The Asexuality of Sex
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In one of his early poems, collected under the title My Silence, R. K. Singh writes about his involvement with sex when he looks at a woman. The act of looking is meaningful for the poet as it leads to the poetic process and the expression of his feelings. The poetic lines that underline his reaction to the beauty of a woman tell us that it makes him ‘blind’, ‘deaf’, ‘ignorant’, ‘poor’ and ‘indrawn’, various states connected to his being overpowered by a mystic sense inspired by her beauty, but the darkness of ‘dust’ veils his being so opaquely that he is not able to follow the hidden words.[2.6] The hidden words are related to the spiritual and the mystic and, thus, by not following the hidden words, he is bereft of the entry of the ‘pavilion of eternity’. The eternity is related [contrasted too] and signified in terms of the uneternal that surrounds him in spite of his reaching the condition of getting ‘blind’, ‘deaf’, ‘ignorant’, ‘poor’ and ‘indrawn’, the psychic states that may lead him to the desired realm. As a reader continues his journey through the poetry of the poet, he comes to know that the notion of eternity as expressed in his poetry does not exclude sexual acts like copulation, climax, and bodily fulfillment. Unlike the sonnets of Shakespeare, love is a part of sex, and lust is never denied or taken as a hindrance to achieve the spiritual state, and the ‘eternity’ is one of that. Thus, the ‘eternity’ is to be explained as a state of bliss, the extension of sexuality in the realm of poetry. In his journey of love even the savage is not unacceptable as it flows in ‘the arteries in the tulip silence’. [2.4]
The darkness and blindness of ‘dust’ is not the blindness of ‘lust’. The poet forgets the decree of the coal dust when she enters with her warmth in the wheezing and sleepless winter discomfort [26.3]. The poem underlines the importance of passion in life. Sexual exploration is mystic and it is done in her ‘privates’ with ‘handgun’. [6.19]The metaphors used by the poet, here, are not confined to eroticism. They cross the realm of erotic to enter the realm of obvious sexuality. The primal image of snake from Bible does carry a different sort of connotation, devoid of sin and suffering. [7.23&24] He describes himself as a snake without Eden. [29.19]The problem lies only when age is countered with passion, a question that reminds the poet of time rather than sin. These two aspects of sex, time and sin, are well delineated by the poet. [7.22] Instead of acknowledging the presence of sin in his sexual acts, he finds that the presence of her ‘presence’ makes him feel nearer to god.[1.1] The Indian god Shiva, associated with enjoyments of life, is planted deep and the serpent is eternal. [17.59] The poet, without mincing words, records that he exults as he drinks the infinite in her [2.3] and her body or its perfume makes the night drunken, [2.5] another state associated in literature associated with the bodily pleasures. [One may remember the Rubiayats of Omar Khayyam and its long prevalence over a literary tradition that discarded the orthodox religion in the favor of the joys of life.] For the poet, a woman is the best poetry, the best theme of his writing [3.7] and the spring music is hidden between her thighs. This music is beyond birth and aims at the sheer pleasure of sex [27.9]. In one of his poems, the poet states clearly that he wants non creative sex after the birth of two children.[28.17] As the poet appreciates her, and states that her eyes are the source of love and beauty,[3.8] it is not the traditional boundary of taste that he draws around his idea of beauty. The poet feels the presence of sex even in nature, and for him an autumn tree is like a woman naked. [1.2] Thus, R.K. Singh’s involvement with woman and beauty is never devoid of sex and it stands as an obvious challenge to the traditional and orthodox in the form of his resisting poetry in the Indian surroundings where sex has remained a taboo for a long time. Even today among the conservative societies of India, it is something to be kept secret in the locker of repression. This is an enough argument to underline the symbolic nature of resistance available in his poetic presentation of sex.
Another interesting aspect of the poems of R.K. Singh is that he depicts the mysterious nature of woman with her Ritikaleen gestures. [6.7] The playful gestures of a woman attracts him in various ways.[6.20] The mystery of such gestures of a woman is, in fact, the creation of the male psyche that likes to see woman in the framework of the notion of classical poetry. This notion is, in fact, not confined to poetry alone but it is an attitude prevalent in the society, enforced by the romantic poems, novels and films. But the difference lies when he presents the sexual act as a metaphor [of the exploration of body?][6.19].In the perspectives of his poems, it is not the question of male domination or patriarchy but the question of the presentation of sex in poetry. How it is presented and what is its significance?
