Yuyutsu RD Sharma’s face is like a mountain terrain, when the earth emerges in the gods’ peaks after a flash flood or when a river has receded after the monsoon’s regal fury. I noticed this as soon as I sat down opposite to him in the surprisingly sparsely populated Barista coffee shop in New Delhi’s fashionable Khan Market shopping area. Poet of the Himalayas, Yuyutsu’s greeting resounded almost true in what he wrote in “In the Mountains”:
Fragile my eyeglasses
fragile and foreign
I take them off;
There’s a speck of a scar in them.
On the mule path
I take them off
to face the green
stretch of mountains
beneath the saddle of Annapurnas.
Well, almost true, because he didn’t wear eyeglasses at our meeting! His dark irises reflected the green he writes about and the twining paths he sees better without his educated eyeglasses. And since we met to chat – we didn’t waste time to get on first-name terms – the discussion rightfully turned quickly to his meditative collection Annapurna Poems, a Nirala Series book published in 2008. This became necessary in the light of his new work which are A Blizzard in my Bones: New York poems and Quaking Cantos: Nepal earthquake poems, both from Nirala publishers (2016).
On that sweltering summer evening, leafing through the Annapurna poems brought in a sudden whiff of cool mountain air. Musical and reflective. Indeed, Yuyutsu’s poetic tenor is pretty much that of a bard, his voice that treks higher and higher into the wild beautiful upper Himalaya bringing alive the smile of the Buddha and the semiotics of the region’s everlasting gods and goddesses, the Yeti and other resident animals, the soulful rivers, and the ice-kissed rain. True, Yuyutsu laments the loss of a familiar landscape he witnessed prior to political trouble fanning out across Nepal. But his enthusiasm is very much rooted to the peoples’ grasp of their own surrounding, the Nepal that is home to communities and creeds, whether he sees them in the backdrop of the Maoist insurgency or that of a defunct monarchy.
On the level of language, this poetry takes us straight into the heart of the mountain country, Nepal’s unique ethos and the nature that entertains both snowy seasons and hidden eternal gardens. The mule paths, the ‘leech-greasy’ forests, the spells under which the mountain people live and tell fantastic tales, the ‘magnificent daggers of snow’, all build up a world where nature is more than just a phenomenon. It is a companion to the poet and his perception. The cognitive faculty of the poet and the reader works in tandem in recognizing the many layers of meanings unfolded in each aspect of “Annapurna Poems”, exactly like the different layers of the snow. The permafrost is made of the century-old legends and tales on which have grown new fables and events.
Yuyutsu is a poet of expressions as he traverses a train of simplicity. He does not twist language in any show of wizardry. He believes in words and sentences, as they are known and heard in the Himalayan reality, to take him along the mountain journey to rediscover the known nomenclature and trusted actions. All he does is re-paint the scenes of Annapurna in unique details and from surprising angles. Like little Tibetan thangkas. In these scenes, he tells us about those place names that ring out the jeweled eco-system of a mountain town or village as familiar as our recurrent dreams. With him we walk the salt tracks, the gorge trails and visit Birethanti. Ghorepani, Gandrung, Tadapani, Lake Fewa, and many such tongue-trilling spots. For him,
Punctual, announcing the dawn
are known elements. If sometimes they might appear delightfully alien to our practiced eyes:
Faces of riverside birds
They still draw us into the world of Annapurna like ice drops in the cracks (Yuyutsu himself says in the foreword of the book that his poems exist in each crack of this magnanimous mountain world).
Even in this pristine surrounding something troubles the poet who watches the spray of the white surf:
on greasy crotches
of huge mossy rocks
the cacophony of cruel cities
In Yuyutsu’s poetry one might like to find the Blake-ian dilemma of having to dividing the human soul between Nature and its sufferance, mingle her own fate and existences with that of gods, the Yeti and shamans, and the myriad mysterious of Shangri-La, where imageries take fantastic shapes and have their own sensual and sensuous existence (River: Morning)
each time I come
to her deafening banks
to gleam my dreams
over the plump flanks of her warm body
and a wrinkle appears
across the shriveled leaf of my life.
