From The Sufi Soul
Book Review by Anjana Basu
Actor turned poet Arunoday Singh has brought out his first collection of verse, a beautifully bound volume that matches the elegance of his calligraphy on instagram. Penguin India has diverged from its normal publishing ethic by bringing out a poet’s debut collection – albeit a collection by a well known name. Arunoday has made his mark in Hindi films and has his own fan following which was enhanced by his lines on social media. Perhaps the fact that this is by an actor many know, a man who steers clear of the bustle of Bollywood whenever he can, adds a greater frisson to his work.
These are poems that all readers will relate to – little bits of philosophy, whispers of love and longing, the gentle angst of everyday. There is the anxiety of the newly in love striving to impress his lady love with a Sean Connery flourish complemented by all the insecurity that a soul can stir up.
There is literally a poem for every occasion, words that have seemingly floated from the depths of Singh’s Sufi soul. Limpid simplicity makes the verses easy reading without the worries of being stranded in a dystopian world order. Even though there is sadness sometimes, there is consolation of a kind at the end of it all as in ‘I was broken, in ways, you knew how to bind.’
The book is quartered into sections that explore the broader themes of the self, breaking and healing, the search for inner meaning, and the polar opposites of the spirit, fittingly dovetailing into these themes the title of the sections are elemental: Wind, Water, Rock, Flame, Spirit. The poet guides the reader through each of these sections explaining the thought process behind each in a very personal commentary, with the most intense reserved for the Spirit section where he delves into issues like darkness and light.
Singh’s musings are especially comforting, given the unexpected upheavals that have confronted us, taking us back to a kind of medieval world order and the widely differing situations that it has thrown up. Against these we are for the most part helpless and need the elemental strength of soul space to guide us through.
The poet’s inspirations include Leonard Cohen, the Sufi poets and Rumi in a nuanced jazz meets mysticism blend. One can almost catch references to lines from heart touching songs like Perry Como’s ‘And I Love you So’. ‘In time, you’ll remember, I’m not so bad, and I love you so.’ His rhymes add to the effect because since time immemorial lovers and mystics have bound their thoughts in rhyme. However not all the poems are even and while joy and happiness ‘smeared across your lips’ is vivid in other poems certain words, though very much of the time in their character, do not meld with the rest of the verse – steles and pets, for example.
All in all Unsung is a combination of verse and musing that millennials will die for complemented by Singh’s foreword where he recounts the story of his unfulfilled love during college days while confessing honestly that it would probably never have worked out.
Short extracts from the book:
You could have gone anywhere in this world. You could have spent a lifetime, out at sea. You could have remained free to wander. Instead you chose, to stay with me. I will never forget it.
Whisper it to me, I promise I won’t tell a soul. Just between me and you, just tell me if there’s something, there, at the end of it, worth what we are going through.
I was broken, in ways, you knew how to bind. You were lost, in places, I knew how to find.
About the book:
“Unsung”- Poems by Arunoday Singh. Publisher: Ebury Press / Penguin Random House India.
About the reviewer:
Anjana Basu is a renowned novelist, poet, reviewer and travel writer.