The idea of sex in his poems is highly deceptive as it is the least related to sex. It is needless for the poet to underline the joys that he receives in the sexual acts and exploits. Because it is a thing that is [already] well known to most of the readers and as a form of poetic knowledge it adds nothing to our stock. In recent decades, the underground pornographic literature of the past has emerged ‘over’ground and has engulfed the sky in the form of internet explosion of sexual knowledge [?], that is in the form of cyber pornography and erotic literature, once considered to be an offence equivalent to sin. Therefore, the presentation of the sexual acts in his poetry is, in no way, the significance of his poems. In reality, it stands simply as a celebration of the carnal never fully accepted in our society, a society laden with hypocrisy in the name of social values, culture and religion. The suppression of sex in the society has led to so many abnormal results, at times, unknown to the society itself. It is in our time, that these suppressed elements have surfaced and spread around disturbing so many from the nightmare of their cultural sleep. The example of the killings ordered by the Khap Adalats is to count one of the numerous abnormal reactions to the unleashed sexuality in our time. It is always shocking to see how such abnormal age-long repressions surface in our society in the forms of new repression. In this context, the rebellious celebration of sex in the poems of R.K. Singh needs more serious and cultural explanation and interpretation rather that a casual passing remark.
Remarkably, in the poems of R.K. Singh sex is not always present as something spiritual and pleasure giving. On certain occasions it is sordid too, and the poet depicts the stark realities of life in the way of his description of the presence of sex in the society. For example, we can take the poem beginning with the line ‘she is declared a mental case’ [3.9] or the poem written on the widow. In the first, the nakedness of the woman does not inspire any feeling of sex as it underlines her deplorable state as an abnormal woman. In the second poem, the rose which could have become a symbol of beauty and might have led the poet to sexual desires, leads him to the feeling of pity. Rose might, in other sense, have been suggestive to woman’s secret parts with the wetness of desire. For the poet the dance of love is dark and unfathomable. The poet wants to seek shelter in the grove of her flesh, [26.6] but this shelter is not always a sure one. The mystery of a woman’s flesh is a road to the subjects of poetry existing outside the realm of sex.
This shelter of the grove of flesh is unsure because of the world outside that keeps lurking in his early poetry and occupies a big space in his later poems. As a poem depicts, the outside world is disturbing to the poet’s prayer of sex. The disturbing vultures force him to make a show of his person in the sulphurous pond. It is very difficult to live with ones own God while the world around tries to disturb him due to its conservative approach. The society enters our personal life whether we like or dislike the needless social poking. If we don’t accept the ways of the world, we are always conscious of our own lifestyle. His poem depicts this aspect of a nonconformist in a humourous but serious manner. This conservatism forces the poet to pretend to hide the semen spots on his pants as tea spots. [30.21] So the question is ever whether it is sex or the suppression of sex that the poet presents in his poem. The question is always double pronged as the expression is presented twofold and forces the reader to look beyond sex. The readings of his poetry is always marred by the conservative approach of glaring at sexual presence with hungry watching or a sort of literary voyeurism which is verily cultural in its essence in the Indian context. This literary voyeurism turns into critical one when inflated with the question of taste. There is usually the brushing of the surface in the appreciation of his poems and it makes the sex shine, but does not look beyond the skin-deep in his poetry.
How asexual is the question of sex when the poet engages himself with the question of religion. The poet questions faith when it is turned into rituals by myths. It is not meaningful for the poet to search faith against oneself. [27.10] The personal convictions based on experiences are discarded by people when they come to the realm of faith and religion. For the poet, a faith or belief without conviction is of little value. His religious experience emanates from his sexual experiences and he develops a moral sense that stands beyond the orthodox notions of religion and spirituality. Sex plays asexual role in his criticism of religion and its real presence in the society. The vedantic discourse of the bearded swami is meaningless as it is unheard in the spiritual blankness. The speakers as well as the listeners are spiritually dead [32.29]. A sexual tinge is given to the asexual theme when the reference is made to Kartik, the month of the mating of dogs, with reference to the denuded women bathing in the Ganges while the gods leer at their wet bare backs. The poet concludes that ‘aum’ is suitable mantra for Vasanas [lust] [32.30]. The poet criticizes the jugglery through which the religious leaders hide their fractured faith from their followers. [32.32]
Likewise the eyes of goddess Durga can not see the sexual violence which prevails in the society and takes place even before her eyes. One wonders if she can see or do anything in reality. The questioning is about the sight of Durga whether she can see things like that happening during her public worship. Thus, sex is a method of questioning the so called religious in the society.  His idea of religion and spiritualism is different from the conservative religion followed by his fellowmen. His love for God is expressed by his love for the people He has created in this world.[154.1] This humanistic notion of religion is not understood by others. But sex is again a way of worship for the poet. His house is glorified by sex and it declares the mysteries of God. This idea of sex as worship is a contrast to the general idea of sex as something impious in the society.
