‘Life is driven by a single principle – decadence, resembling a still pendulum,’ says Sarang Kawade’s introduction to his book ‘Pendulum’, a collection of 48 stories rendered as poems or short prose passages.
Decadence – that moral and cultural decline characterized by hedonism, debauchery, corruption, intemperance, immorality and wantonness, is the context this book arises out of. The mood, like the ‘pendulum called life’, oscillates between smiles and sorrows, hope and despair, loneliness and company. The setting is the young, urban world of IT jobs and coffee shops, cellphones and busy hours, empty homes and unrequited love as well as fruit vendors and homelessness, prejudice and even sexual assault. Each story has its own narrator, a voice speaking either like an observer or one deeply involved in documenting, scene-to-scene, his/her surroundings. Which, when you read you realize, are yours and mine too.
As Sarang moves from one story to the next, the narrative voice changes in tenor from angry and even caustic at times, to plain objective; from despairingly dejected to hopeful and often preachy – all this depending on how involved or distant he feels to a specific story. For someone who likes deconstructing books based on changing narrative voice, this will be fodder for study.
What remains consistent and helps bring the 48 stories together under ‘Pendulum’ is the author’s thought-process and the technique he uses to translate it into words.
The Thoughts and thought-out Technique
Sarang is 22 and in the software industry. That is all I know. When I asked him for an author introduction, he said he will give none. The artist wanted the art to be received independently, sans any pre-conceived notions that come with social labels.
That he is only 22 amazed me at various points of time while reading the book, for he has already managed to unravel lessons from his life which typically (perhaps mythically) take years of grey hair to realise. There is ripeness of thought, a looking within and turning to self, an honest acknowledgement of social wrongs, a beautiful acceptance of the importance of relationships over jobs, of love over money, care over success. While the poems and stories remain bold and honest, each comes wrapped in a kind of maturity of thought which makes you believe what you read. The secret wishes of his various narrators (the ‘Burqa Clad Butterfly’ penultimate wish is to ‘ride a bike and let my loose hair fly’) – so simple yet so impossible to achieve, leaves you with a melancholic taste in your mouth.
The language Sarang uses to deliver his ideas befits the narrators of his stories – young and urban, or old and alone, and lost. Expect no lovely lyricism or similes drawn from bounteous nature. This book was written in dark alleys of fat wallets ridden with futility and frustration, or empty ones clinging on to flashes of hope. So, Sarang speaks to us through the speakers of his stories in a language that those people speak in real life, not just to make himself understood but also to bring in a believability to the stories. In poems where he himself seems to be the speaker, the language becomes more complex than otherwise, but we realize how he too belongs in exactly the world that he is trying to hold a mirror up to in ‘Pendulum’. He speaks standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the different and differing narrators of the 48 stories.
Apart from the prose passages written such that you wonder if they too are poems of some sort, personification of emotions, analogies with colonies of ants or bubbles, creative titles which read like exam questions with marks in parenthesis, advert jingles, letters from daughters to fathers, coupled with jumbled syntax like ‘Endure I long walks’ are everywhere. As is use of slang words, which, for the first time, I did not cringe on encountering.
Let me give you my favourites out of this collection.
In a poem satirizing the kind of societies we have built around ourselves, Sarang creates ‘your reasoning town called ‘Brainville’ (somewhat reminiscent of Yeats’s idea of an anti-Christ being born in ‘The Second Coming’) where:
‘Neurons work as conformists in the
industry to recycle dumped ingenuity
and create a swarm of material desires.
But Hope is the secret vigilante, willing
to even die protecting the Rebel square.
Traditions are enshrined in Stereotype Avenue
Hope is not scared.
Hope will soon be blessed with a child
Residents of Rebel Square have a name for the
Child – Belief.’
‘Love Conquers Gadgets Too’ connects existential alienation to the symbolic individualistic ‘I’s’ ‘being used by phone, laptop, tablet’, creating an (i)-me-myself world. An interestingly titled and creatively written ‘I care you. So take love’ begins with a question Care (personified) is asking about Love – ‘I feel jealous of her charm. Why is Love so popular and I am not?’ Care and Love write letters to each other to understand each other, to get married in the end. An idyllic situation but equally ironical when seen reflective of a society working on different principles.
A brutal poem ‘Rapes, Cuts, Blood and Solace’ is a woman’s account of her many rapes, as nonchalantly as if she was talking about buying vegetables. At 16 – ‘I was raped yet again by a single guy. (Thank God)’ and the ( ) hurt. Raw anger in ‘Oh Thy Anger’ where ‘Be happy, act foolish, disguise fury, sounds so stupid your self-help shit’ speaks an angry voice yearning to break free from social givens. While passages like 'Game of Domestic Violence' stun you into silence, some others like 'Candy Floss Smile', and the final one in the book called ‘I love you father’ (I wonder if this lovely piece is autobiographical) come written straight from the heart, leaving you feeling warm.
Most stories and poems have U-turns at the end, not a twist to shock or awe, but one to affirm a drop of hope where none seemed to exist a few lines before. Myriad moments of warmth exchanged and good deeds done delivered in such simple language, but never enough to make you forget the deprivation they are set in.
An oscillating pendulum, but one which likes to remain steeped in sorrow!
And then, the disappointments
1. While I have admired and enjoyed the thoughts behind the 48 stories and the oscillating sensitivity-brutality with which they have been expressed through the various narrators, not all poems or passages manage to maintain the power of expression consistently. ‘Stay Connected, Stay Insane’, ‘Ram Habib Daler Joseph’ and ‘I’m Sorry’ broke the effect either because the themes were repeated or they bordered on the typical.
2. There is a self-contradiction in Sarang’s use of a ‘decadence’ (in a negative way) as the penultimate theme for his work. The very hedonism, intemperance and debauchery that characterizes decadence carries the idea of subversion too. Exactly the kind of subversion that Sarang actually celebrates/professes – artistic freedom, anti-establishment, quitting education, gay love, secularism, anti-rituals and prejudice, psychos with a heart, constructive anger. Decadence is not the word the author should have lamented about on the cover. Stagnation, materialism, alienation maybe. This being the only reason why I was wary of comparing some of his poems with Ginsberg’s ‘Beat Poetry’ like 'Howl' for instance – there is similar anger towards wrong, being sung to a rebellious beat, but not achieving the same level of clarity of purpose.
3. I would have liked a list of contents. Would have given some organization to the book. I am quite a Capricorn woman if you know what I mean!
‘Pendulum’ remains Sarang Kawade’s attempt to speak through men and women surviving different spheres and stages of life. The poetry is devoid of any ostentatious trappings and the short prose is simple and straight-forward, because he is letting his characters speak directly to you. Asking you to listen, understand and look around and within too. There is judgement in Sarang’s voice, against facets of society he doesn’t agree with and support for those suffering its idiosyncrasies. There is also a wish in Sarang’s heart, of personal freedom from all that binds artistic thought. This book, through its honesty and execution, succeeds in achieving this.
I conclude with a few lines of a poem I have been re-reading ever since, ‘If I’m Weird, then who’s Normal?’
They call me weird, a social outlaw to be precise,
I take my stand; they’re the prisoners, the majority.
They say doubt wraps me, obscure is my speech,
I see clarity of thoughts erupting, bursting within me.
Their fundamental reaction is to concur, they usually comply,
I question back, I can’t walk around holding people’s beliefs.
They bully the fragile ones, beat them up to laud their insecurity,
I was beaten too but never defeated, they’re cowards, not me.
Author: Sarang Kawade
Publisher: Partridge – A Penguin Random House Company