Buddha and Biryani – By Ra Sh (Ravi Shanker)
Book Review by David Cecil
This is the fifth collection of poetry of RaSh, an Indian English poet, and I am totally lost in its rapture. At first reading, I was deceived, taken in by the proving simplicity of the language, the dancing imagery, the flamboyance of the titles. Then came the pause, and the fulsomeness of a sensation, that commits you to return and re-read, now very alert to the boldness, the ruthlessness that transcends flavor. RaSh in his collection- Buddha and Biryani, does not hold back the rush of urgency with which he begins his address to the Dear sluggish earthworm, the torrid, dripping unapologetic sensuality of Ethyl Dreams and Butcher Girl 1 and 2, languorous, even dangerous that makes RaSh a poet like no other. I loved the colour yellow, a reminder of sunflowers, till I read The Unbearable Yellowness of Yellow Deaths. In a casual blend of playful seriousness and serious playfulness, he dips, flips, and rattles- reminding you that poetry is not a delicate art for delicate people. At times he delights, troubles, confuses, arouses, angers, amuses, yet never leaves his bite.
In the title poem Buddha and Biryani, we meet a ravenous Buddha, making a whirlwind journey of the palate, from Kabul to Lhasa, Japan to Cambodia; the flighty Lord sampling dishes, where the easy truth is its best digestive: ‘there is no right food, or wrong food’. Is that perhaps the poet’s suggestive in plain sight? There is no right poetry, or wrong poetry- only that which speaks its truth.
One only needs to read A List of Signboards That The Flood Left Behind, to grasp the unvarnished sharp voice of a poet, who invites, compels and at times disturbs. The poem Two Covid 19 viruses meet Albert Camus is dystopian though as peaceful as the end of his novel The Plague. Redolent, but never complacent, driving you to feel, and to engage, sans the frothiness of being poetical. The collection is triumph of real poetry, of felt reality, justifiably potent and poignant.
A couple of poems from the collection:
Buddha and Biryani
When Buddha awoke from
his psychotropic trance,
the analyst who had hypnotized him
asked, “How do you feel now Lord?
Are you free from
the clutches of Karma?”
Buddha’s nostrils flared.
He asked, “What’s that
heavenly scent assailing
The Psycho sniffed the air
like a police dog and said,
“That’s Biryani, my Lord!”
The famished Lord said,
“Ah! Let me taste some of that
heavenly stuff before exiting
this damn cycle of food and feces.”
In gastronomic fervor,
the Lord transmigrated
on a long foodie trip
to all parts of the globe.
He relished Biryani with
Saji Kabab in Kabul,
Yak wraps in Lhasa,
Kukul Mas curry in Colombo,
Shabu-shabu in China,
Seollangtang in Korea,
Gyu Kushi in Japan,
Phat kaphrao in Thailand,
Amok trey in Cambodia,
Nwa Mee Hinga in Myanmar.
Satiated and saliva dripping
from his inflamed tongue
he lay down to sleep in a
grove of Sala trees after a meal of pork
offered by a blacksmith.
In delirium, he dreamt of
partaking Daal Bhat Tarkari
In the kitchen of Yasodhara,
then nine months pregnant.
He attained Parinirvana
in his gastro enteric slumber.
Wherever he had eaten,
his faith spread
as he had commanded
his disciples to eat
whatever they got as alms
from the people.
in the cycle of life and death,
there is no right food
or wrong food.
The cannibals know that best.
When I was an adolescent, all kinds of
sensations prickled me. One was my
unnatural attraction to my Chemistry
teacher, not to her face or her body
but the way she said ‘E-t-h-y-l.’
The word coming from her mouth
aroused me like a blue bunsen flame.
The ‘Thy’ pretty near got me to climax.
Suddenly the scent of aldehydes spread
in the air and the multi coloued liquids
in the chemical shelf gleamed. A blob of
mercury ran up and down my member.
Even years later while pleasuring myself
I reserved the best part for her lips
brewing the word Ethyl alcohol.
It became so sensory that I began to use
Ethyl or Methyl to the same effect.
I urged her to say nonsensical words like
Bethyl, Fethyl, Zethyl, Rethyl or Lethyl.
I became an ethyl alcoholic, but cried
when she and her lips died with the
word ‘Ethyl’ on them. I am a teetotaller
now and lead a saintly life having lost
the power to Ethylify.
(The above title has been published by Hawakal Publishers P Ltd, New Delhi/Kolkata)
About the poet
RaSh (Ravi Shanker) is a poet based in Palakkad, Kerala. He has published four collections of poetry, Architecture of Flesh (Poetrywala), Bullet Train and Other Loaded Poems (Hawakal), Kintsugi by Hadni (RLFPA) , Buddha and Biryani (Hawakal) and a chapbook In the Mirror, Our Graves, written jointly with Ritamvara Bhattacharya. He has also published a play Blind Men Write (Rubric Publishing).
Ra Sh (Ravi Shanker.N ) is also a translator whose English translations include Mother
Forest (Women Unlimited), Waking is Another Dream (Navayana), Don’t Want Caste
(Navayana), Kochiites (Greenex), How to Translate an Earthworm (Dhauli Books) and The Ichi Tree Monkey.