The poet has written many poems on Benaras and the holy rivers. He questions the holiness of the city variously. The river Ganga and Yamuna are not sacrosanct for him. The religious sangam of Ganga and Yamuna is a sterile homosexual affair and these holy rivers don’t lead to heaven. [18.64] Thus, the city of religion is the city of sex and copulation of the two great rivers. The sterility of the intercourse makes the city devoid of any religious significance for the poet and his friend who seeks the way to heaven. Heaven is somewhere else. The river Ganga is also a symbol of how culture has been polluted by the modern life style. For him Ganga was once a river now it is lost in a drain. [12.41]
The same is true about repression of abnormal feelings for women in the society [5.13] and the business of sex in our society [5.14]. The state of a woman as pictured by him is certainly grim as she is pictured cleansing her womb [5.16] People show their dicks to women at the pretext of making water, but they object at the young people making love between the bushes and his backyard. This poem clearly shows that the celebration of sex is to be read as a reaction against the sexually hypocritical in the society.
In one of his poems, when the poet tells us not to fall in the trap of life as it is a mere show, [7.21] he is in fact making his reaction against the middle class life. It is the life that the poet is living and he knows the reality of this conservative living very well. The essence of this life is presented in the form of the kick of the prostitute in one of his poems. The prostitute is the symbol of middle class traps that keep us vainly engaged in our lives to make us face its disillusioning reality at last. But it is the stage from where there is no comeback for anyone. One may read it as the notion of Maya [attachment] in Indian philosophy that is the result of our ignorance of the spiritual reality [Agyan]. But, here, the Kick image is too original to be compared to Maya philosophy, and it brings the triviality of the middle class world to our eyes. In the darkness, when the light is switched off, every woman is a Cleopatra. It is the morning light that tells the truth. But in the middle class life the illusions are so many that the light is rarely switched on.
Sex is a shelter in such a life full of boredom. In one of his poems the images of sexual organs and nature do mix up. The poet tired and bored collapses on the open thighed creek and feels the whole city in the glen. [12-13.42] The static middle class life is without any pleasure and there is no release for the poet. [8.26] To use the phrase of the famous English poet S.T. Coleridge, the middle class life is not less than the death in life. Thanatos gets the upper hand at times in his poetry which is the result of the middleclass boredom not released even during some travel. [8. 27] Here, again the pleasure of sex is a reaction against the life of ennui and isolation. It is to forget the demeaning aloneness that he involves in sex and not for the thing itself. [92.30] Thus, sex remains a medium rather than an end in his poetry. This is clearer in another poem showing his naughty interest in activities like weeing at a lamp post, peeking at someone’s privates, or doodling vulgar graffiti etc. It is the dullness of life that inspires the wish of such acts in his poems [35.44].
The personal of the poet reacts acutely against this middle class life that is full of silence or chaos, two contradictory but similar aspects in his poetry. Inside the poet it is silence, in the society it is chaos. In the society, he stands like an island shielding chaos and live his joy hearing the serenade.[14.4] He considers himself rightful to react against the chill of the silence [icy wind] as he was born in the month of December. [13.47]. It is important to note that the fight against the chill is made by the lower class people in the streets where a huge log is giving them warmth. The petty bourgeoisie is always inside the quilt. But as the poet reacts against the deadness of his surroundings, inside the poet lies the tragedy of man and nature. The broken images reside in him and his poetry. [14.50] Likewise the loneliness inside the poet is increased by the passing of time, poem by poem. [15.52] People love moth eaten reality that floats to emptiness. This realization of his own position in the world is tormenting to the poet’s self.
