Poet and writer Nabina Das reads Ra Sh’s debut poetry book “Architecture of Flesh” as a marker of injustices as well as an elegant erotic study.
Reading through this debut collection of poetry one is compelled first to pause to weigh the words in the title. What is architecture here? What is flesh? And as a corollary: What is built and planned and what comes in-built and contrary to expectations or plans? Ra Sh’s poetry is both. It has been carefully crafted and it surprises with its own life force, and finesse to the flesh.
The images in his work themselves constitute the metaphor of flesh in various forms. From raw flesh to the parched dry to putrid to re-imagined, all of the textures inhabiting the lines and their formations. Ra Sh is a purveyor of colors too, those that again arrange according to those textures. The fine inversion of metaphor infuses light into the hues even when he is speaking of ‘black’:
Black is a shut eye lid
An awareness of the politicization of flesh, the body, and erotic joy runs through Ra Sh’s work like an arterial presence. The geography he encapsulates is not a laundry list of places, but is a marker of injustices and mishaps that have become a norm over centuries. Women, their bodies, the flesh that a certain gender inhabits, all become in his words a chain one must connect to larger incidents. Thus, Ngariyan Maring to Gajapati to Khairlanji to cities of our misdeeds and gender violence (Architecture of Flesh) the narrative constitutes the architecture of introspection and searing questions.
Reading through Architecture of Flesh, one is reminded of Baudelaire and Kolatkar, sprinting inside a spectrum that evokes the absurd as beauty and urban angst as a polemic. This is how in Ra Sh’s poems ‘death’ is an unrelenting worker. She sows seeds to harvest and the dark imagery challenges all human-made shenanigans:
Death is a peasant sowing seeds.
(The man who loved her)
Ra Sh’s language is indelible. He toys with the syntax, rips apart meanings, and recreates playful puns. Through his poems one gets a glimpse of a refracted mind shedding multiple shades on words:
(b) love is Infatuation.
of a reaction.
you spell it as
And the ease in code mixing is visible as words of Malayalam, Hindi and perfectly sensible nonsense share space comfortably with the erotic and liberating space Ra Sh creates. The syntax of “nakli, nakli (fake)” internally rhyming with the gibberish “nibli ribli” ushers the flavor of everything startling, fanciful, and sexy culminating as a metaphor of love in “kaavu (shrine)”:
My nakli nakli girl,
Of the marbles and the seeds
And nakli nakli kisses
So tamarind-ly sweet,
You take the cosmic form,
A nibli ribli avatar,
A Devi in her kaavu.***
(Nakli nakli girl)
Architecture of Flesh is not just dark and foreboding in its messages of social justice, but it is also a selection to relish like a special dish. Flesh, literally, becomes an ingredient for the tongue – a taste, a flavor of the soul, and a sharp spice to react to and yet revel in.
The poems are political, humorous, erotic, and deeply personal. Flesh and the body are the poet’s own impressions of illness and debilitating experience too. It’s an encounter, a ritual, a vision of beauty as well as death beautified in a chiaroscuro where proper names ring in and out like bells:
Minmini switches on the twinkling stars
Chandni wraps some moon beads around my neck
Roshni wheels me out through the light and shade
(Intensive Care Unit-2 (White Nights))
Architecture will build your sensibilities, chisel them fine and allow more to grow on it, organically.
(Ra Sh is a poet from Kerala writing in English whose collection Architecture of Flesh was recently published by Poetrywala, Mumbai.)