The River Ganges and other sacred things

This is about poetry, but it’s also about rivers, about what we hold sacred and the price we exact upon those things we love most.

This is about a poet, Susheel Kumar Sharma, an English professor at the University of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, India.

I met Professor Sharma at a conference in Assam. His second book of poetry, “The door is half open,” was about to come out from Adhyahan Publishers in New Delhi. When it was published last March, Professor Sharma mailed a copy to me.

While I hesitate to choose one poem over another, it’s the first one, “Ganga Mata – a prayer,” that I keep returning to. “Ganga Mata” is a chant-like poem to the Ganges River, the mother river of India, in whose waters rest the heart and pulse beat of the Indian people.

The poem evokes the river’s past and weaves it in with the destiny of India and the tolls of civilization on the shores of this sacred river.

“Who has put you in chains?” Sharma wrote. “Who has stopped your flow?/ Who has dumped his waste in you?/Who has diverted your way?”

As I read this poem fires raged around Lassen County and it struck me how powerful and relevant nature continues to be in all our lives no matter where we live. Ultimately, we are at her mercy. Eventually, the earth cleanses herself by fire, water or some other means.

“Is man more powerful than you?” Sharma asks in his poem.

It’s a struggle that’s gone on forever.

The poem ends with Sharma entreating the Ganges, “Arise, awake and/Redeem our progeny.”

A surprising effect, when I read these words that transport me so far away, is it makes me more aware of my own landscape. I notice the juniper tree with its dusting of blue berries as I drive down the dirt road from my home, and the way the Diamond Mountains look like they were painted onto the horizon.

Like art and music, there’s a universal language to poetry and the way a poet can lift us, if only for a moment, out of the ordinary and into the sublime.

“The Door is Half Open” is available from adhyayanpublishers.com

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