The Image of winter is present in many of his poems which is suggestive of peculiar his state of poet’s mind when he feels himself isolated from the middle class conservative life devoid of meaning and significance. The hurried happiness means very little for the poet. [15.54] As far he is concerned, he weaves heat in the unholy solitude in the empty cell of time. [17.61]. He dances his silence on the ocean floor of time where sun rises and sets. The nature images, here, do speak the psychology of the poet. The inside of the poet is highly disturbed while the outside world remains undisturbed. It is compromising and laggard world that has faith in not reacting to the new values emerging in our lives. Thus, the rock stands undisturbed and the shores don’t move. It is the sea that returns after striking the seashore. [22.75] He feels the barrenness around himself as there is no tree on the mountain and he sits under the shadow of a wandering cloud.[38.55] Inside him there is a river inside him which is rippled by the ripples of darkness. This river is in fact his consciousness. He hears the shrieks of shadows amid savage hails.[38.56]
To go against the conservative values the poet criticizes the double standards in the society. In one of his poems he talks about free dogs and unfree men. [10. 14] The poet does not feel the comfort in his surroundings which is full of the sounds of Frogs and Owls, and he sings the ritual of flesh and hides himself inside the mosquito net. [27.12] The dust ridden city observes the falling leaves as time passes and the poet finds vultures all around and his corner is not very cozy for sex. It is reduced to the distasteful show of his naked person in the sulphurous pond. [29.18]
The cosmetic values of the middleclass are washed by the rain. It is a phenomenon of nature that discloses all that is hidden behind the mask of culture. [12.39] The same rain like night unwraps their faces and the poet is not able to make distinction between man and beast [33.37]. The Images of night and morning do hold significance in the case of his poetry. After getting tired he collapses on the open thighed creek and feels the whole city in a glen peel off the illusory flesh warmth until/ the rosy fingers of the dawn messes around. [12-13.42]
The criticism of the political system by the poet is at places too obvious to hide behind the images or the language of his poetry. The poet criticizes the police and, in this way, the whole system that has gone corrupt. The police arrests the innocent people accusing them as pick pockets and the real criminals do survive in there white clothes [9.10]. These people in Khadi are described as jackal, fox [45.82] and rats.[46.85] The poet detests the politicians and feels disturbed when he finds bureaucrats and journalists shaking hands with them. They are like dogs mating in the month of October or November, a seasonal image related to sex. [11. 38] His natural appreciation of sex goes against any sort of hypocrisy prevailing in the society. Rain, the time of epiphanic creation of poetry, continues to shake the mortal shell and blasts the hypocrisy. [12.39] In some ways this is his poetic process which involves demystification symbolized by rain.
The poetry of R.K.Singh is the creation of a poet who is a restless soul. To read his poems in a sensitive way involves the experience of the feeling of angst generated by the moral degradation in our time. This shows his rejection of the conservative life lived by the people around him. The life of conservative acceptance of the powerful dominance is not congenial to the poet. The poet has no difficult language to outwit people but people don’t like him and even his shadow is disturbing and uncomfortable due to his rebelling attitude. [22.76] In other words he is a nonconformist who is against the status quoits in the society, those who live a passive life and indirectly support the system unacceptable to him.
The presentation of the theme of sex is a medium to explore the society in an untraditional way. The themes planted in his early poems have grown with the passage of time in his later poems but the themes related to sex are always similar in their function. The observations of the poet seem at times objective but in fact they are very personal reactions to the society he is facing. But the personal itself does not remain personal in the poetic process, but involve the social and the political. The calm and fury of the poet shows his inability to change the world and this brings a deep feeling of restlessness getting space in his poetry. He is against the system that tames a man to give him survival in its structure of power. [721. 72]
But, ironically, he is himself a part of the middleclass that he hates and as a result, his reactions turn to himself in his poems. The counter result is more of unrest and crisis getting expression in his later poems. In his drugged sleep he utters expletives and he cannot help his sensory overload. [153.3] He suffers sleepless nights full of nightmares.[154.7] The crisis is represented in the form of themes related to sex and a-sex. As Freud used to say, the symbols visualized in our dreams look unrelated to sex but in reality they are sexual in nature. In the poetry of R.K. Singh, the process is just opposite. Poems look to be sexual and personal, but they involve asexual and apersonal elements. Thus, it is from the space of sex that the poems make a journey to the social, cultural and political.
[All the references are from the R.K.Singh's collected poems entitled Sense and Silence:Collected Poems: 1974-2009 published by YKing Books, Jaipur, 2010. (ISBN 9788191058826). Numbers in the brackets refer to page numbers and poem numbers.]
Dr Raghuvanshmani Tripathi
365, Ismail Ganj
Amaniganj, Faizabad 224001 (UP)
R K Singh