking hand and we step out of the hall—into the pale light of the day. Suddenly her presence dazzles the ordinariness around and turns it into a scene of golden beauty. I carry her around. Or is it the other way around? Being carried by that heavenly subject on the campus of the museum. Young people stare at me and whistle at her. Catcalls follow her graceful figure. Sacrilege! Pure and shocking! How can men be so mean? The girl, unfazed, keeps on walking. We go out on the circular streets of the Connaught Place and enter a coffeehouse full of the local crowd—middle-class, uncouth, staring. The waiter conducts us to a corner table and we sit and order coffee. The girl is demure and flutters her eyes, rosy cheeks blushing, as the nearby clients gape and lust after her through the famous male gaze. It is Delhi crowd, you know! Some guys openly comment on her Caucasian features and cut bawdy jokes in Indian English. The profanities colour her cheeks a tad red and I decide to take her out of the close space filled with lecherous men. But they start following us in the sun-lit corridors, whistling and commenting.

“What a thing!” exclaims an old man with a large tummy.

“STOP!” I scream. “She is a work of art!”

“Indeed!” he says, drooling. “What a thing!”

“You do not deserve her,” another man says, threatening, “Give her to me.”

“No. To me,” another one commands. “Never seen such a woman in real! I can murder to get her.”

“Idiots!” I shout. “She is a painting only.”

“So what! We want that woman!” They all shouted.

“She is to be revered!” I say but they do not listen.

“Quote her price!” somebody shouts. “For a night.”

“Double that amount!” another croaks.

It is sickening. For me, she is spiritual.

“We want her!” They shout. “Give her price! We want to feel and touch her and…”

Grossed out by the tone and degrading obscenities, the girl left my hand and…

“And?” asked V’s friends.

She disappeared, leaving me in the middle of a yelling crowd that finally dispersed, defeated by this sudden disappearance of the object of their collective desire. That they could not own a piece of her showed on their flushed ugly faces. A reverential figure had been defiled for me! I felt awfully disgusted!

And privately grieved for my loss, roaming endlessly among the crowds of shoppers and tourists eating the streetfood, the entire Connaught Place a huge eating joint and carnival being staged for the consumers. But my mind was not registering the details, benumbed as it still was by the encounter with an ethereal girl from a different time. I kept on moving like a zombie.

“Then?” The friends probed.

I went back to the museum on an impulse. It was getting late and sun was setting, heightening my loneliness and solitude. There was a chill in the air and inside the soul. I went inside the hall and saw the painting again, this time more intently.

To my horror, second time, it looked like any other famous painting only!

The rare connection was broken.

It remained static! There were a few visitors circulating around the paintings and talking in hushed tones, some giggling irreverently at these great works. The visitors were hardly interested in her!

I came out of the museum, aware of my loss but carrying her image in the heart on that memorable day, when, I could truly understand the meaning of beauty and art in few hours; an experience that has altered me forever…

(Credit: https://www.antarcticajournal.com/short-fiction-crush-on-a-masterpiece-by-sunil-sharma/)



Sunil Sharma
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