However, he is not merely a romantic poet. What comes across is his deep admiration for the Annapurna region as a system tied to the rest of the world – those parts of the world where he is a traveler of a different kind, giving talks and workshops, reading his published work and attending literary events. In the context of these ‘worldly’ acts where he attributes his own poetry having the “otherworldly” and “archival” quality, he is very much a realist. The book’s first section, “Little Paradise Lodge”, is an account of Nepal and Annapurna’s past and present. Interestingly, ‘lodge’ appears to be a pun on ‘lost’ as if he was talking about a ‘little paradise lost’. To me the poems in this section are very much a ‘lost and found’ affair.
On the other hand, quite prominently, his Eliotesque sarcasm for the modern city life and the external influences on his much loved landscape of rains and snows adorn the images he paints in “Rains”:
This summer they held me up
In the deserts of their skyscrapers.
my face in the dark
feeling tips of snow sacred fishtails of Machapuchchare.
In “Mules” too, their ringing bells are but ‘beating notes of a slavery modernism brings’. While mapping the ‘bloodthirsty mule paths around the glacial of Annapurna’, Yuyutsu watches:
cartons of Iceberg, mineral water bottles,
solar heaters, Chinese tiles, tin cans, carom boards
sacks of rice
and iodized salt from the plains of Nepal Terai.
human and mule lives meet
Rain, river, snow, singing gorges and brooks rule the landscape of Annapurna Poems. The romance is palpable between the poet and his subject, almost Sufi in character, ‘madness’ being one of its virtues. Yuyutsu is in complete enchantment of his terrain as a lover is and this love’s longing is realized in a woman’s physical quest (A Lonely Brook):
a lonely woman
waits for a stranger to come
the ice frozen between her thighs
to make a flame
of her cold sleep
Conversation with the river (River) is a personal history, a sequel to the secret rendezvous with the beloved and is artistically lusty.
Between your decisions
and my flickering lamps
the river mad
you, you poet, you bastard, go away!
With Yuyutsu we travel to Ghandrung where a ‘young girl of the scarlet shawl waits/for the colorful procession/of mules carrying cartons of Tuberg beer to pass’ or to Ghorepani, all the while delightfully apprehensive or even curious if a Yeti was following ‘your trail in the desolate mountains’.
Among these portraits resembling eternity’s passing of time in the mountain world, we empathize with the pain in the poets voice (Fish):
Wives wait the final winter
of my rot, opening up
of their slithering fish
I return to a poem
I postponed decades ago
to touch the mating serpents
slithering on the tip of illicit door
The book’s second section “Glacier” takes this sentiment to a crescendo as one feels literally like climbing heights with titles like Kala Patthar, Gauri Shankar, Summit and The Buddhist Flag Flutters and looking below with a rooster’s eye view at the fields, the forests and the (once) playful courtyards with their brass bells. The overture continues with the third part “Sister Everest”, a pithy and less descriptive section. In that, the latter is highly evocative. If the first sections read like an ethereal ‘inward’ trek through the upper Himalayan terrain, this section readies us for the fourth one – “The Annapurna Man” – rooted more in the poet’s ‘outward’ experiences. A very brief section, it spews more pain than pleasure. To some extent, I came out of the book through this section with a sense of abrupt termination, as if Yuyutsu’s pain had to invite a quick clinical surgery. For this, the poetry in this section seems disjointed from the book’s original spirit.
Especially, I felt “Silence” is too much of rumination, too personal and reads more like purgation than poetry. The best piece in this section is “Space Cake, Amsterdam”, a witty poem combining introspection and observation by ‘this man from Kathmandu’ (one may well imagine, the rest of our chat that evening centered around that one fantastic experience Yuyutsu recounted to me). The air-conditioned air at that Barista throbbed at my mirth on reading and re-reading the line – ‘whatever happens, you can always make a comeback’!
(*This essay is due for publication in Yuyutsu Sharma’s anthology Eternal Snow)
Yuyutsu Sharma is the author of nine poetry collections. He edits Pratik, a Magazine of Contemporary Writing and writes literary columns for The Himalayan Times, Nepal. Sharma is a visiting professor at Columbia University, New York.